The last hurdle rancher Tom Colbert has to clear as county commissioner may be his toughest.
commissioners are working to complete a county-wide comprehensive
land-use plan ordered in 1994 by Montezuma County voters. In an
election year when anti-planning rhetoric was as common as
sagebrush in the West, the 56 perent vote in favor of the plan was
remarkable. It was even more remarkable given Montezuma County's
historic aversion to planning: In 1989, county residents trounced a
comprehensive plan put together by the
"We took a pounding on that one,"
admits Colbert, 57. But rapid growth convinced voters the county
needed to get some regulations in place.
knew it wouldn't be easy this time, either. Not long after the
vote, a faction of the agricultural community organized a rally at
the county fairgrounds where they lambasted planning as an attempt
to take away property rights.
are doing to the citizenry "what the bulls do when they serve the
cows," one landowner told the cheering crowd of 200. "When these
people who you have elected say they want to serve you, you'd
better brace yourself."
Colbert sat in the crowd
that night absorbing the punishment, but after the last speaker, he
stood up and defended the need for planning. Although he may not
have swayed many people that night, the next day he defended
planning again in the local
"Agriculture has to share some of the
burden for creating the problems," he told the Cortez Sentinel.
"Every time you split up a piece of land, you create problems for
you or your neighbor or the county or the school district. We just
have to realize that we can't keep dividing this county up in
three-acre tracts without some long-term plan.
hate rules and regulations and I don't particularly like
government, but you have to have it," he continued. "Local
regulations are the best kind, if we have to have them. Nowhere are
people more in control than at the local level. There isn't a
person in the county that can't reach the county commissioners."
Colbert's message, and his stature in the
community, eventually beat back the attempt to torpedo the planning
process. The commissioners assembled a citizens' working group last
year, including several representatives from the agricultural
community. A draft comprehensive plan is nearing
"This plan will have more
credibility," says Colbert. "There's still some criticism from the
livestock community, but I've seen tremendous changes over the past
Colbert's admirers credit him with
making Montezuma County's adventure in collaborative planning
possible. "I could be the best facilitator in the world," says Mike
Preston, the coordinator of the county's federal lands program and
the county's comprehensive plan. "But if we didn't have the
political leadership, nothing would get accomplished."
Colbert says he has tried to abide by a simple
philosophy. "The first thing you've got to do (when you win an
elected office) is forget your political career and do what's right
and fair for the community," he says. "You've got to take the hits
from both sides. We've stepped up and we're willing to take the
When he retires in November, Colbert
plans to spend his time rebuilding his ranching
"It's hard being a commissioner," says
Colbert. "I've lost a lot of money since being on the commission. I
bring home less than $1,500 a month. You never leave the job, but
then again .... I asked for it."