Tuesday, March 20, 2018

County pension plan updated to pay if an officer is killed on duty

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2018 at 2:39 PM

Detective Micah Flick was killed Feb. 5. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • Detective Micah Flick was killed Feb. 5.
On March 19, the El Paso County Retirement Plan board approved a change in benefits stemming from the shooting death of Sheriff's Detective Micah Flick.

Now, if a vested member is killed in the line of duty as the result of a "criminal or wrongful activity of a third party," there are these options:

1) The member will be deemed to have retired on the first day of the month in which the member died, and a 100 percent payout will be made that shall not be less than 25 percent of the deceased member's final average monthly compensation if that member had at least 10 years of service. Payment will be made to the designated beneficiary.

2) The member's benefit will be paid out starting on the member's normal retirement date or the date the member would have become eligible for special early retirement. The amount of the payments will be calculated using the greater of his or her final average monthly compensation or the final compensation computed using the member's current monthly pay at the date of death, indexed at a rate of 3 percent per year to project the member's monthly compensation through their retirement date.

3) A single lump sum payable in annual installments for up to four years that's equal to two times the member's contributions as of the date of death and two times the additional contributions that would have been made by the member through the earliest retirement date, assuming an increase in pay of 3 percent per year.

The change, the pension board decided, became effective Jan. 1, 2018, meaning Flick's family is eligible for benefits.

———————ORIGINAL POST 4:43 P.M. WEDNESDAY, FEB. 14, 2018———————-

This blog has been updated from the original, posted at 4:43 p.m. on Feb. 14, to reflect the latest information about benefits available to Deputy Micah Flick's family.

The grieving family of fallen El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy Micah Flick will need more then a shoulder to cry on in the coming years. With a breadwinner gone, Flick’s wife and 7-year-old twins will need money. But some government programs are more generous than others with the survivors of fallen officers.

Let’s start with the El Paso County Retirement Plan. Its death benefit — a relative pittance at $3,000 — is only paid to survivors of retirees. In addition, the plan doesn’t pay pension benefits to survivors until the beneficiary’s 55th birthday at the earliest (regardless of whether the beneficiary is alive), which means Flick’s family has to wait 21 years to collect monthly benefits. Notably, nothing in the plan’s rules makes a special consideration, or even a mention, of those killed on the job.

Flick was shot and killed on Feb. 5 while trying to tackle a suspected vehicle thief in a parking lot at Murray Boulevard and Galley Road as other officers closed in. Flick, 34, had been with the Sheriff’s Office for 11 years.

Asked why fallen officers couldn’t receive benefits, the retirement plan board’s chair, County Treasurer Mark Lowderman, says the issue hasn’t come up. The last sheriff’s deputy to die in the line of duty was Hugh Martin, who was killed by a gunshot in the chest in April 1992 during a raid on the home of a drug dealer.

But Lowderman says the board will discuss amending the rules for its plan, which covers employees of the county, El Paso County Public Health, the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the Pikes Peak Library District, at its Feb. 26 meeting. “It’s a conversation we need to have,” Lowderman says, noting the death benefit amount has remained unchanged for at least 23 years.

“It’s sad that it takes a tragedy like that (Flick’s death) to spur the conversation, but it’s not something you think about in day-to-day business,” he says. “It would be my hope if that’s the way the board wants to go, we could certainly do something retroactive and include Deputy Flick’s family.”

A sheriff's cruiser was parked in front of the Sheriff's Office in honor of Flick. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • A sheriff's cruiser was parked in front of the Sheriff's Office in honor of Flick.
Under existing policies, Flick's family will be paid $40,000 under a life insurance policy carried on all county employees, and another $40,000 because his death was accidental, county officials say.

(Survivors of a Colorado Springs Police Officer killed on the job would receive 70 percent of the officer’s base pay through the Fire and Police Pension Association, as well as tuition and room and board for an officer’s dependents to obtain a bachelor’s degree at a state school.)

The Flick family also will likely get help from another government program. Workers’ Compensation, compulsory in Colorado, generally pays a benefit of 66 2/3 percent of the deceased employee’s average weekly wages to beneficiaries. The spouse receives benefits for life, unless she remarries, in which case a two-year lump sum is payable upon remarriage. Children also receive some compensation until age 18, or beyond age 18 if physically or mentally disabled, or until age 21 if full-time students. Burial expenses of up to $7,000 also are paid by Workers’ Compensation.

The Flicks are also likely eligible for a federal program that pays survivors of fallen law enforcement officers and other first responders killed in the line of duty a one-time benefit of $350,079. The Department of Justice’s Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program provides death and education benefits to survivors, as well as disability benefits to officers catastrophically injured in the line of duty.

The program dates to 1976 when Congress enacted the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act to ease economic burdens of families who lost an officer in the line of duty. The act has since been amended to cover rescue squads, ambulance crews, firefighters and chaplains. The payment, which is adjusted for inflation annually, is not subject to federal tax.

In 2012, the House Committee on the Judiciary reaffirmed the act’s purpose, noting families of fallen public safety workers “would potentially face financial disaster because of the death or incapacitation of the public safety officer,” according to the Federal Register.

As of February 2016, there were 761 initial claims for benefits pending at the PSOB office, 123 appeals of PSOB Office determinations pending a hearing, and 47 appeals of Hearing Officer determinations pending with the Bureau of Justice Assistance director. That year, the benefit was $339,881 and the program budgeted $71.3 million for death benefits.

But the Federal Register notes that an audit by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General found the program processed only 56 percent of claims within one year of filing, and an independent review in late 2015 found that significant changes were needed to deal with a growing backlog of claims.

PSOB spokesperson Greg Robinson tells the Independent the average time to process a claim is about a year. “The most important thing is to make sure you apply,” Robinson says, adding the death or disability has to have taken place in the line of duty or within 24 hours of duty or driving home from work.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

USOC CEO resigns; Suthers extols his leadership

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2018 at 4:12 PM

screen_shot_2018-02-28_at_3.49.55_pm.png
As news broke of the resignation of U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers called him "a principled and ethical leader."

Blackmun had come under fire in recent weeks for his apparent reluctance to, as the Washington Post reported, "intervene in a series of sex abuse scandals, most recently the Larry Nassar case that has engulfed USA Gymnastics and prompted three Congressional inquiries."
Mayor Suthers: Sorry to see Blackmun resign. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Mayor Suthers: Sorry to see Blackmun resign.

