City again targets campers
Encouraged by efforts to create a larger shelter, and emboldened by a complaint to the Environmental Protection Agency regarding homeless camps, City Councilors want an ordinance prohibiting camping on public lands in place by summer.
"I am sympathetic to people's hard times," Vice Mayor Larry Small says. "But at the same time, it doesn't give [homeless people] the right to create messes ... nor does it give them the right to pollute Fountain Creek."
Police Chief Richard Myers says his department is putting together guidelines on enforcing a possible no-camping ordinance. Campers would be issued warnings and told about shelters before being removed.
Council has felt pressure since citizen Janis Heuberger's complaint to the EPA, calling camps a water-quality issue because of out-of-control trash and raw sewage dumped into Monument and Fountain creeks. Both waterways are on the state's "impaired" list for not meeting clean-water standards, says Steve Gunderson of the state Health Department. But he says contamination problems are commonly caused by stormwater runoff, animals, birds and leaky sewer pipes. Not homeless camps. He adds the EPA couldn't intervene, anyway, because it regulates only "point sources" of pollution, those with permits to discharge into streams.
Colorado Springs Homeless Outreach Program & Empowerment (CS-HOPE) is working on leasing an approximately 18,000-square-foot property at 170 E. Las Vegas St., near Springs Rescue Mission. The building could provide temporary night and day shelter for 300 to 450 people, including the mildly drunk and high. If all goes well, that shelter could open in mid-year. But CS-HOPE still must get through planning, zoning and neighborhood issues, and raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. — JAS
McInnis pays a visit
At a breakfast meeting Wednesday in Colorado Springs, Republican gubernatorial front-runner Scott McInnis unveiled a "strategic plan" for Colorado's economic recovery, embracing oil and gas development and the military, while spurning new taxes.
"Colorado has gotten a reputation as anti-business," the former congressman said, adding that, if elected, "we are not going to put a tax increase into place."
About 50 businesspeople and local elected officials showed up for the meeting at the Broadmoor Golf Club.
McInnis criticized Gov. Bill Ritter and the Democrat-controlled Legislature for failing to embrace military expansion plans such as the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site. He drew the loudest applause when he said the state appreciates the military and should encourage its presence to grow here.
McInnis sounded casual when asked about Ritter's withdrawal from the campaign, saying: "We didn't think Ritter would stay." — AL
Local food line grows
The number of El Paso County residents on food stamps increased by 31 percent in December as compared to one year before, according to the county's Department of Human Services. Last month, 54,983 residents got food stamps compared to 41,897 in December 2008 and 35,067 in December 2007. The amount paid doubled to $7.8 million in December 2009, from $3.9 million in 2007.
Trying for a positive spin, a DHS news release cited a federal report that found every $5 in food stamps generates $9.20 in community spending, meaning more than $149 million in the county during 2009. — PZ
Council puts off battles
Anti-taxer and Issue 300 author Douglas Bruce, accompanied by supporters, gave several long and rather convincing speeches to City Council on Tuesday, urging members to enforce 300 as Bruce envisioned it, regardless of the wording.
Bruce wants to stop all payments and gifts between the city and its enterprises. Following that logic means eliminating the Stormwater Enterprise (to which Council has already agreed), phasing out Utilities' multimillion-dollar payment to the city in lieu of taxes, and eliminating shared services between the city and enterprises.
But Council feels that ending PILT or shared services would violate the city charter. Legal staff also argued that 300 contradicted itself. Based on their advice, Council had been considering an ordinance that would have allowed the city to continue to function as is. Bruce and his advocates countered that 300 was clear in its intent and in line with the charter.
"It's time to stop squirming," Bruce said, "and realize that we won and you lost."
Council eventually decided to put off the issue for four weeks to work with Bruce's side and to get more information from staff.
