County Gov

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Peggy Littleton joins crowded U.S. Senate race

Posted By on Wed, Jan 20, 2016 at 12:04 PM

Peggy Littleton will run for U.S. Senate. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Peggy Littleton will run for U.S. Senate.
Peggy Littleton has joined a crowded field seeking to be the Republican Party's nominee for U.S. Senate.

If chosen, she would run against incumbent U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat. Other contenders for the Republican nomination include state Sen. Tim Neville, state Rep. Jon Keyser, and businessmen Robert Blaha and Jerry Natividad, among many others. Littleton's fellow El Paso County Commissioner and frequent ally, Darryl Glenn, is also in the race.

Littleton has served as an El Paso County Commissioner since January 2011. Before that, she spent seven years on the Colorado State Board of Education. In her county role, Littleton was the first commissioner to call for the resignation of Sheriff Terry Maketa, and was active in fire/flood recovery efforts. She has also distinguished herself as a fierce gun-rights proponent. (I wrote about her ties to groups allied with Cliven Bundy — whose family members are currently participating in the Oregon standoff — here.) 

Littleton has a long reputation as a deeply conservative Republican. She homeschooled her kids, campaigned for a delegate spot in 2004 as a "Blond Babe for Bush," funded abstinence-only education when she was on the Board of Education, and was a leader in building a new gun range in the county. You can read my short biography of her from 2014 here.

Littleton is portraying herself as an outsider, both because of her conservative beliefs and because she is a woman.

"If you want another Washington good ol’ boy, I’m not your gal,” Littleton stated in a press release announcing her candidacy. “But if you believe, like I do, that America is a great nation and our best days are ahead, I ask for your prayers and your vote. We need safety, security and hope for the future.”


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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Commander suing county runs for commission post

Posted By on Wed, Jan 6, 2016 at 3:21 PM

Rodney Gehrett is seeking a seat on the board that would decide whether to settle his lawsuit against the county. - GEHRETT CAMPAIGN WEBSITE
  • Gehrett Campaign Website
  • Rodney Gehrett is seeking a seat on the board that would decide whether to settle his lawsuit against the county.
UPDATE:
Sheriff's Commander Rodney Gehrett says he'll abstain from activities involving his lawsuit against the county should he be elected as a county commissioner in November.

Here's an emailed statement from him:
Regarding my federal lawsuit against El Paso County and former Sheriff Maketa, if there is no resolution prior to the start of my term, then I would certainly remove myself from any involvement in decisions about how the county should proceed. I stand by my decision to file the initial complaint along with Commander Rob King and Bureau Chief Mitch Lincoln. I believe the citizens of EI Paso County have a right to know the facts that were discovered as a result of our allegations and formal complaint.
He also notes that, contrary to our earlier post, he WILL NOT be taking a pay cut if elected. Why? Because the Colorado General Assembly last session passed a bill that bumps up pay for commissioners substantially: from $87,300 to $113,490, which figures out to be whopping 30 percent pay hike. The same pay increase will be seen by county treasurers, clerks and assessors in the state's biggest counties, which include El Paso, Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Douglas, Jefferson, Larimer, Pueblo and Weld.
The same bill bumps the sheriff's pay from $111,000 to $144,430. All those changes pertain to those elected to those offices after Jan. 1, 2016, which includes the three people who are elected to the three seats up for grabs on the El Paso County Commission this year.

———-ORIGINAL POST WEDNESDAY, JAN. 6, 2016, 3:21 P.M.———————

Sheriff's Commander Rodney Gehrett
, one of five sheriff's employees who sued the county in federal court last March, has announced he's running for the District 3 seat on the Board of County Commissioners.

The seat is now held by Sallie Clark, who leaves office a year from now after serving three terms.

Gehrett joins five other candidates who have filed for the Republican nomination. They are: Alex Johnson, Javier Mazzetti, Susan Payne, Tyler Stevens and Stan Vanderwerf. No Democrats have filed for the office.

Gehrett sued the county citing persecution by former Sheriff Terry Maketa, as we previously reported, amid a strange episode over a supposedly missing internal affairs file regarding current Sheriff Bill Elder, who worked at the Sheriff's Office years ago. The lawsuit characterizes Maketa's and then-Undersheriff Paula Presley's so-called investigation as reckless, illegal and merely an attempt to cook up "dirty tricks" to undermine Elder's sheriff candidacy. Elder took office on Dec. 31, 2014.

Commanders Gehrett, Mitch Lincoln and Robert King were placed on administrative leave in May 2014 after filing a complaint against Maketa. Those three and Lt. Cheryl Peck and Sgt. Robert Stone filed the lawsuit in March 2015. All are currently employed at the Sheriff's Office.

The lawsuit, which is ongoing, doesn't state a specific dollar figure, but rather seeks "compensatory damages including physical and mental pain and suffering, inconvenience, emotional stress, impairment of the quality of life, any economic losses."
Read the entire initial complaint here: ComplaintGehrett.pdf
The most recent filing in the case was Dec. 21 when the plaintiffs, including Gehrett, filed a response to the county's motion to dismiss.
Here's that filing:  ResponseToMotionToDismiss.pdf
County commissioners meet in executive sessions to discuss litigation, strategy and whether to settle lawsuits sor pursue them. We've asked Gehrett if he intends to sit out such sessions involving his case, if elected, and will update if and when we hear back from him.