The news comes in the wake of calls by two senators for Blackmun to resign over the Nassar case, the Post reported, but USOC board chair Larry Probst said his departure stems from health concerns. Blackmun, 60, recently had surgery for prostate cancer and needs additional treatment, Probst told the Post.

The USOC is based in Colorado Springs, which adopted the moniker "Olympic City U.S.A." In an interview on KRCC on Feb. 28, Suthers called the brand unique and among the most valuable in the world.

The sports agency has headquartered in Colorado Springs since it moved here from New York City in 1978. In 2009, the city spent roughly $50 million to revamp a downtown building into a new headquarters for the USOC and upgrade the Olympic Training Center. Following the controversial deal, the developer was indicted on fraud charges at least partially linked to the deal, and ill will grew between citizens and City Council over what some called an unnecessary give-away.

But Suthers believes the label Olympic City is a sturdy one and gives the city an incomparable distinction.

In a statement issued on Feb. 28 shortly after news broke of Blackmun's resignation, Suthers said:
Scott Blackmun has done an outstanding job as the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee and I am sad to learn of his resignation. I have found Scott to be a principled and ethical leader of the USOC and it has been a pleasure to work with him. The relationship between the City of Colorado Springs and the USOC has never been better and much of the credit for that belongs to Scott.

My staff and I wish Scott the very best as he deals with his health issue and we are genuinely grateful for all he has done for the Olympic movement and for Olympic City USA.
The USOC made Blackmun the secondary topic in a lengthy news release about reforms and initiatives aimed at protecting athletes from abuse. Allegations of various types of ill treatment have hit not only gymnastics but also swimming, taekwondo, speedskating and judo.

The USOC's release:
Today, the United States Olympic Committee announced additional reforms and new initiatives designed to protect athletes from abuse and respond quickly and effectively when issues surface. The USOC also announced that CEO Scott Blackmun is resigning due to ongoing health issues resulting from prostate cancer. Susanne Lyons, a current board member, will serve as acting CEO, overseeing the USOC’s day-to-day operations while the search for a permanent successor is underway.

“Given Scott’s current health situation, we have mutually agreed it is in the best interest of both Scott and the USOC that we identify new leadership so that we can immediately address the urgent initiatives ahead of us,” said USOC Chairman Larry Probst. “The USOC is at a critical point in its history. The important work that Scott started needs to continue and will require especially vigorous attention in light of Larry Nassar’s decades-long abuse of athletes affiliated with USA Gymnastics. We will be working with key stakeholders to help identify a permanent successor to Scott. In the meantime, I am confident that Susanne is the right person to help us navigate this critical transition period.”

Blackmun has served as CEO of the USOC since 2010. He was the driving force behind many of the improvements the USOC has made to help protect athletes – notably the establishment of the U.S. Center for SafeSport and the development of the SafeSport initiative. Blackmun also led the effort to bring the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games back to the United States, ensured record financial support for Team USA athletes, renegotiated the USOC’s revenue sharing agreement with the International Olympic Committee, and substantially enhanced the USOC’s presence and influence in the global Olympic Movement.

“Serving the USOC and its many stakeholders and working with our board, our professional staff and many others who support the Olympic and Paralympic movements has not only been immensely rewarding, it has been an honor and the highlight of my professional life,” said Blackmun. “I am proud of what we have achieved as a team and am confident that Susanne will help the USOC continue to embody the Olympic spirit and champion Team USA athletes during this transition.”

In January, Lyons was selected as chair of the USOC board’s working group addressing issues the Nassar case has brought to light. Since then, she has been leading the USOC’s efforts to ensure a process that is independent, transparent, sensitive and accessible. Lyons has been serving as an independent director to the USOC board of directors since December 2010. She has extensive global and Olympic experience, including 40 years of expertise in general management, marketing, sponsorship, business strategy and revenue generation. Lyons served as the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Visa USA – a member of the IOC’s The Olympic Partner Program – from 2004-07. Prior to this, Lyons held leadership roles for Charles Schwab & Co. and Fidelity Investments.

“While we are eager to review the findings of the independent investigation, the USOC is taking important actions now based on what we already know,” said Lyons. “We are evaluating the USOC’s role and oversight of all the National Governing Bodies, considering potential changes to the Olympic structure and aggressively exploring new ways to enhance athlete safety and help prevent and respond to abuse.”

The reforms and new actions the USOC is announcing today include:

Providing new funding and resources for support and counseling for gymnasts impacted by Nassar’s crimes and launching a new resource for athletes from other Olympic and Paralympic sports recovering from similar abuse.

Forming an advisory group to bring together survivors, advocates, child psychologists and other medical professionals to guide the USOC on stronger safeguards against abuse throughout the Olympic community, and effective support for victims. This may lead to additional changes to the USOC policies and methods for addressing cultural issues and conflicts of interest that may exist in sports, hampering prevention of abuse.

Launching a review of the USOC and NGB governance structure as defined by the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act, including seeking input from safe sport advocacy groups, the NGB Council, the Athletes’ Advisory Council, current athletes and policymakers to consider clarifications and changes to this structure. As the leader of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic community, the USOC must ensure that its governance structure unequivocally provides the ability to oversee and act when necessary to protect athletes.

Revisiting USOC SafeSport procedures to determine what measures are necessary to ensure allegations of abuse are reported to the U.S. Center for SafeSport, in addition to law enforcement, and that necessary follow-ups occur. This also would enable NGBs and the USOC to be more aware of problems as they arise, spot trends, and know where more oversight and engagement are necessary.

Effectively doubling USOC’s funding of the Center for SafeSport to enable it to hire more investigators and staff, improve the speedy resolution of cases, enhance ongoing communication for victims and their families, provide age-appropriate training on recognizing and helping to prevent abuse, and offer better and more accessible resources online.

Ensuring that athletes have a stronger voice within the USOC. In addition to the AAC already in place, the USOC will seek input on its decision making from currently competing athletes and athletes who have competed in the past.

Working with USAG to address its governance issues, implement a culture change, and act on the results of the independent investigation once it is complete.

“The goal of our organization is to protect and support each and every athlete,” said Whitney Ping, an athlete representative on the USOC board. “We are absolutely committed to our ongoing and increased efforts to ensure current and future athletes can train and perform in an environment where they feel safe and supported. As the independent investigation continues, we will continue to look for ways to strengthen them even further.”

