Tuesday, August 21, 2018

UPDATE: El Paso County commissioners eye sheriff's tax extension

Posted By on Tue, Aug 21, 2018 at 2:34 PM

Sheriff Bill Elder: Has underspent his budget for three years running. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Bill Elder: Has underspent his budget for three years running.
El Paso County announced on Aug. 22 that county commissioners will consider referring the sheriff's tax measure to voters at their Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 meetings. The measure would impose the .0023 percent tax permanently. Originally approved by voters in 2012 and effective in 2013, it's due to end in 2020.

The original announcement didn't say whether the sheriff's tax extension would be permanent or for a time certain. So we asked.

This is the response from county spokesperson Dave Rose via email:
Staff recommendation is to continue the dedicated PSST with no sunset. Staff view is that a sunset makes sense when you are funding “one-time” needs such as building a number of specific roadways but it makes less sense when you have ongoing mandated requirements like staffing to secure the jail and food and medical services for inmates. I would expect a good deal of discussion on that point when the proposal and draft language go to the Board at its regular meetings August 28 and September 4.
———————-ORIGINAL POST 2:34 P.M. TUESDAY, AUG. 21, 2018—————————

On the morning of Aug. 21, the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners met behind closed doors to discuss a ballot measure to extend the sheriff's sales tax of .62 percent.

They emerged from the session more than an hour later with County Attorney Amy Folsom saying, "No decisions were made."

In 2012, voters approved the measure, a sales tax of .0023 percent for eight years, effective Jan. 1, 2013. The measure, called 1A, was approved when then-Sheriff Terry Maketa was at the height of his popularity; in fact, the ballot measure itself named Maketa. He was subsequently tried for various crimes but was never convicted, despite two trials, and alleges it was an attempted frame-up by his internal foes.

The tax expires at the end of 2020.

In its first five years, the tax generated more than $100 million, and it's been underspent most if not all of those years, according to annual reports available on the sheriff's website.
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office

The first year, 2013, Maketa didn't spend $4.9 million of the $17.9 million generated by the tax, and carried it over to the next year. In 2014, about $19 million was spent, including new 1A revenue and the carryover, while some of the money was used by county commissioners to spend on emergency management.

Since Sheriff Bill Elder took office on Dec. 31, 2014, the department has underspent its budget three years running. It's impossible to know how much was collected and spent under 1A based on Elder's 2015 report, however, because all revenues are lumped together. In any event, he ended up with $3.7 million unspent that year.
In 2016, he had $1.8 million extra from 1A, and last year, he underspent his budget by nearly $1.2 million.

From 2017 annual report: "Our ongoing fiscal oversight and conservative approach to budgeting has allowed us to increase staffing, lower capital spending, and significantly under spend our annual budget for the third year in a row by nearly one million dollars."

It's unclear why commissioners saw fit to meet behind closed doors regarding asking voters to extend the tax or make it permanent.

The executive session notice gives the purpose of the confidential meeting as being requested by the county attorney "regarding ballot language for consideration by the Board, which may request voter approval to, without raising taxes, continue the 2012 Public Safety Tax to maintain critical services at the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office."

Specifically, the notice says commissioners need to "conference" with the county attorney "for the purpose of receiving legal advice on specific legal questions, including but not
limited to, legal implications of a ballot question as well as legal implications of ballot language options."
Some might ask, what's the big secret? Why is discussion of a ballot measure, which will reportedly be referred to voters in November, considered a confidential matter to be shielded from the public?
The Rural Enforcement Outreach Unit is one of the departments funded with 1A. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • The Rural Enforcement Outreach Unit is one of the departments funded with 1A.
Well, as you recall, county commissioners have a history of tricky ballot language, such as the 2010 question that gave commissioners and other county elected officials a third four-year term beyond the previously voter-restricted two terms. The public was so outraged at the deception they insisted on another crack at the question and subsequently reversed their previous approval.

Deadline to submit a measure to be on the Nov. 6 general election ballot is Sept. 7.

