Parable of the Puppy
Once upon a time, there was a grampa who got a puppy. He loved the puppy and he loved his grandsons, who lived right next door and spent much of their time playing with the puppy. They loved the puppy too. They loved it so much that they did not want another dog of their own. As far as they were concerned, the puppy was theirs too. They shared it with Grampa. They all agreed to a name for the puppy. They called him Buddy.
Buddy grew older and so did Grampa. As Grampa contemplated his own death, he told his wife, “Gramma, promise that when I am gone you will take good care of Buddy. The grandsons will help you. They know that Buddy is their dog too.”
When Grampa died, everyone was sad. They all missed him. They all wanted to honor his wishes about Buddy. The boys continued to play with Buddy and help Gramma take care of him. Gramma told them that when she joined Grampa in Heaven, she wanted the boys to have Buddy for their own. They wanted to please Gramma and even started buying dog food for Buddy so she would not have to get it. They wanted to help pay for feeding their shared dog, Buddy.
One day, they came home from school and went next door to play with Buddy, but he was not there. They called him and looked for him but could not find him. As they were searching for Buddy, Gramma arrived at home. She told them, “Buddy is not your dog. He was Grampa’s dog. Now he is my dog. I decided to give him to the children at the orphanage. They will really enjoy playing with such a nice dog. Don’t you think that was nice of me?”
The boys did not think it was nice of her. They thought it was mean of her to give away the dog they loved, the dog they were raised with, the dog they shared with Grampa, and the dog that Gramma had told them would be all theirs after she died.
The newspaper wrote an article about Gramma giving the nice dog Buddy to the children at the orphanage. Many people praised her for helping the children that she did not even know. Those people did not know what she did to her grandsons. Those people did not know that Buddy was the dog they had always had with their Grampa. Those people did not know what Grampa and Gramma had promised. So when they asked the administrators at the orphanage to please tell their Gramma that it would be better for the dog to be with them again, many called them selfish. How could they deprive the orphans of Buddy?
Their father knew the whole story. He knew of the promises. He knew the boys loved Buddy. He said, “Buddy is their dog and should not live at the orphanage.”
Who do you think should have Buddy? Who would take better care of him?
Roberts Ranch was homesteaded 138 years ago by ancestors of D.L.(David Lee)Roberts and his sons, Burke and Ben, all three of whom were raised on the ranch. D.L. and Ben still live on the ranch and desire to run the ranch operations. These three men are the only descendants of the founders of the ranch.
- Catherine Roberts married D.L.’s father, Evan Roberts, after WWII and moved from South Carolina to live on the ranch with Evan. Thus, she is the stepmother of D.L. and step-grandmother of Burke and Ben, as well as widow of Evan.
- D.L. separately owned part of the ranch, on which his house sits. His sons grew up in the house on that parcel.
- During his lifetime, Evan made clear that his wishes were for the ranch to stay in the family.
- His will left part (1/2?) of the ranch to his wife, Catherine, and the rest to his grandsons, Burke and Ben, via a generation-skipping trust. He could have gifted it to an entity such as The Nature Conservancy, CSU, or the county, but did not because he wanted it to stay in the family.
- After Evan’s death, Catherine entered into negotiations with The Nature Conservancy which resulted in TNC purchasing a conservation easement. I have heard through the local grapevine that, as part of those discussions, it was represented to Catherine that TNC required her to own the entire ranch, so she purchased from D.L. his house and acreage, but he retained a life estate. Similarly she purchased from Burke and Ben the acres that they owned in trust. However, the purchase money also remains in trust, as the land was, and the income from the money in trust is used to pay for Catherine’s living expenses. D.L., Burke and Ben, cooperated in this arrangement because they relied on the representation made by TNC that it could only buy the conservation easement from one person (which I do not see as a legal requirement) and because they desired to follow the wishes of Evan. I have also heard that the price paid by Catherine was a fraction of the appraised value because the grandsons were assured that it would stay in the family upon Catherine’s death. Their only motivation to sell for a token price was to cooperate in fulfilling Evan’s wishes that the ranch continue as an operating ranch and keeping it in one piece.
- Catherine recently offered to make a gift to Larimer County on the understanding that Roberts Ranch will remain a working ranch.
- The Coloradoan newspaper reported that there would be limited fishing and hunting on the ranch, as well as occasional (presumably supervised) tours, and a museum in one of the houses on the ranch.
- Since the story of the potential gift was published, many people have trespassed on the ranch, including 4-wheelers leaving ruts, dirt bikes leaving trails, and people parking horse trailers and taking their horses on rides on this land despite the fact that it is still private property.
- The paper has quoted a grandson of Evan Roberts suggesting litigation to stop “this land grab.”
- If Catherine’s motive is to honor the wishes of her late husband, Evan Roberts, why make a gift to the county (or any public or private entity) when his wishes were to have Roberts Ranch remain in the family, and the family consists of his son and grandsons?
- With the conservation easement already in place, how does a gift to the county preserve the agricultural use any more than does the conservation easement?
- Isn’t the premature trespassing as described above contrary to the expressed wishes of Catherine Roberts that the ranch should continue to operate as a working ranch and not as county open space used for recreation by the public?
- If the ranch is not to be public open space, why is the Open Lands Board involved in the decision about accepting the offered gift?
- What will it cost Larimer County to operate the ranch, including, but not limited to, caring for the cattle herd, irrigating the hay meadows, maintaining the equipment and buildings, hiring a ranch manager and other workers, plus keeping the public off the property other than for approved tours?
- If a county-run ranching operation is not profitable, is it a proper use of county funds to subsidize a loss?
- Even if Larimer County does run the ranch at a profit, is it improper for the county to use its resources for competing with private ranchers?
- If the gift is accepted, won’t the land be taken off the tax rolls and therefore cost the county that revenue?
- Would the gift put the county in a Catch 22 that it cannot use it for open space without violating the strings attached by Catherine Roberts and, if it is not for open space, what business does Larimer County have operating a ranch?
- Knowing that the gift might be contested in litigation, is it a good use of taxpayers’ money to pay legal fees for defending a gift that carries the baggage pointed out above?