Rick Brainard was elevated to Grand Junction City Council this week amid an unprecedented citizen protest at his swearing in ceremony. As City Clerk Stephanie Tuin read Mr. Brainard his oath of office, 60 percent of the audience stood and turned their backs on him in silent protest — a remarkable showing for a municipal ceremony on a weekday morning in this small, conservative town. Brainard claimed to the media that he was unaware of the protest, but was sweating after the ceremony. In response to a question about the protest from a KKCO Channel 11 news reporter, Brainard responded “You know, it is what it is …My supporters have been steadfast, and I’m grateful for that.” An unidentified Brainard supporter was overheard saying, “All they did was turn their backs. They have a right to do that. I thought they were very civil. Not nearly as obnoxious as I thought they were going to be.”
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As the first civil union in Mesa County was taking place across town in Grand Junction, Colorado, verbal fireworks flew at the last meeting of the sitting Grand Junction City Council. In a surprise move, Council voted 4-2 to drop the City’s membership in the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, which has continued to support embattled councilman-elect Rick Brainard. Brainard was arrested on charges of third degree assault and harassment after allegedly pushing and hitting his live-in girlfriend in the face just four days after he was elected to office April 2. The arrest has outraged the community and galvanized a grassroots effort to keep Brainard from taking his seat on Council. In a recent TV interview in his own defense, Mr. Brainard called citizens who oppose him “an uninformed lynch mob,” and insisted he will take his seat despite the charges. His statements further inflamed citizens, who have vowed to recall him as soon as the law permits it. The City has said a recall effort will cost taxpayers $45,000. Citizens against Brainard have conducted rallies and marched outside the Chamber of Commerce building and City Hall wearing black and white “No Brainard” T-shirts and “wife beater” undershirts that say “Domestic Violence is a No-Brainard.” Several businesses vowed to quit the Chamber if Mr. Brainard is sworn in and the Chamber continues to back him. The City of Grand Junction for many years was a “Chairman’s Circle” level member of the Chamber — the most expensive membership the Chamber offers, at a cost to taxpayers of $6,000 per year. Councilman Jim Doody noted that the Chamber has also created a 501-c-4 (lobbying) group specifically for the purpose of influencing local elections, but did not disclose how much it spent influencing the last election.
The saga of embattled city councilman-elect Rick Brainard continues to unfold in Grand Junction, Colorado as citizens continue to pressure Brainard to resign his seat on City Council. Brainard, 51, won election to the Grand Junction City Council on April 2, but on April 6 was arrested on charges of third degree assault and harassment after admitting to hitting his live-in girlfriend in the face in a domestic dispute. Brainard said in a police affidavit that he struck his girlfriend because she “needed to shut her mouth.” His remarks have drawn the ire of the community. Most of the sitting city council members signed a resolution calling on Mr. Brainard to resign his seat. The local paper, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, endorsed Brainard prior to his election, but rescinded its endorsement and published an editorial calling on him to reject his seat on Council. The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce also endorsed Brainard for office, but has so far refused to pull their support for him, saying he is “entitled to due process.” Brainard served on the Chamber’s board. Mr. Brainard so far has vowed to take his seat on Council despite the furor. He is scheduled to be sworn into office on May 6, coincidentally the same day that he is supposed to make his first court appearance in his assault case.
Lauren Boebert such a terrible Republican candidate for CD-3 that the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce has refused to endorse her.
You have to understand how the Grand Junction Area Chamber works in order to fully grasp how momentous this non-endorsement is.
Even the Tea Party Chamber doesn’t like Boebert.
Under Diane Schwenke, its president of the last 30 years, the G.J. Area Chamber in 2012 became a politically far right wing tea-party group that portrays itself as a champion of small business, while they actually put their political effort into lobbying for the big businesses that pony up their highest membership fees of $7,000/year.
This makes for some weird actions by the Chamber.
