Citing unsatisfactory responses to issues like fracking and GMOs, a local activist is challenging fellow Democrat and incumbent Boulder County Commissioner Cindy Domenico, who is seeking re-election next year.
Alan Rosenfeld, a Louisville attorney, says he is running for Domenico’s District 3 seat in part because she has not taken a strong enough stance against controversial things like hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Rosenfeld claims Domenico and the other two board members were too slow to take action against oil and gas development, and didn’t go far enough when they approved an 18-month moratorium on the practice earlier this summer, after a public outcry.
“Voters won’t have to threaten me with recall or civil disobedience to get me to do what is right,” Rosenfeld says, referring to activists who threatened to recall commissioners and disrupted board hearings on several occasions, in one case prompting the commissioners to walk out of the room.
“There is a difference between disruption and speech,” he says, defending the public’s right to express themselves during such meetings. “For Cindy to say no one can applaud — really? In Boulder County?” He says he would support an outright ban on oil and gas development in the county, and “if Boulder County citizens decide to use civil disobedience, I’ll be with them.”
“I think fracking is an abomination,” he adds. “It is something horrible to do to our land. … The primary job of the commissioners is to protect the citizens, and they failed. I will never vote for something I think is wrong, or against something I think is right, just to make it unanimous. There will be a lot more 2-1 votes.”
Rosenfeld also questions the money the county spent on an outside attorney and other staff time to prepare regulations last year allowing oil and gas development, with restrictions.
When asked about Rosenfeld’s desire for an outright ban, Domenico asks, “On what legal authority? People think we have ultimate power, and we do not, which restricts us from doing some of the things activists think we can do.”
She says she is “very disappointed” that the state legislature, which could have passed legislation shifting more of that control from the state to local levels, only passed two of the 10 bills dealing with oil and gas reforms. Domenico also defends the county’s regulations, saying the only way to get oil and gas companies to take additional health and safety steps beyond what is required by the state was to set up a voluntary, expedited, permit approval process as an incentive.
“We are a model for other counties,” she says. “People are calling every week to come look at what we did.”
While she has said she has personal experience with the negative impacts of oil and gas development on her own family’s farm, Domenico says, “my job is to take off my personal hat and be thoughtful and thorough.”
She adds that one consideration was being “careful with the taxpayers’ money,” because overstepping legal bounds could have invited lawsuits and costly court battles.
When asked about how she runs a board meeting as chair, Domenico says she is simply trying to create an environment where everyone feels safe.
“It’s about respect for the other parties in the room, who may have a different opinion, and having that democratic dialogue without disruption,” she explains.
But Rosenfeld also takes Domenico to task for voting in favor of continuing to allow GMOs to be grown on county land in December 2011.
“We should not be growing GMOs on open space,” he says. “We shouldn’t be selling out our land.”
Rosenfeld goes so far as to suggest that a referendum banning GMOs on private land be sent to the county’s voters, saying that his biggest concern regarding GMOs is “the monopolization of our food supply. We should resist the effort of a corporation that doesn’t care about us to control our food supply.”
But Domenico says the county’s process was deliberate and effective in that case as well, and “we arrived at a place that is very progressive” because of the county’s goal of making 20 percent of the crops on its land organic. She also says the use of GMOs is limited to corn and sugar beets, “it’s not a wide-open door to GMO crops in the county.”
Domenico adds that her stance on GMOs was based on the science, not her family’s farming background (she says her family hasn’t planted GMOs), and that she is not willing to consider allowing additional GMO crops on county open space.
Rosenfeld even questions the notion that Domenico is eligible to run for re-election, since she was appointed to the board when former Commissioner Tom Mayer passed away in 2007, successfully stood for election to finish the final two years of Mayer’s term the following year, and was then re-elected in 2010. But County Attorney Ben Pearlman, a former commissioner himself, says finishing someone else’s term does not count toward the state’s two-term limit. He points to opinions from Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar in 2000 and Attorney General John Suthers in 2005, a Democrat and a Republican, who agreed with that interpretation.
“That sounds like a manufactured debate,” Pearlman told BW. “Other counties have addressed the same issue, and everybody that I know of has come to the same conclusion. … This isn’t one of those gray areas.”
Rosenfeld also says the commissioners haven’t devoted enough funding to road maintenance over the years, and he criticized the board-referred question on the November ballot to create a public improvement district in which subdivision property owners would pay for their own road improvements with a special tax. He called it a “failure of leadership” that the county hasn’t lived up to its agreement with developers of the subdivisions to keep the roads maintained.
“For a decade, this crisis has been brewing,” Rosenfeld says. “Those commissioners were grossly negligent in their duties.”
He compared making only the roads’ users pay for the improvements to making only those who use the Boulder County Battered Women’s Shelter pay for that service.
“Since when do we divide up who pays for what based on who’s going to benefit from it?” Rosenfeld asks. “It’s a general responsibility of the county to pay for roads.”
“I want to solve the problem,” Domenico says. “I don’t want to wait another year. … Every year you delay, you have more roads dropping into the ‘poor’ category.”
Looking back, she adds, “we always could do a better job of communicating” and that in the mid-1990s, when two subdivisions created special improvement districts, the commissioners mistakenly thought it would be an ongoing trend.
Rosenfeld challenges Domenico to agree to a voluntary spending limit, say, $1 per voter, or about $25,000. He claims she opposed his effort to get the candidates in the last election to agree to a voluntary spending limit.
Domenico says she declined to support that proposal because the limit would have applied to other races as well, like for the state House and Senate, and it made no sense to have the Democrats tie their own hands when the Republicans wouldn’t be doing the same. But she seems open to the idea in her own race against Rosenfeld.
“I’d have that discussion with him,” Domenico says. “But comprehensive campaign reform is really what’s needed.”
Rosenfeld, a New York City native who moved here 16 years ago, says he is not angling for higher office or a county job.
“I’m excited about spending the last stages of my career doing this job and making the community better,” he says.
“I grew up here, I was born here,” Domenico says. “It’s amazing to work with the incredible people who live here and the dedicated staff of the county.”