Newman: Ignore ‘stone wall’ Garfield County board
Retiring Pitkin County commissioner calls out peers to the north
Politically speaking, Pitkin County commissioners and Garfield County commissioners rarely see eye-to-eye.
But relations between the boards at either end of the Roaring Fork Valley have reached new lows since August when a Garfield County commissioner denounced Pitkin County as “disrespectful, arrogant, gutless and selfish.”
So, on Tuesday, at what was likely his last official meeting after 12 years on the board, Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman had some parting advice for his colleagues when it comes to Garfield County commissioners: forget ‘em.
To make his point, Newman told a joke about a businessman staying at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem who watches an older man kneel and pray at the Wailing Wall every morning for four days. Finally, he approaches the man and asks him what he’s praying for.
“The gentleman says, ‘I’m praying for peace and goodwill and health for everybody,’” Newman said. “And (the businessman) says, ‘Well, are you having any success?’ And the old man says, ‘Nah, it’s like talking to a stone wall.’”
Newman said recent requests by Garfield County commissioners to state public health officials — such as classifying gyms as “critical businesses” — indicate that any dialogue with the current slate of commissioners is a waste of time.
“I think you’re talking to a stone wall,” he said.
The board really only represents unincorporated Garfield County anyway, Newman said. Instead, he suggested focusing on city councils in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale where most of the activity in the county takes place, and encouraging those bodies to implement stricter COVID-related restrictions.
Pitkin County Board Chairman Steve Child said he’s heard disagreements have already surfaced between the municipalities and the county commissioners, and agreed that talks with city councils could be a good strategy.
Board members have brought up the idea of reaching out to Garfield County commissioners on a few occasions since relations between the boards cratered in August, though that doesn’t appear to have happened yet.
In August, the Grizzly Creek Fire in Glenwood Canyon shut Interstate 70 and sent thousands of cars down Highway 82 and up Independence Pass. That, in turn, caused massive traffic backups and road closures because semi-truck drivers disregarded length limits on the narrow Pass road.
Pitkin County officials, in conjunction with state transportation officials, then closed Independence Pass to relieve the chaos, which prompted Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky to berate county and state officials on a conference call.
“You are awful neighbors,” Jankovsky said in August. “You’re turning your back on us during an emergency.”
Jankovsky and fellow Commissioner John Martin also have been defiant about Red level restrictions imposed on Garfield County earlier this month by the state public health department in the face of rising virus infections.
“It’s Christmas and you’re saying you can’t have your family at your house?” Martin said earlier this month. “My answer is, ‘No.’”
On Tuesday, Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper said she agreed with Newman’s assessment of the situation, but felt board members should reach out to their colleagues at the other end of the valley anyway.
“And I say that in light of what happened with the closure on Independence Pass,” Clapper said. “Our biggest concern was that they didn’t reach out to us, so we would just be following that behavior that I didn’t agree with. So I think we should at least reach out.”
The differences between Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo and Michael Buglione — whether professional, political or personal — were on full display at Thursday’s candidate debate held in Aspen.