The Chamber has endorsed criminals for city council, they’ve endorsed people who can’t write a coherent sentence for school board, and they even endorsed a dental hygienist for Drainage Board who’d lived here 2 years, moved here from San Diego and couldn’t tell a drainage ditch from an irrigation ditch over a candidate who’d served on Palisade Town Council for 8 years, been mayor pro-tem, sat on the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority Board, sat on the Colorado Municipal League’s Executive Board for 6 years, had attended seminars on wastewater management and subscribed to periodicals about drainage just for fun. Why? Because the lady from San Diego opposed a fee the drainage district sought to fund much-needed updating of the valley’s troubled, outdated drainage system.
Were you around for the 2013 City of Grand Junction election?
If not, then you really missed a doozy.
That was a year in which Grand Junction residents learned some big, important lessons about city council elections.
Here is one of them:
The best-funded candidates for city council are often the WORST people to sit on city council.
Mark your calendars: there’s a local election coming up that Grand Valley progressives and intelligent voters can actually win if they just get out to vote: It’s an election in which typically only about 200 people turn out vote, so one or two dozen extra voters coming out could really tip the entire election in a good way for our valley. It’s for the District 3 seat seat on the Grand Valley Drainage District (GVDD) board, and it’s coming up May 8. (pdf)
The difference between the two candidates is stark. It should make for a very easy decision by voters.
In an op-ed in today’s Daily Sentinel, the paper blames KeepNorth4Ever — the citizen group lobbying to keep “North Avenue” from becoming “University Boulevard” — for turning the issue into an “imbrolgio,” saying they failed to pay adequate attention to local government. The op-ed also blames KeepNorth4Ever for “sowing division” in the community by their activities.
The paper’s narrow, sour-grapes style viewpoint misses the bigger picture and places blame when instead plaudits are due.
The events center promoters call their group “Say Yes for Grand Junction,” but a “no” vote on the proposed events center doesn’t mean you are saying “no” to Grand Junction as a whole. Far from it.
Grand Junction residents aren’t shallow or selfish. They put a lot of thought into their votes, and there’s a lot to consider with this measure, particularly given Grand Junction’s dire financial position and long list of other needs.
Promoters say the events center, known as Measure 2A on the citywide ballot, will cost $65 million to build, but their own press release and the wording of the ballot measure both say that, including the financing costs over its proposed 30 year term, the total cost to taxpayers for the event center will actually come to $134 million. Fully half that amount is interest the City will have to pay on the loan needed to finance the project. That’s twice the amount we’ve been told about in promotions for the project, and while it’s the more realistic total estimated cost of the project, it’s not the figure event center promoters have been touting.
Also, voters need to consider other information about this project that isn’t being volunteered by promoters, like the potential long term risks of the project.
Mike Anton is back, appearing on TV and speaking to groups around town, telling Grand Junction residents they should vote for an extra sales tax to build an events center downtown.
Do you remember Mike Anton?
Well then let’s recap exactly who Mike Anton is, and what he has done over the last few years, so you will remember him:
Remember how THAT turned out?
The Daily Sentinel reported on January 28, 2016 that our western slope State Senator Ray Scott is considering running for governor of Colorado in two years. He’s considering the governorship in lieu of running for a national office like senator, because, he says, he “feels he can do more if he stays within the state.”
The notion is either side-splittingly funny or utterly tragic. Or maybe both.
The tragic part is that by mulling over his lofty ideas to the Sentinel, Scott is putting his narcissism on display for all to see. The funny part is that he’s been the worst legislator imaginable and has consistently acted to the detriment of most of his constituents, if you can call that funny. Maybe it’s the tragic part.
But tragicomedy is nothing new to the western slope Republican political crowd.
If you need verification of the extent to which former juror Marilyn Charlesworth is being hung out to dry as a result of her service eleven years ago on the Blagg jury, look no further than how the District Attorney’s office handled another recent case of juror misconduct that also led to a new trial for the defendant.
