Local News

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

'Gap' on I-25 now a 'top priority'

Posted By on Wed, Dec 21, 2016 at 1:15 PM

Though the stretch of Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock has been hanging over the region like 
JOSEPH SOHM/SHUTTERSTOCK
  • JOSEPH SOHM/SHUTTERSTOCK
an albatross for years, the local transportation planning agency just recently designated it as the "highest priority for the Pikes Peak Region."

We've reported on this issue, and we've also carried editorial comments about it.

But now it's official. Here's a news release just in from the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments:
As the Pikes Peak region’s designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), PPACG is responsible for working with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to identify priority transportation projects for consideration of statewide funding. PPACG maintains a list of priority projects that highlights how I-25 is essential for public safety and to economic development as a vital commuter, freight, and recreational corridor.

While I-25 is six to eight lanes wide from just south of Castle Rock north through Denver and six lanes from the top of Monument Hill south through Colorado Springs; there is a seventeen mile “Gap” section between Monument Hill and Castle Rock that is currently four lanes, creating a roadway that does not adequately serve existing needs and will not safely and efficiently accommodate projected increases in travel.

As of December 14th, the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, acting for and on behalf of its affected local governments, hereby approves and adopts the I-25 “Gap” Improvement Construction Project between Monument and Castle Rock to the PPACG Priority Project list and names it the highest priority project for the Pikes Peak Region.

“The I-25 ‘Gap’ must be addressed as soon as possible for the safety and economic development of the entire front range corridor” said Councilmember Andy Pico, PPACG Chairman. “PPACG recognizes the importance to the Pikes Peak Region.”

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Time to comment on cable franchise agreement

Posted By on Mon, Dec 19, 2016 at 2:23 PM

Comcast's new franchise agreement is up for public comment. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Comcast's new franchise agreement is up for public comment.
Colorado Springs City Council is nearing a decision about renewing Comcast's cable franchise with the city and has planned two hearings to hear public comment.

Both will be held at City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave. The first is at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 19. The second will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31.

To comment by email: ComcastComments@springsgov.com

By mail: City of Colorado Springs Communications
30 S. Nevada Avenue, Suite 606
Mail Code 606
Colorado Springs, CO 80903

The proposed agreement is available at the link provided above, or in hard copy at the City Clerk's Office at 30 S. Nevada, and at the security desk on City Hall's first floor.

The proposed 10-year agreement permits Comcast to use city rights-of-way to construct, operate, and maintain a cable system in exchange for a percentage of Comcast’s gross revenues.

Here's the pertinent part of the agreement dealing with franchise fees:
As compensation for the benefits and privileges granted under this Franchise and in consideration of permission to use the City’s Rights-of-Way, Grantee shall continue to pay the City the sum of one dollar twenty cents ($1.20) per Subscriber per month as a franchise fee (“Franchise Fee”) until ninety (90) days after the Effective Date or July 1, 2017, whichever is later (“New Payment Date”). Commencing on the New Payment Date, Grantee shall pay the City an amount equal to three and one-half percent (3.5%) of Grantee’s Gross Revenues as a
Franchise Fee. The Franchise Fee shall be increased to four and one-half percent (4.5%) within one (1) year after the New Payment Date and shall be increased to five percent (5%) within two (2) years after the New Payment Date, provided that all other Cable Operators providing Cable
Services in the City are required to pay the same Franchise Fee rates (i.e. percentage of Gross Revenue and increases in such percentage) and commencing on the same dates as set forth in this Section 3.1. The Franchise Fee may be recovered from Subscribers by Grantee in accordance with Applicable Law. 
The 89-page agreement will not dictate rates, and the company will have to answer complaints from customers.

The agreement was due for renewal last year but was delayed while City Council worked out details of the new contract's provisions.

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Homeward Pikes Peak clients get new mattresses thanks to Virginia-based donor

Posted By on Mon, Dec 19, 2016 at 2:19 PM

On Thursday, the online mattress company Leesa donated 100 mattresses to Homeward Pikes Peak, a Springs-based housing program. The donated mattresses, valued over $20,000, will go directly to the program’s clients who are either: homeless; formerly homeless; struggling with mental health issues and/or addiction; leaving abusive relationships or are in other challenging circumstances. For many of the recipients, this is the first brand-new mattress they’ve ever owned.

Client Brian Howard tests out one of the donated mattresses. - HOMEWARD PIKES PEAK
  • Homeward Pikes Peak
  • Client Brian Howard tests out one of the donated mattresses.


“Can you imagine sleeping on the ground for a year or longer?” Laura Fonner, executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak, asked rhetorically at a reception to celebrate the donation, according to the organization's press release. “Currently we reach out to the community for mattresses and it’s hit or miss. With this donation, our clients can finally get some good sleep and that’s important to their recovery in all aspects.”


