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Noted: New local Dem leader announced 

Local Dems hire director

El Paso County Democrats had a tumultuous week. On March 5, members of the party's executive committee voted 23 to 17 to hire an executive director. Long reliant on volunteers and a part-time administrative worker, party leaders picked Christy Le Lait to take on day-to-day management of the party.

Le Lait's work could be complicated by what she discovered March 8, her first full day: Someone had removed a hard drive from one of the office computers.

"We are trying to figure out what we are missing," Le Lait says.

Since the party doesn't store personal information, Le Lait says, local Dems need not worry that such private details were compromised. Police confirmed a theft was reported, but would not release details, citing an ongoing investigation.

Regardless, Le Lait is upbeat about helping the local party enhance its influence. Active in Democratic Party politics for years, she served as spokeswoman and deputy campaign director in Hal Bidlack's 2008 run for the U.S. House, and more recently worked for Change That Works, an advocacy group aimed at building support for health care reform and other federal legislation.

The party's next task before caucuses March 16 is to replace former chair Jason DeGroot, who stepped down in February. The party's central committee is meeting for that purpose at 8:30 a.m., Saturday, March 13 at Hillside Community Center. Bidlack has said he plans to submit his name for the position. — AL

Forte under the microscope

Power outages are few, and the city's new pipeline project is advancing. Yet some Colorado Springs Utilities workers are reportedly unhappy, and that's triggered the first employee morale survey in years. Meanwhile, some citizens think more progress could be made on renewables.

Those are but a few gauges that might help assess the job performance of Utilities CEO Jerry Forte. City Council, which doubles as Utilities' board, will go behind closed doors Friday, in an executive session allowed by law, to conduct Forte's annual review. But Forte, paid $276,750 a year, isn't apt to get a performance bonus as in the past, because Council abolished Utilities' pay-for-performance program.

"There better not be a bonus," Councilor Tom Gallagher says. — PZ

Still trying to save pools

Around this time of the year, when the bitter, brown bath of winter has grown cold and stale, many of us start to long for glowing days spent lounging by a pool.

Sadly, that midwinter night's dream may not become reality. The city pools — along with other assets like community centers — are scheduled to close March 31 unless supporters cough up at least $250,000.

Deb Barry and her group, Friends of Aquatics, are hard at work trying to come up with the money. So far they only have around $12,000, but they're hoping grants might bring in more. Volunteers are selling bags of gourmet coffee and "The Discount Card of the Pikes Peak Region" — which scores you deals at local businesses — to raise funds. There's also a "Pennies for Pools" jar at every city pool.

If you'd like to buy a fundraising item or make a donation, call 385-6032, e-mail friendsofaquatics@gmail.com, or stop by the Aquatic and Fitness Center at Memorial Park, 280 S. Union Blvd. — JAS

Amazon takes anti-tax stand

One nice thing about buying stuff online from companies like Amazon is avoiding sales tax; you save almost $3 in state tax for each $100 you spend. The only problem is that technically, you're still supposed to pay that money when taxes are due each April.

Well, a new law in Colorado requiring online retailers to tell you how much tax you owe (but without collecting it) has sparked a firestorm. Amazon says it will no longer pay referral fees to business affiliates in Colorado that refer visitors to their site. Amazon apparently sees the law as a backdoor way of getting the company to start collecting sales tax. In response, groups like ProgressNow Colorado are calling a boycott of Amazon until the company reverses its stance on affiliates.

"After profiting from millions of dollars in tax-free sales to Colorado residents for years," a ProgressNow e-mail reads, "Amazon is determined to protect their unfair advantage over local brick-and-mortar retailers."

Senate Majority Leader John Morse of Colorado Springs rails against Amazon in a YouTube video, promising to give up his Kindle electronic reader for the iPad by Apple, which does collect sales tax. — AL

Group wants Peak pass back

Back before the economy fell off a cliff, Colorado Springs families could pay $100 a year for unlimited access to the sights, splendors and recreational opportunities along Pikes Peak Highway.

Those days ended in late 2008, when city officials re-jiggered the rates on the highway. Under the new rules, $100 only buys a five-visit punch card for a family to drive up the mountain. (Individuals can pay the same amount for 14 solo trips.)

One group isn't happy, pointing out a family would spend $400 for 20 visits up America's mountain, but could get unlimited access to all of the country's national parks for a mere $80. If that strikes you as odd, the Pikes Peak Locals would like to hear from you. Their blog is at pikespeaklocals.blogspot.com, and you can find them at "Pikes Peak Locals" on Facebook. — AL

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

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