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Diplomacy, Fountain style

Ranger Rich


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In a few weeks, proud Americans from sea to shining sea — and never is that phrase more meaningful than today, thanks to British Petroleum — will waddle into another Fourth of July celebration packing hot dogs, beer, potato salad, hot dogs, beer and hot dogs.

(And, if you're a member of the highly esteemed Gazette editorial department, a fully loaded .44-caliber Magnum handgun. Because you never know when some bastard might try to take an extra cookie.)

But first let us pause to remember the reason for the holiday, harkening to that summer day 234 years ago in Philadelphia when John Adams of Massachusetts, irked by Benjamin Franklin's insistence on the phrase, "among our unalienable rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of the happy monkey," grabbed Franklin in a headlock and smacked him around a little.

Although it's possible I'm confusing the Declaration of Independence (or as we call it, the "Indy") with last week's Fountain City Council meeting.

Fountain, as hardly any of us know, is a town of some 23,000 people between our village and Pueblo, nestled in an area the early Spanish settlers labeled Landes Scenario Non Remembero ("the land that scenery forgot").

The town has long been a hotbed of political activity. A few years ago a council member, also a convicted felon, was pepper-sprayed in the eyes by a rival candidate, who said the council member had threatened him with a pitchfork while driving a tractor. And who among us hasn't been in that situation?

Which brings us to last week's meeting, during which resident Al Lender became outraged at council members who took away his right to grow medical marijuana. Lender, by the way, is part of the Lender's Bagels family. Although — and I choose my words carefully — judging by his usual appearance, Al is not exactly blowing his share of the fortune on clothes.

For the record, Lender is also the former council member who got pepper-sprayed while riding a tractor and waving a pitchfork around.

Anyway, the council had hinted for months that it would allow Lender (who was convicted on drug charges more than 30 years ago) to produce marijuana. But last week four of the seven councilors suddenly decided Lender's farm wouldn't be zoned for pot growing. The four also don't like him very much.

Later, during a break, Lender confronted councilor Harold Thompson, bellowing, "You son of a bitch, you just took my property rights away." Thompson, a gruff, older fellow who refuses to speak to media and whose haircut doesn't know World War II is over, responded in the manner of Adams and Jefferson: He put Lender in a headlock and smacked him in the face.

Standing between them during the scuffle was Mayor Jeri Howells, a political veteran who served as an El Paso County commissioner for 16 years.

"Harold gets the most strange look on his face and then he began to reach out and punch at Al," Howells says. "I'm stuck between them. One punch landed. A right hand, I think. Then he got Al into some kind of a neck hold and I'm saying, 'Stop it! Stop it!' But he definitely hit Al in the face."

Howells is no stranger to citizen frustration. During her county commissioner years, an angry resident stormed into her office one morning and emptied two bags of garbage onto her desk. That garbage, as we know, went on to become anti-tax advocate Doug Bruce.

Thompson isn't accessible to anyone. On Fountain's website, he's the only council member who refuses to list an e-mail address or telephone number, indicating he's unfamiliar with the use of a computer. Or a phone.

"I've had calls from people who think Harold should resign," Howells said. "I think he should consider that, but he won't. I also think he should apologize, but I also know that will never come. Sometimes you just have to let the public vent its frustration. Sometimes they yell and swear at us. But I just don't think citizens should be hit by their elected officials."

Because there are more civilized ways to settle a dispute. Reasoning. Compromise. Compassion. Understanding.

And, of course, if all that fails, we've still got tear gas and a hoe.


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