A factsheet about these initiatives can be found at TeamUSA.org.

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Independence Center, Mission Medical unveil exam table for disabled patients

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2018 at 10:40 AM

The new exam table. - COURTESY THE INDEPENDENCE CENTER
  • Courtesy the Independence Center
  • The new exam table.
Sometimes, it's the little things that make the biggest difference. Like a doctor's exam table.

That's why the disability nonprofit, the Independence Center, and the free Mission Medical Clinic were so excited to unveil a new accessible exam table at the clinic Feb. 27. The two organizations partnered to buy the table.

"People with disabilities have reported waiting years or even decades to have preventative screenings such as pap smears or something as simple as getting a body weight to base medication dosage upon," a press release from the Independence Center notes.

The problem is that without specialized equipment, people with limited muscle control, or who use wheelchairs, must be transferred to an exam table and risk being dropped during the awkward move. It's also extremely difficult to measure height and weight for patients that cannot stand to use traditional equipment.

According to the release:

The UpScale exam table, built by Medical Accessibility, LLC, features a built in scale and measuring tape for taking important measurements, the ability to raise and lower to necessary transfer height, heavy duty grab bars, high weight capacity, and foot stirrups for pelvic exams, among other features. As part of the collaborative effort between The IC and Mission Medical, Medical Accessibility, LLC has agreed to offer their UpScale exam tables to other health providers in Colorado for a discounted price. 


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Boy who survived botched birth at Memorial "doing well"

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2018 at 10:38 AM

Alexander Rudnicki is in 6th grade. - PHOTOS COURTESY PAMELA RUDNICKI
  • Photos courtesy Pamela Rudnicki
  • Alexander Rudnicki is in 6th grade.
Alex Rudnicki holds a photo of himself at 2 days old.
  • Alex Rudnicki holds a photo of himself at 2 days old.

In the course of writing our story, which appears in this week's Independent, (Feb. 28, 2018) about Alexander Rudnicki's court case, we heard from his mother, Pamela, who gave us an update on how the boy, who suffered brain damage during a botched birth at Memorial Hospital, is doing.

The 12-year-old attends school on Fort Carson, where he is in the 6th grade, she says.

"Alex is doing well," she says in an email. "Still receiving Occupational, Physical and Speech therapies from the amazing people at The Shandy Clinic. He spends most of the school day in special education, and we are blessed with an amazing teacher and supportive staff. While he will have a lifetime of struggles we are grateful how lucky we are to have him and how blessed we truly are."

She also expressed gratitude to the jury in her son's case, who held the doctor, Peter Bianco, responsible and "helped to make sure Alex will be taken care of in the future."

We first wrote about the case in August 2017 after the jury awarded the child $4 million. That verdict has been altered downward, but pre-judgment interest of $1.1 million has been added. Read the rest of the story of how Alex's case could set precedent at the Colorado Supreme Court here.
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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

UPDATE: Remaining charges against Maketa dropped

Posted By on Tue, Feb 27, 2018 at 5:12 PM

UPDATE:
Charges against former Sheriff Terry Maketa have been dismissed. Maketa says he received a copy of the signed judge's order on Feb. 26.


———————-PREVIOUS POST 4:25 P.M. FRIDAY, FEB. 16, 2018—————


Prosecutors have asked that the remaining charges against Terry Maketa be dropped, FOX21NEWS reports.

The decision by prosecutors to dismiss the remaining charges, following two trials in which jurors found Maketa not guilty of certain charges and hung on others, means that the former El Paso County sheriff will walk free.

——- ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 7, 2:25 P.M. ——-
Former Sheriff Terry Maketa and his wife, Vicki, arriving for his trial in late January. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Former Sheriff Terry Maketa and his wife, Vicki, arriving for his trial in late January.

In about three weeks, we'll find out if the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office wants to try former El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa a third time. A status conference is set for Feb. 27.

The first two times Maketa was tried, the trial ended in hung juries and acquittals, most recently on Feb. 5 when the jury couldn't agree on charges of extortion and conspiracy to commit extortion and acquitted him on charges of official misconduct.

When we reported that in this week's Indy, we hadn't heard back from Maketa about the verdict, so we couldn't include his comment in that report.

But we've since gotten a text message from the three-term former sheriff, who says:
We are happy with the outcome. It has been a long process. We felt very good with the official misconduct allegations [verdicts] and knew the evidence was on our side. It appears for a second time the burden for conviction was not met on the other 2 charges. As with last time, we will have to see what the next step is.
For a take on how the recent mistrial might figure into the 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler's political future, check out this story. An assistant, Mark Hurlbert, prosecuted the case.

The indictment against Maketa, issued in May 2016 — 17 months after he left office, also included two other officers who served during his administration.

Former Undersheriff Paula Presley's trial is slated for late July, while former sheriff's Commander John San Agustin had charges dismissed last year.


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UPDATE: ACLU of Colorado sues Sheriff Bill Elder over "ICE holds" at the jail

Posted By on Tue, Feb 27, 2018 at 3:53 PM

People have been illegally held at the county's Criminal Justice Center, the ACLU of Colorado alleges in a lawsuit. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • People have been illegally held at the county's Criminal Justice Center, the ACLU of Colorado alleges in a lawsuit.


UPDATE: The Sheriff's Office has released a statement that appears to defend its enforcement of ICE policies rather than refute the ACLU's claim that it's overstepping its powers. In the statement below, Sheriff Bill Elder also claims that policies on ICE detainees haven't changed since 2007, which is puzzling given that the department claimed to have exited the federal program known as 287(g) in 2015.

Back in February 2017, Elder told the Indy, "Even if we wanted to [house ICE detainees] we just don't have any more room."

Here's his statement:
The Sheriff’s Office will not speak about pending litigation. What I can say is that since 2007, we have not changed any of our practices as it relates to the arrest and housing of inmates to include foreign born nationals. We arrest and house criminals where probable cause exists for a state crime. If the criminal is unlawfully present, EPSO honors the detainer filed by ICE and requires ICE to pick up the inmate within a reasonable period of time.

Make no mistake, we have and will continue to fully cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE itself agrees that we fully cooperate!

The following steps are followed when a foreign born national is arrested on state charges and presented to the El Paso County Jail.

