New City Attorney a ‘Breath of Fresh Air’
MONTROSE – In the four months attorney Stephen Alcorn has represented the City of Montrose, his time has not been quiet, or without purpose. The former Oklahoma judge has been put to work drafting new municipal policy following the passage of Colorado’s controversial new laws liberalizing marijuana regulations and imposing new gun restrictions.
Alcorn, 46, began with the city in early March, just 30 days short of clocking nine years as an Oklahoma City District Judge. In the days leading up to his departure, he was taunted by both prosecutors and other attorneys for his decision to move to Colorado on the heels of voters’ approval of recreational marijuana use.
"I got teased relentlessly about leaving Oklahoma by prosecutors saying I was only leaving for the marijuana," Alcorn joked.
One of his first tasks was to draft a new ordinance prohibiting the retail sale of marijuana within city limits, making Montrose one of the first municipalities in the state to do so.
"I had a hunch that one of my first duties was going to be writing a prohibition on recreational marijuana," Alcorn said.
Alcorn said he used language from the city's previous ordinance forbidding the retail sale of medical marijuana, passed by voters just a few years before, as a reference, along with language used in similar municipalities that have banned medical marijuana.
"What works in one city doesn't necessarily work in ours,” Alcorn said. “For the most part, it was starting from scratch and I can see where we may have to tweak it over the next year."
The city council voted unanimously in June to ban retail sales of marijuana. The Montrose County Board of County Commissioners just this week voted to do the same.
At a recent conference of the Colorado Municipal League, attorneys representing other Colorado towns and cities asked Alcorn for copies of the new ordinance, which has been considered to be first-of-it's-kind since Amendment 64 passed last fall.
In Montrose County, 56.7 percent of county voters, and 55.3 percent of city voters voted against the constitutional amendment, which allows people 21 and older in Colorado to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Statewide, Amendment 64 passed with 55 percent of the vote.
The Montrose ordinance also bans marijuana-related paraphernalia including any accessories that aid in the cultivation, manufacture and consumption of the drug.
"[Alcorn] has been a breath of fresh air by being very accessible,” said Montrose City Councilor Bob Nicholson, reviewing Alcorn’s first four months on the job. “He prepared the final draft of the past resolution making it much easier to understand, and has met with most of our employees. He is interested in making things much simpler."
A Former Photographer
On almost every spare inch of space on the wall inside Alcorn's office at city hall there are framed pictures from his time as a professional photographer, including landscaped scenes of mountains and trees from national parks. Alcorn said he took most of the pictures after he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in commercial photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology, in Rochester, N.Y., in 1989.
Alcorn then served in the U.S. Army, first patrolling the border of Czechoslovakia in a tank platoon during the final phases of the Cold War, going on to serve in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, where he was awarded the Bronze Star.
But he says what “piqued” his interest in studying law was watching the televised unfolding of the O.J. Simpson trial, for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman, in 1995.
"I liked the intellectual challenge of what was going on and the verbal gymnastics that I was experiencing," Alcorn said of the eight-month trial that drew worldwide attention.
"I came home and told my wife Melissa, ‘I think I want to go to law school.’ And she said, ‘That's funny, about two days ago I decided you needed to go to law school,’” Alcorn recalled.
In 2000, Alcorn graduated from Oklahoma City University School of Law, going on to work as an assistant district attorney in Oklahoma County, often prosecuting violent crime.
A Weekly Variety of Challenges
Toward the end of his time in Oklahoma, however, Alcorn said he became "intellectually bored." Wanting a change of scenery, he sought out the challenge of being a small town attorney.
Alcorn and his wife are avid mountaineers, skiers, kayakers, backpackers, and rock and ice climbers and he remembers vacationing in Colorado many times. He liked the region’s small towns, which reminded him of Austin, Minn., where he grew up, and where his father was a preacher and town leader.
"Our heart was in Colorado; this is where we wanted to be,” Alcorn said. “We were willing to take a leap of faith that Montrose is where we wanted to be, and so far it's been proven true."
Alcorn loves the variety of challenges and issues he faces on a weekly basis in his new job, which he describes as being a "balancing act."
"I've always liked people; I've always been fascinated with people," Alcorn said. "I'll be dealing with a constitutional law issue, then an employee issue, then somebody that tripped and fell on a city sidewalk,” he said of his new job, which ranges from complicated legal work to fielding complaints. Recently, he said, “I had a woman come in stating she was upset that she put money into one of the newspaper machines and there weren’t any newspapers left."
During one of Alcorn's first Montrose City Council meetings, at which representatives from the Horsefly Brewing Company requested a new liquor license, Alcorn used some quick wit and humor to make the hearing go more smoothly.
In response to Horsefly brewer Nigel Askew’s contention that the establishment needed to be able to serve wine for couples who can’t agree on a preferred libation, Alcorn responded: "Based upon your professional observations, do those couples stay together long-term?" The audience laughed, as Horsefly owners Phil and Melanie Freismuth nodded appreciatively. A little humor can go a long way, Alcorn said. "It also shows that I'm approachable,” he added. “A lot of city attorneys are probably too stuffy, and take themselves too seriously. I take my position seriously, but I don't take myself too seriously. I want any city employee to know that they can come up to me and talk about any issues or problems. I want them to feel that if we're in City Market we can talk over a head of lettuce about an issue, and resolve it or make an appointment.”