Bruell column: Moving forward together in 2022

Debbie Bruell

Reflecting back on my monthly columns from 2021, one thing stands out: Folks across Garfield County have a lot more in common than we often think. Whether we live in Rifle or Carbondale, whether we’re Anglo or Latino, when it comes to things that matter most in our everyday lives, our values are largely aligned.

We all want to keep our loved ones safe from wildfire; we all want clean water flowing through our rivers; we want to see our small businesses thriving, along with family farmers and ranchers; and we want a strong local economy that continues to sustain our shared community assets, such as roads, parks and libraries.

This year also underscored how much progress we can make toward those shared goals when we reach across our differences and work together — whether that’s Western Slope voters supporting the Colorado River District’s initiatives to protect our rivers, or diverse groups across the state speaking out together against the misguided and now defunct PAUSE initiative that would have threatened the livelihood of family ranchers.

An exciting new example of the power of our collective voices is the discussions underway to form a wildfire council across Eagle, Pitkin and Garfield counties. This past summer, as we faced an extraordinary drought, the Garfield County Democrats began researching innovative approaches to wildfire safety. We learned that in other parts of the state, wildfire councils have been formed to facilitate communication and coordination among the entities that address regional wildfire safety. These councils have helped improve education and communication with the public and developed more strategic approaches to wildfire prevention.

We shared this information with area residents, inspiring them to speak up about the value of forming a wildfire council here. Officials took notice and initiated this new tri-county council, which we’re thrilled about.

Commissioners from Eagle County and Pitkin County have already committed to participate and provided funding for this collaborative effort. Garfield County has yet to include it on their agenda or commit any funds, but we are hopeful that our leaders will invest in this wildfire council so that our county residents will benefit from this forward-thinking regional collaboration as much as possible.

As 2021 draws to a close, it’s good to celebrate the ways we’ve come together to make our communities stronger and our lives better — but also important to recognize the challenges we’ve faced recently from siloed groups that choose to fixate on our differences.

In one of our school districts, we saw community members harassing individual school board members, disrupting board meetings and initiating legal action against the district. No one wins when we let our political differences keep us from engaging in civil and constructive dialogue.

Last year our county also missed out on benefiting from the state-funded Promotoras program — a grassroots health education program for Spanish-speakers — due to narrow-minded concerns about who would be hired to do this essential work. It was a loss for our community as a whole when our county commissioners neglected to take the advice of County Health Department officials to approve this program.

Whether it’s addressing COVID-19, wildfires or the risk of toxins leaking into our groundwater, the most effective solutions to the challenges we face are the ones that take all of our residents into account. We all do better when we stand up with and for each other.

As we move into 2022, the Garfield County Democrats urge our county commissioners to remember that we can devise the most effective strategies and reach the most innovative solutions when we work together — bringing a wide diversity of voices, perspectives and expertise to the table — and take into consideration our community as a whole.

We call on the the county commissioners to:

  • Invest in the tri-county wildfire council and take advantage of this regional collaboration, ensuring that western Garfield County isn’t left out of this effort.
  • Appoint individuals with certified medical expertise to our County Health Board, as the threat of COVID-19 continues to evolve.
  • Form a Community Advisory Committee to provide input on how the county invests funds from the federal government. While funds from the American Rescue Plan have already been budgeted, funds from President Biden’s infrastructure bill are on their way.
  • Take a proactive, regional, collaborative approach to the economic development of our county, easing us away from unwise continued reliance on the floundering fossil fuel industry.

When it comes to the things that matter most to folks across Garfield County, most of us are largely on the same page. As we move into 2022, let’s see what else we can accomplish by building on our shared values and using our diverse experiences and expertise as an opportunity to open our minds to new perspectives and devise innovative solutions that not one of us could have come up with on our own.

Debbie Bruell of Carbondale is a former Roaring Fork School District Board of Education member and currently chairs the Garfield County Democrats.

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