ICE is notified immediately upon booking. If ICE requests a hold, EPSO holds the inmate and notifies ICE when the arrestee is preparing to post bond or be released after serving the sentence imposed by the local court. If ICE wishes to pursue deportation, ICE presents their signed form I-247 (a statement signed by an ICE agent confirming that the person in custody is foreign born) and the foreign-born immigrant remains in custody until ICE responds.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has never been added to any ICE warning list for failing to cooperate.

In addition, El Paso County maintains an Intergovernmental Agreement with ICE, agreeing to hold their in-custody foreign born immigrants who are awaiting deportation. EPSO complies with ICE audits of the jail facility as well. EPSO is reimbursed for the costs of housing immigrants.

The facts are that El Paso County does not provide sanctuary status.

The priority of this agency is ensuring the safety of the community by keeping criminals off the streets, regardless of their nationality or immigration status.
Then, the county, too, issued a statement:
While El Paso County cannot speak specifically to the pending litigation, it is clear that the ongoing debate over United States immigration policies is having a local impact.

Comprehensive United States immigration legislation adopted by Congress in 1952 has been amended and adapted through federal legislation, Presidential orders and court rulings over the last 60 years.

There is almost universal agreement in Washington that through this process that immigration policies and procedures have become overly confusing and are in need of comprehensive reform. But there has been no agreement on reform proposals among federal lawmakers or between lawmakers and the Whitehouse [sic].

As a result, this is an area of the law that is constantly evolving, largely through court rulings on specific cases that may not provide guidance to law enforcement agencies as they deal with local cases.

The Sheriff’s Office has briefed the Board of County Commissioners on the complexities involved. The County will continue to work to ensure public safety by fostering strong relationships with its law enforcement partners at all levels.

The County fully supports the Sheriff’s Office in these efforts and applauds the Sheriff for his ongoing commitment to work in a collaborative manner and reduce crime throughout the region.
——————-ORIGINAL POST 1:46 P.M. TUESDAY, FEB. 27, 2018————————-

The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado has filed a lawsuit against El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder alleging he illegally is detaining people under Immigration and Customs Enforcement orders that don't carry the weight of a warrant signed by a judge.

Moreover, the ACLU is seeking class action status for all detainees who have been or will be illegally held. The class is defined in the lawsuit as "prisoners in the El Paso County Jail who are, or will be, the subjects of immigration detainers (ICE Form I-247A) and/or administrative warrants (ICE Form I-200) sent to the Jail by officers of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement."

According to the lawsuit, the proposed class is "so numerous and so fluid that joinder of all members is impracticable."
Sheriff Bill Elder was named in a lawsuit filed Feb. 27 alleging people are being held illegally in the county jail. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Bill Elder was named in a lawsuit filed Feb. 27 alleging people are being held illegally in the county jail.

According to a roster obtained by the ACLU from the Sheriff's Office for 2017 and the first three weeks of 2018, 180 prisoners were listed as having "ICE holds."

The lawsuit, filed in El Paso County District Court on Feb. 27, alleges that Elder is the only sheriff in Colorado who continues to hold detainees on "ICE holds" after the ACLU explained, back in 2014, that it's illegal to hold someone without a warrant signed by a judge.

We've asked County Attorney Amy Folsom and the Sheriff's Office for a comment on the case and will update if and when we hear from them.

The lawsuit cites specific cases, such as this one:
51. The court set bond for Mr. Cisneros at $2000. On November 28, 2017, Gloria Cisneros, Saul’s eldest daughter, went to the jail to post bond for her father. She posted the money and obtained a receipt, but her father was not released.

52. Gloria made several calls to the jail the next day. She was told that after she posted the bond money, ICE put a “hold” on her father, so the jail would not release him. Later that day, another jail deputy explained that with an “ICE hold” on her father, he could not get out on bond.

53. Gloria was able to obtain the return of the money she had posted in her unsuccessful attempt to secure her father’s release on bond.

54. The inmate search portion of the jail’s website now states that Mr. Cisneros has an “ICE hold.”

55. Gloria Cisneros remains willing and able to again post the $2,000 bond to secure her father’s release from jail pending trial on his misdemeanor charges. Because of Sheriff Elder’s policies that are challenged in this lawsuit, she cannot secure her father’s release without the intervention of this Court. 
Here's the ACLU's news release:
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder is violating Colorado law by refusing, at the request of federal immigration officials, to release prisoners who have posted bond, completed their sentence, or otherwise resolved their criminal case, according to a class action lawsuit filed today by the ACLU of Colorado.

Colorado sheriffs have no legal authority to enforce federal immigration law. Nevertheless, according to the ACLU lawsuit, Sheriff Elder has unlawfully imprisoned dozens of individuals for days, weeks, and even months, without a warrant, without probable cause of a crime, and without any other valid legal authority, solely on the ground that ICE suspects that they are subject to deportation for civil immigration violations.

“Colorado law authorizes sheriffs to deprive someone of their liberty only when there is probable cause of a crime, not for suspected civil violations of federal immigration law,” said ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein. “When individuals have posted bond or resolved their criminal case, Colorado law requires that Sheriff Elder release them.”

The ACLU’s clients, Saul Cisneros and Rut Chavez, have been held in the El Paso County Jail as pretrial detainees since November. Shortly after his arrest, Cisneros’s daughter posted his bond, set at $2,000 by the county court, but the jail refused to release him because of a detainer request from ICE. Similarly, Chavez’s pastor and his wife have been told that due to an “ICE hold,” the jail will not release Chavez on the $1000 bond set by the El Paso County District Court.

In 2014, ACLU of Colorado wrote to Colorado sheriffs explaining that when they hold a prisoner on the basis of ICE detainer requests, they are making a new arrest, without legal authority. The ACLU then negotiated a $30,000 settlement with Arapahoe County on behalf of Claudia Valdez, a domestic violence victim who was held for three days after a judge ordered her release because the jail honored an ICE detainer request.

Within a few months, every Colorado sheriff receiving the ACLU letter declared that they would not hold prisoners for ICE without a warrant signed by a judge. By the end of 2016, more than 500 state and local law enforcement agencies around the country were declining to hold prisoners on the basis of ICE immigration detainers and ICE administrative warrants.

