Bach themes: parks, diversity
Steve Bach took over Tuesday as Colorado Springs’ first strong mayor, with the expected ceremony and hopeful first speech. But he also wasted no time wielding his new influence as the city’s chief executive.
During his inaugural address to about 500 people outside Pioneers Museum, Bach described how he and interim City Manager Steve Cox already had agreed to spend $700,000 for emergency work on 275 acres of neighborhood parks (see “Pretty, ugly,” News, May 26). Later, Cox confirmed that Bach had approved the money for watering and reseeding in parks most affected.
Before Bach was sworn in, there was a short farewell from outgoing mayor Lionel Rivera, thanking employees of the city government, Colorado Springs Utilities and Memorial Health System, calling them “a beacon of hope for how to run a city.” He also praised recent City Councils for doing “many great things, and leaving the city in great shape.”
Then the 68-year-old Bach talked optimistically about the next four years as filled with “opportunities and challenges.”
“Today marks a new beginning, a fresh start,” Bach said. “We know how great the city can be. ... There have been days when people have thought that the sun has set on our city. In fact, the sun is rising — just over the hill.” Bach, using a more low-key voice than during most of the campaign, emphasized that he would work immediately to add more young adults, women and people of color into the city administration. He spoke of focusing on downtown, “making it the heart of the community again, as it should be.” The new mayor said he would meet next week with Gov. John Hickenlooper, with two main agenda items to discuss: “What can we do to help the state, and what can they do to help us?” — JH
Term-limit battle resumes
Several citizens plan to attend the El Paso County commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, asking that residents get a second vote on whether various county officials should be allowed two or three terms. Voters last November approved adding a third term for officials based on tricky language designed to evoke a “yes” vote.
Rick Wehner with Springs Unigroup, a loose-knit band of citizens interested in local government, says he and others will demand commissioners place term limits for county elected officials, including commissioners, treasurer, clerk and recorder, assessor and district attorney, on the November ballot.
Last year’s measures essentially asked voters if elected officials should be limited to three four-year terms, rather than asking if they should be granted a third term. All measures passed by margins of nearly 2 to 1.
Jeff Crank, local radio personality and state leader of conservative group Americans for Prosperity, says he’s organizing a term-limits push separate from Springs Unigroup that will lead to an appearance before the commission later this summer. — PZ
Memorial gets fresh look
A City Council task force got to work Tuesday looking at the future of city-owned Memorial Health System — whether it should be sold, converted to a nonprofit or kept as it is — all in anticipation of a November ballot measure. New Councilors on the task force are Merv Bennett, who wasn’t at the meeting, Tim Leigh and Brandy Williams. Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin chairs the task force, which also includes members of Memorial’s board of trustees.
At issue is how much the city would charge Memorial for breaking away on its own. The previous task force in 2010 talked about a $5 million lump-sum payment, and annual payments computed under a formula based on profitability. But all that is up in the air with the new task force, which has agreed to formulate a recommendation for the full Council by Aug. 1 to meet deadlines necessary to place a measure on the November ballot.
Former Councilor Randy Purvis, who will serve as an adviser, says it’s doable, though he adds, “It’s going to require all hands on deck to get it done.” Two meetings are slated for this month. — PZ
Manna from heaven
Do you have an extra $5,000 lying around? Who does? Some good people at St. George’s Anglican Church, that’s who.
According to a letter dated May 12, the church is conducting a “special fundraiser” and asking the congregation to “give prayerful consideration” to donating $5,000 each — yes, five grand — to help pay down the $99,000 that the Rev. Don Armstrong funneled from the Bowton Trust and Grace Episcopal Church into his own pockets.
In February, Armstrong avoided a prison sentence but was ordered by a district judge to serve 400 hours of community service and to repay that $99,000 as restitution to Grace, his former church.
The letter from St. George’s, however, revises that bit of history by referring to the money instead as “spending which was done by the congregation and by the bishop some years ago on various ministry expenses.”
“We so desire to help provide the Armstrongs with a more normal life like the rest of us and to relieve the debt that was not even theirs in the first place,” says the letter, signed by two parishioners at St. George’s. “They are and have been doing their part and will be burdened with it for a long time.”
According to Charlann Jeffrey, one of the letter’s signers, St. George’s has received more than two dozen checks, some of which have hit that $5,000 target. “We will be through with this by early, early July,” says Jeffrey. “It is working better than we had hoped.” — CH
Manitou councilor leaves
Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder confirms that City Councilor Ingrid Richter has resigned. Richter, subject of an Independent story last week (“One tricky juggling act,” News), started working as real estate services manager for the city of Colorado Springs in January; she’s also continued work for a development company. In her resignation letter to Manitou’s Council, Richter cited demands from the Colorado Springs city job, and possible plans to move out of Manitou.
“Serving on Council has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” she wrote.
Her peers say they were aware Richter was under stress. “I know Ingrid had difficulty making the Council meetings recently,” Snyder says. Fellow Councilor Matt Carpenter says he was not surprised by Richter’s resignation, but that she will be missed. “She had a lot of experience,” he says. “... When we started talking about bonds and real estate stuff, she was just super-smart, and it’s always nice when somebody can bring that kind of expertise to the table.”
Councilors soon will interview candidates for her Ward 2 replacement; whomever they appoint will serve until January. — JAS
Memorial adds surgeons
City-owned Memorial Health System will add a group of eight doctors July 1, in its largest physician employment agreement to date.
Associates in General and Vascular Surgery, a group of eight physicians who practice general surgery, vascular surgery, trauma, acute care surgery and surgical critical care, will join Memorial along with more than 20 office staff.
Memorial says in a press release that the partnership “represents a major step on Memorial’s journey to cultivate collaborative physician leadership and to design the health system of the future, two of Memorial’s core objectives.” “When physicians and hospitals collaborate to design health care around, for and with the patient, quality goes up and costs go down,” Memorial CEO Dr. Larry McEvoy says in the release. The doctor group will remain in its current offices on the sixth floor of Memorial Hospital Central’s East Tower and at the Medical Office Building at Memorial North. Its name will change to Memorial General and Vascular Surgery. — PZ
New regulation proposed
Neighbors say vacation homes — single-family residences rented out short-term to visitors — are a nuisance, drawing rowdy and disrespectful tourists. They want the city to regulate them. Owners of vacation homes, however, say there’s little difference between a short-term renter and a long-term renter, and no additional regulation is warranted. The Colorado Springs Land Use Review Division has tried without luck to address the issue (“Rental rematch,” News, April 14). Now the division has released a draft regulation, which could soon become permanent, siding with the vacation-home owners. The regulation says vacation homes rented out for less than 30 days will be allowed in any zone that allows single-family or multifamily homes. They cannot have signage, and have to meet fire codes, pay taxes, and abide by city laws. The owners are encouraged to inform neighbors about their business.
But there are no special permits or zoning. No public meetings. No City Council approval.
Stakeholders have until July 1 to submit feedback to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. — JAS
The house always wins
While state government can’t raise taxes, it can unilaterally ease the tax burden for certain groups of taxpayers. According to the Denver Post, the Colorado Limited Gaming Control Commission has done just that by cutting the tax rate for casinos by up to 5 percent.
Good deal for the casinos, as it will save them millions of dollars a year. Bad deal for community colleges and History Colorado, which have been the top recipients of those millions.
How much money are we talking about? Representatives of the community college system and the historical society tell the Post that they are each estimating a loss of $3 million a year. — CH
Compiled by Chet Hardin, John Hazlehurst, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.