Census runs into speed bumps on Western Slope
The Denver Post
Epic snowstorms. Oil-field man camps. Ski towns. Mountain roads. Pockets of immigrants. Suspicious right-wingers. Even medical-marijuana fumes.
These are some of the challenges in Colorado for a U.S. Census Bureau trying to count the residents of more than 2.1 million households across the state. Some of these problems have, at times, derailed the early efforts to reach every Coloradan.
But so far, Colorado’s count is running ahead of the national average. Thanks to workers, who in some cases have ridden horses and snowmobiles to get to hard-to-reach residences, nearly one in four residents has participated in the first month of the census, a constitutionally mandated civic duty that translates to $880 in annual federal funding for each person counted.
That success has occurred even on the Western Slope – an area that serves as a microcosm for problems encountered in the 10-state region administered from Denver; though, granted, it had some unusual obstacles thrown in.
“I think it shows we are getting the job done,” said Mark Hellfritz, a Denver-based assistant regional census manager.
The Western Slope census district – which has the highest number of hand-delivered forms on the U.S. mainland – has had a revolving door of managers, along with computer glitches, supply problems and salary snafus.
It was in this office, tucked in an industrial complex behind Grand Junction’s Moose Lodge, that chemical fumes from a medical-marijuana operation next door sickened workers until a shared ventilation system was separated.
Some critics of the census operation sarcastically blame those fumes for much of the trouble in the Western Slope office. But officials attribute the chaos to early “inefficiencies” in a troublesome region with more than 289,000 households spread over 37,000 square miles.
“Things were not always being done to make the system work there,” Hellfritz said. “We noticed inefficiencies at the beginning of the operation, and we fixed them.”
That included firing the first Grand Junction manager, retired attorney Bill Hugenberg, who called the Census Bureau “one of the most screwed-up operations I’ve ever been a part of.”
He has lodged complaints with Colorado’s congressional delegation and the Office of the Inspector General.
“It was a mess at every step of the way,” agreed Clay Boland, a retired Colorado Mountain College professor who recently quit as a crew leader in the Carbondale area.