Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Local superintendent, teacher and school counselor recognized

Posted By on Wed, Nov 1, 2017 at 4:22 PM

  • Courtesy CMSD
  • Dr. Cooper
Dr. Walt Cooper, superintendent of the Cheyenne Mountain School District, has been named “Colorado Superintendent of the Year for 2018” by a committee of previous award winners and other superintendents. In his 11 years as superintendent, Cooper has made closing the performance gap between special-education and general-population students a priority.

Over in Harrison School District 2, Christina Randle won Colorado Teacher of the Year and Gemile Fleming won Colorado School Counselor of the Year. Randle, a 14-year veteran of the district, teaches first graders at Soaring Eagles Elementary. Fleming has been with the district for six years and currently works at Giberson Elementary.
Randle recognized at school assembly. - COURTESY COLORADO EDUCATION ASSOCIATION
  • Courtesy Colorado Education Association
  • Randle recognized at school assembly.

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Monday, October 30, 2017

AFP donates to committee opposing Colorado Springs' stormwater ballot measure

Posted By on Mon, Oct 30, 2017 at 5:24 PM

A "vote no" committee opposing the city's proposed stormwater fee on the Nov. 7 ballot has raised $35,635, with the largest single donation coming from Americans for Prosperity, according to a campaign finance report filed today, Oct. 30.

AFP, which gave $15,000, is a national conservative organization funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, who represent the ultra conservative wing of the Republican party.

We've reached out to the Colorado office of AFP by email and voicemail and will circle back with its comments if and when we hear something.

The city is seeking voter permission to impose $5-a-month fees on all households and $30 per acre on commercial property to fund stormwater projects. Another class of payer is owners of more than five-acre parcels that are undeveloped; those fees will be set by the stormwater manager. The money is needed, the city argues, to fund a $460-million deal with Pueblo to better control the city's runoff. The ballot question is known as 2A.

The second biggest single donor to is IACE (I Am Created Equal), which is overseen by Laura Carno, a seasoned political operative who ran Steve Bach's successful mayor campaign in 2011. It gave $13,000.

Third largest donation is from Tim Hoiles, a member of the Hoiles family that owned Freedom Communications, which owned the Gazette for decades before selling it several years ago. He's given two donations totaling $6,000. When his family owned the newspaper, the Gazette's editorial pages reflected the Libertarian philosophy of limited government intrusion and participation in public business. He recently spoke before City Council about special districts' debt limits.

Other donors gave small amounts, including former City Councilor Helen Collins, who gave $50.

The committee has spent most of the money on Facebook ads and media buys.

Invest COS, the "vote yes" committee, has raised $311,290 but has not yet filed the report covering the second half of October. It's due Friday, Nov. 3.
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Friday, October 27, 2017

Routon honored by Mayor John Suthers with Spirit of the Springs Award

Posted By on Fri, Oct 27, 2017 at 2:34 PM

Ralph Routon, left, accepting the Spirit of the Springs Award from Mayor John Suthers. - PHOTOS BY BRYAN GROSSMAN
  • Photos by Bryan Grossman
  • Ralph Routon, left, accepting the Spirit of the Springs Award from Mayor John Suthers.

Citing his "years of community service and leadership," Mayor John Suthers awarded Ralph Routon, executive editor emeritus of the Colorado Publishing House, the Independent's parent company, with the Spirit of the Springs award during Routon's Oct. 26 retirement party at the Briarhurst Manor in Manitou Springs.

Routon began his Colorado Springs journalism career in 1977 with the Gazette, where he worked as a sports columnist, sports editor, sports writer, and metro columnist before leaving in 2001. Routon's career took him to Texas and Florida, but he returned to Colorado Springs in 2006 to serve as editor of the Independent. Routon also led sister papers the Colorado Springs Business Journal and the Pikes Peak Bulletin in the years that followed, as he rose to the role of executive editor of the Colorado Publishing House.

About 100 people gathered to celebrate Routon at his party, including local celebrities like Goose Gossage and business leaders like Kyle Hybyl, and former City Councilors like Jan Martin, Scott Hente and Val Snider, as well as many colleagues from his celebrated career.

Here's what Suthers had to say about Routon, per a city news release:
Routon is an award winning writer who has had an illustrious journalism career. He has stayed very active in the Colorado Springs community, serving on various boards for community organizations including Cheyenne Village, Center for Nonprofit Excellence and others.