So there doesn't appear to be much time for commissioners to take action. The summer schedule has commissioners meeting just once a week, on Tuesdays. The regular schedule of meetings every Tuesday and Thursday resumes in September, so there are three meetings left before the ballot measure referral deadline.

Commissioners Peggy Littleton and Mark Waller were not at the dais when the executive session ended.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , ,

El Paso County jail is "bursting at the seams," sheriff says

Posted By on Tue, Aug 21, 2018 at 1:53 PM

  • File photo
The inmate population at El Paso County's Criminal Justice Center reached a new record on Aug. 20, at 1,829.

That beat the former record of 1,791 set in August of 2017, the Sheriff's Office said in a release.

The jail, at 2739 E. Las Vegas St., was termed "bursting at the seams" by Sheriff Bill Elder in the release, endangering inmates and detentions officers.

"At today’s population, the jail is at a critical place in which the Sheriff and the staff are feeling the pressures of too many inmates and not enough space or personnel," the release said. "Those numbers impact the safety of both staff and inmates as it increases the likelihood of fights and assaults within the jail."

Elder said in the release, “My number one priority is the impact this situation has on our deputies in the jail. We will continue to focus on jail staffing until we find a more permanent solution. Building a new jail or adding to the existing facility is just not an option. My jail Command Staff and I continue to explore and implement ways to manage our jail population including moving inmates to other facilities within the state.”

The release did not say how much moving inmates to other facilities would cost El Paso County taxpayers. Nor did the release mention the county's practice of holding inmates who couldn't pay a $55 administrative fee who otherwise could have bonded out. On Aug. 14, the county settled a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado by paying $190,000 to 183 people at a rate of $125 per day. Jasmine Sill, who was held for 26 days, will receive $60,000.

The practice has been discontinued.

In June, Elder announced he would roll back the amount of training required of detentions deputies to save money and get more jailers on staff quicker.

It's unclear how much the burgeoning jail population will drive up jail medical and food costs.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , ,

Monday, August 20, 2018

Medal of Honor to be presented to son of Colorado Springs woman

Posted By on Mon, Aug 20, 2018 at 5:19 PM

Chapman: Paid the ultimate price for his country. - COURTESY U.S. AIR FORCE
  • Courtesy U.S. Air Force
  • Chapman: Paid the ultimate price for his country.
Air Force Combat Controller Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman will be posthumously awarded the the nation’s most prestigious military decoration, the Medal of Honor, by President Trump on Aug.  22, 2018, for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.”

Chapman's mother, Terry, of Colorado Springs, plans to attend the Medal of Honor ceremony at the White House.

Here's a description of Chapman's actions from the Air Force:
According to the medal nomination, Tech. Sergeant John Chapman distinguished himself on the battlefield through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity,” sacrificing his life to preserve those of his teammates. Chapman was part of a joint special operations reconnaissance team deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 that came under overwhelming enemy fire during a heroic rescue attempt on Takur Ghar mountain, Afghanistan, March 4, 2002.

“Tech. Sgt. John Chapman earned America’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor, for the actions he performed to save fellow Americans on a mountain in Afghanistan more than 16 years ago,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. “He will forever be an example of what it means to be one of America’s best and bravest Airmen.”

During the initial insertion onto Afghanistan’s Takur Ghar mountaintop, the MH-47 “Chinook” helicopter carrying Chapman and the joint special operations reconnaissance team flew into an enemy ambush. Intense enemy small arms and rocket propelled grenade fire significantly damaged the helicopter, throwing Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts into the “hornet’s nest” of enemies below. Following a controlled crash landing a few miles away, the remaining team members elected to fly back to the enemy-infested mountaintop in a heroic attempt to rescue Roberts.

During the rescue attempt, Chapman and his teammates once again received heavy enemy fire from multiple directions. Chapman, despite the enemy fire, charged uphill through thigh-deep snow to directly assault an enemy position. He took the enemy bunker, cleared the position, and killed the enemy fighters occupying the position.

Then, with complete disregard for his own life, Chapman deliberately moved from the bunker’s protective cover to attack a second hostile bunker with an emplaced machine gun firing on the rescue team.

During this bold attack, he was struck and temporarily incapacitated by enemy fire.

