The timing was just a little too, shall we say, coincidental. A few weeks ago you might recall reading in this space how, during a public meeting, El Paso County Commissioner Douglas Bruce engaged in a six-minute-long diatribe detailing the immorality and depravity of the Colorado Springs Independent. In an impassioned plea, Bruce beseeched his four elected colleagues to join him in the battle against darkness and ban the newspaper from its longtime distribution site in the lobby of the county's administrative building at 27 E. Vermijo. Particularly blasphemous to Bruce was the fact that the newspaper was distributed on a shelf immediately underneath the smiling mugs of the county's elected officials, Bruce's included. But the bombastic Bruce got no buyers; the other commissioners fell silent, and that was that. Evil, er, the Independent, won the round.
A week later, county office manager Nancy Greene left a voice mail message on Independent distribution manager Chris Gorman's machine. County muckety-mucks, it seemed, had conveniently decided to remodel their lobby. And so we were no longer going to be allowed to distribute inside the public building. It appeared that we were to be relegated, like second-class citizens, outside in a box on the corner.
Initially we marveled at the end-run. Unable to secure a majority vote to formally kick us out, the county had maneuvered a clever bureaucratic flick of the wrist to toss us to the sidewalk. And the hypocrisy was irresistible. The small government, anti-tax thought police were shelling out perfectly good taxpayer money for a fancy remodeling project just so they wouldn't have to look at a newspaper that, in truth, every one of them reads religiously every week.
Everyone knows the hard-and-fast rule for journalists is to never let the facts get in the way of a good story. But in this case, our conspiracy theories, unfortunately, went nowhere. In fact, it turns out that the modest remodeling project is actually designed to ... drum roll please ... benefit the public.
This week, Terry Harris, who runs the show over at county HQ, explained the situation. "We've got so many people coming in; the first floor has become the busiest doggone place," he said. So he made the decision to build a reception booth in the lobby. Jan Barkley, the administrative assistant hidden away on the third floor, will woman the desk and direct foot traffic to where it needs to go, as well as take incoming calls and faxes and direct them to the appropriate office. Total estimated cost is $3,100, using construction materials that the county already has lying around.
"It had nothing to do with the paper," Harris insisted. "I'm not kicking anybody out." In fact, the county administrator says he really, really likes the Independent. "It's the only funny paper in town -- plus, you make a point. And the humor has really increased over the last year. [Rich] Tosches is funny, funnier than he was when he worked for the Gazette, and of course [you get] really good fodder over here [in county government] and frankly at the city too."
The best part for the Independent is that the design specs, obtained via an open records request, include a designated high-profile spot for newspapers in front of the new visitor's booth. When the remodel job is done in a week or so, we fully expect to be welcomed back with open arms.
The remaining quandary for Harris is coming up with an instantly recognizable general information phone number for the county. The City of Colorado Springs' hotline, for example, is 385-CITY. Harris likes 520-PASO, but the sheriff has already taken that one, and flipping him a few Franklins for that number is apparently out of the question. "Well, I guess I could bribe him, but then he'd arrest me."
So how about 520-AMEN? "I've got to think about that one," Harris said.