He has always embraced the desire to preserve Colorado Springs, Olympic City USA’s truly rich sports heritage. During his career, Routon covered eight Olympic Games and 12 Super Bowls, but what distinguished him was his dedication to local sports. In 1988, Routon led the effort to lure the Hawaii Islanders to Colorado Springs to become the Sky Sox. He was intimately involved in the long push for the new World Arena, which opened its doors in 1995. He also conceived the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame.

The Office of the Mayor welcomes the opportunity to recognize exceptional individuals and organizations in Colorado Springs with a Spirit of the Springs Celebration Award. This award is presented to the recipient(s) by the mayor or an official designee to honor an individual or organization’s outstanding achievement(s). For more information, visit

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Sen. Gardner mum on trespass case so activists petition Nor'Wood

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 at 1:43 PM


Last week, the Independent reported that three local activists are facing trespassing charges stemming from a peaceful visit to Senator Cory Gardner's downtown office.

With their case heading to trial, the defendants are wondering why the charges haven't been dropped — as they were in a similar Denver case per the Senator's request. Neither Gardner's office nor the Colorado Springs City Attorney's Office opted to comment on the Indy's story, though an audio recording ostensibly confirmed that the Senator had made the same request here.

“As I understood it, Sen. Gardner was requesting charges be dropped...?” a defendant, Candi Frank, asked the prosecutor, Shantel Withrow, who replied, “Yes, he did request that charges be dropped, but in reviewing the case, there is a violation of law that occurred and my office is the one that makes the ultimate decision.”

Despite that — and not having been privy to that recording — city spokesperson Kim Melchor says that Gardner's staff never actually made that request.

So the defendants are turning instead to the stated "victim" of their crime — Nor'Wood Development Group. They started an online petition asking the company, which owns the building where they allegedly trespassed, to ask the city attorney to drop charges.

We've put in a call to Nor'Wood to see if they've seen the petition and ask whether they intend to respond. We'll update if we hear back.

Find the whole petition here. In part, it says:

Norwood Developers are listed as the "victims" in the case. This is a local developer making money from a tax payer funded representative. These women were simply in Senator Gardners [sic] office asking him to do the job he is paid to do with their tax dollars which go directly to Norwood from the rental of the office space. 

Sign this petition today to tell Norwood to ask the city to drop the charges against these three women. Tell them that this is completely unacceptable and that they are most certainly not victims in this case. Staying silent while they are unjustly prosecuted is wrong.

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Regional Building Department gives away nearly $1 million in donations

Posted By on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 at 1:18 PM

Children's Hospital is under construction in the north part of the city. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Children's Hospital is under construction in the north part of the city.
In this week's Indy, we report that the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department has made donations approaching $1 million in the last two years alone.

One of the larger gifts, $150,000, which El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller calls "a no-brainer," went to Children's Hospital of Colorado. Waller serves on the RBD commission. He made the motion to approve the gift. The vote was unanimous. The other two commission members are Colorado Springs City Councilor Tom Strand and Tyler Stevens, Green Mountain Falls Mayor Pro Tem.

Here's the pitch Children's made for the donation, as reflected in the Aug. 23, 2017, meeting minutes:
Greg Raymond, Regional Vice President for Children’s Hospital of Colorado, appeared and said this Region has 40 + pediatric specialists, 20+ specialties, 550+ team members, and 4 locations at which our team members work. He said the Springs inpatient teams care for nearly (a) 3,800 children accounting for more than 28,500 patient days (approximately 80% of pediatric stays) in 2015-16; (b)106,800 annual visits – nearly a 550% increase since we opened in 2012 at our Outpatient Specialty and Urgent Care Facility; and (c) in Colorado
Springs, 75% of our inpatients are Medicaid or TriCare patients; what will it take to care for those kids: $30 million campaign to support a new hospital and program expansion.

He stated they are looking at building a hospital of approximately 110 beds. He said they are looking at 1,400 jobs associated with this project, and it is a $97.1 million in employee compensation; a total impact of $240.4 million or 65% more than the actual construction
costs of $165,000,000. He said the total local tax receipts will be $1.2 million. He stated Children’s Hospital of Colorado serves patients from all over the United States, and internationally.

Mr. Raymond said he is requesting a donation from the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department for this project in the amount of $150,000. Roger Lovell stated the staff of RBD supports this project and is diligently working with their contractor. He stated the permit for this project is $287,000, and RBD supports the donation of $150,000.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Traffic fines for charity? A petition aims to redirect fine money.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 24, 2017 at 3:06 PM

Supporters of an initiative that would withhold all traffic fines and forfeitures from the state government are approved to seek petition signatures to place the measure on the November 2018 ballot.

Steve Kerbel, one of the measure's backers, says the "Stop the Shakedowns" campaign wants to redirect fines, forfeitures and other financial penalties away from government and into the hands of charities.

