Essex column: Help us find common ground on local issues |

Essex column: Help us find common ground on local issues

Since moving to Garfield County three years ago, I’ve come to regard Glenwood Springs as a literal, figurative and political pivot point for the area.

While it’s a bit of an oversimplification, it’s fair to say the western part of the county tends to be conservative gasland and the southeastern corner of the county (i.e. Carbondale) is at least that far to the left.

So Glenwood is both the point where people physically change direction in traveling the region and is the fulcrum of this political teeter totter.

It’s also worth noting that Garfield County in November was among fewer than 10 percent of counties nationally where the gap between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was less than 10 percent.

So while national politics are deeply polarized, ours remains one of the country’s few “purple” places — and remains a place where, for the most part, residents strive for civility.

It’s also mostly clear (and really good) that on local issues, it’s easier for partisanship to fall away and for people to work together on solutions even if they have philosophical differences. We’re neighbors who see each other in person in our small towns.

It’s in that spirit that on Thursday the Post Independent convenes the first of four planned forums this year that we’re calling Common Ground.

We invite you to join us at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Glenwood Springs library for a discussion among some of our county’s top leaders about what they consider the most pressing issues we face locally.

The panel for Thursday is composed of:

• Colorado Mountain College President Carrie Besnette Hauser

• Philanthropist Jim Calaway

• Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky

• Glenwood Springs City Manager Debra Figueroa

• Rifle City Councilwoman and hospital executive Annick Pruett

• Mind Springs Health Executive Vice President Michelle Hoy

• Business owner Mark Gould

• Sheriff Lou Vallario

I’m grateful to this group for agreeing to participate. At Thursday’s forum, I will ask them to talk about what they see as key solvable issues facing the county and to connect dots.

So rather than talking about attainable housing or transportation as separate issues, I’ll encourage a broader conversation about the intersection of housing, transportation and child care.

I will moderate the discussion, but don’t want to impose my ideas on this smart, varied group of leaders.

If I bring up the difficulty employers find in recruiting and retaining talent to the region, this panel might bring broadband needs into the mix. I’ve asked each panelist to bring one topic of critical interest, which we will blend into the conversation.

The intent is for the evening to determine the topics we will invite stakeholders and experts to discuss at subsequent quarterly conversations through the year.

I hope the series as a whole offers ideas for solutions and even action. It’s inspired by the success of a housing forum the PI co-sponsored in February 2016 following our award-winning “Price of Paradise” project on housing and other costs in the region.

More than 100 people listened to public officials, builders and advocates discuss our housing crunch that night, and one organization’s leader told me that the forum helped him refine his group’s approach.

If we, over the year, can catalyze solutions in other areas, that’s a huge win.

If our panelists through 2017 can stimulate new thinking, new alliances and fresh ideas, that’s good for our communities.

I hope you’ll join us Thursday evening at the library for the beginning of this yearlong discussion.

Randy Essex is publisher and editor of the Post Independent.

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