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Lathen quits, Zabel leaves House race, MRFF erects a billboard, and more 

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Lathen jumps ship

El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen plans to resign July 11, six months before her term ends in mid-January, to lead Colorado Springs Forward, a political organization that supports changing the Colorado Springs Utilities Board from all elected members (City Council) to a mixture of appointees by the mayor and Council.

Lathen, who ran for mayor last year, served as a commissioner since 2008.

CSF was formed in mid-2014 with donations from influential people weary of the combative relationship between City Council and then-Mayor Steve Bach. The group's website states CSF strives to "enhance the business climate and the quality of life" of the region.

Lathen once worked for Focus on the Family, and she opposes gay marriage, retail marijuana sales (although local residents approved it at the polls) and has complained vociferously about federal spending. In 2012, she voted against the county accepting $261,000 in federal money for a jobs program for the long-term unemployed.

When she ran for election in 2012, she didn't return a candidate questionnaire to Citizens Project, a nonprofit that advances diversity, equality and religious freedom.

Lathen's successor in the $87,300-a-year post will be appointed by a committee comprising precinct leaders in Commissioner District 2 within 10 days of her departure. The winner of the Republican primary on June 28 is likely to assume the seat. Springs City Council legislative analyst Tim Geitner and former state Rep. Mark Waller are seeking the nomination. No Democrats are running. — PZ

Zabel leaves House race

Shari Zabel, the Democratic candidate for Colorado House District 16, has announced she is dropping out of the race due to health concerns.

We wrote about Zabel, a retired Air Force major who is transgender, in the Jan. 13 cover story, "Shari Zabel is trans. She's also a lot of other things, including politically ambitious." Zabel says she was disappointed to learn that a medical condition was not under better control.

"I made the decision that it would be best for me, as well as the citizens of House District 16, if I pulled out because if I were to win I wouldn't be able to serve successfully," she told the Indy. Zabel says she will focus on her health, remain involved in the Democratic Party as a precinct chair and hopefully run for office again in the future.

Annie Schmitt, executive director of El Paso County Democrats, says that it's "unfortunate" that Zabel will not be able to run but, "right now, the most important thing is to make sure she stays healthy." Schmitt says the party's executive committee is brainstorming candidates to replace Zabel, and D-16 precinct chairs will be notified of the vacancy. If a replacement candidate can be found, the party will host a vacancy committee and precinct chairs will nominate the candidate. However, the process must be complete before June 21.

"The timing on these rarely seems to be cooperative," Schmitt says. — JAS

click to enlarge The bilboard is near Garden of the Gods and I-25. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • The bilboard is near Garden of the Gods and I-25.

Billboard: Jesus rules AFA

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation is blitzing the area with a TV commercial, an airplane banner and a billboard on Interstate 25 that says: "Welcome Mr. President to our AF academy / Why is Jesus commander in chief here?"

The message was mounted ahead of the planned visit of President Barack Obama, who will give the Air Force Academy's graduation address June 2.

The MRFF was founded about a decade ago due largely to the influence of evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity at the Academy. The group's allegations gave rise to religious sensitivity training, but MRFF, which has since branched out to tackle religious issues throughout the armed forces, says the Academy still shows favoritism to Christian staff, faculty and cadets. — PZ

Drainage projects listed

The city on May 18 unveiled its list of stormwater projects under a 20-year agreement with Pueblo County that assured no legal action would be taken to delay the Southern Delivery System pipeline project. First up, a $5.3 million project on Sand Creek south of Platte Avenue, designed to reduce sediment reaching Fountain Creek.

The city's plan includes roughly 70 projects and other work totaling $460 million. An interactive map is available at coloradosprings.gov/stormwaterprojects.

The list includes $185.5 million for high-priority projects; $30 million for community and local projects; $2 million for capital and grant-funded projects; $80 million for the Colorado Springs Utilities Creek Crossing Program, and $160 million for compliance with federal discharge permits, operations and maintenance.

In a related matter, Colorado Springs Utilities paid $9.6 million recently to the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District to combat flood damage in Fountain Creek. The payment was one of five annual $10 million installments (some of this year's payment was paid earlier) required by the city's permit to construct the SDS pipeline. — PZ

Public taking trial opens

A trial to determine the value of property in the Banning Lewis Ranch used for the city's SDS pipeline project opened in District Court on Monday. At issue are 121 acres that Colorado Springs Utilities says are worth $802 per acre, or $117,500.

Banning Lewis Holdings LLC, an entity controlled by David Jenkins, chair of Nor'wood Development Group, says the land is worth from $4.1 million to $6.4 million. — PZ

Sign up to evacuate

A pre-evacuation drill meeting for southwest-area neighborhoods will be held 6:30 p.m. May 25 at Broadmoor Community Church, 315 Lake Ave.

To sign up for the drill, go to ColoradoSprings.gov/2016evacdrill. It will take place from 9:30 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 4. — PZ

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