According to a fiscal impact statement provided by the state on the Colorado Secretary of State's Office website, the initiative would decrease state revenue by $256.2 million in fiscal year 2018-19 and $332.7 million in fiscal year 2019-20, with ongoing decreases in future years.

Here's his description of the measure:
Colorado voters are likely to have the opportunity to put an end to financially motivated government enforcement on the November 2018 ballot. "Stop the Shakedowns" is a Colorado issue committee which has passed all requirements to begin petitioning for a statewide ballot initiative which will stop government from receiving the financial benefit of fines, forfeitures or other financial penalties. Instead, if a victim of the action eliciting a fine exists, that victim would receive all of the fine money, up to their total damages. Absent a victim, as in a traffic infraction, the person being fined donates the fine amount to a Colorado charity of their choice. The initiative, filed with the Secretary of State as Issue #53 (until petitioning is complete and a proposition number is assigned), would result in the following:

1) Any conflict of interest due to a financial motivation for enforcement of any law or regulation would be eliminated. The result would be judicious enforcement, and the credibility of enforcement would no longer be called into question. The result would be a more peaceful relationship between the people of Colorado and our law enforcement. Transparent financially motivate enforcement such as speed traps would no longer exist.

2) Victims have a minuscule amount of restitution from fine revenue, however less than 5% of this money actually gets in their hands now with our existing state programs. After this becomes law, a victim will receive up to 100% of the fine.

3) Hundreds of millions of additional dollars in the hands of charities each year will do much more to sheltering the homeless, feeding the hungry, and addressing myriad other societal problems in Colorado. This will result in safer communities and better assistance for people in need.

4) The public will be reminded that the people still have a voice in how government is managed, instead of feeling helpless as most people do now. The people making ground rules for government is not something seen very often since the drafting of the bill of rights.

5) Police officers will benefit, as the majority of police took their jobs to serve their communities. Today, their employers have required them to devote much of their time toward generation of revenue rather than community service.
Kerbel describes himself as a former CEO of insurance businesses and a Libertarian who competed for the presidential nomination in 2015 but dropped out.

He says the measure is aimed at municipalities as well as the state and contains language that would sidestep cities' home-rule status, if it passes. Colorado Springs is a home-rule city. It's expecting to collect $5.2 million in fines in 2018, although not all fines are related to traffic enforcement.

Kerbel says the measure would create a new law, not amend the state Constitution, meaning signatures on the petitions can come from anywhere in the state; 98,492 signatures are required by March 28, 2018.

"It's still a big job, and we just got started," Kerbel says. "These volunteers are working hard. It's purely grassroots." Asked who's funding the effort, he said there is no big financial backer of the measure.

"We end up with more judicious enforcement, and there is no financial reward for enforcement," he says. "It's going to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless. If they pull you over, it's because you really did something wrong. They just can't keep the money, and that money is going to go to the charity of the victim. There really is no loser here."

Of course, it's easy to see that local and state governments would argue otherwise, since many are already struggling to fund core services. In the Springs, for instance, response times have reached 11 minutes for police, and the mayor has said that he needs more money to properly staff the police force.

Learn more about the measure at
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Monday, October 23, 2017

Local organizations gather to provide support during Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Posted By on Mon, Oct 23, 2017 at 9:35 AM


Monique Walker, life coach, mother, medical student and speaker, knows what it's like to live in isolation due to domestic violence. In 2014, she fled an abusive household with her six children, settling in Colorado Springs where she found the support she needed to take control of her life once again. Now, she hopes to provide the same kind of support to others or, at the very least, ensure that others know that there is support available to them.

“Let’s have a serious community conversation,” she says. “It’s not just a Monique Walker issue. It’s a community issue.”

Healthy Family Ties: “An Overdue Conversation” will take place at Library 21c on Friday, Oct. 27. Organized by Walker and various local organizations, the event is meant to draw attention to the issue of domestic violence in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and to gather supportive organizations under one roof.

Walker says that, when she began her journey, she found that the resources available to her were “fragmented,” making them difficult to navigate. With this event, she hopes to ease the process for others. “You never know whose life it may save,” she says. “[This] will give people the opportunity to recognize that even though there’s fragments that help within the community, there is help.”

During the event, in addition to providing information about programs and services, these organizations will lead self-awareness and self-defense training “for community empowerment.”

Walker hopes that offering this event to the community will not only help individuals, but perhaps highlight the seriousness of the issue of domestic violence for those that have not been directly affected.

She says: “If we all get on the same page as a community, and know that there are resources, hopefully it will help some people open their eyes.”