If elected, Gehrett would take a pay cut. He currently knocks down $103,552 a year as a sheriff's commander, but commissioners are paid a measley $87,300. We've also asked Gehrett about this, and will circle back if we hear from him.

Here's his news release, issued this afternoon:
Rodney Gehrett (R-Colorado Springs) has officially announced his candidacy for the El Paso County Commissioner seat that will be vacated by Commissioner Sally Clark in January of 2017, due to term limits.

“With three of the five county commissioners leaving office due to term limits in January of 2017, the 2016 election cycle is a critical time for El Paso County,” Rodney said. “More than ever, El Paso County needs experienced leaders to answer the call of public service and lead this community into the future. I have been a public servant for more than three decades, and I am not done yet. I have the experience, demonstrated leadership, and courage necessary to address challenges head on, ensuring the highest quality of life for all who call this great community home.”

As a County Commissioner, Rodney plans to focus his efforts to improve public safety services, repair and maintain infrastructure, and diversify and strengthen the local economy. He believes improvements in these three areas will have the most significant impact on the quality of life for all El Paso County citizens. “People prefer to live, work, and play in communities that are safe, with well maintained infrastructure and good paying jobs that allow them to provide for their families,” said Rodney. “Those same issues are equally important to local businesses owners.”

He has already picked up several key endorsements from local leaders. Among his supporters is Sheriff Bill Elder, who recently completed the first year of his four year term as Sheriff. “Rodney’s contributions to our collective success as an agency have been immeasurable during this past year,” said Elder. “I will hate to lose him as a member of my Command Staff, but his style of leadership is desperately needed in this community. He has my full support!”

Rodney is a 20 year veteran of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, where he currently serves as the Support Operations Division Commander. During his career, he has held numerous key positions such as Training Director, Standards and Technologies Manager, Public Information Officer, and Administrative Services Division Commander. His extensive experience managing people, resources, and budgets within the El Paso County government framework makes him uniquely qualified to serve as a commissioner.

In addition to his service with the Sheriff’s Office, Rodney has an extensive military background. He recently completed his 30th year of military service. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. He serves as a Major with the US Army Reserve and is currently a Psychological Operations Officer, assigned to NORAD and USNORTHCOM at Peterson Air Force Base.



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Thursday, December 10, 2015

State of the Region gets Fox-y

Posted By on Thu, Dec 10, 2015 at 3:28 PM

A large crowd came to hear Lathen's speech. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • A large crowd came to hear Lathen's speech.
Amy Lathen said the state of the region is improving. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Amy Lathen said the state of the region is improving.

El Paso County Board of County Commissioners Chair Amy Lathen themed this year's State of the Region address around the now 30-year-old Michael J. Fox film, Back to the Future.

Past leaders, she said, beginning with the Colorado Springs' founders, were always looking toward the future, whether by building the Broadmoor Hotel or the World Arena. Lathen said we must also look toward the future, now that the economy is showing signs of recovery, City for Champions is beginning to take shape, and the county has addressed many of the most urgent flood-control projects following the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest Fires.

Lathen called for a federal courthouse to be located in El Paso County, given the area's large case load. She also called on citizens to be kind to one another in the wake of two recent mass shootings.  Lathen addressed other future-oriented projects by naming a number of award recipients who are contributing to major change in the area. Among them:

• Jackie Gonzalez was named "Ambassador of the Year." Gonzalez works for U.S. Bank and is an Ambassador for the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

Jay Cimino was named "Person of Influence." Cimino is the President and CEO of the Phil Long family of car dealerships and Founder & Chairman of the Board of Mt. Carmel Health, Wellness and Community Center

Rebecca Jacobs, the county's employment and family support director, was named County Employee of the Year. Jacobs was recognized for her collaborative efforts in the community, including getting help for flood and fire victims and supporting the Feed the Children campaign.

Larry Yonker was given the "Making a Difference" award. Yonker is the President and CEO of the Springs Rescue Mission, which begins construction next year on a major expansion that will allow it to serve more homeless and addicted individuals.

Gary Henry was given the "Economic Project of the Year" award. Henry is the executive director of Colorado PTAC, which helps Colorado companies procure government contracts.



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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

El Paso County puts conditions on accepting refugees

Posted By on Wed, Nov 25, 2015 at 2:53 PM

El Paso County's Board of County Commissioners adopted a resolution Tuesday saying the commissioners, all Republicans, oppose relocation of refugees to the county through the United States Refugee Resettlement Program, "unless each one is fully vetted and certified by the federal government not to pose a threat to the community."

Glenn: Cracking down on refugees. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Glenn: Cracking down on refugees.
The resolution also says the county won't spend a dime on the program "unless the refugees are certified by the federal government ... to not be a threat to the citizens of El Paso County."

