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Focus adversary looks beyond Dobson 

Dobson Focusing on his own family

In a dispiriting move for the anti-gay-rights and anti-abortion communities, James Dobson has stepped down as chairman of Focus on the Family, the evangelical organization he founded more than three decades ago.

Dobson, 72, says he plans to continue his radio program. But even the prospect of a reduced profile has Ryan Acker hoping for "the start of a new time of healing" in town.

"His teachings have been very divisive," says Acker, executive director of the Pride Center of Colorado Springs, adding that Dobson's stances have helped tear apart some families over the issue of homosexuality.

Dobson's resignation, following the death or retirement of leaders like Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham, appears to leave evangelicals with no clear national leader. Many thought the 2008 election was already evidence of Dobson's waning influence, when his late support for the Republican ticket seemed to influence few voters. AL

New deal for White Acres

It's a fairy-tale ending for a property many speak of in almost mystical terms. White Acres, 43 acres of west side land that borders Red Rock Canyon Open Space and Section 16, is on its way to becoming city property.

Just weeks ago, it looked like the swath would be developed as a residential subdivision, but it was saved by a deal in which the city will purchase the property (pending City Council approval) at a steep discount.

While one appraisal priced White Acres at over $2 million, the city will pay just $1 million, split into several installments. The nonprofit Friends of Red Rock Canyon have agreed to raise $75,000 to contribute to the purchase.

City Council Jerry Heimlicher indicates the final approval will come in April after the municipal election, which will allow time for finalizing other minor contingencies in the sale agreement. JAS

County budget no worse

Colorado Springs' city government may be in budget crisis mode, but El Paso County commissioners concluded at their March 3 meeting that their current spending plan is, well, "survivable."

El Paso County cut millions from its budget last year by reorganizing departments, cutting dozens of positions and holding off on numerous projects and hires.

Though the county's sales tax revenues are down sharply December 2008 was off 9 percent from a year earlier county leaders don't now see the need for more cuts. They plan to take another look at the budget situation in June. AL

Town hall set Saturday

City Council candidate Dave Gardner has organized and will moderate a "State of Our Community" town hall at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Carnegie Reading Room at Penrose Library, 20 N. Cascade Ave.

Gardner invited the other Council candidates, including incumbents, but current Council members Jerry Heimlicher, Darryl Glenn and Scott Hente will not participate, and neither will candidate Bernie Herpin. Tony Carpenter will join Gardner. For more information, go to dave4council.com or call 576-5565. RR

Acting DHS director named

Rick Bengtsson, deputy director of the El Paso County Department of Human Services, will become acting director March 20 when Barbara Drake steps down to take a similar new job in Douglas County.

Bengtsson, who has been with DHS for 16 years, will take the department's reins at a busy time. Child protection cases have increased while a weakening economy has upped demand for food assistance, Medicaid and other programs administered by the agency.

The county will conduct a statewide search to replace Drake, who is moving on after more than three decades with the department. AL

Laing pulls out of Gold Hill

In February, John Laing Homes announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and closed its Colorado office. At that point, the giant homebuilder was nearly finished with its portion of the west side's Gold Hill Mesa housing development.

Turns out it will never finish.

Developer Bob Willard says the bankruptcy has orphaned five homes that were under construction, three of which had already been sold. Three single-family foundations and one multi-family foundation were also abandoned. Two other builders are hard at work expanding Gold Hill Mesa, Willard says, but they won't be able to immediately take over John Laing's unfinished business. The properties will likely sit as-is for some time.

"As long as it's tied up in bankruptcy, there's nothing we can do," Willard says.

Once the properties go up for sale, Willard says he'll try to buy them, then pass them on to a different builder. JAS

Brigade arrives home

The final soldiers from Fort Carson's 3rd Brigade Combat Team returned home this week after serving about 15 months in Iraq.

The return marks the start of a busy period of arrivals and departures at the growing post, which will soon be home to the Army's entire 4th Infantry Division.

Another unit, the 4th Brigade Combat Team, leaves for Afghanistan in May, but the post will swell this summer with the arrival of the 1st BCT and the division headquarters from Fort Hood, Texas. The 2nd BCT, now in Iraq, is set to return in the fall. AL

Dog dismissed

After trial and tribulation, it's finally happened: Kato is a free dog.

Kato, the beloved pit bull of partners Eugena "Genie" Fisher and Kelly Holmes, was taken into custody by the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak region on Oct. 18, after an animal control officer said the dog lunged at him ("Good dog. Bad dog," News, Dec. 4). Kato's owners and a neighbor say the dog wasn't aggressive, just excitable. One thing is for certain: He didn't bite.

After a battle that lasted months, a judge recently sided with Kato's owners and dismissed the case against the dog.

"Kato is very happy; we were both really happy," Holmes says. Kato is now home with his moms, who are considering suing the Humane Society for about $1,000 they paid in fees when their dog was locked up. JAS

A chance to get off the streets

The inaugural Project Connect will take place on Tuesday, March 10, at City Auditorium. It's open to homeless people who need help finding services in the community.

From 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., about 40 service agencies from those that help substance-abusers to those that reach out to veterans will address the needs of the homeless and help get them off the streets. No handouts, such as food or sleeping bags, will be available. JAS

Compiled by Anthony Lane, Ralph Routon and J. Adrian Stanley.

  • Also: White Acres, DHS acting director, Gold Hill Mesa, Fort Carson returnees and more.

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