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Thursday, September 13,2012

Seth Brigham's legacy

By Joel Dyer
Seth Brigham

Seth Brigham is leaving Boulder after 30 years; at least that’s what he told me on Monday. So is it true? I’m sure he meant it when he said it, but I have no idea if he’ll actually move to Wisconsin as he’s planning. He has been known to change his mind. But regardless of whether or not he heads north, everyone in Boulder owes Brigham a debt of gratitude. He really has made a difference despite his self-described struggles with manic depression, disruptive behavior and a few other demons.


Brigham also told me that he won’t be suing the city or our council members, sans Morzel, over the city’s restraining order fiasco as he had originally intended. A judge recently ruled that the city’s request for a permanent restraining order was unwarranted, but Brigham says the stress of the whole restraining order mess caused him to “have a breakdown” and that he doesn’t have the wherewithal to keep fighting.

I suspect that if Brigham hadn’t used his recent legal triumph to do a silly victory dance with somersaults in front of city council, as opposed to stepping to the microphone and asking certain council members to once and for all to provide the public with the accurate and legally-required financial disclosure information he has been trying to pry out of them since just before the city attorney hit him with the original restraining order, things might be different now. It’s quite likely that the city and the council members would have eventually wound up with their heads hanging on attorney David Lane’s office wall over a plaque reading “First Amendment Trophy.”

But in the end, Brigham’s giving up the fight probably won’t make much difference, not with this city’s current leaders. Even had he won a federal suit, this group of elected officials would simply have given Brigham a big bag full of your money, while whining that they were the real victims.

Sadly, for whatever the reason, arrogance, ignorance, insecurity or fear, it seems that many of our current city leaders are incapable of admitting when they screw up. And that’s too bad, because it also likely means that they are incapable of learning any lessons from their mistakes regardless of whether such miscues are being pointed out by a judge, the news media or a lousy singer doing somersaults.

I said earlier that all of us in Boulder owe Brigham a debt of gratitude, here’s why; before Brigham’s antics and court battle, I believe that many, if not most, of us had gotten lazy and complacent regarding our local government, and I put myself at the top of that lazy list. Until we started looking into Brigham’s restraining order and his emails to the city regarding improper financial disclosure forms, it doesn’t appear that any journalists in recent times had been keeping a proper eye on the issues of disclosure, campaign finance and conflicts of interest for members of city council.

We shouldn’t have needed to be reminded by a local political gadfly to do our job. But alas, the newsrooms of Boulder made the same mistake as our local government. We ignored the hundreds of emails Brigham was sending to all of us because of who he was and how he acted, not because what he was saying was wrong.

As a result of the investigative reporting we have done stemming from our original Brigham story, I have to say we now have a clearer picture of how this particular Boulder government works. We can see who is pulling whose strings and where proper checks and balances no longer exist.

This is important to know at a time when Boulder’s government, including a majority of council members, is increasingly showing itself to be more concerned with “pretty” and “property-value” issues than “people” issues. Sadly, Brigham’s case is only one in recent days where council along with a wink and a nod from the city attorney’s office has shown itself to be increasingly enthusiastic for suppressing free speech.

I find it to be pretty bizarre behavior for a local government in a place like Boulder that once prided itself on its commitment to protecting civil rights and individual freedoms. At one time we were such a liberal community that our government didn’t spend most of its time looking for ways to stop people from protesting things or trying to prevent college students from drinking or otherwise being … college students. But back to the issue at hand.

So Seth Brigham says he’s leaving. If he really does go, he will be leaving behind a lasting legacy. For all of his goofiness and admittedly obnoxious behavior, Brigham reminded many of us in Boulder that what our local government does, or doesn’t do, is important.

I can’t speak for every member of the news media in Boulder, but I can guarantee you that this paper will do its best to fulfill its role as government watchdog going forward. That includes, of course, checking and rechecking every disclosure form filed for every person running for or holding elected office in Boulder County. And when we find incorrect information, which history says is likely, we’ll tell you, our readers, so you can make informed decisions about who to vote for.

We will also continue to make such discoveries known to City Attorney Tom Carr. Hopefully, at some point, he will decide to take action to correct the growing pattern of disclosure issues instead of acting as chief apologist for those who don’t play by the rules.

Or here’s a novel idea, in honor of Brigham’s leaving town, city council members should celebrate by just voluntarily correcting their old inaccurate disclosure forms tomorrow. They can do it. They actually don’t need Tom Carr’s permission to be honest or a newly designed disclosure form to do the right thing, right now. It is, and has been all along, simply their choice to not immediately provide corrected disclosure information.

Which is perhaps the most bewildering aspect of this whole Brigham affair. All Brigham did was point out a couple of glaring omissions on a few disclosure forms of current council members. But instead of just providing the corrected information, the city has instead sought restraining orders, suggested the rewriting of the city charter, launched a process to completely invent a new disclosure form rather than just filling in the blanks correctly on the old one, and to this day, nearly five months after the corrected disclosure information was required by law to be made public, not one corrected piece of information has been put forward. In fact, the city has now removed the disclosure forms, including those in question, from their website.

Methinks the city doth protest too much. Thanks for waking us up, Mr. Brigham.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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Thank you for writing this wonderful article on Seth. I have known Seth for about 3 years as we worked on line together on various Ecological and environmental issues. He is an extremely caring man and has given me more  than I could ever repay through his work, poetry and compassion for his fellow  human beings and wild life! If I am ever fortunate enough to meet Seth in person I would tell him this: "Seth you Have made a difference..more than you will possibbly ever know and thank you my friend!"


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