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Noted: Absent at town hall 

Two leaders miss town hall

The annual city budget "e-town hall" on Oct. 27 didn't attract as many citizens as past years, but concerned community members still packed the room at City Hall.

The dais, however, was less packed. Lisa Czelatdko showed up late, missing comments by three citizens but catching the rest of the meeting. Merv Bennett was absent because of a long-held commitment to care for an out-of-state friend after surgery; he said later that he regretted missing the meeting and was watching the SpringsTV version to catch up.

Tim Leigh, however, was in New York City, meeting with bond companies along with Colorado Springs Utilities staffers. It wasn't a required trip, but Leigh said relationships with bond companies were "pretty critical," and he thought he could help save the city money by attending. Besides, he said, citizens' concerns wouldn't change his view that Mayor Steve Bach's budget should basically stand.

"It's not like I would have come away and had any Earth-shattering recommendation after watching it," he said. Leigh stressed that he thought long-term conversations about policy were more important than meetings that tend to be "short-term" and "emotional." Later, Leigh sent a widespread e-mail echoing those sentiments.

The e-town attendees waited hours to talk. Some, using wheelchairs and walkers, arranged for special transportation since buses don't run that late at night.

Among the concerns were transit, especially for the disabled and elderly. Often, all they wanted was a bus stop to stay in the same place at no cost to the city, or for less than $50,000 out of a $225 million budget to be dedicated to better options for the needy. — JAS

Clark gets a challenger

Karen Magistrelli, 65, of Green Mountain Falls, is taking on Sallie Clark for the Republican nomination in El Paso County Commission District 3.

Besides being upset with the tricky term-limits wording last year approved by Clark and three other commissioners, the mother of seven is angry over the nearly three years it took to gain approval for her nonprofit, High Winds Youth, to set up shop on 147 acres on the county's west side. Clark opposed the development.

A 27-year county resident, Magistrelli hasn't held elective office. Noting she's "not a career politician," Magistrelli says she has established four corporations and a limited-liability partnership, purchased and remodeled a commercial building, excavated a road and developed raw land for home sites, besides starting High Winds, which works to reintegrate ex-cons into society.

She's the second to challenge an incumbent commissioner. Army and Air Force veteran Auddie Cox has filed to run against incumbent Dennis Hisey in District 4, which covers southwest El Paso County. — PZ

Election mess in Manitou?

In Manitou Springs' City Council election on Tuesday, former Ward 1 councilor Donna Ford easily outpaced Nancy Barnes for the third and final at-large seat.

But Ford's candidacy may not have been legal. As Mayor Marc Snyder explains, the law generally demands that a term-limited councilor sit out four years before being re-elected. But it's complicated in Ford's situation, because she vacated a ward seat two years ago, and ran this year for an at-large seat. At-large seats are decided every four years, meaning if Ford had skipped this year, she wouldn't have had another chance until 2015.

Ford, 69, says she decided to run fearing a shortage of candidates. There was no question until a few weeks ago, when Snyder showed her a 10-year-old decision from then-Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar, saying a term-limited state representative could not move to another district to run again. Snyder thought the decision might mean Ford wasn't eligible, though he thinks in her case, that's unfair.

Snyder says Manitou City Attorney Jeff Parker has told him the election could be challenged, and a challenge could prevail. But Snyder says the city itself doesn't plan to challenge Ford's election. Ford says she'll wait and see what happens.

"I was told that the term limits have never been tested for a little small town like this," she says. "So as much as anything it's not my problem; it's up to the city and the courts." — JAS

Lamborn shills for PBS

U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, despite widespread belief, doesn't hate Big Bird. The Colorado Springs Republican has been an outspoken opponent of federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, parent of National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service. He even put forward legislation this year that would have killed such funding.

So it might be surprising to see Lamborn now making a pitch for the dreaded socialist media network. He says he even donates his own money to it.

In a video on Rocky Mountain PBS, Lamborn says his contribution "may surprise some people, because as you know, I don't support federal funding of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. But I do know that Rocky Mountain PBS has a vital role in the marketplace of Colorado media. So I urge your viewers to remember their own role. If you watch and enjoy what you see here, your membership dollars are vital to keep it on the air." — CH

Governor visits Elope

Gov. John Hickenlooper toured local costume company Elope on Oct. 27 as part of his search to learn about "innovative, ethics-driven Colorado businesses that are thriving in our increasingly international competitive marketplace."

