Manitou Springs activist Joe Fabeck has been battling criminal charges, a restraining order and a ban from City Hall after he cursed at City Councilwoman Nancy Barnes in the retail store where she works.
The episode is the latest in an often emotional struggle over a controversial plan to develop the Red Rock Canyon property that extends south of Garden of the Gods and is just adjacent to Manitou, a city of 5,500 west of Colorado Springs
Some development opponents, including Fabeck, have been critical of several Manitou Springs City Councilmembers for briefly considering a proposal to provide water to the developer of the property. In mid-July, Fabeck, who is the chairman of the Red Rock Canyon committee that is fighting the development, said he became angry when an acquaintance told him that Barnes had accused Fabeck of providing false information to a newspaper about the water proposal.
The councilwoman's accusation was incorrect, Fabeck said, and, upset, he went to Handiworks, a Manitou Springs store where Barnes is employed. There he confronted her, angrily shaking his finger in his face and stating, "keep your mouth shut until you learn to tell the f****** truth," he said.
"He came into my store and had his finger almost touching my nose, very wild looking and very, very hostile," Barnes said. "If any citizen wants to come and talk to me that's fine, call me and I will meet with you at City Hall. But you do not come in to the place where I am employed and stick your finger in my face.
"He committed a violent act and I am a victim."
Banned from City Hall
The entire encounter, both Barnes and Fabeck say, lasted about 10 seconds and after his outburst, Fabeck left the store. Later that afternoon, he said he sent the councilwoman an e-mail indicating he was sorry for his language, but not for the thought.
Barnes said she didn't believe Fabeck's apology was sincere or heartfelt; and she had already called the police. The next day he was arrested and charged with harassing, stalking and false imprisonment -- the latter charge because Barnes had been standing behind a counter inside the store and apparently couldn't have escaped Fabeck's shaking finger and hostile words.
Barnes, who was first elected in 1999, subsequently secured a temporary restraining order against Fabeck, a 67-year-old retired corporate executive and hospice volunteer. "I don't know what he's capable of doing," she said. "I believe he could be potentially dangerous."
The restraining order prohibited him from contacting Barnes or coming within 100 yards of the councilwoman. In addition to her home, and places of employment, she listed City Hall as one of her of her addresses. The result was that, in tiny Manitou, much of the city became off limits to Fabeck, including the Post Office and City Hall. In effect, he could not attend City Council meetings to address or redress his government as a citizen or as the chair of a committee that has current business interests with the city government.
"She did a good job making sure I couldn't go anyplace in town," Fabeck said.
One too many people
Two weeks later, Fabeck dispatched a mass e-mail designed to update interested citizens on the Red Rock Canyon development proposal. The mailing list contained nearly 200 names, including Councilwoman Barnes and the rest of the City Council.
Fabeck insists her inclusion on the mass mailing was inadvertent, but Barnes complained to the police that he had violated the restraining order by contacting her, and he was cited.
"It doesn't matter how many people were on the mailing list -- he sent it to one too many people," Barnes insisted. "It was his responsibility to take me off his mailing list."
Two weeks ago, Barnes received a mailed copy of the Red Rock Committee's newsletter, the Red Rock Rag, at her home. Again she complained to the police, claiming that receiving the publication constituted an effort by him to contact her. This time, however, officers declined to cite Fabeck -- who does not oversee the distribution of the newsletter -- for violating the restraining order.
On Sept. 18, Magistrate Barbara Hughes dismissed Barnes request for a permanent restraining order against Fabeck. However, he still has to face a jury to determine his guilt or innocence on the criminal charges against him and for violating his temporary restraining order. So far, he has spent $1,500 in legal fees, he said.
Fabeck's attorney, Larry Galka, said his client has requested a jury trial after rejecting the District Attorney's plea bargain offer that would have placed his client on probation for a year, required him to attend anger management classes and to stay away from City Hall for two years. Galka termed the charges "ridiculous."
"This is a serious First Amendment right issue," he said. "The defendant did verbally fight with [the councilwoman] and that's a First Amendment right. This is just so petty."
Way out of control
Manitou Springs City Councilwoman Kathy Verlo, who has known Fabeck for a decade and testified during the court hearing on his behalf as a character witness, rejected Barnes' assertions that he is a threat.
"He's not dangerous at all; he's a gentleman," Verlo said.
Verlo said that after his arrest, Barnes brought the matter up for discussion during a formal Council meeting at least twice. However, Mayor Nancy Hankins made it clear that the issue was a personal one between Barnes and Fabeck and no formal action was taken by the Council on the matter.
"We really had nothing to do with it," Verlo said. "I felt it was way out of control, but that was my personal opinion."
Hankins could not be reached for comment. However Marcy Morrison, who is challenging the mayor in the upcoming November election -- and also considers Fabeck a personal friend -- pointed out public officials have to develop thick skins, and realize they will sometimes be criticized for their actions and decisions.
Most importantly, Morrison said, elected officials should never lose sight of who their bosses are -- the citizens.
"You don't always like what the bosses say to you, but the council and mayor can never forget who they are working for," she said.