Aftershocks of Parachute pot decision reverberate at town hall
PARACHUTE — Trustees formally accepted the resignation of one of their own Thursday, July 16, following nearly 1½ hours of public comment largely against the town’s decision in June to repeal a ban on recreational marijuana businesses. And although trustees stood behind their votes, the opposition will continue to fight the decision, an opponent said.
Former Trustee Norman Feck announced his resignation July 7 in an email to Mayor Roy McClung and Town Manager Stuart McArthur, citing the repeal of the marijuana ban and restrictions preventing him from participating in the opposition movement.
That followed a July 3 email, in which Feck wrote, “I like having say on the funds going out. Approving marijuana though, I think, is a bad wrong turn, so as it sits I think I should resign.”
Feck ended that email by writing, “I believe there’s good people working for the town and whether I’m a trustee or not, we’re on the same team.”
Four days later he officially resigned.
Trustees accepted his resignation Thursday without comment, and McClung thanked him for his work afterward.
In his email, Feck said that his efforts were needed in helping Parachute resident Pam Jarrett with her movement opposing recreational marijuana in the town — which Feck was told he was not permitted to do while serving as a trustee.
After learning of the vote, Jarrett, a Parachute resident of 28 years, started an informal petition gauging support for putting the matter to a vote.
Of the 122 self-identified registered voters contacted, 107 said they wanted to vote on the issue, according to a petition summary presented to the board. Many of the people who spoke at the meeting made similar requests, including Gretchen Millender, who identified herself a local teacher. Not allowing residents to vote is simply unfair, she told the board.
McClung explained that the trustees are elected to represent the people, and nothing would ever be accomplished if every matter were put to a vote.
None of the trustees voiced any desire to put the issue before voters. If Trustee Juanita Williams had it her way, there would be no marijuana, alcohol or other substances, but the fact is, she said, marijuana is legal, it’s here and the town — which is experiencing a 27 percent decrease in sales tax revenue in 2015 compared to 2014 — needs to do something to bring in revenue.
“Our job here is to keep the town afloat,” she said in reaffirming her vote.
The reason for the “zero public comment” in June, Jarrett said, was due to “ineffective” notification.
The town put a notice on the back of residents’ utility bills alerting them of the June meeting and the consideration of the ordinance. The town has used the practice in the past to notify residents of important issues, McArthur said.
However, Jarrett said after talking with residents, she found that many, like her, were unaware the vote was happening. Some residents, such as renters and people living in senior housing, do not even see their utility bill, she added.
“If that was the stated process for letting the town know for sure then a whole group of people were disenfranchised,” Jarrett said.
Several trustees took issue with Jarrett’s claim, including Trustee Tom Rugaard.
“There’s been plenty of opportunity for public comment,” he said.
Trustee Daniel Manzanares, who joined Feck in voting against repealing the ban in June, echoed Rugaard’s comments, noting that in addition to the notification on the utility bills, the issue was posted on the town’s website and an article on the issue appeared in the Post Independent and Citizen Telegram — both of which can be read online — almost a month before the June meeting.
“Had you guys been here in May or June, what you had to say would have been more effective,” he said.
McClung noted that communication between the town and residents has been a longstanding issue, and one with no guaranteed solution. Whether it be email, reverse 911 calls, flyers or public notification, the town cannot guarantee it reaches every resident, short of knocking on their door, he said.
Manzanares, Rugaard and others thanked the crowd — which Trustee John Losche said was the largest in his nearly 30 years of involvement with the board — for coming out, and urged them to stay involved.
Involvement will not be a problem, Jarrett said Friday. “We will be filling up every meeting.”
The ordinance repealing the ban came into effect last Saturday, and the application was posted online as on Monday, July 20. If and when an application makes it to a public hearing, Jarrett said she and others plan on attending in large numbers.
“We will be organizing a group somehow to keep our ideas out there,” she wrote in an email Friday. “We are not going away as we feel this matter is too important to let go.”
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