From a news release:
The Resolution, approved during the Tuesday November 24 BoCC meeting, further states, “The Board is concerned about the considerable financial burdens created by the refugees on our local schools, law enforcement, and community services, as an additional unfunded mandate imposed upon the community during uncertain economic times in which the County budget and other governmental entities and agencies are already experiencing financial stressors.”

Through the Resolution Commissioners indicate that they understand, “the desire for persons to seek freedom and to share in all that is good and positive in the American way of life. (But) the risk to our local citizens in times of global terrorism and economic insecurity cannot be overlooked, and it is necessary for the Board to protect the health, safety, security, and welfare of the citizens of the County by declaring its opposition to the relocation of refugees from the United States Resettlement Program into El Paso County until and unless the refugee is determined by existing immigration procedures to not be a threat by the federal government.”

The item came before the Board as an added agenda item at the request of Commissioner Darryl Glenn. Commissioner Glenn noted that the resettlement efforts would have financial implications and the County will be making budget decisions for 2016 at its next meeting on December 3. Commissioner Glenn said, “Real-world events are not only dictating that we deal with this as a budget item, but also that we work to provide some level of security for the citizens who have expressed a concern with regard to, what is it that is possible for our local governments are able to do.”
Regarding those "uncertain economic times," in the county's latest 2016 budget report, the sales tax forecast for next year predicts the county will bring in $91 million, which is 32 percent more than the pre-recession year of 2007. Property tax revenue during the same period is estimated to go up 30 percent — from $37.4 million in 2007 to a predicted $48.6 million in 2016. 

On another note, it's not surprising to hear the "just say NO to refugees" resolution was Glenn's idea. In the last month, his campaign for U.S. Senate (a race in which he has virtually no chance of becoming the Republican nominee) has issued several releases stating his positions on issues. Keystone Pipeline? He's for it. Any kind of amnesty for undocumented workers? He's definitely against it.

Here's a news release from Glenn's campaign on his position regarding refugees: 
Radical Islamic Terrorists have declared war on the United States of America. President Obama, Governor Hickenlooper and Senator Bennet have grossly underestimated the magnitude of the threat that we're facing.

The blanket acceptance of the relocation of refugees to the United States without certification from the directors of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and National Intelligence should not be tolerated. I stand with more than half of the nation's governors opposing the acceptance of Syrian refugees without a clear certification that their placement would not jeopardize the security of the citizens they've taken an oath to protect. Unfortunately, Colorado's governor is NOT one of them.

While I certainly appreciate the plight of innocent refugees and of those fleeing from terror in their homelands, I simply cannot agree to accept the unknown into our homes at the expense of the safety and security of those we love.

So what should we do if our President, Governor and Senior Senator refuse to show leadership?

As your next Senator from Colorado, I'm asking you to join me in calling for all of our elected officials to seek the immediate suspension of all federal, state and local government funding in support of the Refugee Resettlement Program within the State of Colorado until we receive certification from the directors of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and National Intelligence that these refugees pose no threat to the security of our citizens.

We must take this moment in time to step up and lead when our President, Governor and Senior Senator have failed!




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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Deputy arrested for use of force

Posted By on Thu, Nov 19, 2015 at 4:06 PM

Criminal Justice Center - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Criminal Justice Center
An El Paso County jail deputy has been charged with crimes associated with a use of force incident in the jail. The charges consist of two misdemeanors. Here's the news release from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office:

On Tuesday, September 29, 2015, a use of force incident occurred in the Intake and Release area of the Criminal Justice Center. Information regarding this incident was reported and then given to the District Attorney’s Office for review. A criminal investigation was initiated due to the actions taken by Deputy Francisco Vasquez, in his official capacity as a Deputy Sheriff.

On the afternoon of November 19, 2015, Deputy Vasquez was officially charged by the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office with 3rd Degree Assault (M1) and Official Oppression (M2). Deputy Vasquez has been employed with the Sheriff’s Office since December 12, 2012, and is assigned to the Intake and Release Section.

Deputy Vasquez is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the internal investigation. Facts concerning this investigation will not be released at this time, as it is an ongoing personnel matter. According to Sheriff Elder, “The arrest of a deputy has a significant impact on our Office, its members, and our community. It will be handled in the same manner and with the same integrity as every other investigation.”

Deputy Vasquez is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.


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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Shooting at windmills

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 3:11 PM

Don Quixote after an unsuccessful attempt at slaying a windmill. - PD-US
  • PD-US
  • Don Quixote after an unsuccessful attempt at slaying a windmill.
If you've ever read Don Quixote, then you likely remember the passage where the absurd protagonist jousts with windmills, imagining them to be "thirty or forty hulking giants."

The scene gave birth to the idiom, "tilting at windmills," which means to attack imagined enemies. But to some of the folks in Calhan, windmills are a real enemy — giants that they complain block their view across the plains, create noise, and may affect their property values or even their health.

Which might explain why a self-style Quixote recently shot down one of the turbines with a "single high powered rifle." 