Monday, Council delayed a related issue after City Attorney Patricia Kelly indicated it might be illegal for Council to force Utilities to pay $4.3 million in underpaid PILT from past years, because it might be considered "retroactive rate-making." She advised the city to forget about money owed from 2008, and to consider whether to pursue the 2009 underpayment only after hammering out the implications of Issue 300. Council agreed to her terms. — JAS
Caucus deadline nears
Though the names of this year's candidates probably won't strike the same nerves as McCain, Clinton and Obama did in 2008, local parties are still preparing for caucuses on March 16. To participate, you must be registered as either a Democrat or Republican by Tuesday, Jan. 19.
El Paso County Republicans' most interesting contests should be for commissioner District 5 and clerk and recorder. The big Democratic race looks to be for U.S. Senate, with former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff challenging appointed Sen. Michael Bennet.
If you are affiliated with a party but have moved, you have until Feb. 16 to update your registration. You can check your registration at the secretary of state's Web site, sos.state.co.us, by clicking on "verify/update my voter registration." — AL
Norton hits the big time
Republicans and Democrats alike always have to weigh the interests of party faithful against those of moderate voters and fringe groups. Some Democrats believe Jane Norton, the Republican frontrunner in the U.S. Senate race, may have strayed too far in trying to please the tea-party crowd when she talked at a campaign event about the foiled Christmas Day attempt to explode an airliner bound for Detroit.
In an excerpt that Chris Matthews played on MSNBC's Hardball, Colorado's former lieutenant governor says the suspect should tried in a military tribunal instead of a federal court. That led to a broader statement about the Obama administration: "And what I believe is happening ... is the fact that the rights of terrorists are more important in this administration than the lives of American citizens. And we're seeing it in the criminal field, we're seeing it in the health care field, we're seeing it in almost every, every area that we're looking at."
Norton also made headlines recently for suggesting elimination of the federal Department of Education. — AL
County nixes mail ballot
It may be legal, but we're not doing it here. That's the message El Paso County commissioners sent last week when they rejected a proposal to conduct this year's primary election by mail ballot alone, made possible by legislation passed last year.
The county election department received four comments, splitting evenly for and against. Perhaps the strongest came from county Public Trustee Tom Mowle, a Democrat running for county clerk and recorder, who took issue with a press release from current Clerk Bob Balink appearing to suggest overwhelming support for mail voting. Mowle pointed out that only 51 percent in November 2008 voted by mail ballot.
Though savings from an all-mail-ballot election were estimated at $165,000, the all-Republican Board of County Commissioners agreed with Mowle and decided keep the usual voting choices for the primary. — AL
Meetings set for centers
With an eye on the end of March, when city funding runs out, City Councilor Sean Paige says that third-party financial support appears to exist for city pools and other parks facilities like Rock Ledge Ranch. But there isn't nearly as much hope for community centers thus far.
The city has put out a request for proposals ending Feb. 26, at which time all offers for operating affected city facilities will be reviewed. Meanwhile, Paige is hosting meetings at community centers to try to drum up interest. The remaining meetings are from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Hillside Community Center, 925 S. Institute St., on Tuesday, Jan. 19; Deerfield Hills Community Center, 4290 Deerfield Hills Road, on Wednesday, Jan. 20, and Meadows Park Community Center, 1943 S. El Paso Ave., on Wednesday, Jan. 27.
For more information, e-mail Paige at email@example.com or call him at 210-5741. — JAS
Bruce suffers setback
Anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce suffered a blow in his never-ending quest against city government on Dec. 29, when the Colorado Supreme Court Attorney Regulation Counsel found Bruce's recent complaint to be "without grounds" and dismissed it.
Bruce filed the complaint Dec. 21, alleging that City Attorney Patricia Kelly, Municipal Court Judge Spencer Gresham, and city prosecutors Michelle Keller and Kenneth Hodges violated professional standards in their handling of a trespassing case brought against Bruce and fellow activist Doug Stinehagen. — JAS
Compiled by Anthony Lane, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.