Homeward Pikes Peak offers myriad housing programs that serve 84 individuals and households at a given time in addition to operating an outpatient clinic specializing in women’s services. Overall, there are over 1,300 homeless people in Colorado Springs according to the latest Point In Time count. Among that group, 227 have chronic substance abuse issues, 311 have a serious mental illness, and 168 are veterans and family members.


The donor, Leesa, is a Virginia-based B-Corporation, meaning it incorporates social and/or environmental welfare into its for-profit model. The company's “One-Ten” program promises one mattress to a shelter for every ten sold. So far, they’ve donated over 8,000 mattresses to nonprofits like Homeward Pikes Peak around the country.

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Coal kills, demonstrators say

Posted By on Mon, Dec 19, 2016 at 2:12 PM

Santa Claus was to speak today at the Utilities Board meeting about the negatives of burning coal in the city's power plans. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Santa Claus was to speak today at the Utilities Board meeting about the negatives of burning coal in the city's power plans.

A small band of protesters gathered outside the Plaza of the Rockies building today before the City Council met as Colorado Springs Utilities Board.

They carried signs saying:
• "We are better than this"
• "Heavy metals, breathe deep"
• "Coal kills"
• "Bad air hurts our lungs"
• and "Come clean, CSU"

They were protesting emissions from the downtown Drake Power Plant, which some argue don't meet air quality standards. CSU officials say that's not true.

Sam Masias, a long-time supporter of solar power who was dressed like Kris Kringle, said he planned to speak at the 1 p.m. Utilities Board meeting at which time he would give the Council a solar-powered Santa Claus and CEO Jerry Forte a bag of fake coal. It wasn't real coal, he said, "Because we're afraid he'll burn it."

Here's the group's call to action:
Please make your voices hear to City Council / the Utilities Board members to let them know you care about government transparency and our energy future!

Use your 3 minutes of public comment allotted to each of us to let them know that withholding air quality reports (that we, ratepayers paid for), and punishing the person who has been trying to seek public access to that information IS NOT OK! Let them know that:

We need full government transparency about our energy and air quality information.
They should not punish citizens who are simply trying to ensure access to air quality information.
We want more clean energy in our utility's portfolio, we don't want resources spent to ensure coal and fossil fuel energy sources continue to fuel our city when less polluting alternatives are available NOW! Our rates should be used for cleaner energy that will not poison our community, as the downtown Martin Drake Plant does!
To learn more, and if you haven't signed already, please see the Petition about this travesty of justice and abuse of government power.

Call Amy Gray with questions or for more details at 719-650-0259.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Save Cheyenne loses bid to block Strawberry Fields swap

Posted By on Fri, Dec 16, 2016 at 11:32 AM

Richard Skorman lays out his case against trading Strawberry Fields at a May 19 Council meeting. The deal was approved  on May 26. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Richard Skorman lays out his case against trading Strawberry Fields at a May 19 Council meeting. The deal was approved on May 26.
Save Cheyenne suffered another blow this week when District Judge Michael McHenry sided with the city and The Broadmoor on all points raised in a lawsuit alleging the Strawberry Fields land swap was illegal.

But Save Cheyenne will appeal the ruling, the group's president Richard Skorman says.

McHenry earlier this month sided with the city in his ruling that a ballot measure proposal shouldn't go forward because it addresses administrative tasks rather than legislative concerns. Save Cheyenne wanted to gather signatures to place a measure on the April city election ballot that would require voter approval of all park land sales and trades, including all those occurring after May 1, 2016. The Broadmoor land swap was approved by City Council on May 26.

"So he ruled that all of our challenges didn't merit going further," Skorman says, noting that McHenry cited in his decision all the arguments made by The Broadmoor in its court brief. "There wasn't one point he was willing to concede."

Hence, Save Cheyenne will appeal the ruling to the Colorado Court of Appeals, Skorman says.

"This judge took the position from the beginning to support the city," he says. "We need to get the decision out of this community. We don't want to give up, and we feel like we have a good chance [on appeal]."

The actual transfer of ownership of the 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space reportedly hasn't taken place.

The Broadmoor wants to build a stable and picnic pavilion on the open space's meadow for use by its guests. The remaining 181 acres would be placed into a conservation easement that would allow public access.

The city agreed to trade the land and another half-acre parcel at the base of the Cog Railway to The Broadmoor in exchange for some 400 acres of wilderness area, trails and easements, including a portion of the Manitou Incline.


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Thursday, December 15, 2016

GOCO grants help trout, Ring the Peak, Manitou, Black Forest

Posted By on Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 12:04 PM

The greenback cutthroat trout is threatened. - DOUG KRIEGER
  • DOUG KRIEGER
  • The greenback cutthroat trout is threatened.

Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) has allotted $250,000 worth of grants from Colorado Lottery money to our area. The money will go to projects that are near and dear to many locals. Here's a quick outline of their impact (for more, read the press release posted below):

• A planning consultant will be hired to work out environmental and trail alignment obstacles for the gap in the long-planned Ring the Peak trail, which is planned to go around Pikes Peak. The plan should be finished at the end of 2017.

• The last known habitat of the greenback cutthroat trout, the Bear Creek watershed, will see habitat restoration. Grant money will "help the county conduct a full stream survey, producing a detailed implementation plan to remove sediment and optimize the river conditions for the trout, helping ensure its long-term survival."

• Trail work and forest restoration in Pineries Open Space and Black Forest Regional Park will be completed, improving recreational opportunities, drainage issues, and wildlife habitat.

• Crews will work to create a "fire break" along the Intemann Trail, which runs along the outer edge of Manitou Springs.
GOCO awards $250,000 for Ring the Peak planning, conservation work in El Paso County

DENVER – The GOCO Board awarded four grants totaling $250,000 [recently] to projects in El Paso County.

The City of Colorado Springs, in partnership with the Trails and Open Space Coalition (TOSC), received a $100,000 grant for the Ring the Peak Trail; El Paso County received two grants—a $75,000 habitat restoration grant for greenback cutthroat trout on Bear Creek and $45,000 in Youth Corps funding for Black Forest trails and forest restoration; and the City of Manitou Springs received a $30,000 Youth Corps grant for Intemann Trail.

The grant for the Ring the Peak Trail is part of GOCO’s new Connect Initiative trail planning grant program, which provides funding for trail projects for design, engineering, and master planning.

The grant program was created to help municipalities and their partners navigate the often complicated planning process for trails, from regional networks to first-ever master plans in communities new to trail building. The program will help trail projects get shovel-ready for construction grants also offered through Connect.

Ring the Peak is a vision decades in the making to build a contiguous trail loop around Pikes Peak. GOCO funding will hire a planning consultant to help TOSC navigate the environmental and trail alignment obstacles the group has faced, moving the project forward and facilitating the completion of the final 8- to 12-mile gap on the southwest portion of the trail.

TOSC and Colorado Springs hope to finish the trail plan by the end of 2017. Ring the Peak is one of Governor Hickenlooper’s “16 in 2016” priority trails.

Elsewhere in Colorado Springs, El Paso County received a habitat restoration grant to support the greenback cutthroat trout population in the reach of Bear Creek running through Jones Park.

In 2016, GOCO doubled funding for the habitat restoration program, which funds projects that remove invasive plant species, protect Colorado’s water supply, mitigate fire fuels, and perform other critical restoration work.

Bear Creek supports the only naturally reproducing, genetically pure population of greenback cutthroat trout in North America. The trout, which is Colorado’s state fish and listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, has been negatively impacted by excess sediment in the stream.

GOCO funding will help the county conduct a full stream survey, producing a detailed implementation plan to remove sediment and optimize the river conditions for the trout, helping ensure its long-term survival. The project also hopes to reduce the spread of aquatic diseases and overall contamination of the stream.

El Paso County also received a $45,000 Youth Corps grant for trail work and forest restoration in Pineries Open Space and Black Forest Regional Park. Crews from Mile High Youth Corps-Southern Front Range (MHYC-SFR) will mark and clear trails, construct and close trails, and thin standing trees.

Corps members will work within Black Forest Regional Park along the Palmer Divide northeast of Colorado Springs and at Pineries Open Space. The project will improve water quality, reduce stormwater runoff, improve wildlife habitat, improve public access, and assist with continued recovery from the Black Forest Wildfire of 2013.

The City of Manitou Springs received a $30,000 Youth Corps grant for a four-week fire mitigation project on Intemann Trail. Historic Manitou Springs is in an area prone to wildfires, and crews from MHYC-SFR will work to create the critical fire break along the trail on the city’s southern boundary.

GOCO awards Youth Corps funding through the Colorado Youth Corps Association (CYCA), a statewide coalition of nine accredited youth corps groups that engage and train youth, young adults, and veterans (ages 14-25) to work on land, water, and energy conservation projects.

Corps members earn a stipend for their full-time service and an AmeriCorps education award to use toward college or trade school. The organization serves 1,700 young people annually.

To date, GOCO has invested $51.6 million in El Paso County projects and has conserved more than 8,000 acres of land. GOCO funding has supported Cheyenne Mountain State Park, Ute Valley Park, the reconstruction of the Incline, and Colorado Springs’ Legacy Loop trail, among other projects. The Pikes Peak Region was also recently named a GOCO Inspire community and is part of a $25 million initiative to get kids outside.

Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) invests a portion of Colorado Lottery proceeds to help preserve and enhance the state’s parks, trails, wildlife, rivers, and open spaces. GOCO’s independent board awards competitive grants to local governments and land trusts, and makes investments through Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Created when voters approved a Constitutional Amendment in 1992, GOCO has since funded more than 4,800 projects in urban and rural areas in all 64 counties without any tax dollar support. Visit GOCO.org for more
information.
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Local young professionals honored with Mayor’s Young Leaders Awards

Posted By on Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 9:11 AM

Tuesday evening, Mayor John Suthers presented five individuals with the annual Mayor’s Young Leader Awards, which recognize achievements in the categories of future industries, economic impact, creative industry, innovation in education and innovation in sports and wellness.

Past award recipients have included notable names such as Mundi Ross of the Colorado Collective, Jennifer Peterson of Rocky Mountain Field Institute and Chris Aaby of Catamount Institute. 

See the 2016 winners and their outstanding achievements below:
Left to right: Todd Baldwin, Megan Leatham, John Suthers, Claire Swinford, Allison Plute, Brittni Darras - COURTESY THE CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy the city of Colorado Springs
  • Left to right: Todd Baldwin, Megan Leatham, John Suthers, Claire Swinford, Allison Plute, Brittni Darras

Innovation in Education: Brittni Darras, Academy School District 20
After learning one of her students attempted suicide, Brittni Darras, Rampart High School English teacher and Varsity Cheer Coach, decided to do something. She wrote a letter. That letter detailed how her student was important to her. After receiving that letter, Brittni’s student told her it helped save her life and gave her the courage to push forward. Brittni then decided to write more letters and her letter writing campaign was so impactful that it was featured on the Today Show, Good Morning America and in The Washington Post. The Pikes Peak Region has the highest rate of teen suicide in the country and Brittni provided a shining example that one person really can make a difference. She volunteers with Safe2Tell, an online anonymous program that empowers students, teachers and others to report important information about violent or troubling events before or after they have happened.

Creative Industry- Claire Swinford, Downtown Partnership
Claire is most at home wearing several different hats on a weekly basis, working with artists, athletes, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, developers, government officials and community advocates to celebrate Colorado Springs’ cultural vibrancy and make it more accessible and inclusive for visitors and residents from all walks of life. Claire serves as Urban Engagement Manager for the Downtown Partnership and administers Downtown as a state-certified Creative District and directs the legacy public art program Art on the Streets. Her proudest accomplishment in 2016 was facilitating a group of volunteers to bring the participatory public art project UNITY to Colorado Springs for the What IF Festival, where over 1,000 people participated in the creation of a giant sculpture symbolizing the interconnectedness of our community despite differences of belief, language or national origin.

Economic Impact- Todd Baldwin, Red Leg Brewing Company
Todd Baldwin is the President of Red Leg Brewing Company, which has been an integral part of the community since day one helping and supporting military, veterans, veteran organizations, and their families. Todd has founded the Southern Colorado Brewer’s Association which is a local non-profit organization to market and advocate for breweries in El Paso, Teller and Pueblo Counties. He has also founded the Veterans Beer Alliance, a national organization that has members from all over the United States. They service customers not just from Colorado Springs but the entire Southern Colorado region.

Innovation in Sports & Wellness- Megan Leatham, Pikes Peak International Hill Climb
Megan is one of handful of women running major motorsports events in the United States. She is the Executive Director of America’s second oldest automobile race, Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. Her outside-the-box thinking helped the race enjoy phenomenal growth and recognition. 2016 saw some of highest numbers in attendance figures in over 2 years. Megan has been the driving force in the success and the worldwide recognition for the event.

Future Industries- Allison Plute, Colorado Springs Utilities
Allison has spent over 10 years engaging the community in conservation education and outreach, specifically focusing on our community's precious water resources and stewardship of our local watershed. Her consistent willingness to drive sustainable solutions and tackle any project makes her an ideal community partner and an asset to Colorado Springs. Allison has served as a steering committee member of Pikes Peak Earth Day. She is a member of the Colorado Association for Environmental Education, and a member of the National Association for Interpretation.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

UPDATE: Strawberry Fields controversy continues

Posted By on Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 4:43 PM

Strawberry Fields, at the center of a land exchange controversy. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Strawberry Fields, at the center of a land exchange controversy.

UPDATE:

After posting this blog, we heard from Kent Obee, who had this to say about the mayor's "response" during public comments, a rare if not unheard-of practice.

We didn't know whether to be honored or once again rolled when the mayor inserted himself into the "citizen discussion" on Tuesday. Probably the latter. A couple of comments about what the mayor claimed.

I assume you picked up on the fact that the 16 successful land exchange figures he touted included the current Broadmoor swap. In fact, it is about 80% of the total. Most of other 15 swaps were really fairly minor and the majority of them would have been covered by the exceptions we spelled out in our proposed ballot measure. The two big exceptions to the exceptions were the swaps with Lyda Hill involving Seven Falls and the reroute of 30th Street to accommodate the parking for the new Garden of the Gods visitors center. And, yes, those probably should have gone to a vote of the people.

