Case of defiance going to trial
A Colorado Springs bar owner who has openly defied the state's smoking ban is preparing to fight in court against the first of several charges still standing against him.
Bruce Hicks, owner of Murray Street Darts at 609 N. Murray Blvd., was cited for 23 violations of the ban in March 2007. A judge later dismissed 19 of the charges.
The smoking ban went into effect July 1, 2006. At the time, Hicks was encouraging other bar and restaurant owners to join him in a "civil disobedience" protest against a law many said would cripple their businesses. He felt authorities would be unable to enforce the ban if enough joined him in protesting.
But the group is still struggling to reach critical mass: Two other businesses were initially cited, and authorities cracked down on several Cripple Creek casinos earlier this summer where smoking was allowed.
Hicks wouldn't discuss strategy for his trial beginning Tuesday morning before El Paso County Court Judge Karla Hansen. AL
Dems reject proposed tax
The three Democratic candidates vying for El Paso County commissioner slots have come out against a proposed county 1-cent sales tax that would be used to fund a jail expansion, hire new sheriff's deputies and support other public safety and health efforts.
In a press release from Citizens for Cost-Effective Government, candidates Allison Hunter, Pam Berry and Andre Vigil say the proposed tax increase, likely to appear on November ballots, is a bad choice.
"The sales tax increase would hurt the middle-class, the working poor and small business owners, and those groups shouldn't have to bail us out of this problem," Hunter is quoted as saying.
Three of the county's five commissioners are up for re-election this year. Hunter, Berry and Vigil will be facing commissioners Amy Lathen, Sallie Clark and Dennis Hisey, respectively. AL
Lamborn still debating debate
Doug Lamborn's campaign spokesman sent out a press release in mid-August stating the Republican congressman had "reissued his challenge" to debate his Democratic opponent, Hal Bidlack. But the campaign is still mum on when that challenge might take place and is not planning to be at a debate that had been tentatively scheduled for Oct. 1 at Colorado College's Armstrong Hall.
"I just know my boss hasn't made any decisions on participating in any events at this point," says campaign spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen.
Asked if this means Lamborn has changed his mind about the challenge, Mortensen replies with a rapid string of "no's" before saying Lamborn "definitely wants to debate."
"He just at this point hasn't made any decisions," she says.
Bidlack, unopposed on the Democratic side to represent El Paso County and the rest of Colorado's 5th Congressional District, has asked for as many as seven debates. Lamborn refused any debates during the Republican primary contest, explaining he did not see any substantive policy differences with his two rivals.
Sponsors of the Oct. 1 proposal, the League of Women Voters of the Pikes Peak Region and Colorado Springs World Affairs Council, now hope Colorado's U.S. Senate candidates, Democratic Rep. Mark Udall and Republican Bob Schaffer, are available to debate that day. AL
Dems' discontent continues
Triumphant delegates and party leaders raved about a united Democratic Party following their convention in Denver last week and the nomination of Sen. Barack Obama for president. But as the confetti settles, some local supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton still aren't so enthused.
"That's the very problem with the Obama supporters - they are entrenched in denial," says Brenda Krause, who was a national delegate in Denver and co-chair of Clinton's campaign in El Paso County.
Krause and fellow co-chair Andy Colon joined other supporters marching on Clinton's behalf Aug. 26, just before the New York senator took the convention stage to urge support for Obama. Krause says she still doesn't know how she will vote in November.
Colon says he plans to vote for Republican nominee Sen. John McCain in the general election. He says he and other local Clinton supporters plan to attend a campaign event for McCain on Saturday, Sept. 6, at the Colorado Springs airport. AL
City lets activists walk
Charges have been dropped against local peace activists Eric Verlo and Peter Sprunger-Froese after the two were arrested in May outside the Colorado State Democratic Convention at the World Arena.
The activists were charged with trespassing on private property, with police saying they had demonstrated in an area clearly marked as off-limits. The two men said they were confused about where the "free speech zone" was. No other demonstrators were arrested during the convention.