NextEra Energy, which erected the wind farm recently despite the vocal protests of some landowners, says the windmills have little impact on locals and provide green energy for Denver. 

The shooter did $20,000 to $250,000 in damage to Turbine #35, near the intersection of North Yoder Road and Heaston Road, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office reports.


Anyone with knowledge of the shooting is encouraged to call Sheriff Deputy Scott Brettell, at the Rural Enforcement Unit, at 719-352-5033 or 719-390-5555. NextEra is offering a reward for information that leads to the arrest and prosecution of suspects in the case.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

UPDATE: Brewer drops out of county commission race following husband's arrest

Posted By on Wed, Oct 21, 2015 at 10:32 AM

There are lots of reasons people drop out of political races, but according to multiple reports, Marsha Brewer had an unusual motivation for bowing out of the 2016 race for El Paso County Commissioner District 3.

Brewer's husband, Jimmie Brewer, has apparently been arrested by the El Paso County Sheriff's Office on suspicion of sexual assault on a child under 15 by one in a position of trust, sexual assault on a child under 18 by one in a position of trust, and incest. According to KRDO, he has since been released on $5,000 bond.

According to the Gazette, the apparent victim, a girl, told detectives that she had frequent sexual contact with Brewer starting in 2012 when she was 8 years old.

It's a shocking revelation considering the Brewers are longtime players in the local Republican party. And according to KRDO, Marsha Brewer is accused of knowing about the abuse and not reporting it.

"According to Jimmie Brewer's arrest warrant," KRDO reports, "the child said she told Marsha Brewer about the abuse but said Marsha Brewer didn't report it. Marsha Brewer sent a text message to the child in September apologizing for Jimmie Brewer's actions. "


——- ORIGINAL POST, TODAY, 10:32 A.M. ——-
Three current county commissioners will be term limited next year.
  • Three current county commissioners will be term limited next year.


The 2016 race for three El Paso County Commissioner seats is already getting a little tighter.

Marsha Brewer, a candidate for County Commissioner in District 3 has announced she will pull out of the race due to a change in her personal circumstances.

Three Board of County Commissioner seats will be up for grabs next year because Amy Lathen (District 2), Sallie Clark (District 3) and Dennis Hisey (District 4) are term-limited.

Sherrie Gibson, Tim Geitner and Mark Waller have announced for District 2. Alex Johnson, Susan Payne, Rodney Gehrett and Tyler Stevens are running for District 3. Longinos Gonzalez, Joan Lucia-Treese, Elizabeth Rosenbaum and Scott Turner have announced for District 4. All are Republicans except Rosenbaum, a Democrat.

Waller, former Republican leader of the state House, unsuccessfully ran for attorney general in 2014. Stevens was mayor of Green Mountain Falls from 2002-2012 and still is mayor pro-tem. Gonzalez ran for City Council in April.

Marsha Brewer, Candidate
El Paso County Commissioner District 4
Exits the Race


Colorado Springs – Today Marsha Brewer, a Candidate for County Commissioner announced that she would not seek the Republican Party nomination for El Paso County Commissioner District 4.

“To be an effective Candidate requires a great deal of time and attention. Due to a change in my personal circumstances, I will not be able to devote the time and attention I believe is necessary to be an effective Candidate and Commissioner. I wish the other Candidates and the citizens of Commissioner District 4 the very best,” stated Brewer “there are some excellent Candidates in this race and I look forward to supporting the Party’s nominee in June.”

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

County shells out $120K for Maketa claims

Posted By on Tue, Oct 6, 2015 at 11:55 AM

Sallie Clark: settlements are "unfortunate." - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sallie Clark: settlements are "unfortunate."
The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved settling two cases today by paying $120,000 in taxpayer money to two people who had made claims against the county alleging missteps by former Sheriff Terry Maketa.

It's odd the county would settle with Wendy Habert, considering she most recently worked for the jail medical contractor, not the county. She was Maketa's campaign manager in 2010 when he sought a third term and was elected by a landslide, despite the Independent's report ("Star Treatment," March 11, 2010) about favoritism and his questionable relationships with some female employees.

In any event, Habert gets $55,000 and her lawyer, $30,000.

Cliff Porter, who alleged he suffered retaliation for "political association," according to County Attorney Amy Folsom, gets $17,500 and his lawyer a like amount.

Neither of these cases made it to the lawsuit stage. Both, Folsom told commissioners at today's meeting, were merely demands submitted to the county. Demand letters aren't considered public documents because they're the subject of negotiation, she said.

"We engage in a very rigorous process before we settle a claim," Folsom said. She added the county, though, conducts what she called a "substantive risk assessment" prior to settling a case and determine "how to assess how this individual can be compensated fairly."

As for settling a claim ahead of actual litigation, Folsom said, "Litigation is very expensive. We’re talking about extra fees and costs. It is a great thing when you can bring things to resolution in advance of cost of litigation."

Commissioner Sallie Clark, long a political ally of Maketa's who endorsed him in 2010, called the settlements "an unfortunate situation," and added, "but we want to make it right to the folks that felt there was something wrong here."

