MONTROSE - What started as debates between friends about community issues has evolved into a weekly forum with a life all its own.
Almost three years ago, Montrose residents Jim Austin and Ted Dickinson were in a heated discussion about Montrose County’s legal battles regarding its contracted fixed-based operator and iJetAway Aviation, Austin said in a recent interview with The Watch.
"We thought what a hell of a thing to have a subject like that and no one knows about it," Austin said.
And so The Forum was born, and managed by Austin and Dickinson until Dickinson's unexpected death, earlier this year. Montrose resident Peter Crowell now helps Austin.
Every Wednesday, community members gather at Heidi's Brooklyn Deli in the Oxbow shopping center at 8 a.m.
The crowd – both size and temperament – depends on the subject that week, and at times the deli is standing room only.
John Nelson, a retired legal specialist and businessman, is a regular at The Forum.
"I come because of the diverse subjects and the fact that you have the ability to ask questions and make comments. There's not a lot of places you can do that," he said.
Over the years, forum subjects have ranged from tax proposals on the upcoming ballot to the city's construction of a roundabout – but the objective is always the same: create a more educated society.
"One thing that's been different in Montrose is that you have 16 new people in new jobs," Austin said.
In the past year, Montrose has acquired a new city manager, district attorney and school district superintendent – to name just a few. The Forum has been an outlet for those people to meet and address the community, he said.
"We try to do something different every week, but none of the subjects are really related," Austin said.
The only thing The Forum has avoided is politics. The organizers decided that the forum is not the right place for political candidates to speak, though they can attend and hand out information, Austin said.
Montrose County Commissioner candidate Jim Haugsness said he enjoys how The Forum spurs discussion but maintains a respectful environment for residents to ask questions and share their thoughts.
Education is a big component, so at various times, different groups are invited to share what they do within the community.
On April 11, three members of the Montrose High School speech and debate team executed one of its debates from earlier in the school year in front of the crowd. They used The Forum to educate the community about the team (and how it’s funded).
As proponents of debate, the high school students recognized the importance of a community venue for discussing current issues.
"Debate definitely helps us be more educated, and that helps the public, because if educated youth know what they are talking about, the government will be left with a younger generation that is more wise," debate student Megan Murray said.
Her classmate Eve Franck agreed, saying, "We want the entire population to be more educated. It's really important at any age."