Sprunger-Froese's attorney (and Indy board member), Greg Walta, confirmed the charges were dropped against the two activists, both of whom he defended in the "St. Paddy's Day Seven" case. Charges in that case also were eventually dropped.
"It was an extremely weak case, and once again, the city would end up looking narrow-minded and intolerant if they pursued the matter," Walta said of the latest charges.
Verlo has said he will consider suing the city, which he feels is harassing him. JAS
ACLU loses jail suit
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office rejoiced in a press release that the American Civil Liberties Union had "suffered a defeat" in a lawsuit it filed against the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center.
The ACLU first filed suit against the jail in 2002 on behalf of inmates with mental illness. The lawsuit sought reform in the treatment of the inmates.
However, in 2006, a judge ruled that the case could not be tried as a class-action suit because complaints of the inmates varied too widely.
That decision was upheld Aug. 29 in an appeal ruling. The ACLU had previously agreed not to pursue the charges on behalf of individual inmates or a smaller group of inmates, so the jail is off the hook.
Jail and county representatives seemed eager to claim the legal victory as proof that mentally ill inmates in the jail are treated fairly.
Gordon L. Vaughan, the attorney for El Paso County, was quoted in the press release saying, "It has always been a mystery to me, however, why the ACLU brought this suit against El Paso County, because at the time the suit was brought, as is the situation now, the mental health services available to inmates in the El Paso County Jail was among the best available in the State of Colorado." JAS
New cards for Social Security
About 95,000 Colorado residents who receive monthly Social Security checks in the mail will soon have the option of taking their payments on special debit cards, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Officials play up the security and convenience of the cards for Social Security recipients with no bank accounts. The Direct Express Debit MasterCards will be automatically loaded each month to function at stores and ATM machines like any other debit card.
Information about applying for the free cards should arrive in the mail with September checks. AL
COPPeR moves across Tejon
COPPeR (Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region) this week will begin moving into the FAC Modern's former gift shop at 121 S. Tejon St.
This is contrary to previous reporting indicating that the Nor'wood Development Group-owned downtown space would be "community-oriented" and still affiliated with the museum.
The move, along with Nosh's recent acquisition of former FAC Modern space for a new private dining area, signals gallery changes that FAC director of communications Charlie Snyder says the organization is not quite yet ready to share. Snyder says announcements will be made soon, and that the "pieces of the puzzle are falling into place." MS
City becoming more bike-friendly
Sharing the road is a lot easier when bicyclists have their own lane of traffic. In Colorado Springs, that's increasingly the case.
In 2008, the city plans to add a total of 17.4 miles of bicycle lanes, increasing the amount of bike lanes in the city to 71.45 miles. The city has regularly exceeded its goal in adding bike lanes each year it shoots to increase bike lanes by 10 percent a year, but regularly makes around a 20 percent gain. This year's increase is 30 percent.
The efficiency comes from city departments working together to make sure bike lanes are added when streets are maintenanced, which saves money and time. The addition of bicycle lanes is funded through the Bicycle Excise Tax revenues and Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority on-street bikeway improvement funding. JAS
Salazar meeting on creek
U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar will be in Colorado Springs on Thursday, Sept. 4, to meet with the Fountain Creek Vision Task Force and discuss progress in improving the creek.
The public meeting, scheduled for 4 p.m. at Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, 15 S. Seventh St., will cover a variety of creek-related issues including flood control, water quality and future plans. Two years ago this month, the senator first proposed his Fountain Creek Crown Jewel Project, which would combine public-use parks and trails along with flood-control efforts including several dams between Colorado Springs and Pueblo.
In late 2007, Salazar filed legislation that would examine the multi-dam concept, but with no available funding, that bill has not moved forward.
Another meeting, this one involving the task force's consensus committee, will take place at noon Friday, Sept. 5, at Fountain City Hall, 116 S. Main St. RR