Commissioner Amy Lathen said the settlements represented a "delicate balance."

"We have to protect our staff and recognize things that have happened," she said. It's an odd statement to refer to Habert as "staff" when it's our understanding she most recently was employed by a county contractor and hasn't worked for the sheriff's office for years.



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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

DATE CHANGE: County wants your input on AFA trail closures

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2015 at 12:14 PM

EL PASO COUNTY HAS CHANGED THE DATE OF THIS MEETING TO OCTOBER 5. LOCATION AND TIME TO BE ANNOUNCED. WE'LL UPDATE YOU WHEN WE KNOW MORE.

Here's the rest of the information from the county:

Community Meeting on Use of New Santa Fe Regional Trail Has Been Rescheduled to October 5

Interested Trail Users Encouraged to Attend

El Paso County, CO, September 23, 2015 – The community meeting on the New Santa Fe Regional Trail which was originally scheduled for September 28, 2015 has been moved to October 5, 2015.

El Paso County Parks is hosting the meeting to discuss public use of the New Santa Fe Regional Trail through the Air Force Academy. Interested residents are encouraged to attend the meeting on Monday, October 5, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. at Academy International Elementary School, 8550 Charity Drive, Colorado Springs, CO 80920.

El Paso County has had an easement for the seven mile section of the New Santa Fe Regional Trail through the Air Force Academy since 1989. The trail section has been closed to general public use since May, 2015 due to an increased threat assessment by the US Northern Command.

El Paso County and the Air Force Academy have been in discussions regarding public access to the trail and an update on those talks will be provided. The public is encouraged to attend and provide input on the future use of the trail.

For further information, please contact County Parks at 520-7529.

——- ORIGINAL POST, SEPT. 15, 1:32 P.M. ——-

FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO

If you enjoy long bike rides or hikes along the Santa Fe/Pikes Peak Greenway Trail, than you've likely encountered the on-again-off-again trail closures at the Air Force Academy.

Apparently due to security concerns, the AFA closes the trail frequently, ticking off trail users. Well, it looks like the county may want to do something about that. There's a public meeting coming up on September 28 in which El Paso County Parks will take input from citizens on the closures. (We assume screaming and cussing are discouraged.)

The county has had an easement on the AFA section of the trail since 1989, so it's possible that they may be able to keep the trail open. Or at least keep it open more often.

Here are the details:

Community Invited to Meeting on Use of New Santa Fe Trail Through U.S. Air Force Academy

Public May Provide Input on Future Trail Use


El Paso County, CO, September 14, 2015 – El Paso County Parks will host a community meeting to discuss the public use of the New Santa Fe Regional Trail through Air Force Academy property.

The meeting will be Monday, September 28, 2015 at 6 p.m. at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Offices, 4255 Sinton Rd., Colorado Springs, CO 80907.

El Paso County has had an easement for the seven mile section of the New Santa Fe Regional Trail through the Air Force Academy since 1989. The trail section has been closed for general public use by the Air Force Academy since May, 2015 due to security concerns.

El Paso County and USAFA have been in discussions regarding public access to the trail and an update on those talks will be provided. The public is encouraged to attend and provide input on the future use of the trail.

For further information, please contact County Parks at 520-7529.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Time is running out to register for zombie run

Posted By on Tue, Sep 22, 2015 at 12:20 PM

The county wants you to be prepared for just about anything. - EL PASO COUNTY
  • El Paso County
  • The county wants you to be prepared for just about anything.

You have until Thursday to register for this Saturday's 3k run from the undead.

El Paso County's Be Prepared… Don’t Be A Zombie 2015 Zombie Run will be hosted at Fox Run Regional Park. The first run starts at 10 a.m. Runners will be chased by zombie hordes who attempt to take their flags. In order to get a new flag, runners have to answer a question about emergency preparedness. The point, obviously, isn't to prepare the public for zombies, but to ready them for the very real disasters like fires and floods. 

Register here. The cost is $10-$30 per runner. Proceeds will go to support community emergency preparedness activities. 
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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Oops. A $110,000 mistake

Posted By on Tue, Sep 1, 2015 at 4:01 PM

Former Treasurer Balink: Caused a costly error for taxpayers. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Former Treasurer Balink: Caused a costly error for taxpayers.
Thanks to former El Paso County Treasurer Bob Balink, the taxpayers will pay $110,000 to settle a lawsuit involving his office.

The case was filed in April by Darin Zaruba and Z, Inc. doing business as Zinc Homes.

Besides Balink, he named as defendants numerous county officials and the Board of County Commissioners.

In a nutshell, Balink allowed property owners whose tax liens had been purchased by Zaruba to redeem them after the deadline imposed by statute.

Zaruba originally sought to be reimbursed for lost revenue from six mobile homes, but it turned out to be four, county officials say, with a total value of $94,870.

Here's what interesting: Balink didn't seem to understand the procedure. After getting the runaround about the tax liens he'd bought from the Treasurer's Office, Zaruba says in the lawsuit, he requested a meeting with Balink.

