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Pueblo hires mediator in hopes of settling Columbus statue controversy

Public comments on issue; passes on 5-2 vote
Columbus statue in Pueblo
Posted at 4:18 PM, Aug 06, 2020

PUEBLO — The Pueblo City Council has approved the hiring of a mediator to aid in the ongoing debate over the Christopher Columbus statue. The ordinance was passed on a 5-2 vote.

Thursday night's meeting comes after weeks of protests at the Mesa Junction monument. The protests have cost the city tens of thousands of dollars for the manpower to secure them, and has forced businesses to alter their normal work hours. For instance, the nearby library now closes on Sundays.

Fred Galves, a professor in California, had already signed a contract with the City of Pueblo for mediation services before Council approved it. Galves is a Pueblo native who said he was in town for his uncle's funeral when he decided to offer his mediation services.

Galves said he hopes to help his hometown through this effort. He knows both parties are strong in their opinions, and asks them to not mistake being reasonable or open-minded for weakness. "The mediator is not the solution. I won't be providing any answer, I have no decision-making power, all I can do is try to help you come to a decision," said Galves.

Dozens of people also gave their opinions on having a mediator during the session today, starting with those who were in favor of the contract. "I think when people keep trying to rewrite history, it's because they don't know what it is to begin with. And, to have this done by a mediation would probably be easier, cheaper, but if that doesn't resolve the situation, maybe we need to think about a special election," said one of the first people to comment.

Toward the end of the evening, a young boy came up to comment during the portion reserved for people against the contract. "I think the statue should come down, other people don't, but we all are educated people. We can figure it out and decide for ourselves. We don't need some guy from out of town to come in here and make us agree," he said.

The public hearing was regarding the mediation services, and not the direct outcome of the statue. So, there was no correlation between what individuals thought of the mediation contract to their opinion on the statue.

To see some of the variations of opinions expressed, read through this Twitter thread:

Mayor Nick Gradisar wanted to bring in an independent consultant to oversee the process. He said he believes this is an urgent issue, and even though he cannot guarantee mediation will be successful, he is willing to try to resolve the disputes.

The mayor said mediators typically charge thousands of dollars for their services. Galves has agreed to $100 an hour for the first 40 hours of work, and the next 40 hours would cost $80. For any remaining time after the initial 80 hours, Galves would charge $60 an hour.

Galves said he is meeting with the two groups separately this Saturday and Sunday. Each group is composed of six people. He said there is no set deadline on when they must develop a solution.

Councilmember Lori Winner said she doubts any real change will come from the mediation, saying the root of the issue is much larger than the small group that will be involved. Councilmember Mark Aliff said he feels as though council is passing the buck to the mediator, when ultimately they would need to make the decision regarding the fate of the statue. He also discussed putting the issue on the ballot, and letting voters decide.

Meanwhile, Council President Dennis Flores was one of the councilors who said the mere fact that both groups have decided to sit down and start the discussion about a solution is progress, and that he wants to try.

This week, the Pueblo City Attorney confirmed to News5 that no payments will be made to Galves until that contract is approved.