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Noted: Strong mayor push goes to petition 

Strong mayor going to petition

A proposal to create a "strong mayor" form of government has been submitted to the city's initiative review committee and title-setting board. With proper approvals, the city clerk will issue petitions, and a citizens group will start collecting signatures to place the measure on the ballot.

The change is being proposed by Citizens for Accountable Leadership, led by prominent locals Chuck Murphy, Mary Ellen McNally and Andy McElhany. If passed, the measure would eliminate the city manager and make the mayor a full-time chief executive.

Critics say the measure would give too much power to a single person, welcoming abuse; supporters say the plan would create more responsible leadership, because a single elected official would be accountable for city operations.

To learn about the plan, visit springsaccountabilitynow.org. — JAS

FAC lands El Pomar grant

Fresh funding and history came to the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center on Tuesday, as the FAC was awarded a $150,000 grant from El Pomar Foundation. It was the local-based foundation's 10,000th grant.

El Pomar has deep ties with the FAC, as Julie and Spencer Penrose started El Pomar and Julie donated their home to become the FAC, of which she was also a co-founder. Current El Pomar chairman and CEO William J. Hybl says the FAC is noteworthy for its efforts to make the Springs "a world-class city."

FAC president/CEO Sam Gappmayer says the FAC is "thrilled we are able to be the 10,000th recipient." He's pleased the grant can be used for programming that normally doesn't receive much funding, such as family days or free days at the museum. The grant will be used over a three-year period starting in 2011. El Pomar has awarded the institution $9.86 million in grants in the past, $5 million of which went toward the FAC 2006 expansion. — EA

Copper Ridge takes a step

Saying there's no other way to finish the final link of Powers Boulevard to Interstate 25, Colorado Springs City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to declare about 200 undeveloped acres on the city's far north edge as blighted. The designation allows Copper Ridge developer Gary Erickson to extend Powers Boulevard from Colorado Hwy. 83 to Interstate 25 with tax increment financing, diverting sales and property tax generated by development to the $81 million road project.

The idea is to stem the flow of upscale shoppers to Park Meadows mall and other Denver centers by creating a collection of high-end stores at Copper Ridge, southeast of I-25 and Northgate Boulevard. City staff say the center eventually will generate tens of millions for the city's general fund, public safety, parks and roads.

But Kevin Kratt, developing University Village on North Nevada Avenue as an urban renewal area, says Copper Ridge will steal potential retailers, jeopardizing the city Urban Renewal Authority's ability to repay bonds it issued for his project. "Any development on I-25 is competition for University Village, period," Kratt says.

The decision pre-empts a state law due to kick in June 1 that forbids designating raw land for urban renewal. Erickson says he hopes to have the Powers link done by 2013. Council imposed two timing requirements to maintain urban renewal status. Copper Ridge must sign its first anchor store with five years and second within eight.

"Here's the beauty of this," Councilor Scott Hente says. "To build the road, he needs to sell bonds. The city is not backing the bonds. If he doesn't hit those trigger points, he loses the urban renewal designation. We get a road with no obligation to the city. It's a risk his bondholders are assuming." — PZ

GOP leader jumps ship

Kay Rendleman has stirred complaints among party faithful by resigning her post as El Paso County Republican chairwoman to manage the U.S. Senate campaign of Weld County prosecutor Ken Buck.

Party leaders pledge neutrality in primary campaigns, making her support of Buck controversial.

Rendleman started her political career in 1980 as a paid staff member for the Reagan for President primary campaign in California. She also worked as a field staff member for Reagan's general election campaign, overseeing 11 California counties. She's worked as statewide volunteer coordinator for a U.S. Senate campaign and helped with Bob Dole's presidential bid in 1996.

"I have a lot of experience with managing grassroots-oriented campaigns, and I'm very excited about bringing that experience to help Ken Buck," she said to the Independent. Rendleman's replacement will be elected June 5 by the local Republican Central Committee, with vice chair Ryan Parsell the acting chair for the interim. — PZ

Drug test, anyone?

Nearly two years after the use by students of black-tar heroin surfaced at Cheyenne Mountain High School, School District 12 has adopted a policy to randomly test students for drugs if they're voluntarily enrolled in the program by their parents or guardians.

Enrollment costs $30 per student but doesn't mean all will be tested; rather, they'll be subject to testing. Positive tests could mean expulsion from sports teams, suspension from school or loss of driving and parking privileges on D-12 property. — PZ

Trying for a ballot spot

John "Doc" Holiday says he's gathering the necessary 750 signatures of registered voters to make the November ballot as an unaffiliated candidate for El Paso County sheriff.

Holiday, a former campus cop at the University of Washington, went through the Springs police academy and later served as a District Attorney's Office investigator. He's also worked as a District Court bailiff.

A frequent critic of Sheriff Terry Maketa over the past four years, Holiday especially opposed Maketa's use of a tent jail and limiting detainees' outgoing mail to postcards. He's staking his candidacy on 56 issues, such as enhancing jail safety, reducing the $100 charge for concealed weapons permits, and reviewing policy on use of Tasers.

Maketa and Monument Police Chief Jake Shirk are vying for the GOP nomination. — PZ

Airport road project starting

The long-awaited Milton E. Proby Parkway construction project, providing an east-west route between South Academy Boulevard and the airport, is scheduled for groundbreaking for May 18.

The $55.4 million project, being paid for by the voter-approved Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority sales tax, will take two years to complete. It will create a long-needed east-west corridor in southeast Colorado Springs, easing access to and from the airport.

The project includes a four-lane expressway mainline, a grade-separated interchange at Proby Parkway and Academy, improvements to traffic lights, trail systems and drainage.

The work will affect traffic. For the updates on traffic impacts, check buildproby.com or call the project hotline at 268-7430. — JAS

Nonprofit for centers set up

Eric Phillips, who has led the charge to save Colorado Springs' community centers, confirms that a corporation has been established to represent three of the centers in an effort to keep them alive.

City Council had decided to close its four centers if funding didn't materialize in the first three months of 2010. However, after a grassroots effort to save the facilities, Council agreed to dip into emergency funds and keep three of them open through December, after which they must be self-supporting. A fourth facility, Westside Community Center, will be taken over by a nonprofit connected to Woodmen Valley Chapel.

Phillips hopes the Community Partnership Project can restructure the centers and provide partial funding. The organization, which has applied for nonprofit status, was created with the help of El Pomar Foundation, which donated $2,000 to help the centers organize volunteers. Phillips says the partnership will present a budget to City Council in late summer, in hopes that the city will cover some costs.

Also, the group is hosting community meetings to get input on what services the centers might provide. Two meetings remain: at 6:30 p.m., May 18 at Meadows Park Community Center, 1943 S. El Paso Ave.; and 6:30 p.m., May 25 at Deerfield Hills Community Center, 4290 Deerfield Hills Road. — JAS

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

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