To recap, Charlesworth currently has the distinction of being the most abused juror in modern U.S. history. Over the past eleven years, convicted murderer Michael Blagg’s defense team has forced her to defend herself against a number of allegations, including that while serving as a juror she withheld information from the Court about the extent of a vision problem, about a specific medication she was allegedly prescribed and, most recently, about whether she experienced an incident of domestic violence over two decades ago. The Mesa County DA has now filed contempt charges against her, is currently threatening her with 30 days in jail and fees in excess of $45,000, nominally to pay for Blagg’s first trial. That figure includes witness travel fees, hotel expenses, expert witness fees, subpoena service, the cost of transcripts for further hearings and additional costs not yet specified. Over the eleven years since Blagg’s first trial, the Court has made public Charlesworth’s medical, employment, DMV and IRS tax records and information from them has been published in the local paper, all without her consent. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel now routinely features her name in articles about the Blagg case. Charlesworth and her husband now face thousands of dollars in legal bills for her defense from the two-pronged legal onslaught by Blagg’s defense team the Mesa County District Attorney’s office.
Contrast this with how the same D.A.’s office handled a second case of a juror accused of the exact same charge — misconduct — in another recent case, and whose actions resulted in a convicted defendant, a child molester, getting a new trial.
Different Cases, Same Charge
In 2010, Rodney Eddy, a former resident of Mesa and deacon at Mesa View Bible Church, was convicted of multiple felony counts of sexual assault on a teenage girl. A jury found him guilty on four counts each of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust.
Eddy, now 73 years old, had two trials. The first ended in February, 2010, after jurors deadlocked on the charges against him. His next trial came six months later, in August of 2010. In that trial, jurors convicted Eddy of four counts of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust and four more counts for a pattern of abuse. He was acquitted of eight additional charges and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison.
Fast-forward to February, 2015, when the Court awarded Eddy a third trial, this time due to juror misconduct.
In a screening questionnaire given to jurors before Eddy’s second trial, one unidentified juror answered “no” to the question of whether he or any of his family members had ever been a victim of sexual abuse. He later confessed that he had, in fact, been sexually abused by a priest in Grand Junction in 1965, at age 12. He told investigators that he had lied on his questionnaire to get on the jury after he learned sexual abuse allegations were central to Eddy’s case. He told investigators he was seeking “payback” for the wrongs allegedly committed against him by the priest when he was a child.
Former Grand Junction City Councilman and Mayor Bill Pitts died this week.
Bill Pitts was a successful inventor and a non-stop, die-hard booster of our town. As a long-time private pilot, he started trying to draw the public’s attention to the corruption occurring on Grand Junction Regional Airport Board years before the FBI raided it for fraud allegations in November, 2013. He invented the magnetic plastic covers people put over their swamp cooler ceiling vents in the wintertime to keep drafts out. He started the Security Alarm Company, and a camp ground and RV park at 22 and H Roads. He started Dinosaur Days. He had a relentlessly positive view of Grand Junction, put in hundreds of hours of his own time to promote it and gave up several big job offers and promotions and sizable salary increases to be able to live here full time. Pitts left a huge legacy of accomplishments for which his family can be very proud.
But despite all his good deeds and positive accomplishments, Bill Pitts also suffered from the very worst treatment that Grand Junction’s dominant local leadership could dish out.
Stabbed in the Back by the Chamber
The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce turned on Bill Pitts, their long-time member, when they put Rick Brainard up as a candidate against him in the April, 2013 City Council election. The chamber, through its secret money group the Western Colorado Business Alliance, poured over $10,000 into getting Brainard elected over Pitts. If you put the track records of the two candidates side by side, anyone could see that Bill Pitts, with his past experience, accomplishments and history, was the stand-out candidate who was far better for Grand Junction. But people listened to the chamber and elected Brainard over Pitts. Brainard’s arrest for assault four days after his election just added an exclamation mark to the horrible choice the chamber made in selecting and backing him as a candidate. The incident demonstrates yet again why the chamber is so very bad for Grand Junction. Pitts confided that he believed that prominent Grand Junction businessman, Doug Simons, owner of Enstrom Candies, who sat on the Grand Junction Regional Airport Board, was the driving force behind the GOP and Chamber’s effort to oust him from Council, believing it was done in retaliation for trying to draw attention to the fraud Pitts suspected was occurring at the Airport.
