Perhaps it's time to address the issue concerning City Council member-elect Tim Leigh.
Leigh, as you may know by now, backed into a mother and her 5-year-old child in a Briargate parking lot a few months back. The mother and child fell over. No one was seriously hurt, and Leigh received a pretty light punishment: He paid $85, had 1 point taken off his license, and had to take a class.
We knew about this a while ago. As far as we were concerned, it was unfortunate, but accidents do happen, and thankfully this wasn't a serious one. What disturbed us, however, were rumors that Leigh had threatened a court employee, saying that if he was elected, jobs at the court would be in jeopardy.
In other words, the rumor was that Leigh was grossly misusing his power as a soon-to-be-elected official to get even on a personal matter.
You never read this story in the Indy for good reason: Only certain documents in Leigh's case are open, and none of those open documents had a record of Leigh saying anything like what was described in the rumor.
It's the responsibility of a newspaper to hold public officials accountable. But it's also our responsibility to be accountable for what we write, and not to publish unsubstantiated rumor.
We were therefore a bit surprised when Leigh sent out a mass e-mail, his so-called "Market Report," that seemed to accuse the Indy of going after him. In it, Leigh said a "local newspaper" was trying to prove that he was staging a "cover-up" of his car accident and that he had made the threat to the court employee.
The Gazette's Daniel Chacón was quick to blog the odd e-mail, after talking with Leigh. Leigh apparently told Chacón that when he said "local newspaper," he wasn't talking about the G.
Our executive editor, Ralph Routon, sent Leigh an e-mail that day, explaining the situation. Routon stressed that he didn't appreciate the apparent accusations, but that he hoped to have a good working relationship with Leigh in the future.
Leigh sent back an e-mail saying he "did not mention any newspaper. I accused nobody." Shortly afterward, Leigh canceled an unrelated interview I had scheduled with him, offering no explanation. I called and left a voicemail asking to reschedule. That was several days ago. He's never called back.
Frankly, Leigh's behavior is nothing short of bizarre. For starters, yes, he did mention a "local newspaper" — it's in black and white — and yes, he did accuse that local newspaper of planning to "release a story" that he says contains untrue statements.
That, of course, is false.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Leigh's e-mail also details the accident — you'll remember that it involved a young child — without ever expressing an ounce of remorse.
He also states in the e-mail that while he doesn't specifically remember threatening a court employee, "it’s likely, out of frustration I said something and given the same circumstance, I’d probably do so again." (Really? So he thinks it's OK to use his position of power to settle personal scores?)
Then — and really, this is the cherry on top — Leigh attached an earlier e-mail to the end of his Market Report. The earlier e-mail is a rambling diatribe against traffic cops and municipal courts (both of which Leigh apparently has extensive personal experience with). Leigh starts off this rant by stating that he thinks stop signs and speed limits are "suggestions."
Is he serious?
Read it for yourself ...
Tim’s Market Report
To my friends across the globe; Australia, Japan, India, Germany, England, Ireland, Viet Nam and to my friends in the military, fighting for this great nation stationed away from Colorado Springs, in case you did not receive the memo - I was elected to city council! . . . Now the work and intrigue begins.
I received a call advising me that a local newspaper was going to release a story about a parking lot incident where I bumped into a pedestrian while backing out of my parking space. They claim I “covered-up” the incident during my recent city council campaign and later, in the process of fighting my ticket, (out of frustration), I made a statement to the effect, “If I get elected to city council I’m going to do something about the traffic court system.”
The facts: I did have an auto-pedestrian incident. I was slowly backing out of my parking space at the Shops at Briargate in front of the MAC store and a family walked into the drive-lane behind me. We collided. (I was told that this is actually a high occurrence incident in that parking lot.) There were no serious injuries. I bumped into the mother who then toppled with her child to the ground, and in the process, the mother fell on top of the child. At about 5:30 PM on a wintery Sunday evening, the conditions were dark, foggy and slippery. We immediately called 911. AMR, the fire and police departments responded. Everyone was examined at the ER. An insurance claim was submitted and paid. The liability was ascribed 80% to me and 20% to the pedestrians. I received an $85, 2 point ticket for something like “failure to clear a drive lane” which was later reduced to 1 point. (This is all a matter of public record. There was no cover-up.)
As to the statement about traffic court; while I don’t recall a specific statement, it’s likely, out of frustration I said something and given the same circumstance, I’d probably do so again. In fact, I wrote about the municipal court’s dysfunction, their overstaffing and overpayment in October, 2010. (You can read the reprint of the article below.) It has been my experience that we have a traffic court system that seems more interested in generating revenue than dispensing justice. This is proven every time someone with a traffic violation appears in court and obtains a point reduction, (I did not know there were so many defective tail lights in this city!), so long as they pay equal or greater fines plus court costs.
This car incident is not newsworthy. That a local news outlet wants to drag-us-down into the mire attempting deconstruction is shameful. And I’d like to know, why does the private life of an elected official matter? (Except in extreme instances, it probably shouldn’t.) Jefferson had at least one child out of wedlock; seems to me that his personal predilections did not inhibit his effectiveness as a legislator. Bill Clinton may or may or may not have had “sex with that woman” and Dick Cheney is a terrible shot, but both were effective leaders.
