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Noted: TABOR facing trouble? 

Lawsuit challenges Taxpayers Bill of Rights

Several dozen former and current elected officials have filed suit to have the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, a 1992 amendment to the state constitution, declared unconstitutional, on the grounds that it deprives the state of a republican government (ruled by elected representatives) in favor of a direct democracy. TABOR only allows voter-approved tax increases, and has other provisions that stifle state budgets.

Among the plaintiffs are former and current Colorado Springs legislators John Morse, Michael Merrifield and Marcy Morrison, former state Sen. Norma Anderson, R-Lakewood, and State Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver.

If the case is decided in favor of the plaintiffs, it is expected to nullify other revenue- and expenditure-controlling laws such as Amendment 23, which mandates increased spending on K-through-12 education, and the Gallagher Amendment, which controls the ratio of property taxes on commercial versus residential properties.

The case has generated a strong pushback from some pro-TABOR politicians and groups. Colorado Republican Chairman Ryan Call called the suit an "attempt to take away the right of the people to vote on tax increases"; Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp labeled it "snake oil." — JAS

Memorial redux

The idea of converting city-owned Memorial Health System into a nonprofit got new life this week, when City Council agreed to put together a new task force to pick up where a previous mayor's group left off, according to Memorial's blog, thefutureofhealthcare.com.

Composed of Council members and Memorial trustees, the panel will be chaired by Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin and will determine such things as how much the health system would pay the city to break away, and whether it would continue to provide annual payments thereafter. The idea is to submit the question of ownership to voters in November.

A citizens commission spent about nine months last year sifting through various types of governance and ownership before recommending that Memorial become a nonprofit agency outside the city's control.

A major fly in the ointment is how Memorial will handle a $246 million liability for employee pensions. "New actuarial numbers challenging that figure have not come out, but [consultant] Larry Singer suggested the issue would be resolved in a way that would allow the idea to move forward," Memorial's blog reported. — PZ

City: AFP is A-OK

The city has offered a bizarre response to a complaint from Colorado Ethics Watch alleging that Americans for Prosperity has not filed proper campaign finance disclosures.

This spring, AFP ran around $100,000 worth of TV ads targeting mayoral candidate Richard Skorman. City Attorney Pat Kelly agreed the ads amounted to "electioneering." Under the state's Fair Campaign Practices Act, which was adopted by the city as local law, AFP is required to disclose to the city clerk where it got money for the ads. It hasn't.

However, in a letter to Ethics Watch, outgoing Mayor Lionel Rivera said AFP doesn't have to disclose its donors because City Clerk Kathryn Young has not provided a form for them to do so, as required by law. What's more, Young has no plans to provide that form.

The city attorney's view is that if Young fails to perform the duties of her job by not providing the form, then disclosures are no longer legally required. — JAS

Still here, still anti-queer

Focus on the Family president Jim Daly didn't mean to wave a rainbow flag of truce. His comments to World magazine, in which he said that the anti-gay-marriage crowd was losing traction with 20-somethings, were misunderstood, says Gary Schneeberger, vice president of public relations at Focus.

What Daly told the Christian magazine was this: "We're losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don't know if that's going to change with a little more age — demographers would say probably not. We've probably lost that. I don't want to be extremist here, but I think we need to start calculating where we are in the culture."

Left-wing bloggers jumped on the comment, and cried victory. They even hoped that this might signal the end of Focus' activism on the issue of gay marriage, but as Schneeberger tells us, no such luck.

"Jim clearly, in my estimation, doesn't say we're disengaging from efforts to protect marriage," says Schneeberger. "He merely acknowledges a reality of demographical, statistical data."

CitizenLink, Focus' political activism wing, is currently working in three states to support anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives, and fighting pro-gay marriage efforts in East Coast states. — CH

St. George's to live in Syn?

The historic stone building at 217 E. Pikes Peak Ave., was built as an Episcopal church in 1901. Most recently, though, it housed the Syn nightclub — one of the rowdiest places downtown, which closed in March 2010 after the city revoked its liquor license for violations.

If you enjoyed the irony there, get a load of this: St. George's Anglican Church, home of the recently prosecuted Rev. Don Armstrong, is interested in bringing Syn back to God.

It was controversy over Armstrong's handling of church funds, as well as his conservative views, that led the congregation to break away from Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church a few years ago. After losing a battle over the church property, Armstrong's group, calling itself St. George's, relocated to 2760 Fieldstone Road, which is owned by a bank.

Parish member Bob Balink, El Paso County's treasurer, says a group that helps people with autism is interested in buying that site. And frankly, St. George's wants to get back downtown, adds Armstrong, who in District Court in February received two four-year probation terms (and an order to pay nearly $100,000 back to Grace) in exchange for a no contest plea to charges that he misused a Grace scholarship fund.

"I like it a lot because it's centrally located for our congregation," he says of the downtown building. "Because it was once a church, it looks and feels like a church." The windows are arched, the ceilings vaulted, and it's very roomy, he notes. He also says St. George's is interested in the parking lot north of the building.

"We're already in talks to see if these pieces fall together," Armstrong says.

The site's former identity isn't lost on the reverend, by the way: "We can turn Syn into a place of redemption. That will be kind of fun." — PZ

Small win for McKenzie

Former Air Force Capt. Grant McKenzie will get a new judge in his child support and visitation case after District Magistrate Evelyn Hernandez-Sullivan recused herself this week.

McKenzie, who's bipolar and was classified as a sex offender ("Flying solo," cover story, March 24), had accused Hernandez-Sullivan of being biased and sought her removal after she increased his child support instead of reducing it due to his inability to hold traditional jobs, and then jailed him in January for not paying. A district judge ordered him released in March, pending the motion to recuse.

A 1993 Air Force Academy grad, McKenzie served nearly 10 years in the military before being busted for having pornography, including images of children, on his Air Force computer. Mental health experts who evaluated McKenzie said he's not a pedophile but suffers from compulsive behavior, including pornography addiction, due to his bipolar disorder. Two psychiatrists said McKenzie should have been medically discharged years before his arrest due to the bipolar diagnosis and the drugs the Air Force prescribed for him.

Monday, McKenzie said he expected Hernandez-Sullivan to remain on the case and return him to jail to complete the four-month sentence for contempt. Tuesday, he was happy to learn he'll get a new judge and "start from scratch" on the question of child support for his three kids from his first marriage. — PZ

ICE numbers falling

For El Paso County, last year wasn't so great for making money from detaining illegal immigrants.

In 2009, the county reaped nearly $2.7 million from Immigration Customs Enforcement for holding immigration detainees, according to figures provided by the sheriff's office. But last year, the county got only $1.7 million from ICE, and this year the reimbursement figure could be even less, if the first quarter is an indication. The county received $523,848 from January through April.

Jail Bureau Chief Paula Presley says she has no idea why the numbers are declining, but the drop in cash doesn't pose a risk to the office's budget, because ICE money is used for one-time expenses, such as building the new detox facility. "We would not encumber funds that don't exist," she says.

Presley says the sheriff plans to build a new detox center at the Criminal Justice Center and to convert the existing detox facility built in 2009 into an area for minimum-security beds.

Speaking of which, the Sheriff's Office is among five recipients of the National Division of Criminal Justice Outstanding Program Award for Reintegration and Recovery and Detox. The award is given by the National Criminal Justice Association, a public policy group that advances best practices between federal and state governments. The award will be presented in August. — PZ

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

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