Founded in 1993, Elope employs 45 at its headquarters on Mark Dabling Boulevard, and about another 325 at its manufacturing plants in Guangzhou, China. Elope's hats, sunglasses and costumes are sold in a dozen nations for clients as diverse as Disney and Universal Pictures, but are also available locally at Zeezo's.

Elope co-founder and "chief excitement officer" Kevin Johnson says he was "super-impressed" with Hickenlooper, adding, "The governor asks great questions. He really understands the issues facing growing businesses like ours."

During a Q&A with employees, Hickenlooper concluded, "Colorado needs more successful, vertically integrated, screwball businesses like Elope that have a culture of innovation and are committed to the highest environmental, ethical and community standards." — JW

Freedom sells TV stations

Freedom Communications Inc., owner of the Gazette, announced Wednesday an agreement to sell its eight TV stations in markets across the country to Sinclair Broadcast Group for $385 million, pending federal and stockholder approvals.

Mitchell Stern, Freedom's president/ and CEO, said in a statement: "We are very excited about this sale and believe it is an excellent transaction for both parties. After the sale is completed Freedom Communications will be essentially debt free."

Freedom's owners also have been considering selling the company's 100 or so newspapers. MediaNews Group had been negotiating with Freedom to purchase the entire company, but those talks ended recently. Independent publisher John Weiss has made known his interest in buying the Gazette.

"We've retained an investment banker to help us," Weiss says, "but Freedom is now telling us they want to sell all of their 100 papers together, not separately." — RR

Drilling regs proposed

Oil and gas drillers in El Paso County would have to assess wildlife impact and mitigation, water supply and quality, cultural resources, drainage and hazards such as wildfire under proposed regulations.

The county would require drillers to conduct transportation impact studies outlining outline plans for maintenance, improvement and reconstruction of county roads, "including providing financial assurance." That's important because heavy drilling rigs and equipment are notorious for damaging roads.

The proposal will be available soon at the county's website, elpasoco.com. — PZ

Cuts proposed for education

On Tuesday, Gov. John Hickenlooper released his proposed FY 2012-13 state budget. The $20.09 billion plan will rely on $7.39 billion from the general fund.

According to the governor's letter to the state Joint Budget Committee, in comparison to the 2011-12 budget, "these amounts represent growth rates over the last fiscal year of 1.7% ($342.6 million) in total funds and 3.2% ($227.1 million) in the General Fund."

Not surprisingly, both K-through-12 and higher education will be cut. If adopted as proposed, K-12 will lose 2.2 percent in funding, or $97 million, which will bring its total spending to $4.2 billion. Higher ed will be cut by 2.7 percent, or almost $77 million, leaving $2.8 billion.

The largest increase in expenditures, the letter reads, will come from the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which administers the Medicaid program. — CH

Ambulance rate hike OK'd

On Jan. 1, El Paso County's exclusive emergency transport company, American Medical Response, will raise rates by 5.318 percent under a contract provision for inflation adjustments. Entities that belong to the Emergency Services Agency have approved the rate hike, among them the Board of County Commissioners, which gave the nod this week.

The last increase came in October 2010, when rates went up by 5.8973 percent, also attributed to inflation. A sampling of how the new rate hike will affect ambulance rides: Advanced life support service increases from $674 to $709. Mileage charges (per loaded mile) rise from $15.67 per mile to $16.50. — PZ

Focus prays for foster kids

It's certainly a different approach to dealing with the problems in the foster care system.

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, starting at 10 a.m., the Focus on the Family Welcome Center (8685 Explorer Drive) will play host to a "Heart Gallery" — one of many annual exhibits around the country to feature professional photographs of foster children who need a home. As part of a program to encourage the adoption of foster children, children who attend the event will be asked to pray in front of the photos, and also to give a tangible gift to the pictured children.

Families who come to the event will be given Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets, and have a chance to visit with the Chick-fil-A cow, the Sky Sox mascot "Sox the Fox," and Mr. Whittaker from Adventures in Odyssey.

Strange though it is, the purpose is worthy: About 365 kids in Colorado foster care are waiting for permanent homes. — JAS

Compiled by Chet Hardin, Ralph Routon, J. Adrian Stanley, John Weiss and Pam Zubeck.

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