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The Monster We Created

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It is time all the voters of El Paso County -- Republican, Democrat, Independent, and all the rest -- recognize that the El Paso County Board of Commissioners and County Administrator Terry Harris, and their staffs and backers are totally out of control.

What could we have expected? We have made the BOCC the playground of the far right, the ultra-conservative Republicans. So secure is their hold on this important body that they, in the controlling ultra-conservative element of the Republican Party, mete out the so-called elected positions as rewards to the faithful. The only rule -- absolute loyalty to the far-right agenda.

One cannot so concentrate power in the hands of a strongly motivated and rigid element and not expect debacles like that now being carried on around what was once one of the finest health departments in the nation.

Often in the shadows, the puppet master has long been Harris. Hired to oversee the administrative activities of the county (supposedly a nonpolitical position), he instead is the consummate and unforgiving politician. He works tirelessly to impose and maintain an agenda that would even make the most radical right-winger in the country happy.

He has seen to it that his key staffers are absolutely of his mind and philosophy. He countenances no dissent. And the same is true of the "elected" commissioners.

Harris might be equated to Jim Mullen, recently "retired" city manager of Colorado Springs. The difference is, Mullen's crime was not in being too political but, rather, in being too aloof and noncommunicative.

In attacking and attempting to control the Board of Health (BOH) and to directly run the Health Department, Harris and the commissioners have broken a number of rules -- not to mention endangered the health and welfare of the county.

The Health Department is a separate body that is not under the county in any way. It is a state agency with its own board and its own administration. This is on purpose; it's designed to allow the Health Department to do its important work free from politicians and the political manipulation.

The only control the BOCC has legally over the BOH is appointment of board members. Here, too, commissioners have violated procedure. They have secretly sought out and brought forward politically correct (to their way of thinking) candidates and pushed them ahead of others with far better credentials and intentions, exempting them from the process.

In the mid-'90s, when this issue first arose, Terry Harris and the commissioners actually lunched with their recruited candidates, charging the meal to their county charge cards, for the purpose of instructing them on how to proceed and what was expected of them. Often these candidates were in conflict of interest, having relationships with the commissioners, Harris and/or the county. Current BOH member Karen Rooks Nauer is just the most recent of these.

And, of course, the county attorney has been counted on to rule that no conflict existed.

The voters of this county must take matters in hand. We have created this monster and only we can kill it. We have created a closed body into which no outside light is allowed. We must open the doors and let the sun shine in -- by electing non-Republicans to sit on the BOCC.

Even if you think that the county should be in the hands of those with conservative leanings, you must see that not to have a minority dissenting voice leads to abuse of power such as the BOCC and the county administrator perpetrate on the people of the county now.

The election of more moderate conservative Republicans like Jeri Howells can only do so much. In the end, they are beholden to the Republican Party, which is controlled by the extreme within it.

There are five seats on the BOCC, and two of them are open this November. Electing two Democrats would still leave the balance of power well to the right, but it would help guarantee honest and open government.

That alone is enough reason for concerned voters, of all parties and philosophies, to elect a couple of candidates -- or even just one -- from outside the controlling Republican Party. It makes good sense.

Frank Whitworth is a community activist living in Colorado Springs.

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