In Frisco, we’ve seen a democratic comedy for the ages
December 13, 2005
On election day morning, after nearly two months of heated debate on the Home Depot, a person closely connected to the election called. This was one day after we endorsed a “Yes” vote, and this caller shouldn’t have been happy. I braced for the inevitable tirade.Instead, he started laughing. “You know what this town needs,” he said. “This town needs a little laughter. This debate’s been too somber.”He had a great point – kind of. For those embedded in the argument of whether Home Depot is what Frisco needs as a town, the argument has been fierce, competitive and at times neared the voracity of a heavyweight fight. For those outside the argument, however, I got the feeling they looked at Frisco as a playground embroiled in a name-calling contest. Either way, this has been one entertaining ballot issue. Punches were never thrown, physically, but both opponents and proponents didn’t hesitate to use words like “sloppy,” “ugly” and “dumb.” And they weren’t talking about the actual structure – these were words attacking individuals involved in the issue.
Everyone in Frisco has been cast in the comedy. The police department learned a tough lesson in politics after enforcing the sign code just as “Vote No” signs were placed, and the town manager apologized. Is this politics? Law enforcement? Who can tell any more?More comedy. Last week, the opponents were challenged by the proponents to a debate and, predictably, the idea collapsed into a rally for the proponents. Yet before the issue was settled, there was more name calling.We knew a Home Depot would stir up a philosophical debate in Frisco long before there were signs in yards. The extent to how the debate has divided the town has been the most surprising. As one local administrator put it, “if the town’s beliefs were on a bell curve, the bell wouldn’t exist.” In other words, George W.’s infamous War on Terror mindset leaked into this issue: “If you’re not with me, you’re against me.”
One instance disputes this idea of a complete dichotomy, however, and points to a large population in Frisco who are unsure of how they feel about increased large-scale development. It started when a local business owner wrote a letter to me stating his position backing a Home Depot. He then called and rushed into my office to state that he, in fact, had been cornered by the opposition and they had changed his mind – but not to their side. As he sat watching his letter get deleted, he made his stance clear: “Just keep me out of this.” He wasn’t the only one to attempt to avoid the fracas.The vote on Tuesday wasn’t the climax of the comedy, either. In fact, it may just mark the end of Act 1. The town remains divided on this philosophy of large-scale development, and the upcoming development talk about the 12-acre parcel at the base of Mount Royal should, again, set the stage for name calling, er, public discourse.Overall, Frisco should feel lucky to have such an engaged and interested public, despite the shallow nature of some of the arguments. To put it in perspective, after Silverthorne’s mayor demonstratively declared that he wanted a grocery store, we received no letters, no phone calls and no opinions from Silverthorne residents on whether it was a good idea or not. Frisco couldn’t be more opposite. When Frisco’s mayor made his opinions clear on Home Depot in a letter to our paper, my e-mail filled like a bucket under a waterfall. And, predictably, there was more name calling.
It’s been a fascinating, wild ride, and I feel privileged to have watched and helped facilitate the debate in the community. Have we been part of the comedy? Without a doubt. In total since Dec. 1, we’ve run 45 letters to the editor concerning Home Depot, another dozen news stories and three columns.Perhaps after this entire script has played out, this experience will truly help us understand the meaning of newspaperman H.L. Mencken’s words: “Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.”Ryan Slabaugh can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13600, or at firstname.lastname@example.org