Colorado Editorial Roundup
The Daily Sentinel, May 21, on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s response to a biologist’s conviction:
It’s hard to read the reporting on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist implicated in a scheme to sell bobcats pelts overseas and not wonder how the agency could tolerate keeping such an employee on the payroll.
Reporters Dennis Webb and Charles Ashby cobbled together information from court documents and government records because the agency itself has been tight-lipped about how Thad L. Bingham of Fruita managed to plead guilty for the second time in three years to a violation of wildlife-protection laws while holding down a job with Fish and Wildlife.
As of Friday, Bingham continued to work at the Horsethief Canyon Native Fish Facility near Fruita, where he managed rearing of endangered razorback suckers and earned about $88,000 a year. Agency officials indicated they were awaiting the outcome of the criminal proceedings before taking any administrative action. But after Bingham pleaded guilty last week to a federal felony charge in relation to selling dozens of bobcat pelts to foreign fur traders, agency officials cited privacy laws as precluding them from sharing Bingham’s fate.
“While we do not comment on personnel matters, the service takes any allegations regarding misconduct or violations of laws, especially wildlife protection laws, very seriously,” a spokesman said.
Very seriously? The agency used the same words after Bingham agreed to a 2016 plea deal in a case related to the poaching of an elk in Garfield County two years earlier. That deal left Bingham with a misdemeanor for trespassing.
As tough as wildlife agencies are on poachers in Colorado, shouldn’t a person who is paid handsomely in a wildlife-protection capacity be held to the highest standard possible? Letting someone keep their job after pleading down to a misdemeanor doesn’t sound like taking allegations of misconduct “very seriously.”
The spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said the agency did take action in that 2014 poaching case, but won’t say what.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service took appropriate actions following the 2014 poaching incident, but cannot comment further,” the spokesman said in an email. “As a federal agency, we have protocols in place that prohibit the unwarranted disclosure of employees’ private information. With few exceptions, the Privacy Act prohibits agencies from disclosing specific information about administrative action taken against a specific individual.”
Ever heard such bureaucratic baloney talk? Neither have we.
Bingham is to be sentenced in August on a single conviction of violation of the Lacey Act, a federal law aimed at ensuring the protection of animals.
The maximum sentence is up to five years in prison, but his plea deal calls for him to be sentenced on “the low end” of federal sentencing guidelines, meaning he could get as little as six months in prison.
The least thing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can do is assure the public that a two-time loser won’t be breaking anymore wildlife laws on the taxpayer’s dime.
Daily Camera, May 18, on Boulder finding no evidence of racial profiling in white police officer’s confrontation with black man:
The Boulder Police Department on Thursday released results of its internal affairs investigation into a March 1 incident during which officers confronted Zayd Atkinson, a 26-year-old black Naropa student who was picking up trash outside his own residence. The investigation found that the officer who initiated contact with Atkinson, John Smyly, violated department rules, and as a result the department and Smyly had negotiated his resignation from the department, effective last Wednesday.
Smyly’s departure is a just outcome. However, the city of Boulder in announcing the completion of the investigation stated that the probe found no evidence to support the claim that racial profiling led to the incident. This position appears implausible — given the facts of the case and videos of the encounter — and stating it hinders the city’s efforts to address what is widely viewed as racial bias in the department.
About 8:20 a.m. on March 1, Smyly was on patrol when he saw Atkinson sitting on the patio of a residential building on Arapahoe Avenue. “He was manipulating an unknown object in his left hand as he held it close to his mouth,” Smyly wrote in his incident report. “I decided to get closer to the male to see what he was doing.” It was later determined Atkinson was eating. Smyly got out of his car and approached on foot, and by this time Atkinson was collecting trash around the property in a bucket with a metal grabber. “I couldn’t help but notice you just sitting on the patio out there,” Smyly said as he walked up to Atkinson. Atkinson told Smyly he lived and worked at the property. Smyly asked Atkinson what the address was, and Atkinson turned and pointed to the building as he recited the number that was displayed there.
Smyly took this to indicate Atkinson didn’t know the address, and the interaction quickly escalated from there. Atkinson refused Smyly’s commands to sit and drop his trash grabber. Smyly drew his Taser, then his firearm, and he called for emergency backup. By the end of the 22-minute interaction, eight officers and one supervisor had responded, one of the other officers had also drawn his firearm, another officer had also drawn a Taser, and a sergeant was on scene wielding a shotgun loaded with bean bags — all for a man picking up trash at his own home. The police eventually let Atkinson go without a citation.
The internal affairs investigation summary highlights Smyly’s suspicion regarding Atkinson’s gesture to his building number as the moment the encounter went wrong. But it went wrong way before that, when Smyly decided to approach Atkinson in the first place. If Atkinson was a legitimate subject for police questioning, then every person in Boulder doing anything on their own property is a legitimate subject of police questioning. What prompted Smyly to single out Atkinson? He told investigators race had nothing to do with it, but neither he nor other city officials have offered a credible justification for the initial contact.