ICE is now promoting a new arrangement that it claims will shield sheriffs from legal liability for honoring ICE detainers. Under this arrangement, ICE signs a contract to house federal detainees at the jail at a daily rate. When ICE takes interest in a prisoner, it faxes or emails three forms—none of which is approved by a judge—to the jail, and according to ICE, the detainee then becomes a federal prisoner in ICE custody.

The new arrangement does not change the fact that when Sheriff Elder holds a prisoner for ICE, it is he, not ICE, who is making a new arrest, one that he has no legal authority to make, according to the ACLU. ICE does not transform a prisoner from state to federal custody by sending a fax or an email, the lawsuit says.

“Sheriff Elder is allowing ICE to co-opt space and resources in an already overcrowded jail,” Staff Attorney Arash Jahanian said. “The jail’s participation in this scheme does nothing to promote public safety. Our clients have no prior criminal records and should have been out on bond months ago, consistent with determinations by a court of law. Their situation is yet another indication of the Trump administration’s inhumane and indiscriminate immigration policies.”

The ACLU’s class action seeks a declaratory judgment and an injunction on behalf of all current and future prisoners who are the subject of ICE detainers. According to the complaint, almost two hundred prisoners were subject to ICE holds in the El Paso County Jail in 2017, and the jail labels more than four dozen prisoners as “ICE holds” on any given day.

The lawsuit also seeks compensation for Cisneros, whose three months of unlawful imprisonment dates from his daughter’s posting of bond in November, 2017.

Plaintiffs are represented by Silverstein and Jahanian from ACLU of Colorado and Stephen G. Masciocchi of Holland & Hart, LLP.

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo builds anticipation for 200th giraffe to be born on site

Posted By on Fri, Feb 23, 2018 at 1:00 AM

Muziki - COURTESY CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO
  • Courtesy Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  • Muziki

It’s been a big week at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. Their most iconic attraction, the giraffe herd, is about to expand. A blood test from Tuesday confirmed that  two female giraffes are pregnant and expecting in late April. The big deal: One of these giraffe calves will be the 200th giraffe born at the zoo since it first started breeding giraffes in 1954.

Love was in the air around Valentine’s Day in 2017, when Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s bull, Khalid, bred with two females, Muziki and Laikipia. Muziki was confirmed pregnant in 2017, but for Laikipia, results were unclear. An initial blood test in June 2017 showed signs of pregnancy, but until this week, nothing could be confirmed because Laikipia would not cooperate to have her blood tested.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo prides themselves on not forcing animals into any tests or activities that the animals don’t want to do. This made the pregnancy test a slow process. They used an operant conditioning technique to train the females to stay calm and stationary when they have blood drawn. The females learn that when they do this well, they get a positive reinforcement, usually a treat. On Tuesday, the trainers were working with Laikipia on this skill, and she did so well that they followed through and took the blood sample.

The zoo revealed the pregnancy to the public by hiding a sign reading “She’s Pregnant!” behind the giraffes’ favorite snack, leafy greens.The two female giraffes ate the food around the sign until the words appeared and the big news was announced to the entire zoo community.

The staff are currently using a similar training technique to get the female giraffes to cooperate for an ultrasound.

Giraffe gestation typically ranges between 14.5 and 15 months, but varies depending on the giraffe. Both Muziki and Laikipia are already showing their pregnancy by the increased size of their stomachs and udders. Sometimes it is even possible to see the babies moving around in their
stomachs.

Training Laikipia to stay still and calm during a blood draw. - COURTESY CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO
  • Courtesy Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  • Training Laikipia to stay still and calm during a blood draw.

The zoo plans to share this exciting time with any and all giraffe fans, by placing a live-streaming “birth cam” in the females’ stall and marking the giraffes so that viewers can tell them apart (and chose who they want to root for). This live stream will begin in mid-April, when the giraffes’ behavior will noticeably start to change due to their pregnancies.

The actual births may or may not be filmed, depending on how the giraffes react to humans at that time.

The zoo staff looks forward to sharing the personalities of these two giraffes with the world. While giraffe baby #200 will get the initial glory, #201 is destined to get more than enough attention from zoo visitors, staff and the other giraffes.

Every Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. leading up to the births, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo will host #200 Tuesdays, where the staff will update the public both live at the zoo and on social media about the Race to #200 between Laikipia and Muziki.


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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Tyler Stevens joins pack running for CD5

Posted By on Thu, Feb 22, 2018 at 4:05 PM

Stevens: Jumping into CD5 race. - COURTESY TYLER STEVENS CAMPAIGN
  • Courtesy Tyler Stevens campaign
  • Stevens: Jumping into CD5 race.
Former mayor of Green Mountain Falls Tyler Stevens has announced he's running for Congress in the 5th Congressional District, becoming the fifth declared Republican candidate.

Others include former Texas judge Bill Rhea, State Sen. Owen Hill, El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn and incumbent Doug Lamborn, who's held the seat for six terms.

According to a letter he sent to supporters, Stevens is trying to raise $20,000 in two weeks, likely to fund a petition signature-gathering effort to get on the ballot.

We've called the campaign and will update if an when we hear back.

Stevens, owner of Complete Kitchens, also has served on the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority and Pikes Peak Regional Building Commission.

Here's his letter:
My name is Tyler Stevens and I will be running for Colorado’s U.S. House District 5. I wanted to personally introduce myself in preparation to embark on this journey. I will be traveling the district to meet voters from every corner in order to gauge what is of immediate concern in our district’s current political climate. Before I do this, I must ensure that I gain enough signatures for ballot access.

This year, we have a unique opportunity to elect an experienced voice – someone who will bring new energy, innovative ideas and a commitment to the people who live in our district and our community.

I’m proud to be a long-time public servant within our region, a first responder, and a small business owner. My commitment to this region runs deep and I want nothing more but to take that passion and energy to Washington, D.C. on your behalf.

We have a unique opportunity to engage unaffiliated voters along with Republican voters in the primary for the first time. This means we will have the ability to reach tens of thousands of new voters who have not been able to cast a ballot in a primary before. These voters are just as frustrated with our direction as I am. I am reaching out to voters who align with my views of fiscal responsibility, common-sense solutions to critical issues and bridging the partisan divide to increase the proficiency of our government.

To get on the ballot, I need to raise an additional $30,000 within the next ten days. I need your help to get my name on the ballot so that I can take the next steps in my efforts to run for Congress. Running my own business has taught me to be pragmatic. Setting benchmarks for my success will not only help me in running a strong campaign, but will also ensure that I use the funds I raise wisely, with our community in mind.