From the lawsuit: "During said meeting, Mr. Balink stated that he didn’t know what the exact process was, but that he would look into it and respond to Mr. Zaruba that day with an answer."

Also from the lawsuit:
On December 4, 2014, Mr. Zaruba met with Ms. Trivelli who informed him that she had met with the staff to review the statutes, admitting that the Treasurer’s office obviously had issues with the dates and timelines. Ms. Trivelli advised that the office would subsequently be changing their internal policy and would provide Mr. Zaruba a copy.
And to think Balink collected a salary from taxpayers of $87,300 a year for four years.

Treasurer Mark Lowderman, who succeeded Balink in that office in January, says he's fixed the problem permanently. "It's not going to happen again." He adds that Balink "kicked the can down the road" until Lowderman took office.

We've sent Balink and email seeking a comment. We'll update if and when we hear back.

Here's the complaint filed by Zaruba:
ZarubaVsEPCO.pdf

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Sheriff should overhaul use-of-force policies, study says

Posted By on Wed, Aug 19, 2015 at 3:09 PM

Sheriff Elder: Has a lot to do to fix the ailing Sheriff's Department. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Elder: Has a lot to do to fix the ailing Sheriff's Department.
A new study of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office is highly critical of nearly every facet of operations, noting a lack of supervisory training, "inadequate and/or nonexistent" use of information technology, and lack of communications among personnel. (Sheriff Bill Elder after taking office Dec. 31, 2014, introduced a newsletter called "The Informer.")

The report also said the office is top heavy. A lot of those top jobs were handed to Elder's friends and associates.

Of crucial importance, the study notes, is a sound and defensible use of force policy, which the department lacks. And while spokeswoman Jackie Kirby has said the department will migrate to a vendor's package of policies this fall that are automatically updated when laws change, the new study says that's not good enough.

The study was conducted by KRW Associates LLC, with former Colorado Springs Police Chief and ex-City Manager Lorne Kramer acting as project manager. Kramer is part owner of KRW.

Among the findings of KRW is an apparent dearth of formal guidance on use of force, which we've written about numerous times of late, including here and here.

The study doesn't report any statistics on citizen complaints against the Sheriff's Office for using excessive force, but it does note an increasing number of force incidents in the jail perpetrated by detentions deputies, although the big jumps are attributed to "Policy/Procedure modifications and enhanced supervisory awareness to incidents involving the use of force."

Here are the numbers from the last five years:
screen_shot_2015-08-19_at_2.08.35_pm.png


Here's the section of the report's recommendations regarding what the Sheriff's Office needs to do to address its use-of-force policies:

Possible Amendments to EPSO Policy # 501, Use of Force

As evidenced by incidents nationwide, no issue is likely to impact the public’s relationship with law enforcement more than the use of force. It is often the subject of citizen complaints, lawsuits, and intense media coverage. The authority to use force, up to and including deadly force, is an awesome one which must be scrupulously controlled so that it is not abused. At the same time, law enforcement officers must have the ability to protect themselves and the public and to carry out their duties and responsibilities. Therefore, all law enforcement agencies must have well-written use of force policies which define and explain the appropriate use of force and guide officers in their decision to use force.

The EPSO is currently studying its core use of force policy. It is contemplating the use of a model policy and modifying it to meet the specific needs of the Office. It is recommended that this process be continued and expedited. The current use of force policy, while adequate, is not clearly written and does not conform to best practices.

It is further recommended that the EPSO study use of force policies of other sheriff’s departments and the provisions contained in U.S. Department of Justice consent decrees and settlement agreements in order to determine the content and wording of its use of force policy. The following amendments should be considered:

1. A statement recognizing the sanctity of life and the significance of using deadly force;
2. Statement of policy acknowledging that only that force which is “objectively reasonable” shall be used;
3. Recognition that a deputy’s actions immediately prior to the use of force may influence the need for or level of force;
4. Use of advisements, warnings and verbal persuasion, when possible, before resorting to force;
5. Use of de-escalation techniques to attempt to lessen the likelihood of the need to use force or to reduce the level of force;
6. Use of tactical options to attempt to reduce the need for force or the level of force such as disengagement, containment, use of cover/concealment and barriers, creating time and distance, waiting for “back-up”, or calling for specialized units or deputies with special training;
7. Duty to de-escalate immediately as resistance decreases and the threat subsides;
8. Policy with regard to warning shots;
9. Policy with regard to shooting at or from moving vehicles and tactically approaching vehicles;
10. Duty to immediately notify a supervisor after witnessing or becoming aware of the use of unnecessary or excessive force by another deputy;
11. Duty to intercede, when possible, to stop the use of unnecessary or excessive force by another deputy;
12. Policy with regard to the drawing and brandishing of a firearm;
13. Factors to consider in determining the reasonableness of force options;
14. Duty to prepare thorough, complete and truthful reports, devoid of conclusory, “boilerplate” language, detailing the need and purpose for using force, the threat or resistance faced, the justification for the use of force option employed, and any attempts to use or consideration of lesser force options, where feasible;
15. Duty of supervisors to investigate and evaluate use of force by subordinates;
16. Duty to provide medical assistance to persons against whom force was used;
17. Acknowledgement of constitutional requirements for the use of force in an institutional/correctional setting (Hudson v McMillan, 503 US 1, [1993]); and
18. Specific reference (by title and policy number) to all other policies related to the core use of force policy.
The above list is not intended to be exhaustive but merely illustrative of issues which should be considered.
It's hard to believe the Sheriff's Office policies are so in need of an overhaul. Elder took officer nearly eight months ago and one might hope he's addressing these issues. Three-termer Terry Maketa was essentially drummed out of office due to his philandering, which the Independent reported in 2010 while other media jumped on in May 2014, and other missteps for which he remains under criminal investigation.

