In 1982, more on a whim than anything else, I stopped by the Telluride Times Newspaper office to have a talk with Rudy Davidson, the publisher. Rudy’s family had purchased the paper a few years before from Louie and Helen Newell.
In the old days, I had worked as a reporter at the newspaper and had a college degree in journalism that just seemed to be gathering dust. The newspaper was a small, but respected weekly newspaper in the state that played a key role in Telluride politics and its future destiny.
I thought that the newspaper was overly sympathetic to the group that was anti-business, anti-economy, anti-growth, and in my opinion was anti-people. I had taken to calling these people the “know—people”. They knew everything and the answer was NO.
They were opposed to expansion of the ski resort, construction, development and jobs. The old “big fish in a little puddle” which Douglas Adams so famously nailed fits the picture perfectly in my opinion.
“…imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in’an interesting hole I find myself in’fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”
I was 34 years old, was happily married with three children, Chairman of the San Miguel County Planning Commission, Chairman of the PlacerValley Association, Western Slope campaign manager for Gary Hart, owned three local businesses, was a member of the Western Slope Development Committee which I had been appointed to by Governor Richard Lamm and which was responsible for the Norwood water system expansion and the building of two continuing education facilities in Western Colorado (one is just south of Delta) and sponsored the proposal to build a central sewer system in PlacerValley which would have cost $7 per month and solved the problem of polluted water wells and the pollution of the San Miguel River.
A few years before, I had been the Democratic candidate for County Commissioner and lost by 19 votes in a district which included Norwood that had as many votes as Telluride did. It was an unusual campaign in that Norwood opposed me because I was from Telluride and the Telluride no growth vote led by Tom Hale (another Aspen land speculator that moved to Telluride owning property which they bought for almost nothing) who was a Democrat himself was campaigning against me because Telluride was his puddle.
It was a dirty campaign as they say. The Republican candidate was Holger Thompson, who was the County Assessor and whose wife was a Norwood native. Holger was a former Army Intelligence Officer during the Viet Nam War and was in retirement in Telluride. About half way through the campaign, a letter attacking and demeaning Holger was found in the courthouse where it had been left by some forgetful person on the only copy machine in Telluride, which was located in Don O’Rourke’s office, the County Treasurer and Chairman of the Democratic Party. When Don found it, he immediately took it to Fred Ellerd, the Sheriff for investigation. It was clearly “dirty”. The investigation commenced and I was the prime suspect—imagine that. I wanted to talk about growth, planning, economics, the ski resort, jobs and the future and all Holger wanted to talk about was the “letter”. We went through county wide debates, radio interviews and newspaper stories and there I was, 28 years old with a bit of a hippie look to me running against the Colonel who was perfectly groomed with white hair carrying on about how unfair it was to have the “letter” enter the campaign. As it turned out there was only one letter, although Ellerd and Thompson claimed that they had headed off a mailing of the “letter” and a massive political under-handed campaign aimed at stealing the county commissioner seat from its most deserving servant, Holger Thompson.
Norwood turned out the vote, in fact, some of the people that voted were already dead, but it didn’t much matter since it was Telluride that split their vote. I won Telluride by more than two to one, but it was not enough.
I was gracious and severely hung-over in defeat and pledged my support to Holger and even Tom Hale who had worked harder at campaigning than I had—only against me. (Hale had been elected a few years before by tricking Randy Belisle, who was the County Commissioner into believing that he was just running to get his hat in the ring and that he would wait his turn until Randy retired).
Holger only lasted a few months in office, it seems that he developed a “sore toe” and had to resign and move to Hawaii for treatment. Fred Ellerd was appointed by the Republican Committee to fill the seat., Presumably, Fred had wrapped up his investigation of the “letter” by the time he was sworn in.
It wasn’t long before we learned that Ron Allred was under contract to purchase the Telluride Ski Resort from Joe Zoline and one of his conditions was that I be defeated, which appears to be why Zoline and his following at the Company also campaigned against me.
It wasn’t long before I was appointed to fill the seat of my dear mentor, Glenn Ruffe on the San Miguel County Planning Commission which was the real “decision maker” on the rezoning of the Telluride Region, the Telluride Mountain Village and the development of the Telluride Airport.
Back to the newspaper, it probably took twenty minutes to make the deal to buy the newspaper. Rudy admitted that the newspaper was driving him crazy and that the opinions of the newspaper which he was publishing were ones that he didn’t agree with. He used the word, “renegades” to describe his editorial staff.
