On Monday, we told you about the National Socialist Movement, a neo-Nazi group, taking part in the Colorado Department of Transportation's adopt-a-highway program -- and CDOT's conclusion that stopping it from doing so was impossible.
Now, a new development: The National Socialists' designated chunk of U.S. Highway 85 is being moved approximately two miles away from the Elmwood Baptist Church, whose pastor, Gary Randall, was frustrated by the proximity of the signage.
The reason? According to CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman, the church had already adopted that segment of roadway, which should have precluded the neo-Nazis from snagging it in the first place.
Stegman tells it this way:
"On Tuesday afternoon, the pastor called me and said, 'I have a problem I want to talk to you about.' And basically, he said the church had originally adopted that stretch of highway. The original contract went into effect in November of 2008, and they're renewable annually."
In the interim, stewardship of the adopt-a-sign program was shifted to someone else at CDOT -- and in the transition, the church's paperwork was lost.
Cut to last August, when, according to Stegman, "we signed a contract with the National Socialists Movement for that stretch of highway, not realizing that we already had an active contract on it.
"Then, a month or so later, the Church came back to us about renewing their contract. They were told, 'That stretch is no longer available. How about taking this stretch?' And the church said, 'Okay, we'll take this other stretch,' not knowing everything that had gone on."
Hence, this week's call to Stegman, during which Randall asked when the contract with the neo-Nazis had been inked. "I said 'August,' and he said, 'How can you do that when we had an active contract?'" Stegman recalls. "And after looking into it, I said, 'You're correct. What do you want us to do?' And they said, 'We want that stretch back,' and we said, 'Okay.'"
The National Socialist Movement could have thrown a kink into this compromise by refusing to cooperate. But the group's Neal Land didn't have a problem with a move. Not only is the new spot close to the first location, but Stegman says it's just as heavily traveled -- meaning that, presumably, the same number of people will see the neo-Nazi outfit's moniker as they commute. Land "was very understanding and more than accommodating," Stegman notes.
While this shift has assuaged the church community, it will likely do little to squelch other griping. "We've definitely received complaints about the fact that we allowed the National Socialists to adopt a highway," Stegman concedes, "as well as some comments on the other side -- like, 'It's free speech. We understand.'"
When will the signs be moved? "Ironically," Stegman responds, "one of the church's signs was still up." However, the neo-Nazi placard will likely be relocated today or tomorrow, and just in time: "I think they've got a trash pick-up scheduled for this weekend."
Regarding the controversy as a whole, "it's tough," Stegman acknowledges. "You have to recognize free speech, but there are a lot of people who are very angry about groups like this -- and CDOT obviously doesn't support any group that promotes hate toward another sect or race."
On top of that, there's "just complete embarrassment that we didn't do a good job of dealing with this right in the first place because of shoddy record-keeping or whatever went on. It would have been an issue no matter what stretch of highway we gave them in Colorado -- but right now, we're thrilled we could amicably resolve the problem between the church and the National Socialist Movement."
More or less, anyhow.
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