When the mayor talked about future good swaps that were about to happen, I believe he was referring to a proposed change in the location of the yet-to-be-built Larry Ochs sports complex. We included land obtained through the PLDO [Park Land Dedication Ordinance, which requires developers to dedicate land in their developments] process in the list of exceptions saying it was not protected until the park was actually built and dedicated. That would have allowed this exchange to take place [Larry Ochs complex exchange].

————ORIGINAL POST 4:43 P.M. WEDNESDAY, DEC. 14, 2016————————-

In the continuing saga of Save Cheyenne's efforts, board president Richard Skorman and member Kent Obee asked City Council on Tuesday to refer a measure to voters that would require a vote of the people to sell or trade away the city's park land and open space.

The plea triggered a rare response from Mayor John Suthers. We say rare, because his comments came in response to Skorman's and Obee's comments during the public comment section of the agenda. The mayor has never spoken during Council's public comments before, as far as we know.

At issue is the city's swap of 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor last May. Save Cheyenne tried to mount a ballot measure for the April 2017 election that would roll back the deal, but a judge dashed those hopes, ruling against the nonprofit.

Skorman and Obee appeared Tuesday to ask if Council might consider such a measure, and in its absence, a policy that would bar sales and trades of park land and open space, like many other Colorado cities already require. Notably, that prohibition also exists for many of the city's own parks — ones that were purchased with money from a special tax for trails, open space and parks (known as TOPS).

"What we’re looking for is something along the lines of what we already have in the TOPS ordinance — no sale, no trade, no disposal without a vote of the people," Obee said. "We want to do what is done in many many other cities in this country. Denver, for instance, has an ordinance that is much stricter than anything we were thinking about."

The Denver measure was passed in 1955 and once a park is dedicated, it is not disposable even with a vote of the people. Land acquired before 1955 is subject to sale or trade if voters approve, he said.

"This is what we’d like to see," Obee said. "Park land is special."

After he spoke, Council President called on the mayor to weigh in. Suthers said:

I would ask you to be very careful. Yes, we all know of our tremendous park system. The city has used land exchanges to enhance the system many, many times, and we don’t want to take that away. The court has held that land transactions are inherently administrative. Council is wholly competent to make these decisions. I want to make sure and ask you to spend some time talking to the parks department about how land exchanges are performed. Historically, the city has used land exchanges… to the great benefit of the parks department.

Suthers noted there have been at least 16 land exchanges since the 1960s in which 267 acres of city land was traded to others for 638 acres for the city's park system.

"Garden of the Gods would not be what it is today without strategic land exchanges," Suthers said.

He also noted the city traded part of America the Beautiful Park to enable the Cimarron and Interstate 25 interchange. "You can’t hold up projects for a city election," he said. "There are circumstances where you have to act quickly."

Then Suthers spoke of impending trades but didn't name the developer involved. Could it involve the massive Banning Lewis Ranch?

I will tell you there’s a couple of land transactions that I’m confident you will unanimously think are in the interest of Colorado Springs, but it involves acting very quickly. And the developer isn’t going to sit around for two years for an election," Suthers said. "I personally believe it would be very bad public policy to say transactions of this nature have to go to the voters. You are incredibly competent to make these decisions.

It's worth noting that while Skorman and Obee followed the Council rule by limiting their comments to three minutes each, observers said Suthers was not held to the same limit.

Councilor Bill Murray pushed back, saying, "By making these [exchanges] inherently administrative, you make them at the whim and whimsy of whatever administration is in power at the time and whatever political forces ... I personally trust the voters. I trust their ability to make an informed decision, and I believe it belongs to you [voters], not an administrator."

Save Cheyenne's lawsuit alleging the land swap with The Broadmoor was illegal is pending in District Court.
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Judge: Electors must cast votes for Clinton or face the consequences

Posted By on Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 4:29 PM

Editor's note: This story first appeared in The Colorado Independent.

DENVER — An attorney representing the state grilled two members of Colorado’s Electoral College in a downtown Denver courtroom Tuesday, asking whether they intend to violate a state law that says they must cast their ballots for the presidential candidate who won the state.

Since Election Day, electors Polly Baca of Denver and Bob Nemanich of Colorado Springs have been part of a Hail Mary effort to block Donald Trump from the White House by voting for someone else — and persuading their fellow electors to do the same. Because more national electors are Republicans, the alternative likely would have to be a Republican.

But as a Monday deadline for the national electoral vote looms, these electors have begun to look like martyrs for what they see as the true function of the Electoral College: The right to vote their consciences.
Hamilton electors are trying to keep Trump out the White House. - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
  • Hamilton electors are trying to keep Trump out the White House.

Citing the writings of Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers, Baca and Nemanich say just because the Electoral College has never had to break the glass in case of emergency doesn’t mean the glass is shatterproof.