I hope you will join me by making a donation of any size to help fuel our efforts as I prepare myself to run for Congress.

Tyler Stevens

Democrats seeking the seat include Stephany Rose Spaulding, who teaches women's and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and activist Betty Field.



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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Two key LGBTQ issues up for vote in state Legislature ... again

Posted By on Wed, Feb 21, 2018 at 5:29 PM

This is the fourth time lawmakers will vote on the Birth Certificate Modernization Act. - SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
  • This is the fourth time lawmakers will vote on the Birth Certificate Modernization Act.
Even as an oft-lauded progressive state, Colorado isn’t always ahead of the game. In fact, our state Legislature has stalled on two key LGBTQ issues for years, both of which have recently been re-introduced: making it easier for transgender people to change the gender on their birth certificate, and banning conversion therapy (a controversial practice that attempts to change a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation) for minors.

While it’s hard to believe we’re still debating these issues, both of which could prove life-changing for those affected, the debate does continue. It’s up to the voting public — for lack of a better technique — to pester the hell out of Colorado lawmakers, and make sure their voices are heard.

One Colorado, the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, will host its annual LGBTQ Lobby Day on Feb. 26. They will be championing the two issues above. Last year, One Colorado saw its greatest turnout, with more than 350 people showing up to speak to their representatives about the LGBTQ issues up for vote.

The Birth Certificate Modernization Act passed through the Health, Insurance and Environment committee on Feb. 17, meaning it heads to the House for a vote for the fourth year running. The conversion therapy ban was introduced to the House Public Health Care & Human Services Committee on Feb. 14, and is currently under consideration.

The Colorado House is controlled by Democrats, while the Senate has a Republican majority.

If you can’t attend the Lobby Day in Denver but still want to act, One Colorado’s website provides email templates and contact information for state representatives to those who sign up.

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CBI takes a new look at El Paso County Sheriff's Office notary issue

Posted By on Wed, Feb 21, 2018 at 5:09 PM

COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has reopened its look at claims two El Paso County Sheriff's Department employees were pressured to notarize deputy affidavits in violation of state notary laws.

In a Jan. 10 letter to District Attorney Dan May, Colorado Department of Public Safety executive director Stan Hilkey wrote that a CBI investigation found "no evidence existed to substantiate that threats and intimidation took place" against Rick Dietz and Dave Mejia, who worked in the sheriff's human resources department in 2016 when it was discovered that hundreds of deputy oaths and deputy signatures had not been properly witnessed by a notary public and timely filed with the Clerk and Recorder's Office.

Hilkey also stated in the letter, "Due to the absence of any supporting documentation or statements to substantiate the allegation, the CBI considers this matter closed."

After the DA's Office released the letter on Jan. 11, the Independent, which reported the alleged intimidation in a Nov. 8, 2017, cover story, "Law and Error," asked why the CBI had not interviewed a key witness.

In mid-December, the Indy interviewed a retired lieutenant, who witnessed Administrator Larry Borland ordering Dietz and Mejia to notarize hundreds of affidavits of oath that had taken place during the preceding 15 months. Those signatures were not made in Dietz's and Mejia's presence, which is required by law, and the deputies didn't sign a notary journal, also required by notary laws, Dietz told the Indy.

When the CBI announced the case was closed, the Indy asked the retired officer if he had been contacted by investigators and he said he had not, although others who were interviewed said they had given the CBI the retired officer's name and contact information.

(Borland didn't respond to questions for the Indy's cover story but later said he had never ordered a notary public to violate notary laws. Sheriff Bill Elder issued a statement cited in the cover story saying there's no law that requires oaths be notarized and that all were filed with the Clerk and Recorder's Office "for record keeping purposes." The day the story ran, Elder called a news conference and blasted the Indy and this reporter.)

The retired lieutenant, reached by phone by the Indy on Feb. 21, says a female CBI agent contacted him last week. His account:
They were asking me if I knew what law was broken. I said, "I really don't know. I'm not up on notary law. I don't know if it's a procedural law or what it could be." That's up to them. They're the investigators.

They were just saying they got a letter, their executive director or something received a letter about how they didn't do a very good investigation, and they were following up on it. They said they didn't know where this was going to go. I think they were just dotting the I's and crossing the T's.

She asked me all the right questions. She told me, 'We really don't know why we're involved in this.'

I told her as far as I was concerned, it [Borland's directive] was more than an order. Especially because when Borland left, Rick Dietz turned to me and told me, "I think that's against the law." I told him, "Sounds like to me you better get that done." When a command staff level employee comes down [and orders an employee to do something], they should know whether something is against the law or not. They [command staff] told them to do it and use the dates that were on them. If they know they're doing something wrong, they're intimidating the employee. That's what I told her and, again, that's my opinion.
Asked about whether the case was getting a fresh look, Susan Medina, CBI communications director, says via email, "The CBI reviewed additional elements connected with the initial inquiry. As soon as this process is completed, the results will will forwarded to the District Attorney's Office for consideration."

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Learn more about shuttles in Garden of the Gods

Posted By on Wed, Feb 21, 2018 at 10:49 AM

Cold winter days don't attract visitors to Garden of the Gods like in summertime, making this mostly empty parking lot a rare thing. - PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
  • Cold winter days don't attract visitors to Garden of the Gods like in summertime, making this mostly empty parking lot a rare thing.
In this week's Independent I wrote about the city's efforts to improve the visitor experience in some of the its largest recreation areas, most notably Garden of the Gods.

One way to reduce traffic through the Garden is to use shuttles. A study of that option will be reported to citizens at a meeting Monday, March 12, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Westside Community Center, 1628 W. Bijou St.

Here's a news release  about the meeting:
The City of Colorado Springs’ Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department shares details about a recent transportation study designed to help provide a better visitor experience at Garden of the Gods Park. The parks department hired Volpe National Transportation Systems Center to conduct the study, which was funded by the Garden of the Gods Foundation. The department seeks feedback from residents about proposed ways to alleviate congestion, enhance access and reduce emissions.

Anytime of year is a good time in Garden of the Gods.
  • Anytime of year is a good time in Garden of the Gods.
“We know Garden of the Gods is a jewel in our parks system, and therefore it is vital that we work to take care of it, improve accessibility and protect it from the excessive environmental impact caused by high traffic numbers. We hope to explore several alternative transportation options to improve the overall visitor experience.” said Kim King, Parks Administration Manager. “It is our ultimate goal to ensure that this beautiful landmark can be enjoyed safely and responsibly by tourists and residents alike for generations to come.”

