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Noted: Sean Paige chosen for Council seat 

Former Gazette editorial page editor will replace Heimlicher

Sean W. Paige, former editorial page editor of the Gazette and a well-known critic of the Colorado Springs city government, now will be on the inside.

Paige, 50, was chosen Wednesday afternoon by City Council to replace the recently resigned Jerry Heimlicher as the District 3 representative on Council. Paige, who was not considered a favorite among the 19 applicants, apparently made a convincing case during his interview Tuesday with the current Council members. He and retired local businessman Phil Lane deadlocked 4-4 in the next-to-last Council vote Wednesday, but after a short break, the group returned and Paige prevailed by a 5-3 margin.

Paige will be sworn in on Monday, as the Council wants to have its newest member on board for the start of deliberations regarding city budget cuts for 2010.

The only other applicants to receive votes Wednesday during a special Council meeting were Paul Johnson and Janet Suthers, both of whom were eliminated to leave the choice between Lane and Paige.

Heimlicher said he was surprised at the decision, adding, “He’s the opposite of everything I stood for, and the voters voted in April for a certain person and a certain type of person, and now they’re getting the opposite.”

Councilor Scott Hente, when asked why Paige was chosen, said, "Why not? ... Sean's been one of our biggest critics ... now he's one of us. Now he's on the other side of the fence. ... In a year and a half, voters will get to say who they want in that district." — JAS

Williams joins clerk race

Add one more player to El Paso County's game of governmental musical chairs: Commissioner Wayne Williams has announced he will seek the Republican nomination for clerk and recorder.

So far, the Republican primary includes Williams, county Treasurer Sandra Damron and Charles Corry, a multi-issue local activist and outspoken critic of electronic voting machines. Both Williams and Damron are prevented by term limits from running for their current positions again.

Whoever wins will replace term-limited Bob Balink. The Republican victor will likely face El Paso County Public Trustee Thomas Mowle, currently the only Democrat seeking any county-wide elected office. The county's next clerk will run a slightly different operation — Balink is planning to open an expanded northern office by the end of the year, likely away from the current Chapel Hills Mall site. — AL

One in nine Coloradans poor

Newly released U.S. Census Bureau data show 11.4 percent of Colorado residents lived in poverty in 2008, compared to 9.4 percent in 2001. And the reality may be much worse, because the latest numbers predate the recession's biggest impact here, the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute said in a statement released by the Colorado News Connection.

"We have to remember that the numbers that are going to come out next year are likely going to be much worse," said project director Kathy White, noting the data suggest the state never fully recovered from the last recession.

The national poverty rate is about 13 percent. Also of note: The numbers also showed no significant gain in median income for Coloradans. — PZ

County dodging H1N1 so far

The latest counts of hospitalizations from influenza show H1N1 isn't getting much traction so far in El Paso County. Through Sept. 26, only four local people had been hospitalized with swine flu since the state began tracking the numbers Aug. 30, but there were no new hospitalizations last week. Seven others have been hospitalized in El Paso County with seasonal flu since tracking began.

Statewide, 84 new hospitalizations from influenza were reported last week, only 20 from H1N1. Since tracking began, 273 people have been hospitalized with influenza, 145 from swine flu.

A H1N1 vaccine is supposed to be available in a couple weeks. To find places administering the seasonal flu vaccine, go to immunizecolorado.com. — PZ

Clerk employees must follow dress rules

At a time when even Focus on the Family is loosening its dress code, and tattoos and piercings are everywhere, leave it to El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink to take a stand for conservatism.

"It is essential that employees project a suitable image ... which includes conservative, professional attire that does not distract from the business environment," states a July 2009 revision of the office's dress policy, sent anonymously to the Independent.

Some highlights actually go beyond attire: for instance, no "bizarre" nail polish or make-up (such as dark blue, black or "gothic"), and no visible tattoos, or body or facial piercings. (A single nose stud is allowed, as long as it's "conservative and inconspicuous.") A number of the clothing-related rules target "gals": no "skimpy" tops; no sleeveless tops, unless worn with a jacket; no shorts; and no Capri pants, unless they extend "well below the knee when seated."

