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Noted: Jones bows out from District 5 race 

Jones leaves county race

Hopes of a scrappy Republican primary race for El Paso County District 5's commissioner seat took a hit this week when former state senator and county commissioner Ed Jones bowed out, saying he wants to spend his time campaigning for Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis.

Jones' withdrawal has stoked debate about whether Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera now is more apt to pursue the seat. Rivera has said in the past that he might run, but didn't return phone calls seeking comment about Jones' decision.

"[Rivera] probably was going to get in anyway," Jones says. "I've heard rumors he'll make an announcement in February whether he'll do it or not."

Jones notes an effort to recall Rivera probably won't be successful, and that will prompt Rivera, who a few months ago weathered an ethics investigation tied to the city's USOC retention deal, to figure that "people have short memories."

Other Republicans seeking the District 5 post include Patrick Carter, Peggy Littleton, David Williams and William Guevara. Rep. Michael Merrifield will run on the Democratic side. — PZ

House leadership reshuffles

A Pueblo County lawmaker has landed the No. 2 spot in the state House now that the former speaker pro tem has switched from the Democratic Party to unaffiliated status. Rep. Liane "Buffie" McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, will replace Rep. Kathleen Curry of Gunnison.

Rep. Michael Merrifield of Colorado Springs, who like McFadyen is beginning his eighth and final year in the Legislature, was listed with her as one of three "safe" picks for the position by the political Web site State Bill Colorado. But Merrifield says he had no interest in being selected, preferring this year to focus on his work as chair of the education committee and on gathering support for two education bills, one of which would require K-12 students to take some type of arts class.

The Legislature begins its four-month session in Denver on Jan. 13. — AL

City auditor leaving

Colorado Springs city auditor Jeff Litchfield, who was recently revealed to have traveled the most personal business miles of any appointee in his city-owned car, and who weathered a months-long standoff over how much Colorado Springs Utilities should give the city for a payment in lieu of taxes, is splitting town. Litchfield has taken a job as assistant finance director for Tacoma, Wash., and his resignation is effective Feb. 3.

Litchfield says he was looking for a change of scenery and more kayaking opportunities. Plus, he and his wife always wanted to live in the Northwest, though they plan to retire in Colorado.

Councilors Scott Hente and Bernie Herpin say Litchfield is a capable auditor — and bagpiper (he often played at Fort Carson funerals) — and they're sorry to see him go.

"I worry that his leaving is indicative to what happened with other people in the city's other organizations, including the hospital and Utilities," Hente says. "I'm worried the perception is going to be that there's better opportunities in other organizations, other cities."

Litchfield, named city auditor in June 2004, led the effort to make all auditor's reports public and established a Web site in March 2006 to post documents. In addition, he created an anonymous phone line (385-ADTR) where employees and citizens could report suspected wrongdoing. But Litchfield says he told Council from the outset that he didn't plan on staying in the job for more than five years.

Council will name an interim city auditor before Litchfield's departure, then pursue a replacement. — JAS

Another audit for Chavez

The Colorado Department of Education has hired an auditor to look into the finances of Cesar Chavez School Network, which has schools in Pueblo, Colorado Springs and Denver. MGT of America Inc. will look at the network and its associated finances for the fiscal year of July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009, with plans to issue results no later than May 3.

In its own audit of testing practices, CDE recently uncovered cheating at Chavez's flagship Pueblo school. The audits come after years of complaints from one school district, and a public meltdown of network leadership. — JAS

Adopt an open space?

If you want to pick weeds, build a trail or lead an interpretive hike in one of the city's open spaces, you might get that chance. The Colorado Springs Parks and Recreation Advisory Board will mull the idea of volunteer stewardship of open spaces at its next meeting, 7:30 a.m., Jan. 14 at 1401 Recreation Way.

The city has long welcomed groups to adopt a park or trail, but so far participation in open-space maintenance and management has been spotty.

"We've looked at all the Trails, Open Space and Parks open space properties, and we've looked at defining specific opportunities for volunteer groups to assist with some of the management requirements," says Chris Lieber, manager of design, development and TOPS. "We hope that it will help us stretch the community's resources." — PZ

Snip, snip the pet

The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region is launching CatS.N.I.P. (Spay-Neuter Incentive Program), a low-cost option for low-income owners of felines.

The Humane Society will kick off the program Jan. 22 with a special "Cat Spay Day," which already has filled up. In fact, sterilization vouchers for the month of January are already sold out, so interested cat owners should check with the Humane Society to purchase a voucher for a February appointment. Vouchers cost $15 to $35; the Humane Society plans to offer 500 vouchers in 2010.

Aside from reducing the pet population, spaying and neutering has health advantages for pets, increasing their life expectancy by three to five years and leading to calmer, more affectionate behavior. Neutered males are also less likely to mark their territory (i.e., pee on your couch).

For more information about CatS.N.I.P., contact the Society at 473-1741 or visit hsppr.org. — JAS

13 Pure violence continues

The new year didn't get off to a good start for the owners of 13 Pure, who are trying to sell the downtown nightclub complete with multiple bars, a full kitchen and a history of violence in the streets outside.

Police patrolling the area early Jan. 3 say they saw two men leave the club at around 1:40 a.m. to fetch an item from the trunk of a car. The men took off running when police tried to talk to them, according to Sgt. Steve Noblitt, but officers caught up, arresting one of the men who turned out to be a previous offender in possession of a handgun. — AL

Freedom bankruptcy deal done

An agreement among Freedom Communications Inc., its unsecured creditors and banks holding Freedom's debt is expected to be announced Friday, a member of the creditors committee said this week.

Dan Callahan, an attorney representing Orange County Register carriers due a $28.9 million settlement for back pay, says he's withdrawn two court filings that could have delayed the bankruptcy.

Freedom, which owns the Gazette in Colorado Springs and dozens of other newspapers, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September, with plans for its main lenders to take ownership of 98 percent of the company. Freedom's original bankruptcy plan called for the company to pay unsecured creditors pennies on the dollar. — PZ

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

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