October 21, 2014
As first published in Colorado Watchdog Wire
Embattled National Parks Director Spends $38,320 to Filter Free Speech in Mesa County
Lisa Eckert, the embattled National Parks Director for the Colorado National Monument conducted ongoing “listening sessions” last week seeking public comment on her plan to prohibit certain vehicles from Monument Road, a public right-of-way which runs through the Colorado National Monument from the Grand Valley to the ranching community of Glade Park. Lisa Eckert admits that her plan to prohibit “hazardous material” hauls on Monument Road did not “land well,” but nevertheless appears to be pushing forward.
Following the announcement in June of her unilateral prohibition of essential vehicles from Monument Road, Eckert received significant blowback, including a reprimand from Mesa County’s regional newspaper. But despite unyielding public opposition to her plan, Eckert continues to spend thousands on expensive “facilitators” to moderate and report on her “listening sessions.”
According to a September 24th Grand Junction Daily Sentinel article by Gary Harmon, those hired to moderate Eckert’s series of listening sessions have cost American taxpayers well over $38,000. The article says:
A Boulder-based company, CDR Associates, [last spring] planned and conducted listening sessions and interviews in connection with the drafting of a visitor activity and commercial services plan and a final report. The Park Service paid CDR $26,876.
Karen Barbee of “Steadfast Communications,” received $11,444.80 for moderating the two October meetings. Barbee is a certified trainer with the Center for Non-violent Communication and lives in Glenwood Springs.
Barbee’s “non-violent communication” approach did not go over well at the October 7th meeting in Glade Park, where she attempted to lull the crowd by using “reflective” language and “emotional words,” often used in mediation and conflict resolution. Barbee told the crowd several times that their “anger” would prevent the meeting from being productive, which many Glade Park residents found insulting. Using her “non-violent communication” technique, Barbee restated the comments from audience members, submitting the restated versions to the written record of the meeting. Nancy Aldrich-Arellano, of Glade Park, protested Ms. Barbee’s subtle paraphrasing of comments saying, “That’s not what I said. Please don’t twist my words!”
Both Barbee and Eckert told the audience of their desire to “find solutions together.” The people of Glade Park, none of whom displayed support for Eckert, made it clear that there would be no agreement with her plan to prohibit vehicles such as propane trucks, cattle trucks, and hay haulers from Monument Road. Feeling like déjà vu all over again, the residents of Glade Park were understandably irate, since the October 7 meeting was round three in the Monument Road battle, and many felt that they were simply not being heard by Eckert and others from the National Park Service. David Wilkenson, a resident of Glade Park, wrote of Eckert’s facilitated listening sessions, “It look suspiciously like a disingenuous, wannabe-clever manipulation to achieve her goals.”
Resistance from those who live and work in Glade Park is not Eckert’s only hurdle to banning certain vehicles from Monument Road. In 1986 the matter was decided in the John R. Wilkenson v. U.S. Department of Interior, et al. decision handed down by the U.S. District Court. In that case the people of Glade Park joined forces with Mesa County to push back against restrictions and fees applied by the National Park Service regarding the use of Monument Road. It reads:
It is…Ordered, Adjudged and Decreed, that a public right-of-way exists in that portion of Rim Rock Drive extending from the East Entrance of the Colorado National Monument to the Glade Park Cut-Off, and across the Glade Park Cut-Off [*1281] connecting the DS road to Glade Park with the Monument Road to Highway 340, and the use of that road for the purpose of continuous travel through the Monument in a non-recreational use for which no entrance fee may lawfully be charged, and the defendants enjoined from charging any such fee or otherwise preventing such non-recreational use of the roadways.
Speculation mounted the following evening (October 8) that Eckert’s listening sessions constitute more spectacle than substance when another public meeting was held at Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction. David Wilkenson, quoted previously, is the brother of John R. Wilkenson, the plaintiff in Wilkenson v. U.S. Department of the Interior. He stood quietly outside the doors of Two Rivers handing out flyers which cited and summarized the 1986 case that concluded Monument Road is a public right-of-way. Wilkenson says was approached by a representative from the National Park Service who asked for one of his flyers, then went back inside. A few moments later employees from Two Rivers Convention Center asked him to leave the premises.
Despite the fact that Wilkenson was contacted by a National Park Service representative before being thrown out by Two Rivers’ staff, Eckert, in a Grand Junction Daily Sentinel story dated October 10, claimed to have found out about the incident after the fact. Gary Harmon quotes her here:
“There was a question of contract and that question was asked to Two Rivers staff who I assumed handled (it) accordingly,” Eckert wrote [in an email]. “Since Mr. Wilkenson has never introduced himself to me, it’s unfortunate he didn’t choose to attend the public meeting and do so. I believe there was a lot of varied input and sharing.”
Eckert’s words infer that Mr. Wilkenson “didn’t choose to attend the public meeting,” when Wilkenson himself and a witnesses to the event, Sean Hunt of Grand Junction, reported to me that he was asked to leave.
I later interviewed David Wilkenson to discuss the 1986 case with him as well as his experience having been forced off the premises of Two Rivers Convention Center where Eckert was purportedly conducting a meeting for the public. He said of Eckert, who is originally from Madison, Wisconsin, that by using “facilitators” to paraphrase comments made by Mesa County citizens, and preventing an opposing voice from participating in a public meeting, she was “infringing on the First Amendment rights citizens.” Of the ongoing battle for Monument Road, which is a lifeline for the people of Glade Park, Wilkenson said, “It’s fundamental to the operation of the Colorado National Monument that the National Parks Director be in touch with the people of the region.” Whether or not Lisa Eckert gets more in touch with the will of the people of Mesa County has yet to be seen.
Reposted by Reagangirl.com 10/21/2014