Voters may weigh parks tax
The Trails and Open Space Coalition is moving forward with plans for a special tax to fund parks maintenance across El Paso County. The project, once known as the Sustainable Parks Initiative and now called Great Parks-Great Communities, was a response to city cutbacks. TOSC hopes to ask voters for the tax increase — likely a two- or three-tenths-of-a-cent sales tax — on the November 2011 ballot.
But county leaders want TOSC to do more work first. Commissioner Darryl Glenn wants TOSC to help the county and municipalities pool resources and collaborate to save money. Bill Koerner, TOSC advocacy director, says he'll request a new committee at Thursday's joint city-county parks board meeting to do that.
Glenn also says he'd rather TOSC petition the tax question onto the ballot, instead of asking commissioners to refer it directly. It's unclear whether that's legally possible at the county level. Koerner says TOSC will likely conduct a petitioning effort, if only to show wary commissioners there is public support. "We feel that being very proactive with addressing the commissioners' concerns, we can get it referred onto the ballot," Koerner says. — JAS
Carson looks to get copters
Last Friday, word came from U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn that the Army's preferred site for a new Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) is Fort Carson, with the final recommendation expected within a month. The brigade would bring 2,700 troops and 120 helicopters to the post and require $224 million in construction next year for five buildings to support the new unit.
"As we have learned from Afghanistan and Iraq, training must take place in an environment that closely reflects conditions in theater," Lamborn said in a release. "This aviation brigade would help support the long-term viability of Fort Carson." He later told the Independent that while getting the unit funded might be tricky, "My sense is that the Army is committed and will make it work, even if other things have to be cut."
Local activist Bill Sulzman calls it "a jobs program" in politicians' eyes and believes the unit would have a dramatic impact on forest land where it would train. — PZ
CSBJ editor leaves paper
Allen Greenberg, editor of the Colorado Springs Business Journal, is no longer with the newspaper following the arrival last week of publisher Kathleen Gobos. Greenberg came to CSBJ a year ago after working at newspapers in Indianapolis, Charleston, S.C., and Philadelphia.
Mark Singletary, group publisher for Dolan Media Co., parent of the CSBJ, wouldn't explain Greenberg's exit. Asked who would be interim editor or Greenberg's replacement, Singletary replied, "That will be in the paper." It publishes on Friday.
Gobos, formerly associate publisher of Long Island Business News, will oversee Colorado Publishing Co., which includes the CSBJ, the Transcript (which publishes official notices from inside El Paso County) and three weekly newspapers published for the military.
The CSBJ's page count has declined over the past year, from a range of 36 to 48 pages down to last week's edition of 28 pages. In July, seven-year publisher Lon Matejczyk was fired unexpectedly. — PZ
New DD health center opens
Several community players have banded together to open the Developmental Disabilities Health Center at 2502 E. Pikes Peak Ave. The center was created to help adults with disabilities such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, fetal-alcohol syndrome and other cognitive or intellectual disabilities. The center will serve as a primary health facility.
"Our most vulnerable citizens have historically had difficulty finding quality health care," says David Ervin, executive director of the Resource Exchange, one of the center's partner agencies. "This is an exciting collaboration of major health care organizations in the region coming together to offer customized health care delivery to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities."
The center is currently accepting only Medicaid-eligible patients. Other partners include Peak Vista Community Health Centers, HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Colorado Springs and AspenPointe. — JAS
Weinstein targets Gazette
The Gazette got a wake-up call this week, and the threat of a lawsuit, when the lawyer for military religion watchdog Mikey Weinstein issued a warning over Wayne Laugesen's criticism of Weinstein in a Jan. 23 editorial.
At issue is Weinstein's push to stop retired Marine 1st Lt. Clebe McClary from speaking at a National Prayer Luncheon at the Air Force Academy on Feb. 10. McClary has said he serves "the Lord's Army," and that the USMC for him means U.S. Marines for Christ.
