Weld County commissioners on Tuesday evening met the most opposition they've seen thus far in a series of public meetings on the topic of their 51st state initiative.
About half of the dozens of Weld County residents who addressed the commissioners in Evans at the third public meeting said they're opposed to the idea of seceding from Colorado.
"That's not how we're going to achieve change, not by crying, not by alienating ourselves from the rest of Colorado," said Evans resident Josh Montoya.
Commissioner Doug Rademacher said he'd seen very few residents speak out against the idea of forming North Colorado in the past two meetings, held in Fort Lupton and Longmont with more than 50 attendees each. Still, he said he wasn't surprised to hear more opposing opinions in the most populated part of the county.
"I expected this tonight," he said.
The commissioners have proposed that Weld and several other northeastern counties secede from Colorado to form North Colorado, an initiative they say was sparked by rural voters' outrage over legislation passed during the last session in Denver. At the public meetings, commissioners have asked residents if they sense a disconnect between rural voters and urban legislators and if they would like to see the option of seceding from Colorado on November's ballot.
"(Going forward) depends on the outcome of the vote," Rademacher said.
Commissioners said they're also supportive of an idea proposed in Phillips County that involves rearranging the state legislature to resemble Congress and give rural counties more representation. "I think that has a lot of merit," Commissioner Mike Freeman said.
Many opposed to the idea of attempting to start a new state cited the county's image as a main concern, saying the initiative does nothing more than make a mockery of Greeley and of the county.
"I think all that it would do would be to give additional ammunition to the late-night comics who have put us out there," said Linde Thompson, a Greeley small business owner.
Others opted for more dialogue on issues in place of the initiative, which some said will be an expensive yet fruitless endeavor.
"I am very opposed to this," said Pam Bricker, executive director of Greeley's Downtown Development Authority. "I think there's a dead end. I think there's a lot of time, energy and money that's going to be put into something that's only going to divide us more."
Those in favor of the 51st state initiative echoed commissioners' concerns of a disconnect between rural voters and lawmakers in Denver. Brett Abernathy, a Weld County Council member, said the county's say in state laws is disproportionate to the amount of revenue it provides the state.
"We're sitting on a $9.9 billion county, and they're coming to get more of our money," Abernathy said.
Some residents agreed with commissioners on the idea that by putting the 51st state initiative on the ballot, the county would be sending a strong message of discontent to the capitol.
"I support it being on the ballot because I think we need to send a message," said Weld County resident Bob Grand. "It's a message to the country."
Some residents who spoke said they favor more dialogue with lawmakers over secession, but others argued that more talk would only fall on deaf ears in Denver.
"The only way that we're going to get that Socialist group in Denver's attention is with people," said Weld County resident John Hudson.
Evans Mayor Lyle Achziger said he agrees there is a disconnect between Weld's voters and legislation that goes through.
"I applaud the commissioners," Achziger said. "Whether you agree with this or not, they are making a very, very good attempt at trying to have the conversation."
Commissioner Sean Conway said he and the other commissioners welcomed the differing opinions and sought out more ideas from those opposed to their initiative to form North Colorado. "I think if we did anything tonight, we gave a great example to those folks in Denver and Washington D.C. on how to have constructive dialogue," Conway said. "Democracy's not a spectator sport."
The final of the four public scheduled meetings on the topic is set for 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Ault Fire Department, 16680 Colo. 14. ___