It is hard to imagine a white person in Boulder being subjected to the treatment that befell Atkinson. Black people make up only 1% of Boulder’s population, but for years police have cited them at more than twice that rate. According to the police department’s annual report for 2018, black people in Boulder are twice as likely as white people to be stopped at an officer’s discretion and, once stopped, they are twice as likely to be arrested.
Atkinson himself has explicitly tied the March 1 incident to the color of his skin, and he is not alone in seeing racial bias in police actions. In a letter to the Camera, Chuck G. Lief, president of Naropa, wrote, “The fact that Smyly skated on the charge of racial profiling based upon his statement that he didn’t initially see that Mr. Atkinson was a man of color is refuted by his own bodycam and must be dismissed as a lie.” The NAACP state conference secretary, the Rev. Tammy Garrett-Williams, following the Atkinson incident, called for Boulder police officers to receive sensitivity training to better understand how to work with people of color.
City officials have long understood that Boulder as a community struggles to maintain a welcoming environment for ethnic minorities. That’s largely why in 2015 the city created a Human Relations Commission. In 2017 it hired its first diversity officer, though that person didn’t last a year on the job, and the reason for her departure remains obscure. The city subsequently assigned her responsibilities to the Government Alliance on Race & Equity.
Boulder City Council members implicitly acknowledged that race played a role in the Atkinson incident when in its wake they agreed to create a task force that will examine the possible formation of a community oversight board for the police department. Three of the five members on the subcommittee that recommended names for the task force were representatives of the Boulder County NAACP, and the city required that at least half of the task force members be people of color. If police really believe that race had nothing to do with the March 1 confrontation, then the city’s attention to race in its response is little more than pandering.
The internal affairs investigation won’t be the last official word on what happened on the morning of March 1. The city appointed former Colorado U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer as independent counsel to review the matter, and it is expected the city will release Troyer’s report this week. The community can only hope that Troyer frankly addresses the role race played in a phalanx of cops surrounding Atkinson with deadly weapons at the ready. Failure of the city to grapple with institutional bias will make it more likely another person of color will be similarly confronted, and next time someone could get hurt.
During a special meeting in March, city council members listened as dozens of people described what it’s like to be a person of color in Boulder facing racism and unfair police treatment. Mayor Suzanne Jones teared up, according to Camera reporting, and said, “We hear you. . You can hold us accountable on that front.”
Dismissal of the race factor in the Atkinson episode fails that pledge of accountability.
The Denver Post, May 17, on Colorado legislation addressing climate change:
Democrats achieved much in 2019 with their complete control of the Colorado state governance, but of all the policies that Gov. Jared Polis has or likely will sign into law, none is as important as the work lawmakers did to reduce Colorado’s carbon footprint.
There’s a good chance toxic D.C. politics will prevent the federal government from ever responding to the threat of climate change. States and local governments must step up and do what they can, and individuals, for that matter, must start chipping in too.
That’s why we applaud the relatively moderate “climate change” legislative agenda passed by Speaker of the House K.C. Becker, House Majority Leader Alec Garnett, Senate President Leroy Garcia, and Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg. Polis has signed some of these into law already but not all of them.
For starters, House Bill 1261, the Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution, set statewide goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions compared with our emissions levels in 2005. The goals are reasonable: a 26% reduction by 2025; a 50% reduction by 2030; and a 90% reduction by 2050.
Those are more modest goals than the executive order former Gov. John Hickenlooper signed in 2017 setting goals based on our emissions levels in 2012 (Colorado utilities reduced their emissions significantly between 2005 and 2012 making Hick’s goals much tougher). But 1261 is still a good step, codifying a goal, even if it’s a less ambitious one.
Reaching those goals will require emissions reductions across the board: electric generation, transportation, oil and gas extraction and refinery emissions, industrial and residential energy use, and gas leaks from coal mines.
While 1261 doesn’t have any real teeth, other legislation passed during the session shows that Democrats have the will to start chipping away at each category.
The oil and gas reform bill, Senate Bill 181, is best known for giving local control to cities and counties over where and how drilling is conducted in their jurisdictions, but it also set the wheels in motion for the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to finally begin drafting rules for how much methane drillers can intentionally release.
Senate Bill 96 would require the Air Quality Control Commission to make rules requiring greenhouse gas-emitting entities to publicly report their emissions — the kind of thing you need to know if you’ve got a goal in place.
Lawmakers voted to extend Colorado’s $5,000 tax credit for those who purchase a new electric vehicle through 2025.
And then there’s the most under-covered bill of the 2019 legislative session: the sunset reauthorization of the Public Utilities Commission.
The bill requires the PUC to consider the environmental or “social” cost of carbon in its analysis of utility projects moving forward. That’ll mean that even if a renewable energy project is more expensive than its fossil fuel alternative, the PUC may still approve it if it’s deemed the benefit to future generations tips the scale. Sadly Republicans opposed most of these bills with only a few GOP lawmakers breaking with their party to vote “yes.”
Yes, there is a cost associated with all of this — higher utility bills, a less robust oil and gas industry, finite tax dollars allocated to these efforts — but there’s a cost of inaction too. That bill will be sent to our children and it grows every year we do nothing to address this threat to our globe.