Weinstein filed a federal lawsuit to block McClary's participation, alleging it violates the Constitution's establishment of religion clause. Judge Christine M. Arguello was to make a ruling Wednesday.
Laugesen's editorial scolded Weinstein for attempting to infringe on free-speech rights, and said Weinstein opposed McClary's appearance "because he is Christian."
"That is false, and I have no doubt Mr. Laugesen and the Gazette know it full well," Dallas attorney Randal Mathis writes to publisher Steve Pope, adding that "publishing the statement is obviously calculated to offend, scare, and potentially mislead to the point of inciting unstable people." Mathis makes it clear his letter is a precursor to a lawsuit. Pope declined a request for comment. — PZ
Manitou eyes Tajine Alami
The city of Manitou Springs is using $12,300 from its defunct Economic Development Council for a feasibility and engineering study focusing on Tajine Alami, a large Moroccan restaurant east of Manitou's Memorial Park. The city has long been interested in the property, with 200 parking spaces, but has been unsure about what a good price might be, and how much it might cost to bring the property up to code.
If the town bought the property, it would likely use the lot for public parking, move the Manitou Chamber of Commerce into the building, and lease the rest of the building for shops, or maybe a brewery. The current city-owned property that the chamber occupies, at 354 Manitou Ave., could be sold, with the money put toward the purchase of the Tajine Alami building.
"I don't see any fatal flaws to pursuing this project," Mayor Marc Snyder says, "but we need to know what we're talking about in terms of money and feasibility." — JAS
Falcon teachers concerned
Overshadowed by the uncertain future of busing in Falcon School District 49 has been the school board's push to make D-49 a state-recognized "innovation school zone." The board voted unanimously to begin the transition, leading to buyouts of four top administrators, including Superintendent Bradley Schoeppey.
Concerned D-49 teachers have been distributing information about innovation zones, and one teacher's letter has caused alarm. It points to the Colorado Department of Education's 2010 annual report on innovation districts, focusing on Denver Public Schools, the state's only district designated for innovation.
The report says Denver's Manual High School was granted waivers from state law and policy, allowing elimination of tenure and seniority in favor of merit-based employment. Also alarming teachers is the possibility that D-49 could extend the school calendar, eliminate the pay scale and decrease salaries, relying more heavily on non-certified teaching staff. D-49's board meets at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday. — CH
Charter-change issues OK'd
City Council voted Tuesday to put two questions on the April ballot altering the city charter. One will ask voters to change Council from four district and five at-large seats to six district and three at-large seats. The second would allow the new mayor to attend Council's executive sessions.
Both were proposed by Mayor Lionel Rivera to tweak the strong-mayor system approved by voters in November. — JAS
Sheriff shuffles staff
Personnel in the El Paso County Sheriff's Office are shuttling around in the wake of retirements.
William Mistretta, a commander in the jail and the longest currently serving sheriff's employee, will complete 37 years on Feb. 28, then retire March 1. No word on his replacement.
Meanwhile, Cmdr. Ken Moore, with 22 years of service, retired Jan. 31 from his slot in the patrol division. He's being replaced by Cmdr. Rob King, who was working in the jail. — PZ
Wadhams drops out of race
In a surprise move, state GOP chair Dick Wadhams ended his bid for another term Tuesday. Wadhams exit leaves state Sen. Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch as the front-runner.
Wadhams has told media he was frustrated by criticism of his handling of the party, and by "nuts who have no grasp of what the state party's role is." Wadhams went on to say that Colorado Republicans increasingly push for extremely conservative candidates. But extreme candidates can't pick up independent voters, and thus lose statewide elections, he said.
Wadhams was strongly criticized for the November election, which turned into a nightmare for Republicans, who lost the U.S. Senate race and the gubernatorial contest despite a nationwide Republican surge. Wadhams has not announced what his next career move will be. — JAS
Compiled by Chet Hardin, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.