And so twice this week, the two Colorado electors found themselves in court.

Yesterday, a federal judge threw out a legal filing by the two electors requesting a hold on enforcement of state law so they could vote their consciences. A federal lawsuit seeking to find the state law unconstitutional, though, is still pending.

Today’s court hearing was in Denver District County court where Secretary of State Wayne Williams asked Judge Elizabeth Starrs to clarify what sanctions the state could impose on the electors should they defy state law. What, state officials asked, could they do with electors who go rogue, something that has never happened in Colorado.

“It’s possible a crime could be committed next week,” Chris Jackson, a lawyer representing the state, told the judge.

An attorney for the electors, Jesse Witt, argued the state was asking the judiciary to put on a lawmaker’s hat, draft legislation, and then sign it into law like a governor.

“This is a clear case of legislating from the bench,” he said. The electors should have the right to vote their consciences without the threat of criminal punishment. That was how the Founding Fathers envisioned the Electoral College, he said.

“This is not a rubber stamp, this is not a ministerial act,” he said. “This is an important part of our democratic republican government.”

Witt said if the act of casting a vote for whoever won the state involved no deliberation among electors then what was the purpose of the state’s Electoral College members? Why even have humans involved?

“If it was a ministerial duty we could just do this by computer,” he said.

After three hours of testimony from both sides, including the state hauling the electors up on the witness stand, the judge ruled against the electors. They must vote for the winners of the popular vote in the state — Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine — or, the judge said, “there will be repercussions.”

She did not say, however, what those repercussions would be beyond removing them as electors.

The setback was the second in an unprecedented series of events that have played out in Colorado over the past few weeks. The defiant stand of the Hamilton electors has drawn the interest of C-SPAN, which might broadcast live from Monday’s vote-casting ceremony, and it has brought heightened public attention to how the Electoral College works. It even drew the attention of Trump himself who intervened in yesterday’s federal hearing.

The federal judge on Monday said he believed the attempt by a handful of national electors to try and deny Trump the presidency was a “political stunt.”

Tuesday’s courtroom action added to the week’s drama.

Approaching the electors as if they were on trial, Jackson peppered them with questions about how many other electors they had spoken to about their effort to dump Trump by way of their positions in the Electoral College.

“Sitting here today do you intend to vote for Hillary Clinton for president and Tim Kaine for vice president?” Jackson asked Baca, a former state senator and longtime Democratic Party activist.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

Jackson asked if she spoke to other electors about a “plan” to violate state law. Baca hedged, saying she did not know if such a “plan” exists.

Later, speaking to The Colorado Independent, Baca characterized her outreach to other electors as an “effort” or a “strategy,” but not a plan. They have been talking about their options, she said. But at this point any real movement hasn’t gelled.

So far, only 10 out of the 538 electors are on record saying they want to vote their conscience in order to stop Trump. Four are from Colorado, including Baca and Nemanich. They hope to get around 270 to agree. They call themselves Hamilton Electors in honor of Alexander Hamilton who viewed the Electoral College as a deliberative and investigative body created as a fail-safe against an unqualified president.

“Mr. Nemanich you’re next in the hot seat,” the judge said as Baca stepped down from the witness stand.
Bob Nemanich called himself an "average schmuck" in an interview before his Dec. 12 court date. - ALLEN TIAN
  • Allen Tian
  • Bob Nemanich called himself an "average schmuck" in an interview before his Dec. 12 court date.
Nemanich is a math teacher from Colorado Springs and was an early supporter of Bernie Sanders. He and Baca were subpoenaed to show up in court because they were the ones who filed the federal suit, and they had made statements to media indicating they might violate state law at noon on Monday when they have to cast their official votes.

Like Baca, Nemanich told the state’s lawyer he didn’t know how he would vote Monday.

Jackson asked how many other electors he has spoken with since the election.

“Probably 10,” he said.

There are only nine electors in Colorado, all Democrats.

Under oath, Nemanich said he intends to follow all the laws faithfully, but that anything could happen before then. Who knows how his appeals in his federal lawsuit will shake out, he said.
“My mind,” he said, “is still considering what the situation is.”

Later, during a break in the hearing, Nemanich told The Colorado Independent he had no plans of going to jail. During the same break, Republican Secretary of State Williams approached Nemanich and the two made pleasant small talk about where Nemanich teaches high school.

The in-person encounter was starkly different from the uncharacteristically harsh response Williams had for Nemanich and Baca in response to their federal lawsuit. He called their strategy “arrogant,” “evil,” “odious,” and part of an “illegal conspiracy.”

Toward the end of the hearing, Judge Starrs said she wished she had a couple weeks to rule — but doesn’t.

In six days Colorado’s nine electors will travel to the state Capitol where they will swear an oath and then sign two pieces of paper, which go into the record books for the official Electoral College tally of the 2016 presidential election.