Despite his wounds, Chapman regained his faculties and continued to fight relentlessly, sustaining a violent engagement with multiple enemy fighters before paying the ultimate sacrifice. In performance of these remarkably heroic actions, he is credited with saving the lives of his teammates.

“Tech. Sgt. John Chapman fought tenaciously for his nation and his teammates on that hill in Afghanistan,” said Air Force Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein. “His inspiring story is one of selfless service, courage, perseverance, and honor as he fought side by side with his fellow Soldiers and Sailors against a determined and dug-in enemy. Tech. Sgt. Chapman represents all that is good, all that is right, and all that is best in our American Airmen.”
Chapman is the 19th Airman awarded the Medal of Honor since the Department of the Air Force was established in 1947, the Air Force says. He is the first Airman recognized with the medal for heroic actions occurring after the Vietnam War. 
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , ,

Friday, August 17, 2018

DA to brief "innocent bystander" Thomas Villanueva in fatal deputy shooting

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2018 at 2:43 PM

Thomas Villanueva, with his mother, Sallie, and Father, Tom, during an Aug. 15 protest. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Thomas Villanueva, with his mother, Sallie, and Father, Tom, during an Aug. 15 protest.

The 28-year-old man who was paralyzed from the chest down by a bullet in a Feb. 5 shootout that killed a deputy will meet with District Attorney Dan May on Tuesday, Aug. 21.

Thomas Villanueva, described by Sheriff Bill Elder as an "innocent bystander," posted on Facebook that his meeting will cover "if the cops were unlawfully wrong in some way."

Villanueva also tells the Independent the DA's Office plans to publicly release its finding about whether the shooting was justified that same day, Aug. 21.

A DA's Office spokesperson said via email, "We’re still coordinating meetings, so I can’t confirm a day, but it’ll likely be next week. And the report from our office is being finalized."

Thomas, his parents and other relatives and a witness to the shooting, Michael DeRossett, staged a protest on Aug. 15 in front of the El Paso County Coroner's Office to urge release of the autopsy reports of Deputy Micah Flick and auto theft suspect Manuel Zetina, who were killed in the attempted arrest of Zetina by a multi-agency task force.

They also appeared outside the courthouse that same day.

Coroner Robert Bux has petitioned the District Court to have the autopsies sealed, citing grief of the Flick family, including Flick's widow, Rachael. There's no mention in Bux's petition of Zetina's family's grief. The Independent and Gazette have joined to oppose Bux's maneuver. A hearing is slated for Aug. 24.

Sheriff Bill Elder speaking to the media on Feb. 6, saying all officers involved in the auto theft operation wore police placards identifying themselves as police. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Bill Elder speaking to the media on Feb. 6, saying all officers involved in the auto theft operation wore police placards identifying themselves as police.
Meantime, DeRossett's wife, Heather, tells the Indy that what she saw that day at Murray Hill Apartments, at Murray Boulevard and Galley Road, conflicts with official statements made by local law enforcement regarding the task force operation.

Both Sheriff Elder and Colorado Springs Police Department spokesman Lt. Howard Black have said all officers were wearing clearly visible police insignia at the time.

But DeRossett backs up the Indy's June 20 report that at least six police officers from the CSPD, Sheriff's Office and State Patrol participating in the mission didn't have on visible police insignia or give verbal warnings they were cops when attempting to arrest Zetina.
"It looked like a gang fight in the beginning," she says. "I saw a group of guys in plaid shirts. They didn’t yell out 'police' or anything. I saw them go after that one kid, and they were surrounding him. They threw him down on the ground, handcuffed him, and I saw five or six of them in a circle around him and [they] started shooting and shooting. They looked like they were holding him down, with his hands behind his back. I seen them fire. Like I said, I thought it was a gang fight, so I grabbed my kids."

DeRossett observed the shooting from her second-story apartment window about two car lengths from the action, she says. She also says a neighbor told her that Zetina had pounded on a woman's door just before the shooting happened, saying, "Somebody's after me. Somebody's after me." DeRossett says she didn't see Zetina pull a gun or fire any shots.