Key elements of the Garden of the Gods Transportation Study:

Access to Garden of the Gods Park will remain free
Shuttle service between Rock Ledge Ranch, the Garden of the Gods    Visitor & Nature Center, and Garden of the Gods Park
New ADA accessible trail along the north side of Gateway Road
Increased parking at Rock Ledge Ranch

Here's the shuttle study:


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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Interstate 25 "gap" project included in PPACG's new transportation plan

Posted By on Tue, Feb 20, 2018 at 11:11 AM

Want to have a say in transportation projects in the region? Including "The Gap" on Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock?

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
The Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments has introduced its Fiscal Year 2019-22 Transportation Improvement plan for public comment.

In a release, PPACG says it's added five new projects to the list that weren't carried over from the 2017-22 plan.

To comment, write to Kevin Rayes, Transportation Planner, 15 S. 7th St., Colorado Springs, CO, 80905, or email KRayes@ppacg.org, or call 471-7080/ext. 140.

Here are the five new projects:
• I-25 North to El Paso County Line - Construction of northbound and southbound lanes from Monument to Douglas County. This is the PPACG portion of a larger $350,000,000 project extending north to Castle Rock.

• Charter Oak Ranch Road - Reconstruct the unimproved 2 lane road to collector standards from Highway 85/87 to Gate 19 at Fort Carson.

• Fountain Creek Regional Trail Extension through Downtown Fountain - Extend as a paved trail from Fountain Creek Regional Park to Hanson Park trailhead southerly through downtown Fountain to the Adams Open Space Trail adjacent to the Fountain Public Library.

• Mountain Metro Transit Route 12 Phase 4 Enhancements - This project will improve safety for pedestrians, bicyclists and the driving public by:
  a. Adding new sidewalks and segments of curb and gutter to complete missing links.
    b. Widening or reconstructing sidewalks to ensure ADA accessibility.
   c. Adding ADA accessible pedestrian ramps and improving access to transit stops along the corridor.
   d. Installing transit waiting pads and adding signage and pavement markings where missing or in poor condition.
   e. Adding striped, marked and signed bicycle lanes throughout the corridor.

• 30th Street Roadway/Safety Improvements - Construct roadway and safety improvements along 30th Street from Fontanero Street to Mesa Road. The project includes the construction of multi-purpose shoulders, drainage/stormwater improvements, resolving slope erosion and sight line/radius safety issues, and intersection improvements.

All comments received will be available on the PPACG website after the comment period ends. The comments will be used during the approval process by staff and by the PPACG Board of Directors at the April 2018 Board Meeting. For information on meeting accessibility or to request assistance, contact Jessica McMullen, PPACG Policy and Communications Manager at jmcmullen@ppacg.org.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Colorado's Amendment 71 violates the U.S. Constitution, federal judge says

Posted By on Thu, Feb 15, 2018 at 11:54 AM

SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
Proponents of Amendment 71, which was approved by voters in 2016 and makes it harder for citizens to petition measures onto the ballot, were dealt a setback on Valentine's Day when a federal judge said one provision violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides for equal protection under the law. That's because the amendment doesn't treat every citizen petition signature the same.

The idea of Amendment 71 was to prevent the state constitution from being endlessly amended by various ballot measures petitioned onto the ballot. The amendment required signatures from every senate district, as well as a number equal to 5 percent of votes cast in the secretary of state race in the previous election. Before, in order to petition an initiative on the ballot, a campaign had to collect a certain number of signatures, but it didn't matter where in the state the signatures came from.

The lawsuit was filed by interests behind Amendment 69, a measure that would have created statewide universal health care and went down in flames in 2016 by an 80-20 margin. The same interests now want to mount a new initiative in coming years.

Judge William Martinez on Feb. 14 denied the state's motion to dismiss and further ordered the state to show cause by March 9 "why the court should not enter final judgment against it and a permanent injunction against enforcing subsection 2.5 [the requirement to collect signatures from every senate districts] to the extent there exists a material difference in voter population between state senate districts."

Martinez also noted that "the Court concludes that Plaintiffs' have demonstrated a Fourteenth Amendment violation ...." and that "thus, part of the new amendment process is constitutionally infirm." He noted that because the plaintiffs hadn't filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, he's giving the state more time to "show cause why final judgment and a permanent injunction should not enter."

It's unclear how the ruling might affect the 2018 election, but it could open the door for petitioning measures onto the ballot without having to meet the "senate district" hurdle, making it easier to mount ballot questions.

Many elected officials across the state endorsed Amendment 71, including Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, who appeared in broadcast commercials promoting a "yes" vote.

Asked to comment on the ruling, Suthers says via email, "If Judge Martinez does not change his ruling after SOS [Secretary of State, the defendant] input, I’ll look forward to review by the 10th Circuit [Court of Appeals]."

Meantime, Colorado Foundation for Universal Health Care issued this statement on the ruling:
DENVER, COLORADO: A Federal judge on Wednesday gave the Colorado Secretary of State until March 9 to show that a section of Amendment 71 is constitutional, or he'll rule it's not.

Passed by voters in 2016, Amendment 71 made it hugely expensive to impossible for grassroots groups to change the state constitution. It required at least 2 percent of the registered voters in each of Colorado's 35 senate districts to sign a petition to amend the state constitution for that amendment to make the ballot.

It also mandated that Colorado voters had to approve any amendment that added to the constitution by a supermajority of 55 percent instead of a majority of 50.01 percent. It left intact the 50.01 percent requirement to delete an amendment from the constitution.

In April, attorney Ralph Ogden filed suit against Amendment 71 as unconstitutional in part because it allows the votes in any one senate district to bear heavier "weight" than votes in the 34 other districts combined, violating the one-person, one-vote rule protected by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

If proponents of a ballot initiative couldn't gather signatures from 2 percent of the registered voters in any one of the 35 senate districts, it would prevent the measure from ever appearing on the ballot, even if the vast majority of Colorado voters want it and would vote for it.

On Wednesday, Federal Judge William J. Martinez agreed, throwing out a motion to dismiss the case filed by the defendant, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams. At the same time, Judge Martinez ordered the secretary of state to show cause by March 9th why the judge should not enter both a final judgment in the plaintiffs' favor and issue a permanent injunction barring the secretary from enforcing the unconstitutional part of the amendment.

