New commissioner: Gain consensus on GMOs

Deb Gardner
Jefferson Dodge | Boulder Weekly

New Boulder County Commissioner Deb Gardner says that while she opposes the planting of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on county open space, she doesn’t plan to be heavy-handed about it.


Instead of changing the county’s newly approved cropland policy to ban GMOs as soon as there are enough votes to do so (quite possibly after term-limited Commissioner Will Toor’s successor takes over a year from now), Gardner says she’d rather see a collaborative effort.

“We need to put together a transition plan, and everyone needs to be at that table,” she told Boulder Weekly.

Gardner includes in that list the county’s organic and conventional farmers and other players in the foodsupply chain, as well as community members.

“If it doesn’t work for everybody, it’s not going to be a long-term solution,” she explains.

When asked about simply voting to change the cropland policy next year, she says, “I don’t know if that’s the best way to get at it.”

Gardner explains that she wants “the fastest route to that transition that doesn’t sacrifice one stakeholder against the other.”

After months of intensifying debate about the use of GMOs on taxpayer-funded county land, the three county commissioners voted unanimously in December to approve a cropland policy that allows certain GMOs, like sugar beets, to be planted on open space if they meet a set of criteria and are rotated with non-GM crops.

Toor agrees that the cropland policy is unlikely to be changed any time soon, but says he expects to see action in 2012 on related elements, like the commissioners’ legislative agenda to encourage labeling of GM foods, policy language aimed at protecting pollinators, and working with farmers and the local natural foods industry to expand opportunities in the organic food market.

“I don’t see, at any time in the near future, that we’ll be revisiting the cropland policy,” Toor told Boulder Weekly. “Any major changes to the cropland policy would be looked at by a future set of commissioners, after the 2012 election.”

When asked whether the county should pursue stronger regulations for another controversial practice, hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” Gardner says she supports proposed legislation by state Rep. Matt Jones (D-Louisville) to give local jurisdictions more authority over oil and gas drilling operations.

“The oil and gas commission really hasn’t done their job in terms of outlining those regulations,” she says. “They were charged with doing that in 2008 and they haven’t ever really addressed them.”

But Gardner adds that it would be preferable to have consistent, strong, statewide regulations, rather than having a different set of regulations created by every city and county.

“We need to have consistency that works in a way that makes sense to all cities and counties,” she says.

Gardner was named by a local Democratic Party vacancy committee to replace District 2 Commissioner Ben Pearlman this month after Pearlman was appointed by his two fellow commissioners as county attorney in December.

According to the Boulder Camera, the appointment of Pearlman raised eyebrows, in part because a recording of an executive session indicated that Toor and Commissioner Cindy Domenico agreed on the selection of Pearlman in secret, rather than in public, as required by law.

Gardner reaffirms that executive sessions should not be held for decision-making, and that county officials need to be vigilant about being transparent and accountable, and they need to recognize that perceptions are important.

As for the actions of Toor and Domenico, Gardner says, “I think they were totally well-intentioned and probably did the best they could with the advice they had, and if they had to do it over again, they might do it a bit differently.”

For her part, Gardner has pledged to not pursue a staff position with the county for a period of time after her service as commissioner.

Gardner, who plans to run for a full term as commissioner in November, says her top priority for 2012 is creating jobs and reducing the poverty level, and she was just appointed to the board of Workforce Boulder.

She also lists the importance of early childhood education and the Circles Campaign, which partners community volunteers and leaders with families in need.