After being a die-hard booster and dues-paying member of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce and the Mesa County Republican Party for over 44 years, at the May 1, 2013 City Council meeting Bill Pitts announced that he was withdrawing his memberships from both organizations.
Read the full story of how these groups stabbed him in the back, and why Pitts fled the chamber and the Mesa County GOP here.
Candidates for the contested seats on the Grand Junction City Council are all starting to sound the same. Kim Kerk supports “property owners rights” and a “business friendly community.” Duncan McArthur is for “private property rights” and the “small business owner.” They sound just the same, don’t they? Dennis Simpson says he’s a “fiscal conservative,” and McArthur is for “fiscal responsibility,” but aren’t these the same thing? Basically, it’s code for even more belt-tightening for our community.
It’s like listening to a broken record. And it’s folly for voters to listen to them.
Business owners and the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce wield outsized influence in Grand Junction, and they’ve shown citizens time and again that believing anything they say or do at election time is completely absurd.
The chamber portrays itself as the single most important political voice in town because it represents businesses, but only a fraction of area businesses actually belong to the chamber and according to the chamber’s membership list, many of their members are from outside of the area. The “Grand Junction Chamber” has members in Denver, Arvada, Lakewood, Greenwood Village, Centennial, Glenwood Springs, Moab, Utah, Reno, Nevada, Houston, Texas, and even Washington, D.C…. Why should any company based on the front range or another state have any say or lobbying power over Grand Junction’s issues or candidates?
What’s more, valuing businesses more highly than ordinary, hard-working city residents has cost this city dearly and set us far behind smaller western slope towns. For years, maybe even decades, Grand Junction citizens have been craving a public recreation center, like the ones the cities of Fruita, Delta, Montrose and Durango have already built for their citizens. Over and over, our City Council has denied residents this same wonderful amenity based on an unproven premise that building such a facility might possibly be detrimental to less than a handful of private businesses in town, like gyms and athletic clubs. A couple of businesses vs. tens of thousands of citizens who could benefit from such a facility. Why are city residents always the losers in this kind of issue?
Haven’t Grand Junction residents sacrificed their quality of life on the altar of almighty private business long enough?
Businesses and the Chamber: Unreliable Voices at Election time
Moreover, neither the chamber nor private businesses have proven reliable proponents on issues. The chamber has gone to bat for private businesses at election time before, only to be outed as lying.
Remember Referred Measure A in the April, 2013 election? It asked voters to uphold light industrial zoning by the Colorado River so Brady Trucking, a private business, could expand its operations there. The chamber promised voters that if they passed the measure, Brady Trucking would bring a slew of new jobs to town averaging $70,000 a year and build a walking and biking trail on a 50-foot wide easement along the river, as well as fencing and landscaping. Chamber President Diane Schwenke said, “This is an issue where the voters can support good jobs and development of trails.”
Voters listened to the chamber and duly passed the measure, and now, two years later, the site is still untouched. No trails were ever built, and no additional jobs ever brought to the area.
The vaunted chamber, the “voice of business,” spoke and told voters the best thing to do, and it was a lie.
Remember the infamous 2013 chamber-backed city council candidate, Rick Brainard, and what a debacle he was to the City? Brainard got arrested four days after being elected and appeared on TV news broadcasts in a yellow jumpsuit. He later pled guilty to assault.
After these kinds of terrible candidate endorsements and lies, should voters really listen to the chamber any more about which candidates and issues to back in local elections?
Of course not.
The better idea is to listen to the chamber so you can do the opposite of what they recommend.
There are plenty of good and important people in Grand Junction besides business and private property owners, yet in every election cycle, council candidates ignore them. What about retirees, students, disabled citizens, people who work for salaries like nonprofit workers, retail workers, landscape workers, day care workers, restaurant workers, teachers, government employees and volunteers, to name a few?
Don’t these people matter to candidates and elected officials, once they get into office? Why are none of these groups considered viable constituencies worth pursuing at election time and serving once in office?