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Colorado Springs parks big winner in health foundation grants

Posted By on Mon, Oct 23, 2017 at 8:31 AM

The big winner in a recent round of grants provided via city-owned Memorial Hospital lease payments is the city's parks department, with a grant of $926,944. The money will be spent on Memorial Park trail and fitness improvements.

In a news release, the Colorado Springs Health Foundation board of trustees announced they've approved $1.37 million in grants to nine organizations in the region.

"Eight of these nine organizations were awarded funds to improve the built environment, which is defined as person-made spaces and places where we live, work, and play," the release said. "Research shows that the built environment influences our opportunities and choices to pursue greater (or lesser) physical activity. Improving the built environment in areas of high need is one way the Foundation aims to encourage healthy living for all residents in the Pikes Peak region."

So far this year, the foundation has awarded $2.94 million in grants. The foundation is funded by lease payments made to the city by University of Colorado Health on a 40-year lease of Memorial, which began in 2012.

Here's the listing of the latest round of grants:


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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Audience counters Douglas Bruce at election forum

Posted By on Wed, Oct 18, 2017 at 4:28 PM

Mayor John Suthers makes his case for stormwater fees at a forum Oct. 17. John Hazlehurst, right, with the Colorado Springs Business Journal, emceed the evening. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Mayor John Suthers makes his case for stormwater fees at a forum Oct. 17. John Hazlehurst, right, with the Colorado Springs Business Journal, emceed the evening.

UPDATE: Anthony Carlson, who's working on the "vote yes" campaign for the Colorado Springs School District 11 issue, just notified us of what he says were inaccuracies stated at the forum.

Here is his email in full:

Doug [Bruce] was pretty adamant about only presenting the "facts" last night, but one key fact he got wrong was what District 11 asked for in 2016.

Last year D-11 asked for a 32.6 million dollar mill levy, which would've phased in over 6 years and become more expensive for tax payers over time.

Additionally, last year the District had a 235 million dollar bond on the ballot which would have raised taxes by 15.5 million dollar annually.

In 2016 the District asked for a 48.1 million dollar increase.

This year the District is asking for a 42 million dollar mill levy, which will not phase in. However, due to the debt reduction mechanism in the ballot language will become cheaper for tax payers over time. For a home of [$]200,000 it will be about $14 a month in 2018, but for that same home will only be $6 a month by 2022.

The District's proposal for the 2017 mill is 6 million dollars less than the proposals put on the ballot in 2016.

I've attached the TABOR notice from last year to dispute Doug's claim.

——ORIGINAL POST 10:56 A.M. WEDNESDAY, OCT. 18, 2017——————————-

Douglas Bruce, the father of tax limitation in Colorado, got a taste of his own medicine on the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 17. Bruce was at the Leadership Pikes Peak forum on two ballot issues, which was held at the MCI/Verizon building on Garden of the Gods Road.

Before launching into his opposition argument to Colorado Springs School District 11's proposed mill levy override, known as 3E on the ballot, Bruce tried to correct something Mayor John Suthers had said moments before. Suthers was arguing in favor of the city's stormwater fee proposal, which would impose fees of $5 per household and $30 per acre for developed property. The fees would raise $17 million a year starting July 1, 2018, if approved, and fund 71 drainage projects across the city.

In his parting shot, Suthers had reminded the roughly 60 people who attended that Colorado Springs' property taxes are among the lowest of any city in the state.
Laura Carno argued against stormwater fees, saying people are tapped out.
  • Laura Carno argued against stormwater fees, saying people are tapped out.
Bruce said Suthers was wrong, that Colorado Springs actually has the highest sales tax rate in the state, at 8.25 percent. But a member of the audience quickly called Bruce on that, saying Suthers hadn't made a claim about sales tax. Bruce disputed that but was interrupted by a man in the audience, who blurted out, "You're undermining your own credibility."

A few sentences later, when Bruce claimed the D-11 measure was triple the size of its $15 million measure on the 2016 ballot, a woman in the crowd interjected, "That's not correct. It's $42 million."

To which Bruce replied, "I realize I have a hostile audience."

It's unclear if that was true. The only measure of voter sentiment that counts will come on Nov. 7.

Suthers hopes Election Day will bring a victory for the stormwater fee, which he says is sorely needed so that the $17 million a year now spent on stormwater will be freed up to fund the city's other "critical" needs, including 100 to 125 more police officers.

He also said passage of the measure, which would levy fees for 20 years, would help the city get out from under a lawsuit filed by the EPA alleging violations of the Clean Water Act, due largely to the city's neglected stormwater system.

