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Noted: Still no help for inactive voters 

No relief for inactive voters

We've written about this, but it bears repeating: If you didn't vote last November and haven't updated your registration, you are an inactive voter. And you won't get a city election ballot in your mailbox.

Despite an outcry and a joint editorial by the Independent and Gazette arguing that ballots should go to all registered voters, Councilors are convinced nothing can be done this late. Vice Mayor Larry Small says it would require a change to city code that would take a month to pass.

Small did push through a formal resolution Tuesday urging registered voters to vote and asking the community to spread the word. Monday, Councilor Tom Gallagher called the problem "unacceptable" and Sean Paige agreed, saying, "I wish this situation had been brought to our attention before."

If you're an inactive, registered voter, you must update your registration to vote. Ballots will be available at the city clerk's office starting March 17, but voters must update their status (with proof of registration) in person to get a ballot. If you've had a change of name or address since last voting, first update your information at an El Paso County election office (locations on the county website). After updating, go to the city clerk's office, at 30 S. Nevada Ave., to get your ballot. — JAS

Don't look for your ballot yet

In case you aren't confused enough about this election, there's one more monkey wrench to throw into the big pile. While the city election calendar and earlier news releases have indicated mail ballots would start going out to active voters on March 11, that's not actually the case.

However, City Clerk Kathryn Young will drop all ballots in the mail on March 16.

The City Clerk has a "window to mail the ballots," city spokesperson Sue Skiffington-Blumberg says. She adds that, for municipal elections, the city clerk always arranges a single date with the U.S. Postal Service, allowing the agency to plan for the extra dump of mail. — JAS

AFA under two microscopes

The Air Force Academy will receive critical looks by two very different entities in coming months.

As requested by the assistant secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Ret. Gen. Patrick Gamble will visit the academy to assess the religious climate.

"His visit is not an investigation or compliance inspection, but an independent, subjective look at the overall climate at USAFA relating to free exercise of religion," the Air Force says in a statement. "A detailed report is not expected."

The statement says the assessment from Gamble, now president of the University of Alaska, is expected "around mid-April."

A second inquiry, by the Air Force Inspector General's Office, involves alleged accreditation violations, religious discrimination and cronyism in hiring civilian faculty.

"I am very concerned that the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) may have committed persistent, gross violations of allowing inadequate academic credentials of many military instructors," R. David Mullin, associate professor of economics, writes in his complaint to the Higher Learning Commission, Chicago, which accredits the academy. "Also there have been violations of First Amendment rights and academic freedom by Brigadier General Dana Born, Dean of Faculty, and Richard Fullerton, Vice Dean of Faculty. These two officers have also stifled diversification of the faculty."

Mullin filed suit against the Academy last month, alleging violations of the First Amendment's establishment of religions clause in connection with the appearance of Marine 1st Lt. Clebe McClary, a Christian motivational speaker, for National Prayer Day. A federal court allowed McClary to speak. Mullin also alleges that more than half of cadets who took Calculus 1 and 2 in their first semester from 1996 through 2006 were taught by professors with unrelated master's degrees. — PZ

Philharmonic books Perlman

The Colorado Springs Philharmonic has unveiled an impressive, if incomplete, 2011-12 season lineup. Highlights include a special appearance by renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman, a "Night in Havana" performance with Cuban ensemble Tiempo Libre, and Masterworks presentations ranging from Verdi's Requiem to Beethoven's Symphony No. 6.

Since music director Lawrence Leighton Smith's successor hasn't been chosen, much of the Masterworks repertoire is uncertain. Perlman also hasn't chosen his repertoire, because his spring 2012 performance was only finalized last week.

"I was absolutely elated," says Philharmonic President and CEO Nathan Newbrough of Perlman's confirmation. "We had been waiting for a while, and there was a time when I wasn't sure if it was going to happen. It wasn't a question of whether he had the desire to come, but whether or not we were going to fit into his schedule."

Auditions for music director continue with Ward Stare conducting March 12-13, followed by Kynan Johns on April 9-10. All finalists are putting together two-season repertoire proposals. — BF

Civil-union bill survives

Gay rights in Colorado took a step forward this week when a bill proposed by state Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, permitting two unmarried adults of any gender to enter into a civil union, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 6-3 vote. The bill will eventually move to the Democrat-controlled Senate floor, then to the House.

While there is reason to believe the bill will die in the Republican-controlled House, it's worth noting the bill survived the Senate committee in a bipartisan effort. Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango voted for the bill, telling the Colorado Independent afterward, "I don't think we should be in the business of legislating religion and morality." — CH

MMJ ordinance put off

City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to delay consideration of a medical marijuana licensing ordinance until its next meeting March 22.

The delay was granted in response to questions raised by local attorney Charles Houghton, who said the city's planned use of a hearing officer to review license-related disputes would overlap, and potentially conflict, with duties carried out by a state hearing officer already employed by the Department of Revenue.

The ordinance includes language prohibiting those previously convicted of a felony, or of three misdemeanors in a five-year period, from obtaining a license. It also lists estimated center license fees as $4,800 initially and $3,000 annually thereafter. — BC

Memorial reports good year

City-owned Memorial Health System ended 2010 with 89 percent more net income than budgeted, due to a robust return on stock investments. The system posted $32.1 million in net income, though a large portion only exists on paper. (It's not cash in the bank.)

Revenues fell by 6.6 percent compared to budget, due largely to admissions being 8 percent below forecasts, with similar drops in average daily patient census and outpatient visits. However, emergency visits climbed by 4.2 percent to 132,175.

Hospital officials say the admissions decline supports the recommendation that Memorial become an independent nonprofit, which may go to voters in November.

"When physicians and patients perceive Memorial as being in a state of flux, we believe this influences who comes here for elective procedures and care," Memorial spokesman Brian Newsome says.

But Councilor Sean Paige has found more reason to argue against that recommendation. A spreadsheet that Memorial gave to Council last week, in response to questions about Memorial and Beth-El College of Nursing (formerly part of Memorial), notes that the health system has accepted $28.5 million of taxpayer money over the past 50-plus years.

That, Paige says, "appears to destroy the myth that Memorial has been completely self-supporting, which in turn does damage to the argument that the citizens aren't owed a significant return on investment if the health system changes hands." — PZ

City begins transformation

When voters passed the strong-mayor form of city government last November, they set into motion widespread changes, many lacking the glamour of the hotly contested campaign to be the next city leader. With a mayor and no city manager, the city code, Council rules and procedures, personnel manuals and just about every official city booklet needs to be updated. That process is underway.

Monday, Council got its first taste of 80-plus instances in city code where "city manager" must be replaced with "mayor." But other changes are more complex. Should Council approve the mayor's chief of staff? (Council doesn't think so.) If the mayor's on a cruise, can the chief of staff veto an ordinance? (Council says that power should be reserved for the mayor, but with ways for the mayor to issue a veto when out of town.)

Among changes to Council rules and procedures was whether the second-in-charge should be called "vice president of Council" or "president pro tem." (The pro tems prevailed.) It all shows that changing forms of government isn't as simple as it sounds. — JAS

'Innovation conventions' in D-49

Falcon School District 49 is working on its Innovation proposal, and if parents want help craft the plan that will guide the district's future, they're going to have a chance. (Or, if they still want to protest the change, they can probably do some of that, too.)

Parents will be able to talk about what they would like to see done differently at schools, if any rules or regulations hinder their school from adopting Innovation, how it would affect their school's operations, and so on, according to a press release. "Innovation conventions" will take place on March 12, 15 and 16. Check d49.org for more details. — CH

Compiled by Bryce Crawford, Bill Forman, Chet Hardin, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.

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