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Wayne's Word

They were mean

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by Wayne Laugesen (letters@boulderweekly.com)

As friends and colleagues toasted ex-county commissioners Paul Danish and Ron Stewart at their lavish going-away parties, Tynia Johnson wondered where her daughter's next meal would come from. She sat with a mop on a cold basement floor, wondering how she might keep the 13-year-old from another suicide attempt.

"They ruined my life," Johnson says of the outgoing commissioners. "I've been in Boulder for 20 years, and I came here to improve myself. Now I'm worse off, by leaps and bounds, than I've ever been in my life. I'm an embarrassment to my kid."

Johnson—a 40-year-old, disabled, black, formerly middle-class single mother—is homeless. Blame her plight entirely on Danish, Stewart and former County Commissioner Jana Mendez.

Mercifully, all three were finally forced from office by term limits, with Danish and Stewart the last to leave on Jan. 11.

Local newspapers have ladled praise upon them, as if their service has been useful to the common good. It's as if merely serving, regardless of behavior, merits praise. The Boulder Daily Camera says:

"Let's not forget that Boulder County remains one of the nation's most desirable, beautiful and vibrant places. And let's remember that Ron Stewart and Paul Danish have had a lot to do with keeping it that way."

Unfortunately, some equate beauty and desirability with county bully schemes that drive single black mothers and others into poverty.

The Longmont Daily Times-Call gushed, "They have built an indelible legacy highlighted by growth limitations, the preservation of tens of thousands of acres of open space, and creative social-funding mechanisms." If you're confused by the phrase "creative social-funding mechanisms," here's the simplified version: "stealing private property rights."

The American Planning Association gave Stewart its 2005 National Planning Award for "creating communities of lasting value."

In one of at least three going-away stories, the Times-Call described Danish as a staunch advocate of "individual liberties."

Dump your vomit on the courthouse steps, please. Few public servants in the United States have assaulted individual liberties more than Danish and Stewart. Their lasting legacies will be of abuse and pain, not "communities of lasting value" and defense of liberties.

Johnson, after serving in the United States Army, moved here from New Orleans to study economics at the University of Colorado. Afflicted with fibromyalgia, Johnson wasn't able to hold down conventional employment.

So, in 1997 she started a dog-grooming business in a gas station she bought at 63rd and Arapahoe, in an industrial area. When someone phoned in a barking dog complaint, county officials set out to destroy her. They insisted her grooming shop was a "kennel," called it an inappropriate use and shut her down. The gas station cum grooming shop lies abandoned and decaying to this day.

After that setback, Johnson picked up the pieces and searched for a rural home where she could not only groom dogs, but board them as well. Johnson bought a $324,000 home in east Boulder County. Near an airport and noisy highway, it was the perfect spot to groom and kennel dogs. In this cluttered rural neighborhood with a redneck feel, other residents had barking dogs, high fences and junk in their yards.

That didn't matter to Stewart and Danish, who with Mendez did everything in their powers to ensure that Johnson couldn't conduct business or pay bills. The same bureaucrats who sneakily merged properties to deprive owners of value, decided to divide Johnson's tract so that she wouldn't have the required setback to operate. They ruled that Flagg Drive, which ran through Johnson's land, equaled a "property line." When she proposed a fence to abate noise and negate the need for setback, the county fabricated a flood map that precluded a fence. When she proposed a tethered breakaway fence, which would fall over should the pretend flood threat ever happen, commissioners arrogantly balked. When Johnson explained that white people had been allowed to install modular homes in a genuine flood plain nearby, commissioners said they'd made an innocent mistake by allowing it and continued to deny her a fence.

Rather than assisting a great American businesswoman and mother with modest requests, Danish and Stewart worked tirelessly to kill her dreams, trash her career, bilk her for planning fees and leave her broke.

After the county won, the bank foreclosed on Johnson. Adding to her pain, the bank didn't sell the home for anything like the $324,000 Johnson paid. It sold for only $267,000—a bizarre $57,000 loss in a housing market that barely knows about loss.

"The flood map they drew, to put me out of business, lowered the property value," Johnson says. "The sale didn't even cover what I owe the bank."

Johnson and her daughter were forced out last summer. They were invited to take temporary refuge in the home of a vacationing neighbor. Johnson, who had earned $100,000 a year, was suddenly scrounging change to buy food, telling her daughter to forget new school clothes.

"I thought the bottom was when I, myself, felt suicidal," Johnson says. "Then my child became suicidal and took a bottle of pills. Then, when the neighbors came back, we literally had no place to go."

Swallowing her pride, Johnson put up a notice of distress at her church.

"Now we live in someone's basement, and I work as a maid," Johnson says.

The Johnsons aren't the only county residents whose lives have been ruined by Danish and Stewart. Here's a small sampling of others:

Gerry and Brenda Everett, and children, of rural Longmont. Their home, west of Hover and Highway 66, became toxic when an irrigation ditch flooded in 1998. The Everetts became ill, and the house began to fall apart around them due to the polluted and unstable soil.

The family bought a mobile home to place on another location on the property, so they could live in it while the land was cleaned and the house rebuilt. But Stewart, Danish and Mendez wouldn't allow the temporary home because it wouldn't be pretty. They used a grab bag of bureaucratic blockades to leave the family sick, tired and broke.

Steve and Dee Patterson. This couple owned a farmstead west of Lafayette on Arapahoe Road and needed to build a new home on the land. Commissioners decided a leaky, ugly, dilapidated shack was an "historic structure" that couldn't be razed. In doing so, they prevented them from building a home, forcing them to live in the cold, unsafe shack.

Bob Eason. In 1993, commissioners gave Eason, the owner of a legal, county-approved storage business, 30 days to remove his 300 storage semi-trailers from separate industrial parcels north and east of Boulder. Reason: They weren't pretty. Eason didn't agree to simply give up his livelihood and starve. Commissioners waited five years and sent him a threatening letter, then filed two lawsuits to shut him down. In 2001, a jury sided with Eason and ordered the county to pay nearly $1 million in fines and fees for abusing Eason.

A full list of abuse by Danish and Stewart would require a book. "Community builders" and "defenders of individual liberties" they were not. They were heartless abusers of authority and power.

"They were trying to create some weird, idealistic community that was only in their minds, not a functional society for the people who actually live here," Johnson explains.

Here's the good news: With Danish and Stewart gone, former Boulder Mayor Will Toor and former county open space employee Ben Pearlman will join Commissioner Tom Mayer. It's a new board with an opportunity for change.

Mayer has shown himself a Stewart wannabe, though he could change course. Pearlman worked for Stewart, who moonlighted as director of open space while serving on the commission. That doesn't mean that Pearlman will govern with Stewart-style callousness.

Toor is a known leader, who as a Boulder City Council member showed compassion. When the council passed a politically expedient law to oppress homeless beggars in 2003, Toor was the lone dissenter. Time and again he's shown himself a brilliant man of compassion who puts people ahead of the materialistic concerns of statist politicians like Stewart and Danish. It's unlikely he'll continue the crude, tract-by-tract bullying of citizens that has become the county's planning policy.

"I do hope they start looking at people and try to plan the community with a mind for the realistic needs of their fellow human beings—the people who actually form the community," Johnson says.

Our new commissioners should familiarize themselves with the people Danish and Stewart hurt—the tired, bankrupt and forgotten who weren't invited to the farewell toasts.

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com



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