Arguably, these citizens are the real lifeblood of our area. Not only do they provide important local services, but they earn the money that gets spent at local businesses. Without these people as customers, local businesses would die. But who fights for THEIR best interests?
No one, so far.
It’s way beyond time for council candidates to acknowledge that there are many voters in town with needs besides private property owners, business owners and people who want more belt-tightening by City Council. There are plenty of business-friendly tightwads on Council already. What we need at long last are candidates who care about average, hard-working Grand Junction residents, many of whom live on the edge, have difficulty feeding their kids, making ends meet and affording medical and dental care. We need council candidates who will vow to support these people’s interests and needs if elected to Council.
Now THAT would be one giant breath of fresh air.
Note – Owing to City Council’s now-official change of name of North Ave. to University Ave. in 2017, I am re-posting this blog from 2015.
In a March 24, 2015 editorial, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel argues that “North Avenue needs a modern moniker.” The article cites the town’s extensive modernization and expansion since it’s founding many years ago, and extensive capital improvements, like the airport and interstate highway, as reasons to rename North Avenue to University Avenue — the most frequently suggested new name for the street.
Changing the name of North Avenue is a fine idea, but it’s thinking small.
Re-Naming is On a Roll, But What Will Really Work to Remove Grand Junction’s Negative Baggage?
We need to take collective big deep breath, go a big step further and rename the entire city.
Lots of local features have been renamed in the past few years. We’ve re-named Walker Field Airport, Mesa State College and F Road, all with no ill effects. The new names have even proven to be marked improvements over the old names, eliminating confusion and better representing the amenities they point to.
But let’s face it, folks. Grand Junction has plenty of negative baggage. This is reflected in the slew of pejorative nicknames our area has earned: “Grand Junktown,” “Gland Function,” “Spun Junction,” “Meth Junction,” “Tweakerville,” to name a few. Moreover, our town has given rise to a disproportionate number of dysfunctional institutions, embarrassing political scandals and politicians.
Have you been so busy trying to make ends meet, putting food on the table and raising your kids that you haven’t had time to bone up on local politics? There’s an election is coming up this November. How will you know who to vote for?
The one thing you need to know is that the same party has been in charge of everything here for decades: the Mesa County Republican Party, which some call the “Old Guard Republican Establishment” (OGRE). They’ve had a lock on local elected offices for a very long time.
So have they done a good job? Judge for yourself:
1) Mesa County’s unemployment rate is one of the highest in the state;
2) Our local wages are among the very lowest in the state;
3) 13.4 percent of people in our area live below federal poverty level ($23,550 for a family of four),
4) Our suicide rate is among the highest in the U.S.;
5) Mesa County was the drunkest county in Colorado in 2013 (based on the average blood alcohol concentration for arrested drunk drivers);
6) Forty one percent of School District 51 students qualify for free and reduced-cost lunches at school, and Kids Aid, an area nonprofit that provides backpacks of food to hungry students so they can get through the weekends without starving, sends 1,800 District 51 students home with backpacks full of non-perishable food home each WEEK.
Yes, you read that right. Eighteen hundred Mesa County school children are food insecure every week.
Name a simple, cost-free way to boost our area’s sagging local economy and put Grand Junction on a lot more tourist maps.
That’s right, it’s upgrading the Colorado National Monument to national park status.
The push to turn the Monument into a national park has won widespread support from a broad spectrum of the community, and for good reasons.
The Monument has all the natural features it needs to qualify as a national park, and making the change would clarify what tourists are looking for. Right now, tourists think the Colorado National Monument is a statue or a commemorative plaque. If the Monument were called a “park” instead, it would clarify what they are heading to see. Also, as a national park the Monument would draw more travelers from the airport and more tourists off I-70, boosting business at local hotels, restaurants, coffee bars, rental car companies, gas stations, art galleries and other businesses.