After shaking hands on the deal in which Rudy and his family agreed to sell the newspaper and carry the paper and close quickly, I rushed to call Karen to let her know. I had told her that I was going to have a talk with Rudy, but she was surprised when I called with the news that the deal was done and we’d be taking over in two weeks. As usual, Karen swung in behind the deal with all she had and we were off and running. Our children were aged 3, 4, and 5 years old, so we knew we had our hands full.
The Purchase Picture
Scott, Tucker, Sarah, Anna, Karen
Following the closing, we met with the icy glares of the staff and the pervasive attitude of, “How dare you ….”
We published our first newspaper three days later and I wrote and editorial which I continued to essentially do every week for almost ten years. This one I signed. The message was that we were going to give this venture all we had including our hearts. We believed that quality journalism that first believed in reporting the news accurately and then provided editorial comment to inform, challenge, and question could and would make a difference in the future of our community. We believed that democracy and capitalism as perceived and designed by our founding fathers could only work with a free and outspoken press doing its job as the Fourth Estate which the Constitution and Bill of Rights had granted special privileges and responsibilities to.
Owning the newspaper in Telluride was the most rewarding and most aggravating job I ever had. It was also hard work with little or no monetary reward.
I ran the editorial department and Karen ran the business end of the deal, plus she did the photography, film developing, typesetting and drove the paper to Cortez every Thursday morning at the crack of dawn to be printed. Our children, helped with distribution and then sold newspapers on the street wearing old style newspaper pouches for some spending money. When computers came along, Karen was the first person in the state to get rid of the old Compugraphic typesetting equipment and go digital. We even wrote some of the original typesetting and bookkeeping programs.
At our peak we had fifteen employees and over the years went from averaging eight pages per week when we bought the newspaper to more than fifty pages per week when we sold it.
We didn’t really have any idea what we were getting into when we bought the newspaper, but Telluride didn’t give us any time to figure that out, within weeks we were fully engaged in the battle. The over-riding issue was that a group of self-serving businessmen had filed lawsuits to stop the expansion of the Telluride Ski Resort and specifically to stop the construction of what we now know is Lift 8. They thought that they could bankrupt Allred and gang by holding him up. The ringleaders were Michael Zivian and David Sklare who owned development land near where they wanted the new lift to be located and Walter McClennen who owned along with his wife, Jan, the New Sheridan Hotel, Roma Café and Bar, Examiner Building, and had some kind of ownership interest in the Depot property through agreement with Ray Mayer. The fourth player was David Fruen who owned Rose Food Market.
The play was to hold the community hostage with a knife at her throat until they got what they wanted, which I’m not sure I ever understood.
There were lawsuits, economic sanctions, threats, sex parties, drugs, hot tubs and Carol Ward started a newspaper backed by Walter McClennan to go toe to toe with the Telluride Times and we had more than a few laughs while it was all sorted out.
It was very bizarre and a book should probably be written about just this piece of our history. It certainly matches the great Union Strikes where the Governor of Colorado sent in the militia and Buckley Wells pranced around until someone told him he’d forgotten to put on his pants.
It, in some ways, ended after Fruen pulled out due to a boycott of Rose’s and Brian Rapp, who was the President of the Telluride Company held a “bury the hatchet” ceremony on Main Street. It was pretty hoakie. All the big players in the deal assembled on Main Street and a hole was dug in the street by a town backhoe and everyone threw their hatchets, hammers, legal bills in the hole and then we chanted some voodoo deal and promised to all get along. I went and threw in an old manual typewriter that I’d gotten when we bought the newspaper.
Well, peace doesn’t last long in Telluride. The Telluride Airport fight was looming and in spite of the fact that we had spent ten years arguing over growth and the expansion of the ski resort, nothing had much happened. The value of real estate had gone up, but after the initial burst, it had pretty much just gone sideways. The most expensive home in Telluride sold that year for $160,000 and that was up from $50,000 when Zoline announced the launch of the ski resort in 1972.
It was two steps forward one step back. A deal was never a deal in Telluride and the worst offender was the Town of Telluride that never honored an agreement without weaseling on it.
From talking to many friends who had been here in the early years and had invested their lives in the future of Telluride, it was impossible not to hear the same lament. It went something like: “If we are going to be a ski resort, then let’s be a ski resort and get on with it. We can’t just keep spending our lives here waiting for an economy that works and a future that offers more than this continual fighting and back-biting.”
