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Panhandling ban dies, city enacts new CORA fee, more 

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Woodland Park on Waldo

In its after-action study, Woodland Park reports an overall effective response to the Waldo Canyon Fire, which triggered a partial evacuation in June as the fire burned 18,247 acres in and around the Pike National Forest.

The study was released last week. On the up side, cooperation with Teller County, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District and other agencies went well, as did evacuation of Woodland Park's east side, and use of technology for communications, including smartphones, reverse 911, electronic variable message signs and social media.

But mapping for pre-evacuation and evacuation could have gone better, and more resources should be assigned at City Hall to handle phone calls, the report says.

Some recommended changes, such as allowing dispatchers to update electronic message signs, have already been implemented. Others need more time, such as encouraging property owners to mitigate for fire danger. Another recommendation calls for a volunteer coordinator to be used early in such an emergency.

To read the report, go to csindy.com or city-woodlandpark.org/home. A public meeting to discuss its findings is set for 6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 21, at City Hall, 220 W. South Ave. — PZ

Council pay idea likely iced

Backers of a ballot measure that would increase City Council pay from $6,250 per year to $48,000 per year were expected to ask Council to table the measure Tuesday afternoon, after the Indy's press deadline.

Tony Gioia, who led a group of young professionals in proposing the measure after Mayor Steve Bach encouraged them to become more involved in city government, says the group had to consider Bach's and several Councilors' opposition.

"We are asking Council to table this," Gioia says. "They have no requirement to do so."

Gioia's group wants to see a similar ballot question proposed between now and 2014 so it could become effective in 2015. A majority of Council voted last month on first reading to place the measure on the April 2 ballot.

Bach has said he wants such changes to be dealt with in a broader rewrite of the city charter, should one be undertaken in the future. — PZ

ALEC's bill goes nowhere

Colorado Springs Republicans failed to bring "academic freedom" to Colorado classrooms this week, when a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Owen Hill and Reps. Janak Joshi and Dan Nordberg was shot down in a House committee.

The bill would have directed "teachers to create an environment that encourages students to intelligently and respectfully explore scientific questions and learn about scientific evidence related to biological and chemical evolution, global warming, and human cloning."

As DeSmogBlog.com notes, this is similar to legislation drafted back in 2000 by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national conservative think tank known for the preparation and dissemination of corporate-friendly bills. It is also similar to legislation recently proposed in Oklahoma and Arizona. — CH

Bach: Panhandling ban dead

In an interview with FOX 21 News, Mayor Steve Bach confirmed that Colorado Springs City Council will not further pursue a downtown panhandling ban.

The original ban was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, and Federal District Court Judge Marcia Krieger agreed to grant an injunction, preventing the ban from going into effect pending the outcome of the case. In her decision, the judge said the law wasn't likely to survive a trial.

"Our City Council has decided not to fight that and directed me and our police chief to increase law enforcement downtown," the mayor said to the TV station. "The challenge with that is we don't have enough police officers."

Bach said he was hopeful that surveillance cameras that have been installed downtown will curb crime. The city also still has an aggressive panhandling ban. — JAS

City charging for public info

The city is now charging citizens and journalists who request public information under the Colorado Open Records Act.

There will be no charge for requests that take fewer than two hours to complete and are less than 25 pages in length. Beyond that threshold, the city will charge $20 an hour for staff time, and 25 cents per page.

The city has struggled with transparency issues since Mayor Steve Bach came to office. At times, it has not responded to CORA requests in the time and manner the law dictates. It recently changed its system for accepting CORAs in order to better handle requests.

The city claims its transparency problems are related to a high volume of requests, which has used up staff time and city resources.

"In 2012, the City incurred over $200,000 in employee time and expense in responding to CORA requests," a city press release states. "The new CORA fees will not cover the entire amount of the City costs in responding to CORA, but it will certainly help defray the City expenses. The new CORA fees are similar, if not less, than the CORA fees currently charged by similar cities and government entities in Colorado, including Denver, Fort Collins, Aurora, the Governor's Office, Pueblo and others." — JAS

GOP's new leadership

El Paso County Republicans gathered this past Saturday to elect party officers.

Replacing Eli Bremer as chairman will be Jeff Hays. Hays, who worked on last year's campaign of Rep. Amy Stephens, beat the current vice-chairman Dave Williams in the contest.

Taking the position of vice-chair will be Sandra Bankes, and Mary Bradfield was elected secretary.

In the election of bonus members who sit on the party's Executive Committee, and also represent the county to the state party, there are some familiar names, including former party chairwoman Kay Rendleman, and activists Lana Fore-Warkocz and Amy Dowd Mitchell. — CH

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