"He thought it was a gang, too, because they weren't wearing anything that says they were officers," Heather DeRossett says.

Heather DeRossett says the first officer insignia she saw was worn by SWAT officers who arrived two to three minutes after the shooting started.

Her husband, Michael, provided the Indy a photograph taken that day of Flick lying on the ground, wearing a plaid shirt, and another officer in a plaid shirt standing over him. Two other officers in uniform were knelt beside the fallen officer.

Heather DeRossett says she didn't know Thomas had been shot until after she returned to her apartment several minutes later after having grabbed her kids and fled into the hall because "bullets were flying everywhere." Then she noticed he was lying in the street.

Villanueva tells the Indy he was returning from a restaurant on the east side of Murray when he saw about six people, but no police uniforms. "They kept looking my way," he says in a Facebook message. He proceeded westbound in the parking lot where the lot makes an L turn. "Right away, shots fired," he says.
Deputy Flick's patrol cruiser parked outside the Sheriff's Office the day after he was killed. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Deputy Flick's patrol cruiser parked outside the Sheriff's Office the day after he was killed.
Villanueva has filed a notice of claim with the county and other agencies, a required step that preceeds a lawsuit. No other notices of claim have been filed with the county regarding the Feb. 5 shooting incident.

There's no word if or when the police investigative report will be released to the public. Although the CSPD and Sheriff's Office participated in the shooting, both agencies had a hand in investigating the incident and submitted a report to the DA's Office on April 13.

The Indy's June 20 investigative story and subsequent story about officer-involved shootings, based on interviews with witnesses and officers at the scene and those familiar with the shooting, reported there's no evidence the task force trained together on auto-theft operations, that higher-ups in all three departments were concerned with officers pointing guns at people and that that led to officers not having their guns drawn when they approached Zetina.

Officers, who didn't want to be named, told the Indy that Flick tried to grab Zetina from behind, prompting Zetina to produce a gun and fire behind him, striking Flick in the neck. Three other officers also were injured in the shooting.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Air Force Academy dean of faculty announces retirement amid exodus of STEM professors

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2018 at 2:26 PM

Brig. Gen. Andrew Armacost - U.S. AIR FORCE
  • U.S. Air Force
  • Brig. Gen. Andrew Armacost
The Air Force Academy's dean of faculty Brig. Gen. Andrew Armacost announced today, Aug. 17, he will retire effective Aug. 1, 2019. The announcement comes amid the departure of at least six permanent party professors — an unprecedented exodus all in one year of permanent professors, all of whom are from STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] departments, sources tell the Independent.

The Academy usually has about 20 permanent professors who head academic departments. They are military members assigned to the Academy to “provide continuity to academic programs, to increase stability in institutional governance through membership in Academy boards and committees, and to embody the quality standards of airman-scholar-citizen,” according to an Air Force instruction.

Armacost's successor has not been named.

Armacost took over as dean following the departure in summer 2013 of Dana Born, who drew controversy for her alleged promotion of fundamental Christianity via sponsoring an ad in the base newspaper favoring that faith, which led her to tangle with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a group that fights for religious freedom in the military. She also was accused, but the allegation was never proven, of ordering a counter-insurgency against MRFF.

Also troubling, she was the focus of an Inspector General's investigation for allegedly misrepresenting faculty credentials to the academy's accreditation agency. That probe later concluded she was negligent.

But Armacost drew cheers from MRFF for his explanation of when it's appropriate for Academy personnel to talk about their faith.

The Indy caught wind that Armacost was leaving and asked the Academy about it on Aug. 14, saying our information was that he would retire in December.

Academy spokesperson Meade Warthen responded in an email, "You got some bad information. Brig. Gen. Andrew Armacost, who has been Dean since the summer of 2013, is not retiring in December."

When we asked again, asking if he would step down next spring, Warthen replied, "We will be notifying the media on this topic soon, but suffice it to say Brig. Gen. Armacost is not retiring at the end of this academic year, next May or June."

