What a week! It's not often that the past reaches out and offers you both an enormous, unexpected gift and a swift kick in the butt at the same time. Let's talk about the kick in the butt first.
I recently received a sweet and nasty subpoena from the Department of Justice, requesting the dubious honor of my presence for an all-day deposition.
Other than having been a member of the Colorado Springs City Council for six years in the '90s, I hadn't done anything wrong. The Feds just wanted to quiz me about the city's policy-making process regarding the Pikes Peak Highway.
As some may recall, throughout the '90s the city refused to pave or otherwise improve the highway leading to the top of America's Mountain despite its obvious deficiencies. The highway was (and is) an economic and environmental disaster which, unpaved and heavily used, cost the city over a million bucks a year to maintain.
Because it's a gravel road, maintenance means dumping thousands of tons of gravel on the roadway annually, which then wash down the mountain and destroy hundreds of acres of tundra, wetlands and forest.
While on the City Council, I did my damnedest to persuade my colleagues to fix the road. They refused to do so, bowing to the political clout of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, whose financially precarious, one-day-a-year event carried a lot more weight than the protection of the environment -- not to mention fiscal responsibility, not to mention the comfort, safety and convenience of the hundreds of thousands of folks who use the road on the other 364 days of the year.
After years -- decades! -- of city posturing, the Sierra Club finally got fed up and took the city to court, alleging, among other things, violations of the Clean Water Act. Smart enough to realize that it was on the short end of that particular stick, the city settled, agreeing to a multi-year timetable for fixing the road.
And now the fun begins. Realizing that fixing the road would cost serious money (say, $20 million-plus), the city decided to try to find someone else to pay. And who else but the National Forest Service, from whom the city leases the highway corridor? Relying on a truly novel theory of landlord-tenant law, the city is trying to get the Forest Service to pay for the environmental damage that decades of city mismanagement has caused. It's as if you rented a house to a bunch of Hell's Angels who trashed it and they billed you for the repairs. Apparently, the city is contending that, in trashing Pikes Peak, they were just doing what the landlord wanted!
Well, when you have 30 attorneys at your beck and call, you're free to advance whatever loony lawsuits you want, and you're equally free to drag in any hapless ex-politicians who're available and force them to submit to seven hours of tiresome interrogation. To what end, it's difficult to say; suffice it to say that the lawyer for the Feds was polite and professional, and that the lawyer for the city was neither.
Not represented by my own counsel (somehow, I just didn't have a spare thousand bucks to pay a lawyer to sit beside me for the better part of a day), I finally became so exasperated with the city's B.S. that I walked out. Maybe that wasn't the smartest move; let's hope they don't drag me off to jail for contempt.
And now let's talk about the gift. Readers may recall that, three weeks ago, I wrote a column addressed to the citizens of Colorado Springs in the year 2101. That issue of the Independent will be placed in Colorado College's Century Chest, which, first sealed in 1901, had been opened a few weeks before.
After I had written the column I learned, to my utter amazement and delight, that my great-grandmother, Harriet Peck Farnsworth, had placed a letter in the original Century Chest, addressed to her great-grandchildren -- in other words, to me. It was intensely moving to read these lines, written at the beginning of the last century by a woman who died a quarter century before I was born. It's a warm, optimistic, hopeful, and yet elegiac letter; she celebrates a time and a place that has vanished and reaches out with love to an unknown and unknowable future.
She closes with a gentle piece of advice, a quotation from Shakespeare:
"Treat others not according to their deserts, but according to your own dignity and honour."
Maybe I should have heeded those words when quarreling with the city attorneys.