Western Slope Round Up: Archuleta Officials in Publisher’s Bulls-Eye

Running a new newspaper, The Pagosa Free Press, is not the only item on publisher Rick Baker’s agenda these days. Baker is also heading a recall effort against Archuleta’s county commissioners and instigating civilian protests-and that ain’t all, as we say in the West.Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe backdrop of this dispute between the newspaper and county officials is Archuleta County’s financial woes. The county found itself several million dollars in the hole during recent budget reviews and has not met state audit deadlines three consecutive years. In response, the county slashed its workforce and gutted county programs. County officials are still uncovering bad accounting practices.

Soon after publisher Rick Baker started the Pagosa Free Press, he jumped into the role as community organizer and at an October rally, led about 400 citizens chanting “where’s the money?” to the Archuleta Courthouse, protesting the county’s apparent lack of accountability.

In November, Baker filed suit against the county for allegedly blocking e-mail messages between the Pagosa Free Press and county employees. Baker charged the county administrator “blacklisted” the newspaper from county servers after Baker sent an e-mail to county employees asking for information about the destruction of county financial records.

Baker is also leading a recall effort against Archuleta’s county commissioners and produced a recall special section in the paper that gave step-by-step instructions on how to carry out a successful recall. He also filed an official complaint with the Colorado Secretary of State alleging voting improprieties during last November’s election.

In a Nov. 17 issue, Baker wrote an opinion piece that attacked the Archuleta sheriff.

In return, county officials have countered Baker’s accusations with complaints that he practices “tabloid journalism.”

Others have said that Baker is forcing his political agenda on Archuleta residents. A Pagosa Daily Post reporter charged Baker with plagiarism, a claim that Baker admitted was partially valid.

Despite all the controversy instigated by Baker, the notoriety must be good for business. The Pagosa Free Press has doubled in size from its first 16-page issue Aug. 3 to its current 32-page publication on Sunday.