In any event, now we know. Here's Armacost's parting shot in a message to faculty:


This summer marks the completion of my fifth year as your Dean. When first taking this position, I thought, “How long should I expect to serve in this role?” That’s a particularly tough question to answer, as it depends upon many factors. But I’ve long felt that six years (or so) would offer stability to the institution, while opening an opportunity for another leader to build upon the successes we’ve had.

Last week the AF Chief of Staff accepted my request to retire effective 1 August 2019. This follows conversations with Lt Gen Silveria that began a year ago. I appreciate the SUPT’s support for this decision and his tremendous leadership of this institution. Though we are awaiting final approval from the SECAF, I wanted each of you hear the news directly from me first in order to avoid speculation.

This will be an exciting transition. In the aftermath of massive budget cuts in 2013 and 2014, we have made steady strides on restoring our resourcing while advancing the state of our outstanding educational programs. The 11th Dean of the Faculty will be in a position to lift the institution and our cadets to even greater heights, building upon the hard work and success of the 750 members of the DF team. The search for a new Dean will begin soon.

I’m honored to have spent nineteen years serving at the Academy in a variety of roles that support cadet education and development. Rest assured, you’ll have my complete focus until the day I leave.

With deep gratitude,

Andy Armacost

ANDREW P. ARMACOST, Brigadier General, USAF
Dean of the Faculty
Armacost could not be reached for comment.

Here's the Academy's news release:
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, August 16, 2018

I-25 toll lanes and town halls: Filling in the gaps about the expansion

Posted By on Thu, Aug 16, 2018 at 3:14 PM

  • beelgin

Most Colorado Springs drivers would agree: The most frustrating, anxiety-inducing section of any commute along the Interstate 25 corridor is the 18-mile "gap" between Monument and Castle Rock, where a quick 30-minute trip to the outlet mall can turn into a two-hour ordeal.

After voters approved two ballot measures that allotted money to widen that notorious portion of the highway, and the Colorado Department of Transportation gave the final go-ahead in June, construction is almost ready to begin to add new lanes in each direction.

In spite of protests from county commissioners and constituents, CDOT has decided those lanes will be toll lanes. (That's in part because a $65-million federal grant to help with construction stipulates that's necessary.) However, CDOT proclaims in an Aug. 15 statement that those tolls will be the lowest in the state — $0.15 per mile, or around $2.25 for a total trip.

CDOT's High Performance Transportation Enterprise, a government-owned business, conducted a traffic and revenue study that determined this fee "would likely provide for a reliable travel option while improving travel times across the general purpose lanes." It's also apparently based on a survey of motorists who indicated how much they'd be willing to pay.

The money will pay for "tolling equipment and installation, tolling operations and maintenance of the Express Lanes in the I-25 South Gap corridor to include snow plowing, and debris removal and pavement repairs."

Motorcycles and vehicles carrying three or more people will be able to use the lanes for free.

Gear up for a long ride: The new Express Lanes won't be open until 2022, CDOT says, though that's still the "fastest delivery of a project this size in CDOT history." Construction on the northern section of the gap, near Castle Rock, is set to begin in early September.

Both lanes will usually remain open in the daytime during construction, CDOT says, but drivers on the highway at night can expect lane and ramp closures. Slower speed limits, large trucks, and narrower lanes could also make a frustrating commute more frustrating. (But hey, it's all about delayed gratification!)

CDOT is hosting two town halls where residents can learn about the upcoming years of construction, and about the project in general. Here are the times and dates from an Aug. 14 CDOT statement:

Monday, Aug. 20: El Paso County
5-7 p.m.
Monument Academy, 1150 Village Ridge Point in Monument

From I-25, use Exit 161 – Highway 105. Drive east on Highway 105 for 1 mile. Monument Academy will be located on the left after Integrity Bank. Turn left at Gold Canyon Road into the parking lot of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Limited parking at school use the church parking lot. Enter through the front of the school through the Gym doors.

Wednesday, Aug. 22: Douglas County
5-7 p.m.
Douglas County Fairgrounds, Kirk Hall, 500 Fairgrounds Road in Castle Rock

From I-25, take the Plum Creek Parkway (Exit 181) east. After about 1 mile, turn left on Fairgrounds Road.

