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Noted: Still no money for inactive ballots 

No inactive ballots here

Secretary of State Scott Gessler wants to prevent local governments from sending mail ballots to inactive voters — registered voters who sat out the November 2010 election and have not voted since.

Gessler says it's against the law, that it disturbs uniformity in elections. He insists his actions aren't meant to discourage minority voters from casting ballots — despite evidence that inactive voters are disproportionately black and Hispanic.

Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson wanted to send ballots to inactive voters; Gessler tried to stop her. But a court refused to take Gessler's side, so mail ballots will go to inactives in Denver and Pueblo counties.

El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams says there's no room in his budget to send ballots to inactive voters, and doing so would be costly. He says two notices have been sent to inactive voters, and a third notice e-mailed to inactive military voters, who often don't check snail mail while overseas. Inactive voters can update their status online until seven days before the Nov. 1 election, and can vote by going in person to one of four election service centers. — JAS

Memorial hurting

City-owned Memorial Health System's net income is 135.5 percent behind the same time a year ago through August, due largely to flailing financial markets, CEO Larry McEvoy told City Council on Monday. But net patient revenue is half of 1 percent ahead of last year, he said, though admissions are 7.2 percent behind.

Memorial's outpatient visits increased by 2.5 percent for the first eight months of 2011, and emergency visits rose 3.7 percent — 91,405 through August, compared to 88,135 for the same period last year.

"We have put in place a number of measures to address expenses," McEvoy said. Those measures haven't meant layoffs yet, but steps include: voluntary reduction in hours, leaves of up to four months and early retirement; reduction in supply expenses; freezing contract and consultant services; halting of construction and renovation projects unless judged mission-critical; elimination of travel and cellphone reimbursement; abolishing relocation fees unless for physician recruits; service consolidation that could lead to closure and/or combining services and locations; and more. — PZ

COPPeR starts new fund

At last week's annual Business & Arts Lunch, the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (COPPeR) revealed the Peak Arts Fund, an initiative to funnel money to local arts nonprofits, launching next February. Headed by manager Steve Mack, PAF will distribute money annually to arts nonprofits that "were already established in the community," Mack says.

"The whole idea of the campaign is to take arts to a new segment of the community ... who may not be patrons of the arts," Mack adds. The concept was part of COPPeR's cultural plan formed late last year. Led by COPPeR executive director Christina McGrath, the project came to life, and Mack was hired. COPPeR has secured seed money from various sources, meaning 100 percent of funds raised the first few years will go straight to chosen organizations.

Fifteen nonprofits have been selected for PAF's first year, including the Business of Art Center, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Millibo Art Theatre, Opera Theatre of the Rockies, Colorado Springs Philharmonic and the Colorado Springs Conservatory. Mack says that the project is starting off small, adding: "We're looking for long-term success here." — EA

Utility bills going up

Gas and electric rates would go up by $3.27 a month for the typical residential Colorado Springs Utilities customer starting in January, under a proposal to be considered by City Council next month.

Utilities wants a 62-cent monthly rise in electric rates and a $2.65-a-month increase in gas for the typical residential customer, largely to fund capital investments to comply with new environmental regulations. The increase also will fund maintenance and future infrastructure.

Adding a water increase approved in May 2010 that becomes effective Jan. 1, the average residential customer will see a 4.3 percent increase, or $8.22 a month.

Typical customers use 600 kilowatt hours of electricity, 6,000 cubic feet of natural gas, 1,100 cubic feet of water and 700 cubic feet of wastewater service, totaling $192.90 a month. That would go to $201.12 under the increases, which Council will consider at a Nov. 22 public hearing. — PZ

Bach's say on Myers

Mayor Steve Bach wants to set the record straight about Police Chief Richard Myers' departure, saying Myers came to him wanting to resign. Before Bach approved the move, it leaked to media and City Councilors got mad that they weren't told.

It's understandable if that doesn't ring true. Myers suggests he was pressured to leave, saying the mayor "informed me he is ready to make a change in direction." Myers also noted he'll look for another job in town, after receiving more than $83,000 in severance pay and benefits.