Ben Schler, who handles the Electoral College administration for the Secretary of State’s office, said Clinton and Kaine’s names already will be printed on the paperwork for the electors to sign in public view. He said it is unclear exactly how an elector would go about voting for another choice. That never happened before. Asked what might happen if an elector chose to just sit there and do nothing, he smiled, shook his head, and shrugged. All new territory.

Following the ruling, Williams noted that district attorneys and the attorney general make the decisions on whether to prosecute someone.

“I think clearly if you take an oath that says you’re going to follow the law and immediately within minutes break that oath, I think that’s of severe consequence, but I think the electors will think about that,” he said.

Outside, in the marbled hallway of the courthouse, Witt put on a brave face, saying the nationwide Hamilton Elector effort has turned a floodlight on how the Electoral College should really work in a time when it is needed most.

“I think this has always been about more than just Colorado,” he said.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

UPDATE: Suthers gets no push back on TABOR measure

Posted By on Tue, Dec 13, 2016 at 1:51 PM

Camp Creek erosion is one reason the city needs money for drainage projects. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • Camp Creek erosion is one reason the city needs money for drainage projects.
UPDATE: While Councilor Andy Pico didn't express opposition on Tuesday to Mayor John Suthers' proposal to seek voter approval to keep excess funds under TABOR, he says he's against it.

—ORIGINAL POST 1:51 TUES., DEC. 13, 2016—-

It's looking like a "go" for an April 4 city election ballot measure seeking voter approval to lift the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights revenue cap for 2016 and 2017 to fund stormwater projects.

Mayor John Suthers asked City Council today to place the measure on the ballot, noting the 2016 figure could be $7 million or more. If refunded, which typically is achieved through utility bills, the refund would total about $36 per household, Suthers said.

As previously reported by the Independent, Suthers wants to use the excess revenue to beef up the city's work on drainage control, given a Nov. 9 lawsuit against the city filed by the federal government, which noted longstanding violations of the Clean Water Act.

City Council will vote in late January on referring such a measure to voters, at which time Suthers promised to provide a more precise revenue figure. He received no push back at Tuesday's meeting.

In other business, Councilor Bill Murray asked colleagues to place a measure on the ballot that would open the door for the city to partner with companies to provide broadband internet service. That measure is to be voted on later today.
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Want to make marijuana policy? City seeks volunteers for working group

Posted By on Tue, Dec 13, 2016 at 1:00 AM

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Seats need a-fillin' on the city's Medical Marijuana Working Group created early this year to "study, review, evaluate and develop recommendations related to the regulation of marijuana within the City of Colorado Springs." They're the seats once occupied by Charles Houghton, a local marijuana attorney who stepped down because of scheduling conflicts, and Rebecca Lockwood, a caregiver to sick children on medical marijuana oils who gave up her seat so she can sue the city over residential growing limits. That lawsuit will be filed soon, she says, once her son's paperwork is in order.

As we've reported in CannaBiz, there've been concerns about the lack of actual patients and their advocates in this group which has produced some policies — like the plant count limit and moratorium renewal — that rub the cannabis community the wrong way. So, here's the chance to live up to the old adage "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!"

From the city's press release on the matter: "Current vacancies include positions representing the medical marijuana industry and medical marijuana caregivers, and City Council is also interested in applicants with experience as medical marijuana patients and as experienced professionals in areas relating to medical marijuana, i.e. attorneys, medical professionals, or educators."

Obligations include meeting once-a-month for two hours, listening to presentations on various marijuana-related topics and discussing possible changes to city code. Interested parties should send a letter of interest and resume outlining relevant experience to Eileen Gonzalez either by email to egonzalez@springsgov.com or by snail mail to City Council; P.O. Box 1575; Colorado Springs, CO 80901. Questions? Call 719-385-5452.




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Thursday, December 8, 2016

UPDATE: Youth filmmakers to be featured on PBS

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 3:21 PM

Rocky Mountain PBS reached out to me today to clarify that Legg's film is a part of a new series called “Insight with John Ferrugia.”

The special that Legg is featured on is called “Surviving Suicide” and will feature an interview with Legg and clips from her film.

PBS will be airing more YDA films in the future, though it's not yet decided what programs they will be a part of.

"We are excited to work with the Youth Documentary Academy and looking forward to what the possibilities are in the future," Laura Frank, PBS president and general manger of news, says. "These are talented filmmakers."

——- ORIGINAL POST, WEDNESDAY, 4:47 p.m. ——-

YDA filmmaker Madison Legg - JANA LILIAN KAISER
  • JANA LILIAN KAISER
  • YDA filmmaker Madison Legg
As a journalist, I try not to get emotionally involved in my stories.