For ADA accommodations, please call the project hotline – 720-745-5434 – 48 hours ahead of the meeting.

Both opportunities are open-house style events — there will not be a formal presentation. Attendees can visit any time between 5 and 7 p.m. to talk one-on-one with project experts. There will be multiple display boards explaining the project and plenty of staff available to answer questions.

Telephone Town Hall Sept. 6

For those who cannot attend either event in person, CDOT will also host a Telephone Town Hall from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6. The automated system will call some area stakeholders. Those who don’t receive a call and want to participate can call 1-877-229-8493 and enter passcode 117409.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The building department has too much money. Now it must give it away.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 16, 2018 at 8:00 AM

  • 401kcalculator.org
Here's something you don't hear a lot: A local government agency has collected so much money in fees that it now has to find a way to give away the cash.

More details the planned give-away by the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department were revealed at an Aug. 15 meeting of the Regional Building Advisory Committee.

The committee advises the Regional Building Commission, comprised of three elected officials from the region.

In an informal program, RBD gave away nearly $1 million in 2016 and 2017 from its reserve fund, which has topped $10 million. And that doesn't include cash that will flow in from building permit and inspection fees from the series of hail storms that have hit the area this summer, most recently on Aug. 6.
The criteria for the donations program include:

• Funds must be available to disperse without adversely affecting RBD's services.

• Applicants must be an active 501(c)(3) with an IRS nonprofit designation.

• Requests must be directly related to the construction industry in El Paso County or directly related to construction activity or promote the education, knowledge and awareness of the industry.

• Proposed projects must demonstrate a benefit to the public in El Paso County.

• Applicants must submit an annual budget and other financial information.
The program will be closed to endowments, individuals, organizations that don't have fiscal responsibility for the proposed project, religious programs, requests for overhead costs, programs designed to influence a legislative purpose or political race, programs to produce media projects, or any programs outside El Paso County.

"Unless something changes, we're good," Advisory Board chair Darren Tiffany said.

Jina Koultchizka, RBD's attorney, said the proposed policy, in draft form at this time, would be submitted to the Regional Building Commission at its Aug. 29 meeting.

However, Commission member Mark Waller, who's an El Paso County commissioner, has said he wouldn't support the measure until all jurisdictions covered by RBD have had a chance to weigh in.

The advisory board also reviewed a 2018 budget amendment and the proposed 2019 budget. A 25-percent fee reduction effective Aug. 1 through year's end would be extended through 2019 under the budget proposal, as would a licensing rewards program that waives licensing fees for all contractors who have had a clean record for three years.

The idea is to chip away at the growing reserve fund, which is supposed to be no more than 50 percent of budget under the intergovernmental agreement with seven member agencies — Colorado Springs, Fountain, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Monument, Palmer Lake and El Paso County.

But due to a July 2016 hail storm and an uptick in economic activity, the reserves have ballooned.

RBD plans to hire 14.5 positions this year to deal with growing work demands, which will eat up $629,242 in fees, while next year's spending will exceed revenues by roughly $1 million, reducing the reserves.

But RBD doesn't yet know how the hail storms will impact revenues, so it's possible reserves could grow.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , ,

The Springs is big with small businesses

Posted By on Thu, Aug 16, 2018 at 6:00 AM

  • Pixabay

According to Thumbtack.com, Colorado Springs has lots of little reasons to celebrate.

Between last year and this year, the city bumped up its "B" score in "overall friendliness" to an "A+" on the site's Small Business Friendliness Survey, which ranks 57 cities based on factors such as licensing requirements, tax regulations, and labor and hiring regulations.

Colorado Springs outshone many of its peers, coming in at No. 4 nationwide. (Though it's government websites got a big, fat "F." Ouch.)

The survey is based on the input of 7,500 small business owners across the country, Thumbtack.com says.

Here's the city's full report card:

Employment, labor and hiring: A
Licensing: A
Tax code: A-
Training and networking programs: A-
Ease of hiring: B
Regulations: B
Ease of starting a business: C+
Government websites: F

The city, clearly, still has some studying to do on a couple of subjects (*cough* technology *cough*) but notes in an Aug. 14 statement that "Recognizing usability challenges, the city launched a redesigned website in the spring."

