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Noted: Claims filed in Waldo fire 

Few claims from Waldo fire

Relatives of the elderly couple killed when the Waldo Canyon Fire burned their Mountain Shadows home didn't file a notice of claim before the Dec. 26 deadline, which means it's unlikely Colorado Springs will be sued in the deaths of William and Barbara Everett.

The couple died in the chaotic time following Mayor Steve Bach's evacuation order for their subdivision June 26, given with fire already racing into the city.

Six people filed claims for spoiled food and other losses due to power and gas being shut off during the fire. The only other claim came from local activist Eric Verlo, who's demanding $200,000 for false imprisonment, wrongful detention and invasion of privacy stemming from Springs police officers' presumably investigating whether he might have been the arsonist.

According to Verlo's lawyer, Lloyd Kordick, Verlo was biking in Red Rock Canyon Open Space on June 23, hours after the fire was reported. Police approached, demanding to know if a car nearby was his. It wasn't. Officers then detained him in the back of a squad car for 2½ hours, took his bicycle, photographed pages from his notebooks, and took a bottle of lemonade to "test it as a possible combustible substance," Verlo's claim says.

Verlo is a frequent critic of city government.

"They just rousted him because apparently they recognized him and knew who he was," says Kordick, who adds he's unsure if Verlo will sue. — Pam Zubeck

D-11 looks at closures

The Colorado Springs School District 11 Board of Education will consider closing Wasson High School and two elementary schools, as well as other changes, at its Jan. 23 meeting. It will vote Feb. 6.

The recommendations being considered from D-11's recent School Optimization Utilization Plan are:

• closing Wasson;

• closing Bates and Lincoln elementary schools, and moving students to Jackson, Edison, Audubon and Fremont elementary schools;

• opening an "Early College, Career, and Alternative Education Center" at Wasson, and moving other programs to the building;

• and redrawing boundaries for Monroe Elementary.

The district has already hosted public meetings on potential moves. A final meeting will run from 6 to 8 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 16, at Wasson, 2115 Afton Way. — J. Adrian Stanley

Stormwater flows on

During a recent meeting with a citizen committee working with the Regional Stormwater Task Force, volunteers say Mayor Steve Bach acted rudely, told them he was in charge of the task force, and dismissed their work, saying he'd hire an engineering firm to re-do it.

Tones were more muted at a Jan. 9 meeting, where the run-in was addressed by Chief of Staff Laura Neumann.

"I will tell you that the perception of anyone who was quoted at this meeting is probably true," she said. "The meeting did not go well."

Neumann said the mayor knows "he had a hand in that," but she chalked the situation up to a misunderstanding, and pledged more cooperation with the task force in the future. The city still plans to hire an engineering firm, with Neumann calling it "a business best practice."

As for who, actually, is in charge of the task force, it's unclear. El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen, City Councilor Brandy Williams and others involved say the structure has always been loose. Lathen says a more formal commission could be formed as the task force moves into its next phase — looking for funding. — J. Adrian Stanley

Local dancers off to D.C.

Connie Benavidez clearly didn't expect her nonprofit dance troupe to be chosen to perform in Washington, D.C.'s nationally televised Inaugural Parade on Jan. 21.

"I don't know who put our name in or how they got the information, but we were, like, shocked," says Benavidez.

For the last few weeks, the 74-year-old has been preparing lodging, transportation and interviews with Telemundo and CNN for Ballet Folklorico de la Raza, which she founded in 1994. Twelve of her students will go, along with four chaperones. That includes four generations of Benavidez's own family, and dancers as young as 6.

The group, which specializes in Mexican folk dancing, needs to raise $15,000 to offset costs of the trip. Donations can be mailed to Ballet Folklorico de la Raza, C/O Connie Benavidez, 5540 Lantana Circle, Colorado Springs, CO, 80915, or you can call 573-4826 for information. — Edie Adelstein

Family feud in county GOP

A new controversy is brewing in the local Republican Party.

This one started when new state Sen. Owen Hill offered his endorsement in the upcoming race for the El Paso County GOP chairman. In that endorsement, which went to the current vice-chair Dave Williams, Hill wrote in part: "I need your help back here at home to rebuild our County Party that has been discredited by ineffective, out-of-touch, and even corrupt leadership."

The current chairman, Eli Bremer, was none too pleased, and wrote as much in an e-mail to members of the party's central committee. This response, in which Bremer accused Hill of having "chosen a path of deception," was not well-received by Sen. Kent Lambert, who brought his concerns to state GOP party chairman Ryan Call. Call declined to comment on how he would deal with the feud. — Chet Hardin

Fracking on film

Is Fracking Ground Zero Tour Report a portrait of our future?

The documentary, made by local filmmaker Dave Gardner, chronicles a mid-December visit by a group of Springs residents to Rifle, to see for themselves the ramifications of fracking.

"We rented a passenger van and took a crew out there," says Laurel Biederman, the trip's organizer. "We were able to get some really interesting real-life accounts of what is happening."

The roughly 45-minute documentary features interviews with residents struggling with what they say are the negative impacts of the pollution caused by fracking.

The film will be shown from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 17, at First Congregational Church of Colorado Springs, 20 E. St. Vrain St. It is free and open to the public. — Chet Hardin

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