by Sally Scott Moore
All three Hinsdale County Commissioners — Susan Thompson, Stan Whinnery and Cindy Dozier — met with Lake City Town Trustees and Town Manager Caroline Mitchell for a working lunch meeting on Wednesday, November 7.
The lone item on the agenda was continuing discussion of the OHV issue. Leadership on all fronts are intent to reach a viable compromise to appease the vocal anti-OHV group who have collected under the title “Turn Around Lake City”.
As reported in last week’s WORLD, the group filed a petition on Wednesday, November 7, seeking a special election to repeal OHV access within the Lake City town limits. The pressure was palpable among town and county leadership due to a statutory time clock enacted the moment the petition is turned in.
Also present in Coursey Annex for the meeting were Lake City Mayor Bruce Vierheller and Town Trustees Richard Moore, Dave Roberts, Marty Priest and Jud Hollingsworth.
Larry Iiams, former Lake City Mayor and spokesperson for the Turn Around Lake City group was in the audience.
In her introductory remarks, Commissioner Susan Thompson stated, “I truly believe we can find common ground on OHVs.”
During the next hour and a half, many options and ideas were presented, including strict hours of use, noise ordinances and options for renewed ATV trailering to designated areas. When suggestions for additional OHV fees or stickers were suggested, Hinsdale County Attorney Michael O’Loughlin cautioned there are statutory issues which cannot be skirted.
O’Laughlin reminded the assemblage, “By State statute, we cannot charge extra fees. OHV stickers or local OHV driving privileges fall into this category.”
Commissioner Thompson noted that the public Armory meeting earlier this fall had been evenly split pro and con and the primary issues she heard at that meeting “were noise and dust issues.”
Mayor Vierheller concurred, “You are right. It was a pretty divided, equally split group at the Armory.”
Commissioner Whinnery responded that much of the dust issue had arisen due to extended drought conditions. “Asphalt is the only good remedy for dust and we don’t have that in the budget.” Vierheller nodded, noting that road conditions “the last two years up at Capitol City have been the worst I’ve ever seen them.”
From the county perspective, Thompson added, “Lack of rain, ATVs, normal deterioration. We have no money, resources, man power or budget to fix the roads.”
Whinnery said definitively, “OHVs/ATVs are here to stay. We aren’t going to get them to go away. The question is, how can we regulate and how can we provide some checks and balances?” He quickly added, “The current sheriff made a monumental mistake of allowing every ATV to drive up and down this road. That was wrong. I hope the new sheriff has a new viewpoint.”
Vierheller acknowledged financial challenges of additional road grading, as well as problems of access in residential neighborhoods. “The petition is expected soon.” He speculated that the special election may happen as early as April, 2019.
“The Trustee Board has to look at that and decide.”
Concerns were aired by both trustees and commissioners noting this 20-day countdown was restrictive. Their frustration was repeated, noting that this petition delivery was severely compressing town and county good-faith efforts and any ability to reach any sort of reasonable compromise ahead of an unbudgeted special election estimated to cost taxpayers $8,000.
While understanding a special election was assured but the outcome was not, Jud Hollingsworth initially expressed reluctance to expend lots of effort on the matter until after the vote. “At that point,” he explained,” trustees and commissioners can come together and begin working on it.”
Iiams interjected, “The special election is not the only option. There are options short of that to fix. The Special Election is a last ditch effort. You may not want to wait to work on the other solutions.”
Whinnery assured everyone, “This will require compromise on everybody’s part,” the commissioner adding, “Larry’s group probably doesn’t want to incur the big cost to the community for the election. But they feel they haven’t been heard.”
Trustee Marty Priest stated she disagreed with Hollingsworth about delaying any negotiated action. “We knew we were thinking of these things on our respective boards, and we just didn’t relay the information. We need to continue talking about this problem.”
Iiams stated, “One option is to repeal the 2016 ordinances. It’s time for us to just take a look at all of this.”
Vierheller questioned Iiams, “Can your petition be removed if they see progress being made?”
Town Manager Caroline Mitchell entered the fray, noting, “The 20-day clock begins ticking the minute that petition comes to the town office.” She didn’t discount the possibility of extending the process or not acting on the petition before it progresses to the special election. She further suggested, “There is a lot of statutory stuff that has to happen.”
Should the vote pass in favor of Turn Around Lake City’s OHV goals, Vierheller stated, “That doesn’t leave much time to get things in place for the [summer] season.”
Trustee Dave Roberts agreed that wisdom would dictate continuing to work out a compromise. Change is inevitable and rarely welcomed. He referenced a 70s vintage SILVER WORLD article in which outraged complaints were raised “about the horrible jeep traffic.”
Having quietly listened to the lengthy discussion, Trustee Richard Moore observed, “I don’t think the trustees or the commissioners will come up with a solution. The petition will cost money, but it won’t solve anything.” Moore and others have inferred that this special election might spark a round robin of dueling special elections on the OHV access topic.
Directing his gaze at Iiams, Moore added, “I don’t know what you consider compromise, or what concessions you might be willing to make? We have to talk it out rationally. We need representatives from all groups without the extremes from either side, and work it out.”
Moore noted that Caroline Mitchell, Justin Casey and Town Clerk Jamie Turrentine attempted to sit down and discuss a compromise with the Turn Around group, and that meeting turned into a screaming match.
Iiams did not reply, but audience member Sarah Gutterman, who attended the referenced gathering, said she felt that particular effort was unsuccessful, because no purpose had been established ahead of time. “I think it was unclear.” She did note her agreement with Moore, “We have to talk this out for the good of the community. We must have cohesiveness and collaboration.”
Whinnery nodded, “This petition cycle will never end. Together we stand, divided we fall. We must talk it out. We will never solve the issues without compromise.”
Hollingsworth pointed out the expense of legal fees and elections. “We would need meetings every day to get a treaty in place. Turning to Iiams, he asked if he would consider postponing the petition filing to give them more time to work out a solution.
Iiams replied, “Jud, I appreciate that, but this petition will be filed today.”
When questioned further, Iiams said he “wasn’t’ sure” if he actually had the legal authority with the “Turn Around“ group to pull or delay the signature- driven initiative, even should he wish to do so.
Moore again cautioned that an open meeting format leads to extremes and volatility. “My plea is for compromise with a designated committee.”
Feeling the pressure to continue working toward OHV compromise and workable solutions, the town and county ramped up their joint meeting scheduling.
Another joint meeting was planned on the topic Wednesday evening, November 14, at the town meeting venue. A third joint meeting has been slated after the Thanksgiving holiday on December 5, following the regularly scheduled commissioners’ meeting at Coursey Annex.
by Sally Scott Moore