Bach says he planned to tell Council of Myers' departure before telling the media, but was quick to defend his right not to tell Council. Bach compared the situation to a U.S. president changing a member of his Cabinet. The president, he noted, wouldn't have to discuss the matter with Congress. "Some on City Council may want to read the charter again," Bach says.

The explanation doesn't sit well with City Council President Scott Hente, who says: "Before [Bach] ever took office I told him, 'I don't know when and I don't know what the topic will be, but one day we're going to disagree on something, and all I ask is that we keep the lines of communication open.' As far as I'm concerned, he broke that promise."

Deputy Police Chief Peter Carey was announced Tuesday as the interim chief and will serve until a national search determines Myers' replacement. — JAS

No takers on CSU contest

In this economy, you'd think people would jump at the chance to get two free months of mortgage or rent payments up to $1,200 each. But not so far.

All you have to do is submit a video up to two minutes long, sharing your energy- and water-saving tips or home project. The contest, sponsored by Colorado Springs Utilities, started Oct. 3 and ends Oct. 21. As of Tuesday, no one had entered.

The contest stems from Utilities' desire "to actively engage customers in sharing information about water and energy conservation," says CSU spokeswoman Natalie Eckhart. Find the rules at facebook.com/coloradospringsutilities.

Eckhart admits the strategy of asking for a video is "pretty different stuff for us." The mortgage payments will be made by Challenger Homes, through an arrangement with Comcast and DIY Network, she says. The top five entries will be selected by Utilities personnel, and then customers will choose the best one by voting between Oct. 30 and Nov. 25 on Facebook. — PZ

Recovery ride

There was a 3 percent chance Jay LaPointe would use his arms or legs again. More than seven years ago, he was injured in a motocross injury, paralyzed from the neck down.

"I couldn't feel anything below my neck, couldn't move anything below my neck," he says. But he was determined, and "before I left the hospital, I could move my arms and legs again."

After years of therapy and exercise, he can walk with crutches, drive, and is currently riding a three-wheeled English racing bike across Colorado, passing this week through Colorado Springs, from Wyoming to New Mexico. The ride, Pedal for My Peeps, is to benefit SCI Recovery Project, a Denver-based catastrophic injury recovery center. On his website, LaPointe has a number of videos and photos journaling his recovery, which he says was due largely to his athleticism.

So far, LaPointe has raised $700 for the nonprofit organization in his 18-day trek Pedal for My Peeps. If you would like to donate to Pedal for My Peeps, or read more about LaPointe, visit jaylapointe.com. — CH

Election battle still going

Hard to believe, but the city still is dealing with a conflict from the April election. The issue: Who should go after former City Council candidate Douglas Bruce and his ill-fated Reform Team for campaign finance violations?

The city says the state should do it, despite the fact the Bruce and Co. violated a city ordinance. An administrative law judge long ago threw out the city's complaint, saying the state had no jurisdiction to enforce election laws of a home-rule city.

But the city appealed that decision, asking that an administrative law judge take a second look. Recently, Colorado Ethics Watch, which originally brought violations to the city's attention, filed a brief in support of making the city enforce its own laws.

Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro expects the appeals court will affirm the earlier decision and throw the ball into the city's court. While it's a little late to pursue a case against Bruce — who lost the election — the ruling will help determine how the city runs elections in the future. — JAS

Rally for work

Tuesday morning, Colorado AFL-CIO and supporters gathered for an impromptu rally in Colorado Springs supporting President Barack Obama's jobs bill. In attendance were Democrats led by state Rep. Pete Lee and Sen. John Morse.

Phil Hayes, state AFL-CIO political and legislative director, says the rally was meant to bring emphasis on infrastructure and the benefits for small businesses.

"In Colorado, we have almost 30 percent unemployment in our construction trades," says Hayes. "We had a speaker who is an unemployed electrician, who has been out of work for about a year. And the folks in his local union, about 50 percent of them aren't working."

He points out that since the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Pueblo-based steel mill Rocky Mountain Steel has had to hire to keep up with the demand for steel for construction.

Tuesday night, the U.S. Senate failed to pass the bill. President Obama has stated that he will try to get individual provisions from the bill through Congress. — CH

Compiled by Edie Adelstein, Chet Hardin, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.

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