"I have had discussions with the EPA," he said. "If we can go to them and show we have a dedicated revenue stream for stormwater, the chances of resolving the case are very good."

But Laura Carno, a political activist who champions conservative causees, called the fees inequitable, because a person living in an apartment will pay the same $5 a month that a person living in a mansion will pay.

Lastly, she noted that some property owners in the city who own undeveloped land might pay nothing. "City Council member Jill Gaebler says nobody should get a pass, and I agree with Gaebler."

On the D-11 issue, advocate Lauren Hug said D-11 hasn't had a tax increase since 2000. To drive home how long that is, she asked the audience to consider all the technological changes that have happened since then, including the smart phone's advancement.

"D-11 needs money to provide 21st century education," she says, adding that many D-11 buildings are 50 years old and older. She also noted teachers need raises, or D-11 risks losing them to other districts or states, in light of the nationwide teacher shortage.

Hug also urged voters to support the measure to assure their property values don't plunge and to invest in making the city attractive for economic development.

But Bruce took issue, saying, "This isn't an investment, because you never get your money back." He also said D-11's enrollment is stagnant and there's no need for additional money.
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Mikey Weinstein and three MRFF accomplishments

Posted By on Wed, Oct 18, 2017 at 10:01 AM

Mikey Weinstein is still fighting to keep religious favoritism out of the military. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Mikey Weinstein is still fighting to keep religious favoritism out of the military.
Mikey Weinstein has been a busy guy over the past 13 years. Read our interview with the founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation to learn why.

Here are just a few of the accomplishments of MRFF over the years:

November 2010 – Getting the religious climate survey released. After MRFF’s pressure on the Air Force Academy, Superintendent Lt. Gen. Gould released the data behind the bi-annual Academy Climate Survey. The survey revealed that 41% of non-Christian cadets and 19% of all cadets were subjected to unwanted proselytizing.

December 2014 – USAFA withdrew its Christian-biased holiday policy. On December 1, 2014, the Academy published a document titled, “Religious Accommodations NOTAM” (NOTAM is a common military acronym that stands for Notice to Airmen) on their public website.

January 2017 – Freedom Of Information Act lawsuit win.  The case dated to Weinstein's 2011 FOIA request to the Academy for records pertaining to himself, MRFF and his family. After four years of delays, MRFF sued to compel disclosure. The Academy settle the case by promising to provide the records sought and paying MRFF's $25,000 in attorney fees.
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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Utilities will fund water and sewer relocations for Olympic Museum area

Posted By on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 at 5:14 PM

Construction is under way on the Olympic Museum at Sierra Madre Street and Vermijo Avenue. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Construction is under way on the Olympic Museum at Sierra Madre Street and Vermijo Avenue.
Colorado Springs Utilities is preparing to spend $1.3 million on water and wastewater line replacement and relocation to accommodate the Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame and other development in the lower downtown area.

On the Wednesday, Oct. 18, Utilities Board agenda, Utilities proposes to fund 55 percent of a $1.9 million relocation of a wastewater line from the alley between Sahwatch and Sierra Madre streets to Sahwatch between Colorado Avenue and Cimarron Street.

The remaining cost, $875,000, would be paid by adjacent property owners, which is comprised mostly if not all by Nor'wood Development Group. Nor'wood is the master developer of the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area.

The existing pipe is old and doesn't meet current standards, Utilities CEO Jerry Forte said in a memo the Utilities Board, comprised of City Council.

An eight-inch water main in Vermijo Avenue needs to be relocated due to its age, the memo says, which will cost about $275,000, all of which would be funded by Utilities under an executive agreement with the city.

The idea is to authorize the projects so they can be coordinated with streetscape work next year, to be funded with Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority and city funds.

Or as the memo says, "Future cost savings and extending infrastructure integrity can be achieved when City or private sector-required utility modifications are collaboratively addressed to minimize or eliminate future street cuts...."

The Olympic Museum, which broke ground in June, is slated to open in mid-2019.

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UPDATE: Felony charges dismissed against John San Agustin

Posted By on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 at 12:16 PM

San Agustin during his Sheriff's Office tenure. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • San Agustin during his Sheriff's Office tenure.
UPDATE: We just heard via email from John San Agustin's attorney, Iris Eytan of Denver.

She called the prosecution of her client "malicious" and claimed the motive was to discredit him due to his opinions regarding the murder of Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, at his Monument home in March 2013. (San Agustin reportedly believed others were involved besides the shooter, who was gunned down by lawmen in Texas; yet Sheriff Bill Elder tried to close the investigation until law enforcement agencies took issue with that, according to The Denver Post.)

