Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: The Graham County Board of Supervisors sat through a five-hour discussion on the zoning change request to allow Bayacan to cultivate cannabis in one of NatureSweet’s former greenhouses.
Op-Ed By Chris Taylor/Former Safford City Council Member
I wanted to share my thoughts about the latest “controversial” decision made by the Graham County Board of Supervisors. I put controversial in quotes because, in my opinion, the issue at hand shouldn’t have been that controversial. The only reason it was controversial stems from the general public’s lack of comprehension of the role, responsibility, and authority of the County Board of Supervisors or any other local elected governing body.
As far as the supervisor’s duties are concerned it was a simple and very common zoning change request to allow a business in the United States of America the freedom to conduct legal business activities as they see fit and exercise the right to utilize their legally owned property and other assets in the most prosperous manner available within the bounds of the law. You know, the whole Capitalism thing. Business activities they say would add hundreds of jobs and would save the jobs of many current employees who provide a living for their families. The very same zoning change decision was made only weeks earlier to allow the Colvin Farm in Eden to cultivate Cannabis as was his freedom to grow whatever crop he deemed most beneficial.
Don’t get me wrong, the Board of Supervisors had every right to deny the variance for any number of reasons. Some legitimate reasons one would vote to deny such a request would be valid concerns regarding the integrity of the organization applying for the zoning change. All for-profit corporations are known to inflate their economic projections and future positive impact on job growth and tax revenue. But it’s my understanding that some feel like Bayacan’s efforts went beyond that common practice and perhaps even bordered on outright deception. I don’t know enough about the specifics to have an opinion on the veracity of those claims, I’m simply listing legitimate reasons to deny the zoning application.
Another valid concern was the company’s perceived lack of good faith and malevolent attempts to use the legal system to litigate their way into winning their fight. When that failed, they spent considerable amounts of money to sway the state legislature, and some allege they engaged in other questionable tactics to lessen their property tax liabilities in the County. Oddly, many county residents in the Bayacan opposition have celebrated and admired these same exact tactics in recent years when employed by a certain real estate tycoon turned national political figure who over the course of his career made his name a world-renowned symbol of an ultra-successful and smart businessman. Doing so by using the same stratagems Bayacan executives are accused of, but I digress.
One of the most valid reasons to justify voting against the measure in my opinion was Bayacan’s use of information operations to influence residents of Safford, Thatcher, and Pima to support their arguments while they allegedly went ghost on the Bonita residents, the only populace that would actually be impacted to any degree by their cannabis growing operations.
I’m sure there are more legitimate reasons to oppose this proposal than what I listed here, but let’s move on to what isn’t a valid reason to oppose it. In terms of the Supervisor’s duties, the debate on the morality of growing cannabis should have absolutely no bearing on this simple zoning variance. The debate on the legality of growing cannabis has even less bearing since the will of the people on that subject was made clear in the last general election. You know, the whole Democracy thing.
While moral and religious beliefs are central to the character and decision-making of every human being, it simply isn’t the Board of Supervisors’ job to act in a manner that opposes such legally binding proposals or measures based solely on those personal beliefs, no matter how deeply held. It certainly isn’t in their purview to make Supreme Court of the United States-style rulings. Which is what it seemed the mob of Bayacan opposition wanted or expected.
I don’t think the people of this county fully understand just how blessed we are and how extremely rare it is to have not one, or two, but three incredibly dedicated, honorable, and considerate elected officials leading Graham County. All three of these men have impeccable integrity and character above reproach. It’s increasingly rare to find even one individual of this caliber to make the sacrifices necessary to run for any elected office.
What we are usually left with is a world full of scheming, self-dealing politicians concerned with nothing but personal gain. Slithering from one grift to the next while manipulating a growing number of obsessed and paranoid constituents who are detached from reality and suffering from media-induced mass delusion. I’m talking about politicians and voters from the hyper-partisan fringes on the left and the right equally by the way. Both Democrat and Republican, Progressive and Conservative alike.
So, the fact that we are lucky enough to have three men of such honor, decency, and dedication to go above and beyond in their due diligence on matters of intense public interest is frankly somewhat of a miracle. I know these men personally and admire them all greatly. They are righteous and trustworthy men. Their words at the meeting concerning their decisions were so incredibly thoughtful. I could feel the anguish they went through in making that decision and the unbelievable amount of time and effort they put into the whole fact-finding process. Everything about these public servants is extremely rare. The selfless service and disregard for personal wellbeing they always embody were more apparent than ever.
What I saw from many of the citizens in return was appalling. Opponents of the zoning change resorted to trafficking in dis/misinformation, fearmongering, bizarre and unfounded conspiracy theories, and worse, utterly false, and baseless character assassinations. Shouts of bribery allegations, horrible, hateful, and laughable comments like, “You sold your soul!” The whole episode was revolting and incredibly misguided, not to mention embarrassing. I know what it took to have the courage to make what they felt was the right decision despite the personal difficulties that would follow. I know what it feels like to face the scorn of so many “supporters/friends” when all you really did was what you felt was right regardless of how it might affect your political future or your lifelong relationships with so many of the vocal opponents of your position.
Get a grip on yourselves, people. Learn about the functions of our government. The Board of Supervisors is not the U.S. Congress or the State Legislature and it isn’t the Supreme Court. The County Board of Supervisors can’t overturn duly passed statewide ballot initiatives. In other words, it’s not the place to take that kind of stand. It isn’t wrong to believe in the immorality of marijuana, and it isn’t wrong to continue efforts to persuade others to agree with you. But your fight isn’t with the County Supervisors. Making them the enemy here only sabotages your efforts to persuade those of us reasonable, moderate people.
To the Graham County Board of Supervisors, I thank you, I empathize with you, and I admire all of you greatly. Keep doing exactly what you are doing. I can imagine how difficult it was to be in your position. Despite my personal objections to the use of recreational marijuana, I don’t know how I would have voted on this proposal if I was in your position. But I rest easy knowing that all of you did your jobs to reach the decisions you made. I applaud your transparency and willingness to be accountable and explain your actions to the people of Graham County. Another rarity in today’s world of politics. Thank you all.