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Noted: Deadline for community centers 

Community centers on the line

On Monday, March 22, City Council will hear what's come of three months of hard work by locals desperate to save their community centers. Eric Phillips, leader of the Community Centers Task Force and a member of the committee that reviewed official requests to take over the centers, hopes Council will agree to fund the centers through the end of 2010. He thinks that might be enough time to set up an umbrella nonprofit to pay most of the costs, or find other funding.

Phillips says he will talk about the approximately $6,000 the community has raised and detail future plans. He expects city officials to review the amount of money needed to keep the centers open — expected to be reduced from earlier projections, but still in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — and to review Woodmen Valley Chapel's bid to run Westside Community Center.

Activists also plan to attend the Council meeting on Tuesday, March 23, where they can vouch for what the centers mean to them. Phillips says that's important because while the task force hasn't raised a lot of money, members have shown passion and willingness to work. Phillips thinks that show of commitment may have won over a majority of Council, adding, "I think our powerful piece came in the awareness of what's going on, and I think that moved them more than the money." — JAS

LED signs likely to remain

A group pushing for a ban on LED billboards in El Paso County received mixed feedback Tuesday after county commissioners heard presentations on the sign situation. Commissioners probably won't rule out new electronic signs, but it appears they will adopt new rules governing them.

"I don't think you'll find the commissioners going after them and saying, 'We don't want any more,'" says Commissioner Sallie Clark. El Paso County now has five of the electronic billboards, which Larry Barrett and the group Scenic Colorado believe is too many. Says Barrett: "I think they are scenic blights, they are clutter, and they are unsafe."

Barrett emphasized the final point in his presentation to commissioners, arguing that the bright signs with changing messages can create dangerous distractions for drivers. He hoped county leaders would follow the lead of Denver, which recently banned new signs. Instead, commissioners asked county staff to provide possible regulations for the signs by mid-July, which could restrict size, location, brightness and operating hours for new signs. — AL

WP mayor tries write-in

Woodland Park Mayor Steve Randolph announced this week he's a write-in candidate for re-election. No one filed for the office by the March 12 deadline, but write-in candidates have until March 31 to file.

Randolph initially was not going to run because if the 1-percent sales tax to fund a $14 million rec center passes, he doesn't want to "execute a tax-and-spend policy that I fundamentally oppose," he says in an e-mail. He changed his mind "based upon the spirit of cooperation expressed by both sides of the Woodland Park sales tax increase."

Randolph opposes the tax measure because it would commit the city despite other needs, drive its sales tax rate higher than in surrounding towns, and force the city to pick up operational costs if memberships fall short. Backers say the town needs a rec center, including a pool, an amenity residents have wanted for many years.

Meanwhile, five candidates are seeking three Woodland Park City Council slots: incumbents Eric Smith and Terry Harrison and newcomers David Turley, Charles Olson and Scott Davis. — PZ

Bidlack named Dems' chair

Local Democrats have picked Hal Bidlack as chair of the county party. Bidlack, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn in 2008, replaces Jason DeGroot, who stepped down last month.

Bidlack spent much of his 25 years in the military teaching at the Air Force Academy, and still teaches there part-time. The 52-year-old will enjoy being the first Democratic Party chair in El Paso County to have the assistance of a paid executive director. Christy Le Lait, Bidlack's spokeswoman and deputy campaign manager in 2008, was hired March 5 by the party's executive committee.

Though pundits say national political currents are running against Democrats, Bidlack says local budget struggles leading to darkened street lights and taxi drivers working with police should help the Dems locally. — AL

Manitou supe will stay

Ed Longfield, who had announced recently he would leave Manitou Springs School District 14 after less than one year as superintendent, has changed his mind. Longfield, who had planned to become superintendent of the Delta County School District in western Colorado (where he was in the No. 2 role before coming to Manitou), says he had a change of heart after the community and the D-14 board encouraged him to reconsider.

"We are very happy that Ed will continue to be at the helm of our school district to help us navigate these difficult financial times," D-14 board president Jennifer Farmer said in a release. "We believe that he was the best choice to lead Manitou Springs School District 14 forward." — RR

Pay those parking tickets

The St. Patrick's Day parade marched through downtown last weekend, bringing a little bit of Irish magic to large crowds. However, many parade-goers later found something less than magical on their windshields: $20 parking tickets. This irked some revelers, many of whom expect the city to waive parking fees at meters and garages during large-scale events.

But city parking administrator Greg Warnke says the tickets are no mistake.

"Tickets were issued on Saturday just like any other day," he said. "The only reason that we've had free parking on a couple of the other parades like the Veterans Day Parade, was that that group came to City Council and asked City Council for free parking during the parade. I can't grant free parking during events like that. Only Council can do that." — JAS

Memorial info to come

Expect an information push in coming months on how city-owned Memorial Health System is run, what it does, what works and what doesn't.

A panel that will recommend in December whether the city should hold or fold its ownership in the hospital system wants public input. But during a Tuesday meeting of the Citizens' Commission on Ownership and Governance of Memorial Health System, one citizen suggested that feedback from an ill-informed or misinformed public doesn't count for much. He urged the commission to disseminate as much data as possible, so residents are equipped to weigh in. Agreed, said chairman Steve Hyde, who vowed to load up Web sites with information.

For the next month, the commission (of which Jay Patel, Independent business development vice president is a member) will meet weekly. The next session will be at 2:30 p.m., Tuesday at the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department (2880 International Circle). For information, check ccogmhs.wordpress.com, or go to the city's site at springsgov.com. — PZ

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

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