He also requested Williams' office provide any info on upcoming 2018 election dates and deadlines that might be affected by the ballot initiative process.

Before 2016, 5 percent of Colorado voters from anywhere in the state had to sign a petition in order to place an initiative on the ballot. Getting that 5 percent signed was difficult, with just one-third of all citizen ballot initiative attempts over the last 10 years getting on the ballot. According to the plaintiffs' complaint, the 2 percent requirement would nearly triple the cost of collecting the required number of signatures, making it impossible for most citizens' groups to place their ideas on the ballot and ensuring that only the wealthiest organizations could do so.

"We're elated Amendment 71's unconstitutional requirements are being thrown out," said Sara Wright, director of communications for the Foundation. "Passed following a $3 million campaign funded by special interests like the oil and gas industry, Amendment 71 aimed to curb citizen groups seeking to change Colorado law in the public interest."
The plaintiffs in the case include William Semple, as an individual Colorado voter; Cooperate Colorado, the nonprofit group that garnered enough signatures to place initiative #20 on the ballot as Amendment 69; ColoradoCareYes, the nonprofit issue committee that unsuccessfully campaigned for ColoradoCare's passage in 2016; and Dan Hayes, a proponent for initiative #4 "Limit on Local Housing Growth."

Both Semple and Ogden serve on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Foundation for Universal Health Care.

The Colorado Foundation for Universal Health Care promotes a not-for-profit health care financing system at the state and national level that pays for comprehensive, high quality, affordable health care services for everyone. 
Read the ruling here:

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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Front Range water supplies under study by local firms

Posted By on Wed, Feb 14, 2018 at 9:56 AM

Royal Koepsell, left, and Sean Chambers are working on an online tool that will catalog information about water providers along the Front Range. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Royal Koepsell, left, and Sean Chambers are working on an online tool that will catalog information about water providers along the Front Range.
In this week's edition of the Independent, we report about recommendations that Colorado Springs Utilities sell water to subdivisions outside the city on a long-term basis.

Those subdivisions rely on a mish-mash of water sources, which can be confusing for home buyers in determining whether their homes have a sustainable water supply.

But that confusion could end with the development of an online database of information about water providers from Denver to Pueblo being compiled by two Colorado Springs firms under a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Peak Spatial Enterprises and Chambers Econ & Analytics will be gathering information on dozens of water providers, including water rates, conservation requirements, annual water quality reports, points of contact and more.

"The data allows a buyers to make their own decision," Sean Chambers, owner of Chambers Econ & Analytics who's worked with several water districts, says in an interview.

Counties included in the project include Pueblo, El Paso, Teller, Douglas, Arapahoe, Denver and Adams.

Royal Koepsell with Peak Spatial and Chambers say the project could eventually extend beyond the pilot area and would require updating as changes occur. They hope to assemble a coalition of supporters, including state government, to fund enlarging the area and updating the tool.

Read the news release:
 
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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Banning Lewis Ranch: Residents weigh in with letters to City Council

Posted By on Tue, Feb 13, 2018 at 11:42 AM

The north portion of the Banning Lewis Ranch is being developed by Oakwood Homes, but the biggest sections remain prairies. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • The north portion of the Banning Lewis Ranch is being developed by Oakwood Homes, but the biggest sections remain prairies.
Rewriting the annexation agreement for the 20,000-acre Banning Lewis Ranch has been characterized as one of the biggest decisions City Council will make regarding future development of the city.

But the citizenry isn't very engaged, judging from written comments to Council obtained by the Independent via a Colorado Open Records Act request.

Council has received letters and email messages from 21 citizens, most of whom oppose the proposal to change the agreement, which would ease costs associated with development.

That's only a fraction of the comments Council received from hundreds of citizens about its land swap with The Broadmoor, which saw the city cede ownership of Strawberry Fields open space.

The ranch was annexed in 1988 but not much has happened, because the cost of development discourages developers from moving forward, according to Mayor John Suthers. Instead, developers have "leapfrogged" over the city into territory just outside the city in the Falcon area, taking tax revenue with them.

Suthers wants to stop that outflow, citing a study by TischlerBise financial analysis firm that predicts the city would see a net gain of $49 million in revenue over 30 years if 6,000 acres of the ranch is developed.
Most of the ranch remains undeveloped, and Mayor John Suthers sees that as lost opportunity. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Most of the ranch remains undeveloped, and Mayor John Suthers sees that as lost opportunity.

Here's a sampling of comments Council has received:

Adrian Vinke: "Taxpayers should not be required to pay for issues caused by developers. We the citizens are taxed for everything as it is. The developers are the ones who make the money from developing, let them pay the way."

Esther Mueller: "We, the citizens, cannot afford to subsidize this or any development. We have been repeatedly told by the City that we need to provide additional money in order to afford the development currently in place, as funding from existing citizens has been approved for roads backlog (won’t complete without a renewal for at least another 5 years), some police officers (but not the full amount), and stormwater now as a separate cost."

Neil Talbott: "Changing the initial BLR agreement is chicanery of the highest sort and we should not support it for the simple reason that it puts taxpayers on the hook for things developers previously agreed to."

Walter Lawson and Dave Gardner: "What is the projected cost for capacity enhancement of all arterial roads (and construction of new arterials) to serve the residents of BLR? Is it included on the cost side of this study? What is the projected level of service on I-25 in town, and north to Denver, once BLR is built-out? Are any of the costs of required I-25 or major arterial roadway capacity expansion included in the study? If not, who will be paying for these items?"

Leon Skatberg: "I recall then mayor, Robert Isaac insist[ed] that the annexation agreement be written the way it was to ensure current taxpayers and ratepayers not be stuck with infrastructure costs. I believe he witnessed (he served five four-year terms as mayor) what everyone knows now, that developers did not pay their fair share on development costs and subsequently things like storm water drainage weren't built. I would not like to see us return to the good old days."

William Escovitz: "A small error in the estimated benefits by TischlerBise, or the costs, would totally wipe out the benefits and put the City into the red, at least regarding the budget.
Any change [of] the development agreement would have to be compellingly beneficial to the City, not marginally or doubtfully beneficial."

If you want to read all the comments provided to the Indy, here ya go:

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