While writing love songs to Governor Hickenlooper for calling a special session on civil unions, the press has totally diverted away from holding the Hickenlooper Administration responsible for its non-response to the egregious and fatal errors of state bureaucrats in the Lower North Fork Fire.
Peter Blake of the Colorado News Agency recently recounted an example of another Colorado governor who actually took responsibility for mistakes of the state:
When a state worker in a front-end loader dislodged a 6.7-ton boulder on Berthoud Pass in 1987, it rolled into a bus full of tourists, killing nine and injuring 15. It took six years, but the state ended up agreeing to a settlement of $2.5 million.
But that case didn’t involve governmental immunity. The plaintiffs’ attorneys filed under the federal civil rights act, and they named individual defendants as well as the state. The settlement went well beyond the immunity limits, which were somewhat lower then. That’s because Gov. Roy Romer didn’t want tourists to think the state could kill them with virtual impunity. [Peak emphasis]
Attorneys for North Fork fire victims might try a similar tactic—or something even more imaginative. Or they can go straight to the state claims board, which would determine whether there was negligence and recommend damage awards for each plaintiff. The legislature would still have to appropriate the money.
Did Hickenlooper's non-response to the fire give people the impression that the state could kill them and destroy their homes with impunity? Blake quotes the husband of a woman killed in the fire saying "It is just disgusting to see their arrogance…They bathe themselves in immunity."
Blake's hard hitting salvo comes on the heels of a bungled early response by the Hickenlooper administration. While most of the press, per normal form, gave the Governor a full and free pass, one TV station brought down the hammer.
7News brutally took Hickenlooper to task, calling his administration's report on the fire "soft" and "political." During the press conference announcing a deal on victim compensation in the Lower North Fork Fire, Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman even cited the 7News report as clarifying the issue for him.
When the press gets done serenading Hickenlooper and editorializing against Speaker McNulty, maybe they'd like to get back to their job holding Hickenlooper accountable for his administration's inept response to a recent tragedy.
And the first question they should ask is the question posed first by Peter Blake: People died, Governor, so will anyone in state government be fired?