Editorial: Worthy idea, poor execution
Editor’s note: Publisher Renee Campbell and Community Representative Codi Fisher were unable to attend this week’s meeting of the Editorial Board and did not participate in the development of this position.
Near the close of an emotional meeting of the Craig City Council on Tuesday, city leaders voted to put the brakes on discussions about the possible consolidation of city/county services and place a five-year moratorium on any such talks in the future.
The news was both disappointing and unsurprising — disappointing, because some of the possibilities being discussed by the Joint Services Committee merited further consideration, and unsurprising, because such seems always to be the fate of forward-thinking notions in our community.
In principle, we take no issue with the work of the Joint Services Committee, which was headed by City Councilman Chris Nichols, County Commissioner Ray Beck, and City Manager Peter Brixius, and we are convinced all three had the best interests of the city and county at heart.
It is a fact that Craig Station’s Unit 1 will close Dec. 31, 2025, and its loss will strike yet another blow to the community’s economic outlook. For that reason, alone, it was both wise and prudent to begin discussing ways to save money, and combining duplicate services might be a good way to accomplish this.
So, in terms of principle, the idea was a worthy one. In terms of execution, however, it left much to be desired.
Meeting largely in secret, the committee’s plans and ideas were kept largely shrouded from public view, and once word leaked out that part of the discussions involved the possibility of dissolving the Craig Police Department and contracting with the Moffat County Sheriff’s Department for city law enforcement — a plan Nichols said might have saved the city $750,000 per year, with no reduction in service levels — the rumor mill ratcheted up to full force, heralding the beginning of the end of talks.
Police officers and their families — as well as other concerned community members — packed City Hall on Tuesday as City Council gathered to hear the particulars of the committee’s work.
But council members — as well as the standing-room-only crowd — also heard an emotional appeal from Craig Police Chief Jerry DeLong, who said he had not been included in many of the discussions leading up to the recommendations.
DeLong referenced a Feb. 7 “strategy session” held by the committee, a session he was not notified of until after the fact.
“I feel like my organization, your police department, is getting a raw deal,” the police chief said. “I feel like someone is putting their foot on the gas pedal, and they just took off.”
DeLong said the situation was difficult for him, as he felt shut out of discussions that stood to deeply impact his department and his employees.
“I get emotional, because this is very difficult for me …,” DeLong told council members. “I just hired four people that might not have a job in six or eight months.”
And while we are not convinced consolidating law enforcement services throughout Moffat County was the best approach, we unfortunately never even got to hear the full proposal. This, in our opinion, is true because the public was not kept apprised of the committee’s work and because DeLong was apparently not included in the process.
Such seems to have become a recurring theme in Craig and Moffat County. Our elected leaders begin discussing something that stands to impact everyone in the community, but fail to effectively inform the community about what’s being discussed, and a rudimentary fact of human nature is, if people aren’t provided with a narrative, they’ll manufacture one of their own.
This is what we think happened here, and it’s a pity.
No one should be angry with the police department, and particularly, with Chief DeLong, who risked his job in defense of his employees. His actions were courageous and honorable, and we certainly hope there will be no reprisals directed toward him or his department.
Similarly, any anger directed toward Nichols or Beck or Brixius should also be tempered.
Though we take issue with their process, we don’t believe any of them went into the situation with nefarious intentions. On the contrary, we have every confidence they were trying to do their duty as elected officials.
But we hope that, in the future, our elected officials will be mindful of the lessons to be learned here.
Community members must be kept informed about issues that stand to impact them, and though the Joint Services Committee seems to have adhered to the letter of the Sunshine Law, we’re not entirely sure they honored the spirit of it.
We, as a community, have met tremendous challenges in the past few years, and it looks like we’ll be facing more of them in the future. If we expect to survive and thrive in the changing economic environment, we have to learn to trust one another, be transparent, and keep the door open.
We hope Tuesday’s unfortunate outcome will drive that point home.