Employees aren't just encouraged to abide by the dress code — anyone who sees a violation is asked to "report it to their supervisor or the [human resources department] for further action." No word yet on how many employees have been written up for violating the policy: Calls and e-mails to Balink and his office were not returned Wednesday morning. — AL

For a look at Balink's document, please click here.

Appeal doesn't stop city

Colorado Springs attorney Lindsay Fischer has wasted no time going to the Colorado Court of Appeals after his lawsuit against the city was dismissed by Fourth Judicial District Judge Scott Sells. Fischer wants to stop the city from issuing certificates of participation, a type of financing, because he says it would illegally commit the city to a multi-year debt without voter approval. The city says the COPs do not equate to a multi-year debt. Sells agreed.

The city is planning to use money from the COPs to help pay for moving the U.S. Olympic Committee's headquarters downtown and renovating the Olympic Training Center, part of a deal that would keep the USOC based here for another 30 years.

Because of Fischer's lawsuit, however, the city was not able to get a bond rating or bond insurance, and missed deadlines in its contract. City spokesperson Sue Skiffington-Blumberg says the partners in the agreement seem to be enduring the delay, however. The city has not received notice that the USOC wants to terminate its new contract, and hopes to issue COPS the week of Oct. 5. It does not expect Fischer's appeal will prevent the issuance.

"We're moving forward at the advice of our bond counsel ... and at this point what we're doing is waiting for our bond rating," Skiffington-Blumberg said. — JAS

Democrat to oppose Suthers

Andrew Romanoff made Colorado Springs his second stop when he announced his bid for U.S. Senate on Sept. 16, and now fellow Democrat Dan Slater has chosen the Springs to announce he's running for state attorney general.

Slater, a Cañon City attorney and first vice chair of the state Democratic Party, says El Paso County will be central to his strategy. He says that if he gets the Democratic nomination and wins 40 percent of the county's votes, it could propel him to a statewide win.

That, of course, could be a challenge given he likely will face John Suthers, who was two-time district attorney of El Paso and Teller counties. Suthers was appointed attorney general in 2004 after Ken Salazar was elected to the U.S. Senate, and was elected to a full term in 2006.

Slater planned to announce his candidacy at 9 a.m., Thursday, Oct. 1, in Penrose Library's Carnegie Room. — AL

New Piñon annex to grind

Opponents of plans to expand the Army's Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeastern Colorado are up in arms about documents they received describing plans to "annex" the training ground, which is now considered a separate military installation, into Fort Carson.

Army lawyers have responded that the plan was never approved for action, according to the Pueblo Chieftain.

Members of the opposition group Not 1 More Acre see the plan, which would make PCMS a "sub-installation" of Fort Carson, as a way of advancing efforts to expand the 238,000-acre training site, despite legislation now in effect that bans any spending related to the expansion. — AL

Gravel pit off for now

In a promising sign for conservationists, the newly formed Fountain Creek watershed district board voted to recommend denying a plan putting a gravel pit and processing plants in a site between the creek and Interstate 25 south of Fountain. Members of the board and neighbors living along Fountain Creek expressed concern that the proposal from Lafarge Corp. would damage the landscape and impact water quality, according to the Pueblo Chieftain.

The district's Sept. 25 recommendation, however, is just that; El Paso County commissioners are the ones who will ultimately decide whether to grant special use permits to Lafarge. The proposal will be considered by the county planning commission in October before going to the commissioners. — AL

West side stands up

"No man's land" started its move out of the shadows at a public meeting Tuesday night.

Over the years, no single government entity has taken charge of the land along Colorado Avenue west of 31st Street and east of Manitou Springs; it's partly owned by Colorado Springs, partly by El Paso County and partly by the state. Merchants and residents say the lack of attention has had consequences: homeless camps, vagrancy, panhandling, prostitution.

On Tuesday, dozens showed up to change that: members of a new merchants group, city and county officials, representatives of Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful, homeless advocates, city police and staff, as well as state Rep. Michael Merrifield. Outgoing City Councilor Jerry Heimlicher says he has been working for years on a plan to improve the area — which he only recently discovered is not in his district, but in Scott Hente's. Hente pledges to continue Heimlicher's work.

A group of concerned citizens agreed to work with governments to address issues, such as the city outlawing camping on city property as a possible solution to some problems. — JAS

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

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