So, one day, we came up with the idea of putting the future of Telluride to a vote. The catalyst would be the construction of the airport which had been approved by the county. The problem was that there were seemingly as many people in favor of building an airport and a real ski resort as there were people opposed to building one.
In talks with Ron Allred, the ski resort owner, he agreed that the construction of the airport was the next big hurdle, but there was no money since the FAA wouldn’t fund an airport at 8800 feet in elevation and the Telluride Company wasn’t willing to go it alone.
The solution to both the money and politics was a bold one, but it was also the turning point in the calamity of the growth verses no-growth brawl.
We’d play some poker and vote on it. Yes, we’d put it to a public vote in Telluride. And, to add some spice to the mix, our offer was that if the vote passed that the Telluride Company would put up one million dollars and that the Town of Telluride would put up one million dollars to build it. Winner take all. This was a Texas Hold’em—all in bet.
To Allred’s credit he agreed and it only took him a few minutes to make the decision. I approached him with the idea and after we talked it over, I could see that he did understand what I was proposing. A shadow crossed his countenance (one of the few I ever saw) and he looked up and said, “Let’s do it.” Not much more was said. I believe he knew that he was putting the ski resort, the Mountain Village and his dream all on the line and he knew that I’d hold him to it.
For me it was time to finally decide it. I’d already spent ten years working my rear off and giving everything I could muster to build a community that I wanted to live in for many generations to come and it was time to either “work together” or just move on.
Between being a member of TREPAC that was responsible for negotiating the growth plan for the Telluride Region over a two year period to being the Chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission that met twice each month all day for nearly three years in the zoning of the Mountain Village, I had given thousands of hours to public service and all I could afford or stand to give. It was just enough.
The idea was for once and for all to put it behind us. The question was framed around the construction and financing of an airport, but the real question that we were voting on was, “Do you want to be a ski resort?”
It was a fair fight. Plus, it was civil. People were given an opportunity to have their say and no one interrupted them. Letters to the Editor were both for and against and no one took names and threatened people. Advertising both for and against was published and I imposed a rule that the information in both had to be accurate and fair. The mantra was, “I may, or may not agree with what you are saying, but I will defend your right to say it.”
It was a big decision on behalf of our community and I think it was the turning point, at least for a while, that the community, not the politicians and power puppets had the right to decide their future. Further, it was decided that as long as the battle was fair and no one stuffed the ballot box, that the losing side would honor the results and stop the incessant fighting—and we’d move on.
The airport won by three votes.
There were no big parties and there were no end zone dancing or in your face antics. People, both for and against just took a deep breath—sighed—shook hands, hugged and got on with it. No one hated, except the haters and we just hoped they’d find some place else to do their hating and practice their bag of mean tricks.
The airport was built, although there was a big dip in the middle of the runway because we didn’t have enough money. The FAA, who had told us that they would approve the Telluride Airport when “pigs fly” were on hand for the opening and apparently had been visited by flying pigs, because they gladly designated the airport an official FAA facility and started offering up money to improve it.
Ski Resort improvements were constructed and the Mountain Village development was launched and ultimately we even got the gondola, which had been a condition of the Mountain Village zoning.
The Telluride “no-growth” contingent became benign and people got on with their lives and the birth rate went through the roof. Real Estate sales and values took off as did construction and skier days started heading up.
In 1992, Karen and I agreed to sell the newspaper to a group led by Jim Davidson, who had been raised in Telluride. Jim promised that the paper would always be a locally owned paper named the Telluride Times and told me very sincerely, at least in my opinion, that it was his lifelong dream to have the newspaper in his home town.
Within a few months, he sold it to a newspaper chain and Jim washed up onto a beach in Mexico.
Karen and I started Mason/Morse and Brown Real Estate. Our children were getting close to college age and it was time to make some money and pay some bills. The newspaper had been a great run and we had made many lifelong friends and have nothing but fond memories of our days at the newspaper. During our ownership we had won every Colorado Press Association prize you could win and through it all we never lost an election or supported a candidate for election that did not win. We never published a paper that did not have a personal Editorial and we never backed away from an issue because it was too hot or changed our position on an issue because someone offered us their friendship or threatened to pull their advertising and let me tell you they tried.