But it's tough not get excited when a bunch of ambitious, talented, bright, local teens get the recognition they deserve. So, excuse me if I seem a little giddy when I tell you that the Youth Documentary Academy is partnering with Rocky Mountain PBS. PBS is going to be broadcasting YDA's short documentaries, giving these powerful films a wider audience.

Madison Legg’s 2015 film Under the Wire will be the first to air. You can watch it on Thursday, December 15, at 7 p.m.

I wrote about Legg's film, and several other YDA films, here in October.

YDA is led by award-winning filmmaker Tom Shepard, who grew up in the Springs. The program offers training to talented teens free-of-charge, giving them the tools and skills to tell their own stories through film. 

So what stories do teens have to tell? How about the pain of a completed or attempted youth suicide? Or the struggle of growing up with a debilitating disease? Or the division in the black community based on skin shade?

In other words, these films are made by kids, but they weren't treated with kid gloves. YDA's young filmmakers explore deep subjects in surprisingly raw ways. Prepare the tissues. 

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Ladyfingers Letterpress hosts all-local holiday sale

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 2:44 PM

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Local printmakers, card-makers and stationery-sellers Ladyfingers Letterpress are always worth a visit. Their unique (and often tongue-in-cheek) hand-printed and uniquely designed greeting cards became somewhat of an internet sensation after they printed a card based on the Netflix hit, Stranger Things.

But Friday, they’re giving us one more reason to drop by. Ladyfingers’ Sweet Holidaze Sale isn’t just a sale of their own locally made wares, but features some other artisanal goodies from local makers.

With The Universe Conspires’ jewelry, Flourish’s terrariums, Wandering Ink’s screen-printed apparel and what their flyer calls “other artisanal radness,” everything at this shindig is locally made. And all of it is a little off-the-beaten-path, a little indie and DIY, much like Ladyfingers’ whole aesthetic.

Our last three issues of the Independent have contained a shop local guide, encouraging you to keep your holiday dollars in our local economy. Well, it doesn’t get more local than this. Support your hometown business and artists, and pick up some one-of-a-kind gifts for the rest of the folks on your gift list. Trust us, this beats Amazon.

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Don't expect a fly-over today

Posted By on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 at 9:48 AM

Just so you won't be gazing heaven-ward this morning at 10:48, there won't be a fly-over of the downtown Pioneers Museum by F-16s from Buckley Air Force Base today as previously planned.
DEFENSE DEPARTMENT
  • Defense Department
The fly-over had been planned as part of a commemoration of the attacks at Pearl Harbor, 75 years ago today.

But due to adverse weather conditions at the airport of departure, the F-16s will not fly, according to a release about the event.

The ceremony inside Pioneers Museum will go on as scheduled at 11 a.m.

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Inmates riot over food

Posted By on Fri, Dec 2, 2016 at 3:32 PM

The Criminal justice Center had a riot break out last month due to inmate food, according to authorities. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • The Criminal justice Center had a riot break out last month due to inmate food, according to authorities.
Bad food and short rations have inmates in an uproar, literally, with nine men charged on Thursday with crimes in connection with a Nov. 19 riot in the county jail over the food. One charge is riots in detention facilities, a Class 5 felony.

According to the affidavit, at 5:42 p.m., after one ward at the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center was served the dinner meal, "Several inmates became upset over the food portions and demanded extra food. Inmates began to yell, became angry, threatened to flood their cells, kicked open the food traps and also kicked their cell doors."

They also covered their cell windows, obstructing the view and threatened to assault staff if they came into the cells to remove the coverings, the affidavit says. The so-called rioting continued until 10:15 p.m. One deputy was struck in the chest but the extent of his injuries isn't known.

Charged were Michael Martinez, 40; Sean Hazlett, 26; Ronnie Faubush, 30; Aucus Bone, 30; Henry Bukowski, 22; Paul Myles, 26; Scott Brushwein, 24; Jonathan Hernandez, 19, and Tero Rhame, 24.

El Paso County changed contractors on Sept. 1 from Aramark Correctional Services, LLC, to Trinity Services Group, Inc. Trinity has contracts with 28 jails in the state of Colorado and untold correctional outfits across the country. The reason for the change, county officials say, is the jail food contract came up for renewal and so it was competitively bid.

In 2015, the county paid $1,890,980 to the food contractor. This year, the cost will total about $1.88 million, and next year, the county expects to pay just under $2 million.

According to a week's worth of menus obtained by the Independent, a typical breakfast consists of one cup of oatmeal, two links or patties of sausage, a biscuit, a tablespoon of jelly, one cup of a beverage and one cup of milk.

A typical lunch is three pieces of turkey salad, whose size is not specified, a hoagie roll, tortilla chips, four carrot sticks, iced cake and two cups of a beverage.

A typical dinner is comprised of one and a quarter cup of stew, a half cup of mixed vegetables, a piece of cornbread, one tablespoon of margarine, a brownie, and two cups of a beverage.

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