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March 14, 2013
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Carbondale trustees say relations on the board are improving

CARBONDALE, Colorado - Several members of the town's board of trustees said Wednesday that they feel confident they can overlook personal differences of opinion, and defuse tensions resulting from those differences, as a result of ongoing consultations about "good governance."

The trustees have met twice with Elyce Ackerman-Casselberry, northwest regional manager for the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, in efforts to sort out differences that occasionally have led to harsh words and bad behavior.

The first meeting with Ackerman-Casselberry was in November 2012, and a third consultation is to be scheduled in a couple of months to "see how things have been going," Ackerman-Casselberry told the Post Independent on Wednesday.

Consultation was needed, said Mayor Stacey Bernot, because when certain issues have arisen at trustee meetings, tensions between individual trustees also have risen, sometimes sharply.

"I don't want to break up any more fights in the hallway," joked Bernot, who at one meeting last year found herself asking another trustee if he would like to "step out into the hallway" to discuss things out of the public eye.

Tensions have flared over such diverse topics as the town's posture regarding medical marijuana shops, and on proposed development plans for the Village at Crystal River (VCR) shopping center site.

Trustees contacted for this story agreed that the meetings with Ackerman-Casselberry have produced changes for the better in trustee relations.

"All in all, I thought it was a pretty good meeting, if people listened to what was said there, and people could practice it," said Trustee Frosty Merriott, whose temper has been known to flare at meetings.

Bernot agreed, noting that what came up at Tuesday's work session "wasn't so much policy as it was procedure, how we approach a certain thing."

The important thing, Bernot said, is for the trustees to accept that "peoples' opinions differ" and provide space for those differences without taking things personally.

Merriott, who has been on the board since 2008, recalled that at one point several years ago "there was a 4-3 split" with a majority voting block made up of trustees Bernot, Ed Cortez, John Foulkrod and then-Mayor Michael Hassig.

On certain issues, including restrictions on medical marijuana businesses and development of the controversial VCR property, "We felt like they were ramming things down our throats, there was no compromise on anything," Merriott said.

Medical marijuana was legalized by state voters in 2000, but did not become a statewide issue until 2009, when a veritable avalanche of medical marijuana dispensaries began to open up for business.

Carbondale became home to a dozen or more dispensaries at one point, and a majority of trustees began advocating greater restrictions on the trade.

Today, Merriott said, the split on the board has swung, he said, to where he and trustees Allyn Harvey, John Hoffmann and Pam Zentmyer often are on the same side of an issue, opposite Bernot, Foulkrod and Trustee Elizabeth Murphy.

"The big difference now is, we are willing to compromise," he said of the majority block. "I think Pam and Allyn and I are willing to keep moving toward compromise. Hoffmann, of course, has always been that way."

"Where we're going to find out [whether relations have improved] is when we get to the recreational marijuana issue," said Merriott, referring to last year's statewide passage of Amendment 64, legalizing the growth, sale and use of recreational marijuana for adults.

Carbondale has enacted a moratorium on review of both types of marijuana businesses, and is waiting to see how the state Legislature handles the matter.

Bernot noted that the trustees, in the wake of Harvey's election to the board last year, already have shown the ability to compromise in such matters as the recent approval of $100,000 for a townwide energy efficiency program.

Harvey, who called Tuesday's meeting "a frank conversation," explained, "I think it continued on a path of getting us so we communicate better and understand one another better. I think the woman from DOLA did a good job."

He pointed to the approval in January of a medical marijuana business license for CMED, a once-controversial dispensary on Buggy Circle, as an example of the trustees' growing willingness to compromise.

"I don't think, 10 months ago, that could have happened," he said of the unanimous approval of the license.

jcolson@postindependent.com


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The Post Independent Updated Mar 14, 2013 12:23AM Published Mar 14, 2013 12:21AM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.