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Our View: Beginnings

Former city finance director Julie Brown begins her jail sentence; downtown underpass gets green light

On July 9, former city finance director Julie Brown, convicted of embezzling more than $712,000 from Durango’s coffers over an 11-year period, reported to jail to serve her 90-day sentence.

Brown had been given the option of serving 90 consecutive days or participating in a work-release program, which would have allowed her to work during daytime and report to jail at night but would have taken a year to complete.

Hopefully, her potential employer – news reports by Shannon Mullane of the Herald said Brown had been offered a job in Garfield – will keep the job available for her when she is released.

Not only does Brown presumably need a job to survive, but also to begin paying back the $272,787 balance of the money she took – in $1,200 monthly payments for approximately 18 years. She already has repaid $439,511.

Originally, 6th Judicial District Judge William Herringer sentenced Brown to five years in prison and three years on parole, but he suspended the sentence contingent on her good-faith efforts to repay the money. She will be on probation for 20 years. If she fails to meet the conditions of her reduced sentence or probation, her original sentence could be reinstated.

Durango City Council submitted a letter regarding Brown’s sentencing to the judge, which said in part, “We are not seeking any leniency in her sentencing. ... Ms. Brown’s acknowledged crimes were serious, intentional, calculated and repetitive. Hers was not one act of desperation but rather her crimes took place numerous times. ... With her crimes, Ms. Brown ... eroded the public trust in our municipal government and the City Council while also diminishing the public’s confidence in city staff. ... Her crimes were a betrayal to our community, to her profession, and to her city of Durango colleagues.”

We wholeheartedly agree with the council’s opinions about Brown’s actions and we are glad that she was sentenced to jail time, however brief. Yet perhaps the judge was right to allow her to serve only a short period in jail. The city has a much greater chance of recouping the rest of the money owed to it if Brown is working, and she will likely return to jail if she fails to keep up her payments. It seems an appropriate compromise – and a pragmatic end to a very sad saga in the city’s history.

• • •

On a happier note, we are thrilled that the city has begun accepting engineering design bids for construction of the long-discussed crossing of Camino del Rio at 12th Street.

The crossing will make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to safely travel to and from downtown Durango and the Animas River Trail.

Currently, a flashing red light activated by pushing a traffic button allows for crossing against the heavy traffic barreling through the area. Even so, it’s not exactly a safe crossing. Many motorists (locals? tourists? both?) don’t seem to grasp that they must stop at the flashing red light, whether they can see anyone in the crosswalk or not – which is especially dangerous for children. And the flashing light doesn’t last long enough for a person of limited or slow ambulation to make it across the street.

After considering several possibilities, an underpass was chosen as the safest alternative for the crossing. Its exact location hasn’t yet been chosen, but it will be in the vicinity of the current 12th Street crosswalk.

The design process should be complete by next spring and construction is slated to begin in 2023. The project’s construction cost is estimated at $3.7 million and will be paid for with the half-cent sales tax passed in 2015 and supplemented by grant funding.

We hope this project is a harbinger of many such projects to come, embracing the idea of making downtown Durango more pedestrian-, cyclist- and tourist-friendly, so we can earn those five-star ratings as a livable and walkable town.

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