Kevin Stephenson: Soapbox
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Mr. Fingerman: Would you really like to know why Aspen has to look outside, or would you rather just complain about it to sell newspapers?
When I was hired, back in May, to come to Colorado and go to work for the District Attorney’s Office, I had spent the previous year working in Greensburg, Kan. (my hometown), providing disaster relief to tornado victims of the killer storm which struck in May of 2007. Work had started to slow down in Kansas, and I was looking for something new. I sent a resume to the DA’s office in Glenwood Springs, and I got an almost immediate response, because I’ve prosecuted in three counties in Kansas, worked for the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, and done 77 jury trials as sole counsel.
I was told that it was difficult to find and retain employees because of the cost of living in the area, due to a lack of affordable housing. I agreed to come because your District Attorney is one of the finest men I’ve ever met, and I believed I had something to offer in the way of prosecutorial experience to the citizens of the district. Colorado is one of only a few states who requires that applicants re-take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination before they can be admitted, and I did not meet the minimum score, primarily because the only review materials available, which I downloaded from the test maker’s website, were six years old. I’m planning on retaking the exam in November, and should have the results in December, when I will reapply for the felony Deputy District Attorney position. You might wonder why, after what happened, I would be the least bit interested in sticking around, especially after enduring the press I’ve received.
When I got to Aspen about three weeks ago, I fell in love with the beauty and the character of the town and the area. I also found out that Aspen has its own unique problems, the most troubling of which is substance abuse. I’d guess that 85 to 90 percent of the crime which occurs in Aspen and Pitkin County is related to alcohol or drug abuse. My father was an alcoholic who started with underage drinking in high school, and ended up in a seedy motel room in Boulder, where he was found two days after he died, with a half-empty bottle of whiskey next to the bed. I was 15. I have seen the effects that substance abuse can have, and I have been involved in turning some troubled teenagers around. I have already become involved in the Aspen/Pitkin County Victim-Witness task force, and I have volunteered to participate in programs in the Aspen school system about the dangers of underage drinking. I’m still here because I care, and I want to help.
When I began reading the Times and the Daily News, I wanted to get an idea of what issues the community is facing, and where each newspaper stood philosophically and politically. The first time I read Sheldon Fingerman’s column, I thought it was a tongue-in-cheek satire designed to bring issues to the forefront in an entertaining way, but by the time I had read three or four of them, I figured out that Mr. Fingerman is more interested in selling advertising, spewing hatred and hurting people than he is in solving problems. I stopped reading his column, until yesterday, when I noticed that he leveled one of his attacks at me.
There are two types of people in the world: the people who see a problem and then criticize anyone who tries to do anything about it; and people who see a problem and lead the way in getting it solved. I’ve seen both types of people in Greensburg, Kan., and in Aspen. Greensburg and Aspen share a common problem: a lack of affordable housing. Greensburg doesn’t have any because what it had was destroyed, and Aspen doesn’t have any because it’s having trouble getting it built.
Affordable housing and traffic congestion are two issues that Mr. Fingerman complains about in every one of his columns, usually in the same breath. Every time I see it, I have to shake my head, because it seems he doesn’t understand that these issues are directly related, and solving one will solve the other. Aspen has traffic congestion is because of the lack of affordable housing; the people who work here commute in. This isn’t rocket science ” build affordable housing, or pay wages which allow the workforce to afford what’s here ” and the traffic problem will disappear. I hope that the affordable housing problem gets solved … because I can’t afford to live here, either, and I’d like to. But complaining and personally attacking anyone who tries to solve the problem won’t get the problem solved … it will only discourage the ones who are trying.
When my test result came back, I sat down with Andrew Travers, reporter for the Daily News, and spent about an hour and a half telling him who I am, why I’m here, and what I want to accomplish. The story he wrote was fair, accurate, and balanced. The headline above it was, in my view, unnecessarily brutal, misleading, and designed to “stir the firestorm.” It worked. I resigned to save your District Attorney the unjust criticism which would inevitably be leveled at him, given the difficulty involved in hiring and keeping good people to work in Aspen, and given his dedication and honesty. The second article was also fair and accurate, but the headline was inaccurate, sensationalist brutality.
I told Andrew that the media have a lot of power with which to influence the community, and that power can be used for good or ill. I hope that in the future, the power will be used to educate, inform, and motivate people to solve community problems.
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