Sounds like a good idea, right? That’s because it is. And for that reason, the Grand Junction Economic Partnership endorses it. The Chamber of Commerce has supported it. The Grand Junction Visitors and Convention Bureau says it is a “clear opportunity to attract more visitors.” Even the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association supports it. The Daily Sentinel supports it, saying “Studies show that monuments which become national parks don’t necessarily see a big increase in the number of visitors. But they do see a change in the types of visitors, with more people coming from outside the immediate area, staying longer in the area and spending more money.”
So if upgrading the Colorado National Monument to a national park is such a no-brainer and it would do our area so much good, why isn’t the effort going forward full throttle?
A petition is circulating on Change.org asking Grand Junction Mayor Sam Susuras to step down from office immediately. Mr. Susuras became mayor after being appointed to fill a City Council seat in 2010. In 2013, he was chosen as mayor by a minority of three out of seven council members after council made sure the mayoral vote was taken on a day when two council members were absent. Mayor Susuras’ three newly-elected allies on City Council (called “chambermades” for their insider political affiliation with the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce) all voted for him, and then construed a vote of three out of five as a majority, instead of delaying the vote until all seven council members could be in attendance. Mr. Susuras further angered Grand Junction citizens in spring, 2013 after he supported City Councilman Rick Brainard staying on Council. Brainard was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend just four days after he was elected. Brainard outraged citizens when he told police he had to hit his girlfriend because she “needed to shut her mouth.” Mr. Susuras was the only member of Council to openly defend Brainard. Brainard eventually pled guilty to the assault, and was forced out of office in July, 2013 by a grassroots citizen uprising determined to remove him from office. Susuras annoyed Grand Junction citizens again after he blocked an election to replace deceased council member Harry Butler, who died of natural causes on June 2, 2013. Susuras insisted Council appoint a new council member to replace Butler instead of allowing citizens to elect their own council member. Council ended up appointing a man who had a DUI arrest on his record for driving with a blood alcohol content that was twice the normal limit. Most recently, Susuras referred to members of the G.J. Airport Board who have drawn an FBI investigation for fraud as “visionaries,” and advocated continuing to lie to the federal government about a new building under construction at the airport in order to keep federal funds given to build it. Former airport director Rex Tippets, who was fired amid the fraud investigation, had illicitly portrayed the new building as a terminal, when it is actually a new administration building. The government would help pay to build a new terminal building, but not an administration building. The petition states, “Mr. Susuras, we are outraged, horrified and thoroughly embarrassed by your actions on Council, and we no longer want you as our representative. Please take this vote of ‘no confidence’ to heart and step down from Council immediately.”
The dilemma of Rick Brainard, the Grand Junction, Colorado city councilman who pled guilty to criminally assaulting a woman just days after he was elected, has deeply embarrassed our City, but it’s not unique. It’s just the latest in a long string of political embarrassments and economic miscalculations that collectively have tarnished the City’s reputation and made us a laughing stock of the state.
Brainard isn’t the first or the only episode that’s dragged down our City’s reputation. His election is just the latest in a long line of bad decisions that have contributed to our town’s inability to be taken seriously. Grand Junction is known for chasing prosperity in grandiose, short-sighted ways, and getting into big trouble because of it. We earned a place on the list of the biggest nuclear mining disasters in the U.S. after embracing uranium mining in the 1950s and 60s. Grand Junction required a decade-long, $746 million Superfund cleanup (pdf) to remediate the radioactive mess left behind. Then we pursued oil shale development and got slapped for that with the massive, 1982 Black Sunday Exxon Oil Shale bust that devastated town. Now there’s a big push do oil shale all over again, making it look as though people in this area either have an incredibly short collective memory, or aren’t smart enough to learn from previous mistakes.
We have plenty of things to be proud of in Grand Junction: our beautiful Main Street, great walking and biking paths along the river, sunshine and our wide variety of outdoor recreation, a wonderful canal system (that would be a fantastic built- in walking and biking trail system if we could just get out of the last century and bring ourselves to utilize it that way), the Colorado National Monument, the historic Avalon Theater, the Botanical Gardens, lots of wonderful people and thousands of acres of nearby BLM land where you can get away with doing almost anything. But what’s to draw people off the Interstate and get them enjoy it all?
Not our name.