Eytan also asserted that San Agustin was not in the room when the arrest of the domestic violence victim took place. Rather, she said, Chief Deputy DA Shannon Gerhart (now a judge) was there, along with sheriff's Commander Mitch Lincoln and Bureau Chief Al Harmon. Gerhart told a detective there was probable cause to arrest, she said. Meantime, San Agustin was not in the building, and there were no phone calls showing any contact with Sheriff Terry Maketa or Undersheriff Paula Presley, Eytan contends. She also said time cards were not presented to the grand jury.

The dismissal, Eytan says, "was disingenuous." While the 18th Judicial District claimed in its dismissal motion the case fell apart after a key witness, Sgt. Robert Jaworski, was forced to resign for making a racist remark, Eytan says his resignation came before he testified in front of the grand jury.

"It was nothing new," she said, adding that her prior motions that cited that fact were sealed by the judge, so it seemed as if the prosecutors were making a new revelation when, in fact, Jaworski's resignation was a long-standing known factor in the case.

Eytan contends, "They never had any evidence John was involved. Zero."

The Independent contacted the 18th Judicial District DA's Office to respond to Eytan's contentions, and the office declined to comment.

———ORIGINAL POST 10:37 A.M. TUESDAY, OCT. 17, 2017——————————

On Monday, Oct. 16, the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office dropped felony charges against John San Agustin, a commander during the Sheriff Terry Maketa years.

San Agustin was accused of being party to a scheme in which a woman was persuaded to drop her domestic violence complaint against a deputy said to be favored by Maketa and then was arrested on Sept. 12, 2013, for making a false police report.

The 18th DA's Office took up the case after 4th Judicial District DA Dan May bowed out, citing potential conflicts of interest. Both San Agustin and Maketa supported John Newsome for sheriff back in 2004 when May lost to Newsome. May returned to El Paso County politics four years later and was elected. He's currently in his third and final term.

In its motion, the 18th Judicial DA's Office describes how its case against San Agustin fell apart:

4. After the Grand Jury returned a true bill, it was apparent that former Sergeant Robert Jaworski was going to be a key prosecution witness at trial. The prosecution anticipated that he would have testified that he heard the defendant order the arrest of Ms. Trull. This, obviously, would have been a key piece of evidence. Shortly after the indictment, the People received information that Mr. Jaworski made racial comments towards then President Barak Obama, including calling him “n—-r.” Although the defendant is not African American, he is a person of color and the People believe that evidence of this statement would have been admissible on cross-examination to show bias on the part of Mr. Jaworski, which the People believe would severely damage not only the credibility of this key witness, but the value of his testimony in general.

5. Even with the issues related to Mr. Jaworski, the People believed that they should continue with the prosecution of this defendant, because they anticipated that Detective Lisa Kaiser would be a key witness as well. The prosecution anticipated that this witness would have testified that she felt there was no probable cause for the arrest of Kelli Trull, thereby making the arrest illegal. She also would have testified that she was ordered to arrest Ms. Trull by her superiors, which most likely included the defendant and then Chief Deputy District Attorney Shannon Gerhart. On June 14, 2017, in preparation of trial of co-defendant Terrance Maketa, Detective Kaiser said that it was definitely Chief Deputy District Attorney Gerhart who ordered Ms. Trull to be arrested and not the defendant or any of her supervisors. Again, this called into question the testimony of a key witness.

6. Finally, in late June and early July co-defendant Terrance Maketa was tried to a jury of twelve. The prosecution desired to call another witness whom they thought could offer relevant testimony related not only the co-defendant, but this defendant as well. This witness was Travis Garretson. Notwithstanding tireless, and herculean efforts to serve Mr. Garretson by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, they were unable to do so, and the People have no reason to believe that there will be a different result in the future.

7. Although several of the charges against co-defendant Maketa resulted in a hung jury, those charges related to offenses unrelated to the allegations against this defendant. In fact, the charges that relate to the defendant resulted in a not guilty verdict in the co-defendant's trial.
Read the entire motion to dismiss here:

It's worth noting that the same charges against Maketa stemming from the alleged incident resulted in not-guilty verdicts at his trial last summer. The jury reached an impasse on other charges, and the DA's Office is pursuing those. Trial is set for Jan. 23.

Undersheriff Paula Presley also has been charged in the same incident, as well as with other charges. Her trial is slated for February.

In November 2016, Presley, Maketa and San Agustin submitted a notice of claim to the county, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the Sheriff's Office an many others claiming malicious prosecution, as we reported first (News, Dec. 28, 2016). Read the notice of claim letter here.