Here’s an idea for local media seeking credibility and a good story - research and write intelligent stories that are truly newsworthy. (Frankly, my private life isn’t that interesting.) If you need suggestions, here’s a beginner’s kit: 1) how do we solve our unfunded pension crisis? 2) What should be done with Memorial Hospital? 3) What is the appropriate governance for CSU? 4) What role, if any, should the USOC play in our economic development? 5) What should the political redistricting of Colorado Springs look like? 6) How do we attract and retain new employers? 7) How do we grow the economy? I could go on and on but hopefully, you get the point.
Enough with the politics of destruction; we’re the same family; we’re the same team; we’re Joe vs. The Volcano. We’ve just elected a fresh, new team. Give us a chance to turn the ship in a positive direction. Get to know us collectively and individually and join us on this grand new adventure.
NOW — THE REPRINT
Tim’s Market Report — too many tickets; too many judges
October 2, 2010
“. . . And “Muckrakers”, who raked up the mud and the muck contributed to the atmosphere of dissent. . . And neither the patriotism of the war nor the absorption of energy in elections could disguise the troubles of the system.”
Excerpted from The People’s History of America
Circa 1899, Howard Zinn
I’ll admit it. I’m a scoff-law; (So to speak). When it comes to most things, I’m one of those guys who is pretty sure rules are for other folks and mostly mere suggestions for me. “Stop signs?” They’re suggestions. “Speed-limit signs?” They’re suggestions. “Stay-off the incline!” Merely a suggestion. Of course, living on the edge has advantages (sometimes you get to the front of the line or you reach your destination a minute or two earlier), but it carries consequences, (hypertension, early onset baldness, ED, (or so I’ve been told) for example), and yes, as they say, a stick does have 2 ends.
And so it was at 4:00 O’clock in the morning; that early autumn morning, when it was dark and cold and bleak and lonely, that I raced-down the Fillmore Hill on the way to the office. I had an appointment to catch worms and time was wasting! As I rolled to a full & complete stop at the bottom of the hill into the crimson light flooding the corner of Fillmore & Chestnut, I thought, “Dang light; I’ll be here 5 minutes; that’s time I could be doing something else!” I searched and saw nothing! There was nobody coming toward me; nobody behind me; nobody to the left nor the right and thought, “What the heck?” (Or something like that) and ran the light and immediately — bang — he was on my tail with his lights blaring and I recall thinking, “Fudge!” (Or something like that) and as he approached my car, I’m certain he thought I was drunk. “Where were you?” I asked. “Hiding behind the gas pumps”, he replied, “That’ll be 4 points, son!” and off he went.
And so it was at 6:00 o’clock in the morning about 2 weeks later and I had just rolled out of McDonald’s with a “Sr. Coffee and one cream, please” and 2 hot, melty chocolate chip cookies; with both front windows down, a brilliant, early morning, mountain-sky and icy-brittle, crisp mountain-morning air greeting me; the river running at volume on my right and the radio tuned to country classics, I was looking forward to the wide-open road north from Silverthorne. I was living the dream, baby! I saw the speed change sign ahead so I (naturally) stepped on the gas and as soon as I did, bang — he was on my tail with his lights blaring and I recall thinking, “Fudge!” (Or something like that) and as he approached my car, I’m certain he thought I was drunk. He couldn’t have been more than 19 years old; heck, I was old enough to be his father! He looked like he was freshly minted from the latest BCT training class at Ft Jackson; big & tall with wide shoulders and a skin head. Leaning into my personal space, he growled in a low, quiet voice, “In kind of hurry aren’t we?” And I thought, “Alright! It’s my lucky day - he’s in a hurry too! Bet he’ll let me off.” Then he said, “That’s be 4 points, son!” and off he went.
And so it was a couple of weeks later that I got the final blow and had to deal with the other end of the stick. I called one of my favorite nephews, who at the time worked in the traffic court system who advised me, “Just pay the fines, Uncle; don’t worry about the points; they’ll knock 50% off when they get paid.” I did as instructed and thought I was in the clear until the summons arrived to appear at the DMV with instructions to “Report at 8:00 AM, bring your license and a driver.” I thought “Fudge!” (Or something like that).
I have continued my trek through the city system looking for buried bodies and in the process I’ve been told that the best-kept-secret job in the city is as (highly coveted) municipal judge. These are positions which are the butt of many local attorneys & judge’s jokes; that these guys are over-paid and under-worked.
The story is that we have too many judges working in municipal court. I was told that, according to the Service Reduction Impact publication published by the city for the 2010 budget, we’d save $60,500 per year by not filing an associate municipal judge position and it looks like we currently employ 1 Chief Judge and 11 Associate Judges.
Now, here’s some thought provoking math: A municipal judge receives $60,500 per year including benefits. They normally work about 2 days per week. That means they earn ($581.73 per day). I’ve been told that most of these guys only work about 4 — 5 hours per day (when they’re actually there); and, yes, that is called adding insult to injury which should not be confused with insulting a jury. And on Fridays, the only day jury trials are held, municipal judges may not work at all. If this is all true (as I’ve had reported to me), “There’s some fat on the table, Mildred!”
Epilogue: Did you know that municipal court judges are Mayoral appointees? That the city council has no jurisdiction over the municipal court system? And that to be a municipal court judge, you need not be an attorney? Hmm.