TBD whether that makes a difference next year — if so, Colorado Springs could climb even higher. This year, Fort Worth, Texas, topped the list, followed by San Antonio, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio.

The state of Colorado earned a "C+" in overall friendliness, and Denver got a "C-." We're unimpressed.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , ,

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A map of the red-light camera locations chosen by the city

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2018 at 1:39 PM

  • Walter Baxter
After analyzing factors like collision data, traffic volume and speeding, the city has chosen four intersections for red-light cameras:

• Northbound Academy Boulevard at Carefree Circle
• Eastbound Platte Avenue at Chelton Road
• Westbound Briargate Boulevard at Lexington Drive
• Southbound Academy Boulevard at Dublin Boulevard

Violators caught by cameras will be fined $75, not including court costs.

It's not the first time Colorado Springs has taken a swing at red-light cameras. The first, short-lived attempt began in 2010 before Steve Bach's tenure as mayor. Cameras were placed at four intersections (completely different from the newly selected ones) for about a year. But the project got the red light in October 2011, just over a year later, when the city found it was "not meeting safety expectations" and Bach called for an end to the unpopular program.

"According to data supplied by program partner, American Traffic Solutions, Inc. (ATS), while there was an overall modest (30 percent) reduction in red-light running violations through September, results varied widely," reads a 2011 release from the city announcing the shutdown.

"For example, the program had a 22 percent increase in violations at the north-bound approach on Nevada Avenue at Bijou Street. In addition, preliminary information from the City’s Traffic Engineering and Police Departments showed the program had no impact on dangerous front-to-side collisions at program intersections."

Colorado Springs Police Department Chief Pete Carey supported shutting down the program in 2011. “A review of the data after one year shows conflicting information at best," he's quoted in the city's release. "We discussed the program with Mayor Bach and determined citizens would be best served if we reassigned personnel to other priority functions.”

However, Carey last fall argued for reinstating red-light enforcement, saying cameras were necessary because of an officer shortage and a rising number of traffic accidents and fatalities.

This year is set to break traffic fatality records in Colorado Springs. Last year, there were a total of 39 accident-related deaths, the most ever. This year, there have already been 32 (compared with only 22 at this time in 2017).

“If [installing cameras] saves lives and prevents hospital visits, I think we should do it," Carey said at a public forum last year.

But whether they do is still an if. Studies have shown mixed results as to whether red-light cameras actually make people safer. Some show that installing cameras results in fewer T-bone crashes, but more rear-ends.

There's also the "training effect" on drivers.

The Gazette quotes Mayor John Suthers as saying the cameras will help, because people "forget exactly which intersection it is, so it has the effect of making people a lot more careful within a radius.”
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Shooting victim Thomas Villanueva demands public records hidden by coroner

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2018 at 12:17 PM

Thomas Villanueva, paralyzed from the chest down, made an appearance outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office on Aug. 15 to protest an effort to close autopsy reports from a Feb. 5 shooting of Deputy Micah Flick and an auto theft suspect. From left, Thomas' mother, Sallie, Thomas, his father Tom Villanueva, and his friend Michael DeRossett, who observed the shooting. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Thomas Villanueva, paralyzed from the chest down, made an appearance outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office on Aug. 15 to protest an effort to close autopsy reports from a Feb. 5 shooting of Deputy Micah Flick and an auto theft suspect. From left, Thomas' mother, Sallie, Thomas, his father Tom Villanueva, and his friend Michael DeRossett, who observed the shooting.
Thomas Villanueva, the innocent bystander gravely wounded in a Feb. 5 shootout in which El Paso County Sheriff's Deputy Micah Flick was killed, staged a protest with family members and friends on Aug. 15 outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office.

Coroner Robert Bux has petitioned the 4th Judicial District Court to keep autopsy reports of Flick and an auto theft suspect that Flick and other officers were attempting to arrest, Manuel Zetina, closed from the public. (Zetina was also killed in the shootout, and three officers were injured.) Bux cited grief of Flick's family as the reason for his petition, along with an ongoing investigation. The Independent, the Gazette and other media have opposed the petition, for which a hearing has been set for Aug. 24.