But, apparently Elder hasn't gotten a firm grip on things just yet.

Read the entire report here:
KRW_Report.pdf
Here's what the Sheriff's Office said about the report in a news release:
This multi-faceted assessment was undertaken to identify how the individual department members assess the agency and organizational environment. There was also a need to have a non-biased review of practices and policies in place at the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office following numerous complaints and ongoing litigation.

The purpose for using KRW was to provide a trusted source for the development of recommendations that will help us establish measurable outcomes for future change and planning. The goal was to conduct an in-depth assessment of the organizational climate and environment in order to offer recommendations to enhance morale, organizational proficiency and leadership. The project team conducted a comprehensive review of current operational practices, policies and procedures. Over 200 employees, both sworn and civilian, were interviewed both individually and during 12 focus groups. Additionally, a sample of external customers were queried about their impressions of the quality of services and their relationship with the Office.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Clark named President of National Association of Counties

Posted By on Mon, Jul 13, 2015 at 4:16 PM

Sallie Clark - EL PASO COUNTY
  • El Paso County
  • Sallie Clark
EL Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark is now leading the National Association of Counties, the organization that "unites America’s 3,069 county governments."

It's a major honor for Clark, who is the first county commissioner from Colorado to lead the association, which was founded in 1935. NACo works to advocate for counties on national policy, as well as to groom leaders, share ideas, and better inform the public about the role of county government.

Clark is in her final term as District 3 County Commissioner. 
El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark Installed as President of National Association of Counties

Clark Touts “Safe and Secure” Initiative for her Term as President



El Paso County, CO, July 13, 2015 – El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark (District 3) was elected President of the National Association of Counties (NACo) on Monday at the NACo annual summer convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. NACo serves America’s 3,069 counties by monitoring and assessing the impact of federal regulations and policies on county government and coordinating the legislative efforts to assure that counties can continue to serve citizens efficiently and effectively.

Clark is the first county commissioner from the State of Colorado to be elected President of NACo. Clark has been active in NACo since 2005, serving on its Board of Directors and as the subcommittee chair of the Justice and Public Safety Steering Committee. She has also been active in NACo’s Financial Services Center Advisory Committee, Large Urban County Caucus Steering Committee, Cybersecurity Task Force, Veterans and Military Services Committee, Membership Committee and its Arts and Culture Commission among others.

During her acceptance speech, Clark thanked her fellow El Paso County Commissioners as well as County staff for their support and work on her behalf. She also thanked Colorado Counties Inc. Executive Director Chip Taylor and, of course, her husband, Welling Clark, for his “love and support.”

Clark announced her focus as NACo President will be to ensure Safe and Secure Counties. “Today, we enter a new phase of promise. A new phase of growth and outreach efforts because we know that stronger counties make a stronger America,” said Clark during her acceptance speech.

In describing her presidential initiative Clark said, “The Safe and Secure Counties initiative will explore innovative strategies that counties implement to serve our citizens. We will convene public, private and philanthropic leaders, produce special reports and facilitate peer-to-peer learning opportunities for members. While each county is unique, we all face similar challenges and can learn from each other’s ideas.”

“NACo will continue to advocate for federal policies that advance the interests of county government ... whether fighting unfunded mandates or securing needed investments in critical county services,” said Clark.

Clark referenced her specific experiences as an El Paso County Commissioner in finding solutions to difficult problems during a period of economic downturn as well as historic local and statewide natural disasters. “Over the last few years, my county experienced two catastrophic wildfires followed by disastrous flooding, resulting in loss of life and long-term recovery costs. When disasters strike, counties are the boots on the ground, before, during and after emergencies. Regardless of where you live safety and security are at the core of county government,” said Clark.

Clark will also be using her position with NACo to give the citizens of her own County a better understanding of the critical services provided by counties including transportation, public health, environmental services, child protection, criminal justice and more. Each month during the upcoming year El Paso County will provide focused information on specific the functions, responsibilities and services provided by El Paso County Government.

Clark represents Commissioner District 3 which includes Colorado Springs' west side extending through Manitou Spring and the Ute Pass area to the Teller County line. Clark was elected to serve as an El Paso County Commissioner in 2004 and was re-elected in 2008 and 2012. She has served as chair and vice chair of the commission. Clark has won numerous awards for excellence in public and community service and has served in many state and local leadership positions, including the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Justice, the Colorado Child Welfare Allocation Committee and co‐chair of the Waldo Canyon Fire Recovery Group.


