Public Eye 

The Ranchland News leveled some pretty heavy charges against three members of the El Paso County Board of Commissioners last week.

Too bad they're not true.

Under the headline 'El Paso County Commissioners neglect DHS,' Ranchland News reporter Alicia Shaffer reported on Jan. 20 that commissioners Ed Jones, Jeri Howells and Chuck Brown were the targets of an investigation for their failure to improve the county's Department of Human Services.

Though Shaffer never bothered to describe exactly who would be inspecting the three elected officials, she reported that 'Jones, Brown and Howells will be investigated by an investigator not associated with the county.' She also reported that the three stood accused of serious charges, including perjury and conspiring to muzzle complaints over the way DHS is operated.

In a related front-page news story, Shaffer also claimed that Brown doesn't listen to the people when it comes to the issue of zoning.

Now, for some background. The Simla-based Ranchland News, which has been around since 1901, originates in the district represented by Betty Beedy. Beedy, along with a group of vocal anti-government followers, has held a grudge against Brown, as well as Howells and Jones, since he and the other two commissioners voted last year to zone eastern El Paso County.

The same people are angry about DHS, accusing the agency of putting children in foster care for no good reason. Beedy is also leading this crusade and has been joined by Suzanne Shell, an area resident who has been accused of practicing law without a license.

When contacted last week, Ranchland News editor Tim Taylor admitted that, to his knowledge, no formal investigation of the three commissioners was being considered by a legitimate agency. And he conceded that Shaffer's stories were 'irresponsible.' In fact, Shaffer apparetnly did not even attempt to reach those under 'investigation' to get comments.

'We went to print before we knew that information, and we still don't know the information,' Taylor said.

But the editor blamed the sloppiness on time restrictions, which he said have prevented him from fully training Shaffer on how to get 'both' sides of the story.

'The publisher doesn't realize that she (Alicia Shaffer) needs training,' Taylor said. 'I'm supposed to train her and do all of my other duties too, and there's not enough time in the week to do everything.'

Apparently not.

Last year, City Manager Jim Mullen presided over the software implementation boondoggle that cost the city more than $2.5 million. Still, his bosses on the City Council recently gave him a 3 percent salary increase and a $7,000 pay-for-performance bonus. This year, Mullen, who has made his mark in recent months by overseeing efforts to control and muzzle the press, will make nearly $144,000.

City Attorney Pat Kelly got a hefty $8,000 pay-for-performance bonus for last year. Her current salary is about $134,000.

The City Council's other two appointees, City Auditor Michael Hall and City Clerk Kathryn Young, aren't doing too badly either. This year, Hall's salary is $85,000. Young currently makes almost $79,000.

Doesn't sound too bad, right? That is, until you hear about Bob Peters, the executive director of city-owned Memorial Hospital. Peters just got a $13,000-plus pay raise -- meaning he will earn almost $308,000 this year.

Before the City Council's formal meetings, they always invite a religious leader to say a little interdenominational prayer -- that is, one that doesn't invoke the name of Allah or Jesus or Buddha.

But this week's offering turned City Hall into a regular Christian revival.

Pastor Kinne Callaway, a police chaplain and the minister at Chapel Hills Baptist Church, opened his remarks by 'thanking Jesus for this day.' He went on to make enthusiastic and repeated references to the Son of God. Hallelujah!

The city currently has no formal policy guiding religious leaders on what is appropriate, and not so appropriate, in a government setting.

-- degette@csindy.com


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