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Syrian refugees, land swap, fire chief's severance check, and more 

click to enlarge Andy Pico might re-do resolution. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Andy Pico might re-do resolution.

Refugee issue unresolved

City Councilor Andy Pico got an earful of dissent on his proposed resolution to declare "opposition to the relocation of refugees ... to the city of Colorado Springs." Councilors said the measure, which circulated over the weekend, drew hundreds of emails from residents.

"We have a responsibility to our citizens to ensure their safety," Pico said, invoking the threat of terrorists. "We need to be sure the people coming here have been screened." He added that relocating refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries represents an unfunded mandate for local governments that provide education, housing and other support costs.

Councilor Tom Strand asked what Pico meant by the requirement that refugees be "certified." "In my 11 months on City Council," Strand said. "I haven't had a more visceral reaction. Clearly we've hit a nerve in our community that's extremely sensitive to this."

He also noted his own grandparents arrived from Europe at Ellis Island, where they might have seen the words on the Statue of Liberty that say, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

Earlier, Councilor Jill Gaebler quoted the poem to underscore her opposition and later noted 67 percent of refugees are women, and children younger than 12.

After Pico said his intent was not to ban refugees from the Springs, Gaebler said, "Whether it's true or not that we're banning anybody, it gives that impression."

Councilors Larry Bagley and Don Knight expressed support for the resolution, with Knight saying it is "much needed." Council President Merv Bennett said he would leave it to Pico to redraft the proposal "if you feel [it] necessary." — PZ

TOSC backs swap

The influential Trails and Open Space Coalition announced last week its board of directors supports the city's proposed land swap with The Broadmoor, which would place 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space in the resort's hands to be used in part for a horse stable.

TOSC noted in a statement it wants a robust public process and to see Strawberry Fields placed in a conservation easement. If those conditions are satisfied, the city's receipt of 371 acres of Barr Trail, the Manitou Incline and other acreage west of Strawberry Fields, as well as trail connections, is "in the best interest of the community," the group said.

Meantime, former Vice Mayor Richard Skorman's effort to have the city's Trails, Open Space and Parks Working Committee review each parcel in the trade met with resistance from Broadmoor president/CEO Jack Damioli, who told the committee the resort isn't a willing seller. Skorman alleged The Broadmoor is essentially "holding us hostage" by being unwilling to sell Broadmoor-owned tracts to the city and allow the city to keep Strawberry Fields.

The next public meeting is 6 p.m. Monday at Broadmoor Community Church. — PZ

Riley's cushy departure

Colorado Springs Fire Chief Chris Riley retired last week after two-plus years on the job, taking $80,000 in severance pay with him under a deal struck with former Mayor Steve Bach for a half-year's pay upon his departure.

Mayor John Suthers told reporters he wasn't surprised by Riley's retirement, adding, "I'm not going to discuss what I would consider personnel issues. The fact of the matter is he made the choice to retire." Suthers said he felt obligated to honor the severance deal. Formerly of Pueblo, Riley worked 35 years in fire service.

Deputy Chief Ted Collas, who has worked for CSFD since 1985, will serve as interim fire chief until a permanent replacement is named. — PZ

Colorado Springs rates No. 5

Colorado Springs may have its problems, from potholes to panhandlers, but it's still the fifth-best place to live in the country, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Denver was No. 1 on the 2016 "Best Places to Live" list. But the Springs rated higher than many other cities often cited for quality of life, including Portland, Seattle, Boise, San Francisco and San Jose.

Mayor John Suthers hosted a March 2 press conference to celebrate the good news, along with other favorable rankings for the city. The mayor said Colorado Springs' strong finish was a sign that the city is being recognized for its "positive trajectory," and he noted that Colorado Springs was the only city to score a perfect 10 on the list's "desirability" index — how much people want to live here.

Dirk Draper, president and CEO of the Regional Business Alliance, highlighted another recent honor. The Springs is one of 10 cities named a "Great American Defense Community" by the Association of Defense Communities. This is the first year the award has been given. It honors cities for supporting service members and military families. — JAS

High-profile bills resurface

Some of the most talked-about bills to pass out of the Colorado House and move to the Senate look familiar. House Bill 1185 would allow transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificates. House Bill 1005 would allow people to collect rainwater. House Bill 1231 would limit red-light cameras — the ones that snap a picture of you running a light and result in a traffic ticket — statewide.

HB 1185 is straightforward, allowing trans people to change the gender on their birth certificates without court procedures or surgical gender reassignment. That can cut down on discrimination. Five Republicans helped Democrats pass the bill out of the Democrat-controlled House this session. Last year, a similar bill was killed in the Republican-controlled Senate.

HB 1005 would allow people to collect up to two 55-gallon barrels of rainwater for use on gardens or lawns. Colorado is the only state that does not allow rainwater collection, and a recent Colorado State University study found the impact of rainwater collection would be too small to measure. The bill passed the House with bipartisan support. But the Senate killed a similar bill last year, citing water rights.

HB 1231, with bipartisan support, would get rid of most red-light cameras. Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed a similar bill last year. In an effort to satisfy the governor, HB 1231 allows red-light cameras in school zones, marked construction or repair zones, and on arterial roads. — JAS

Collins answers findings

City Council will vote at a meeting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday on whether to sanction Councilor Helen Collins, whom a hearing officer found in violation of city ethics rules.

The finding stemmed from a land transaction in which Collins agreed to accept a deed for a condominium owned by Douglas Bruce and then sell the property to a third-party buyer in December 2014, giving the proceeds to Bruce.

The City Attorney's Office alleged the deal denied the city a $7,500 court judgment against Bruce, though no lien had been placed on the property in question prior to the transfer to the third-party buyer. Despite that, hearing officer Boyd Boland found Collins culpable.

Collins lashed out in a response, saying Council is guilty of conflict of interest, hearing a case filed by its own attorney and that Boland wasn't officially hired by Council, among other things. Boland recommended censure, which has no practical effect on Collins' service. — PZ

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