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Pion Canyon plan takes hits 

GAO report criticizes Army on multiple fronts

It's been a bad week for the Army's expansion plans at Pion Canyon. The Government Accountability Office released a report saying the Army has not fully explained its need to expand the 235,000-acre training ground in southeastern Colorado, or explained a revised plan to reduce the land it needs from more than 400,000 acres to only 100,000.

Newly sworn-in U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, who had raised questions about the expansion plans in the House of Representatives, criticized the Army for not answering all the questions asked by the GAO.

"The purpose of the GAO review was to get clarity from the Army on why it needs to expand this particular site, and why the existing 235,000 acres it now uses is not adequate," Udall said in a statement after the review's release. Udall says the public deserves a full explanation of why the land is needed, and adds that he plans to "hold the Army accountable" as a new member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The GAO also released a second report critical of the Army for using an outdated strategic plan in determining its needs for added training land, and for doing a poor job communicating its needs to the public. AL

Council not hot on pay raise

At the request of Independent publisher John Weiss, City Council has agreed to discuss asking voters in April for a pay increase for a future generation of elected leaders. But not everyone's happy about it.

Weiss introduced the idea to pay City Council members $43,500 (the mayor would get closer to $60,000), saying the current salaries less than $125 a week prevent many residents from seeking office.

"We need to raise Council compensation so that we can attract the most talented citizens to serve our city," Weiss said.

The idea got a lukewarm review, despite being placed on the Council's Jan. 27 agenda. Councilor Darryl Glenn called it an "obnoxious proposal" to put on the April ballot, given the state of the economy. Vice Mayor Larry Small said he was personally insulted; Weiss, he said, was suggesting current councilors were not the best candidates and that their contributions were "worthless." Others, including Councilors Jan Martin and Scott Hente, appeared more open to the proposal.

Weiss says results from a poll this week would influence any decision on whether to pursue a ballot measure. JAS

You win some, you Newsome

On his last day in office, District Attorney John Newsome finally faced the music for misusing taxpayer money in October 2007 when he attended a Southern Cal-Notre Dame college football game in South Bend, Ind., during a business trip to Chicago.

After a months-long investigation by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, New-some was issued a summons Tuesday for second-degree official misconduct. That's a petty offense, on par with a traffic violation. According to a press release from his attorney, Newsome will plead "no contest" and pay a $100 fine.

Newsome's side trip was one of two scandals that led to his downfall as chief prosecutor for El Paso and Teller counties. KOAA-TV aired a hidden-camera investigation in May showing Newsome drinking the equivalent of 11-plus beers over five hours before driving away in a county-owned vehicle.

Dan May, the office's second in command before he lost the 2004 primary, quickly entered the 2008 race and defeated New-some last August in the GOP primary. May was sworn in Tuesday. AL

Bensberg takes county chair

After two years of leadership from Dennis Hisey, Jim Bensberg is the new chair of El Paso County's board of commissioners.

The chair, designated each year by fellow commissioners, is responsible for running the board's twice-weekly meetings. Bensberg, first elected in 2002, was re-elected to his final term in 2006. He represents the commission's fifth district, covering much of central and northern Colorado Springs. AL

Sales tax numbers dismal

The numbers are here, and they're ugly. The city was down more than $8.6 million in 2008 net revenue from sales and use tax through Nov. 30, as compared to the first 11 months of 2007. Collections from November were particularly disheartening, with sales and use tax collections down 14.1 percent from those of November 2007.

The city had predicted tax collections would be mostly flat from 2007 to 2008, and the shortfall has thrown the budget office into a tailspin. In response, City Manager Penny Culbreth-Graft plans to present options later this month for cutting up to an additional $16.8 million from the '09 budget. JAS

Tribute planned for Riggs

Friends and peers of Gerry Riggs, longtime fixture of the local arts scene, will have the chance to share in a memorial tribute to him at 5 p.m., Friday, Jan. 23 at the Gallery of Contemporary Art on the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs campus. The gallery is located in the UCCS science building.

Riggs, who died Jan. 3 at his home in Pagosa Springs, directed the UCCS gallery from 1991 until retiring in 2006.

The program will include a reception, a video of Riggs' works, comments from UCCS administrators and some of Riggs' friends in the arts, and an open microphone for anyone else wanting to participate. Donations may be given to the Gerry Riggs Memorial Scholarship Fund, to benefit students in the school's gallery management program. Parking will be free for the event. RR

Compiled by Anthony Lane, Ralph Routon and J. Adrian Stanley.

  • Also: Council pay raise, Newsome's deal, sales tax numbers, Riggs tribute and more.

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