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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

County tells Black Forest to clean it up

Posted By on Tue, Jul 7, 2015 at 4:16 PM

The Black Forest Fire left many homes in ruins. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Black Forest Fire left many homes in ruins.

After the Black Forest Fire, El Paso County Commissioners let some things slide.

A lot of people had burned-up rubbish on their land, construction equipment, and trailers that provided temporary shelter while they rebuilt. Temporary exceptions to normal code in the area allowed residents to keep that stuff on their land for two years, in an effort to give them time to recover. 

But County Commissioners decided unanimously today to let those exceptions expire. That means most residents will need to clean up their act, though the Commissioners did allow exceptions to be made on a case-by-case basis.

Apparently, the decision has made some neighbors — who feel that the area is becoming trashed — happy. But others say the decision puts them in a terrible position, as the continue to try to rebuild their lives.

Read on for more:

Development Code Exceptions for Black Forest Fire Properties Allowed to Expire

Temporary Exceptions May Be Allowed After Administrative Review on a Case by Case Basis


El Paso County, CO, Tuesday July 7, 2015 – The Board of El Paso County Commissioners today confirmed the immediate expiration of code exceptions which were put in place make it easier for residents to rebuild after the 2013 Black Forest Fire. The Board’s unanimous decision allows the Development Services Department to work with individual property owners with extraordinary circumstances on an individual basis to allow them to continue to live in recreational vehicles (RVs) for a limited time pending the completion of construction work on their homes.

The Board heard from a number of Black Forest residents who are in the process of rebuilding bur still living in RV’s due to financial hardships, pending insurance litigation and medical issues. The Board’s decision gives those residents with active building permits, pending insurance settlements or other extraordinary circumstances the opportunity to work with the Development Services Department on a case by case basis.

The Board also heard from residents who expressed concerns that some of the properties burned in the fire are still littered with rusting fire debris, burned out vehicles, multiple trailers and piles of demolition and construction materials creating localized blight and reducing the value of their properties. With the Board’s decision today, County Code Enforcement Officers are directed to resume regular enforcement procedures associated with the rubbish ordinance and all other applicable Land Development Code provisions in the Black Forest area.

Commissioner Darryl Glenn, who represents the Black Forest Area, noted that allowing the two-year old exceptions to expire provides clear direction in establishing a way forward for the entire community. Commissioner Dennis Hisey added, “It’s time to go after the rubbish; the rusting debris from burned out houses that still exists on some of those properties.” Commissioner Amy Lathen added, “We always make a concerted effort to work with those who are suffering but this allows our staff to get in there and begin working with property owners to clear out the rubbish.”

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Friday, June 12, 2015

County lauds volunteer of the year

Posted By on Fri, Jun 12, 2015 at 2:43 PM

Ed Dills, left, receives the Volunteer of the Year award from County Commission Chair Dennis Hisey. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY
  • Courtesy El Paso County
  • Ed Dills, left, receives the Volunteer of the Year award from County Commission Chair Dennis Hisey.
From keeping an eye on road work to handing out toys during El Paso County's Feed the Children event, Ed Dills has given a lot of time to the county over the years.

For his trouble, he got a glass trophy and recognition at the Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast recently.

Here's the county's release:
El Paso County resident Ed Dills was presented the 2015 Jack Blackwell Award recognizing him as the El Paso County Volunteer of the Year. The award carries the name of the late Jack Blackwell, who gave countless hours of volunteer service on the Highway Advisory Commission and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. Presentation of the Blackwell Award culminates a Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast produced by the Citizen Outreach Group, one of more than fifty boards, commissions, committees, and task forces appointed by the Board of County Commissioners.

“He is a resident of eastern El Paso County who has spent a lot of time behind the wheel on sometimes bumpy county roads,” noted Commissioner Chair Dennis Hisey in presenting the award. “This gives him a special kind of expertise for service on our Highway Advisory Commission,” Hisey continued. “You will see him hard at work handing out toys, clothing and food during our annual Feed the Children event. You will see him planting, cultivating and harvesting on his own land so he can deliver fresh vegetables to the Springs Rescue Mission and these are just a few highlights of his many contributions.”

Before retirement, Mr. Dills worked with Coca-Cola of Colorado Springs. Coke is a valued corporate supporter of the County and has donated truck loads bottled water for wildland firefighters during our devastating wildfires as well as a variety of soft drinks to be served at various county-sponsored events.

Mr. Dills currently serves on the Board of CSU Extension, the El Paso County Highway Advisory Commission, the Citizens Outreach Group, the Community Development Advisory Board, and the Citizens Budget Oversight Committee.

Volunteer opportunities with El Paso County cover a very broad range of interests and activities. From regular clean up at the dog park to in-depth analysis of complex budget projections, county volunteers can be found giving their time, talent and labor. To learn more about volunteer opportunities with El Paso County Boards and Commissions go to: http://bcc.elpasoco.com/VolunteerBoards/Pages/default.aspx

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