Specifically, the portion of that letter regarding San Agustin says he "has been forced to defend against criminal charges that are false, without merit, defamatory and groundless." It also notes his forensic investigation consultant business dried up after the charges were filed, as did his adjunct faculty post at UCCS, and that he's incurred significant attorney fees while being precluded from working with law enforcement due to the charges.
screen_shot_2017-10-17_at_10.15.19_am.png, a website critical of Sheriff Bill Elder and others, used this illustration, at right, in its commentary about the dismissal of charges against San Agustin.

We've reached out to San Agustin's attorney, Iris Eytan of Denver. If we hear something, we'll circle back.

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Pueblo to vote on strong mayor form of government

Posted By on Mon, Oct 16, 2017 at 4:06 PM

Pueblo City Hall - CITY OF PUEBLO
  • City of Pueblo
  • Pueblo City Hall
A committee is urging Pueblo voters to switch to a strong mayor form of government after the city council approved a measure for the Nov. 7 coordinated election ballot.

Question 2A asks voters to switch to a full-time elected mayor instead of Pueblo's current system, which consists of seven part-time council members and a city manager that reports to them. The nonpartisan mayor would replace the city manager, and have the authority to appoint city department heads and propose a city budget with confirmation from the council. The Pueblo Board of Water Works and Civil Service Commission would continue to be independently elected.

Nick Gradisar, president of the Pueblo Board of Water Works and local attorney, is the head of the Committee to Elect a Mayor, which is calling for the change. He previously helped place two initiatives on the ballot, one for strong mayor and another for weak mayor, but voters rejected both. Now, he thinks it's time to try again, saying that many of the same problems that were present in 2009 are still present including, crime, opioid addiction and lackluster economic growth.

"We’re sort of going backwards while the rest of the state is going forwards, I think it’s hurt us significantly," Gradisar said at Southern Colorado Press Club meeting on Oct. 10.

And while it seems people have been flocking to Colorado in recent years, they haven’t been coming to Pueblo. Whereas it used to be the second largest city in Colorado in the ‘50s, Pueblo is now the ninth largest.

"That’s been very expensive for us, in terms of our influence in the state, in terms of our representation in the state legislature," Gradisar says. He adds that his group has taken valuable lessons from Colorado Springs, which switched from a council-city manager form of government similar to Pueblo’s, to a mayor-council form (or "strong mayor" system) after voters approved a charter change in 2010. Gradisar notes that the Springs’ first strong mayor, Steve Bach — known for an authoritarian streak and frequent battles with the council and others — didn’t necessarily have "experience with governmental entities."

"I think that we can see that although they had some issues with the first mayor they elected, the second mayor [current Mayor John Suthers] was able to focus the community’s attention on getting some serious problems solved and we think that the same thing can happen here in Pueblo," he says.

City Council is willing to give the measure a chance.

"All seven of us voted to put it on the ballot," says Councilor Lori Winner.

Winner says that doesn’t mean they all necessarily support the change, though she does. She did note that the general attitude on council is one toward change. She says there needs to be a figurehead in Pueblo that citizens can call.

Ralph Williams, president of insurance brokerage company HUB International, helped with the weak mayor initiative in 2009, but didn't push for it this year because he says he didn't want to confuse the public with two measures. He neither supports nor approves of the strong mayor initiative, because he thinks a weak mayor would better suit a city of Pueblo's size.

Should the strong mayor measure pass, the first mayoral election will be held in Nov. 2018, giving candidates a chance to campaign.

"Obviously you have to get the right people," Gradisar says. "We have a year to make sure we get the one."

Gradisar is hoping that the mayor’s proposed salary, $150,000 annually, will attract a wide variety of candidates, saying that the income was set that high on purpose, so that the mayor will not have to find another job. Gradisar has had complaints that the salary is too high for Pueblo, which only has a population of about 110,000 people and a median income less than $40,000 a year, according to the United States Census Bureau. The mayor of Colorado Springs is paid $103,370, even though he governs more than four times the number of people.

The committee didn’t take population into consideration when establishing a salary, Gradisar says, and instead focused on making the salary comparable to those of other leaders in Pueblo, most notably the presidents of Pueblo Community College and Colorado State University-Pueblo. Lexi Swearingen, a small business owner and also a member of the committee, says that the mayor would make around the same amount of money as the current city manager.

The Pueblo Association of Homebuilders and the Sierra Club of Pueblo both endorse 2A. In a letter to Gradisar, the Sierra Club said it believes an elected mayor can improve transparency and government responsiveness. However, neither club has given monetary donations, according to Gradisar. Most of the donations have been from individuals and the committee hasn’t purchased any media advertisements, relying instead on word-of-mouth, buttons and signs to spread the campaign’s message. According to Gradisar, the committee has spent all of the $7, 030 they received from donors.

But the word hasn’t gotten out to everyone. Margaret and Frank Grund, a couple who came to the press club meeting to find out more about the initiative, say they haven’t heard much about campaign. However, both do not see any downsides. Margaret Grund says she was surprised to find out that Pueblo didn’t have a mayor when she first moved to the city from Minneapolis. She thinks a mayor will hold city councilors more accountable and create some unity.

"I think it’s too easy for city council members to focus on their communities [districts] which is what they’re supposed to do. But then, who wins? You know, there’s always a kind of tension there," she says.
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Firefighters seek collective bargaining, raise money for campaign

Posted By on Mon, Oct 16, 2017 at 12:26 PM

The Waldo Canyon Fire roars into the city in June 2012. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • The Waldo Canyon Fire roars into the city in June 2012.

Local firefighters aren't giving up on their desire to secure the right to collectively bargain with the city on pay and benefits.

As we reported in June, Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters Association Local 5 wants to be able to negotiate on behalf of its members. The city says it considers a state Senate bill that enables collective bargaining not applicable, because it is a home rule city.

Nevertheless, Local 5 is proceeding toward a ballot measure to put the question to voters, and firefighters are willing to put their money where their mouths are.

From Dave Noblitt, president of Local 5, via email:
We did have a special election over the summer to support a $200,000 plus assessment of our members to fund the measure. With a self imposed 51% participation of members involved for the vote to be considered valid, we were supported by almost 70% with over 220 members voting and a unanimous "yes" vote in moving forward. With the state association and the International lending their support, we are looking at a half million dollar campaign budget in moving forward. 

Noblitt goes on to say Local 5 will seek support from City Council in 2018 and community groups for its ballot measure, which might appear on either the November 2018 ballot or the city ballot in April 2019.

A slight pay raise for firefighters is included in Mayor John Suthers' proposed 2018 budget. If voters approve on Nov. 7 of a proposal to charge residents stormwater fees, that would free up general fund money for additional raises and to add personnel to the Fire Department, starting when the fees would begin, July 1, 2018.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Firefighters back stormwater measure

Posted By on Thu, Oct 12, 2017 at 2:29 PM

On Wednesday, Oct. 11, the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters Association, IAFF-Local 5, announced it has endorsed the city's stormwater fee measure, 2A, on the Nov. 7 ballot.

The measure, if approved, would impose fees starting July 1, 2018, of $5 per month on all households, including renters, and $30 per acre on non-residential developed property. Tracts five acres and larger would be assessed based on impervious surface and assigned fees by the city's stormwater manager.

The fees would raise about $17 million a year, which would be used for stormwater in place of the currently budgeted $17 million in the general fund, thereby freeing that money for spending on other city needs.

Mayor John Suthers has said he would reallocate general fund dollars to hire more cops and firefighters, improve parks and upgrade the city's vehicle fleet.

Local 5's release:
Local 5’s Political Action Liaison, John Roy, mentioned that, “After careful consideration, our association has chosen to support the stormwater campaign. We have chosen to do so because we believe that this enterprise will ultimately make Colorado Springs safer and it will allow our firefighters the ability to more effectively do their job. Due to the lack of a dedicated stormwater fee, general fund dollars have long been repurposed from their original intent to pay for stormwater. As such, we have seen our equipment, staffing levels, and employee package suffer due to lack of funding. The Mayor has committed to making public safety a top priority if general fund dollars can be used for their original intent. This would mean better service delivery for the citizens and a better work environment for firefighters. With that focus in mind, we support this initiative.”

The Colorado Springs Professional Firefighter’s President, Dave Noblitt has been a firefighter in the city for over 20 years. When asked about the current state of the department Noblitt stated that, “Our staffing levels are far from adequate. Historically, we have approximately the same number of firefighters that we did in 2008. However, we run approximately 30,000 more calls a year than we did in 2008. This means that firefighters are attempting to do more with less and that is taxing on our employees. This measure would ensure that the city has the financial capacity to support public safety from falling further behind in its ability to provide adequate response capabilities.”

The Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters view this ballot initiative with a linear focus: “What is best for the safety and welfare of the citizens of Colorado Springs and their firefighters?”. Question 2A has a direct impact on how the fire department will continue to operate and as such, the support of this initiative is seemingly what’s best for public safety.
Disclosure: The Indy's owner, John Weiss, is a board member for Together for Colorado Springs, which has also endorsed 2A.
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