"Public records — that's what they are, public," Tom Villanueva, Thomas' father, said. "What's going on? We don't know. But we need answers." The Indy published an exhaustive investigative report about the shooting on June 20, quoting officers and witnesses who said the task force that attempted to arrest Zetina gave no verbal warnings they were cops, didn't have badges or police insignia showing and didn't have their guns drawn. Thomas Villanueva was caught in the crossfire in the parking lot of Murray Hill Apartments as he walked back to his apartment at Galley Road and Murray Boulevard from eating at a restaurant across the street.
Thomas Villanueva's relative, Derik Dubbel, and others moved the protest to the courthouse later on Aug. 15. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Thomas Villanueva's relative, Derik Dubbel, and others moved the protest to the courthouse later on Aug. 15.
Tom Villanueva questioned whether proper protocols were followed and whether officers had the proper training for what turned out to be a botched operation, which involved the Colorado Springs Police Department, El Paso County Sheriff's Office and State Patrol.

"We need transparency," he said. "That's the No. 1 thing. We're waiting for the police records to be released. It's taking a long time. We're just waiting. We're here for Thomas, and to make sure that doesn't happen to anyone else."

Michael DeRossett, who saw the shooting happen, repeated his previous comments made to the Indy that police didn't identify themselves, give a warning to others or look like police officers. They were wearing "plaid and flannel," he said, not placards identifying them as cops.

"There were children out at play," DeRossett said. "There's a playground 50 to 100 feet away. There should be protocols in place to make it safe [to attempt an arrest] in a populated area."

He added he hoped the protest would help with Thomas Villanueva's "fact-finding mission," but added, "It feels like they have something to hide."

The police report, compiled by the CSPD and the Sheriff's Office, the very agencies involved in the shooting itself, was submitted to the District Attorney's Office on April 13 but DA Dan May's office has yet to issue a finding of whether the shooting was justified. (State Rep. Joseph Salazar has said he wants to revisit a law that calls for independent investigations of police shootings.)

Other information — about who shot whom, how many shots were fired and the like — would be contained in police reports, but it's unclear if those will ever be released.

Thomas, who is paralyzed from the chest down from a gunshot wound, told reporters he's having a hard time paying for his treatment, noting that Medicaid pays for only 12 physical therapy sessions per year. A GoFundMe page has provided some money but likely not enough to pay for his care and treatment, which will last his lifetime.

"They say I really don't have a chance of walking again, or get my bladder back," Thomas said.

His father, who was there with Thomas' mom, Sallie, said the shooting was life-changing for the entire family.

"It's been a roller coaster," he said, "a nightmare. We're caregivers now. We're glad he's alive. It's been life-changing, life-altering."
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

City worker berated after Hillside park funding pulled

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Activist Victoria Stone speaks to Hillside community members at the Living Word Baptist Church. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Activist Victoria Stone speaks to Hillside community members at the Living Word Baptist Church.

About three dozen people packed into Living Word Baptist Church Aug. 10 with their young children, neighbors, friends, and — in the case of Colorado Springs City Councilor Bill Murray and El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez — their constituents, for a Hillside neighborhood meeting fraught with tension.

They were there to discuss and defend the Leon Young Pavilion, an aging wooden structure near the corner of Corona Street and Fountain Boulevard on the southern end of the Shooks Run trail. It's named for the city's first, and only, black mayor.
We reported last month on community members' efforts to use $150,000 in community development block grant money to revitalize the pavilion. Though the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department has the pavilion on a list of structures "to be addressed," meaning it's likely to be demolished at some point, and the Community Development Division was ready to give Hillside the grant money to build something new, hopes to have the structure torn down and rebuilt were rejected by Parks ostensibly on the grounds that might interfere with the decades-in-the-making Legacy Loop trail plan.

Problem is: The trail is already laid in the park, and thus it's not clear why a new structure would be in the way. And then there's the fact the city parks appears to have lavished funds on large parks or parks in wealthier neighborhoods.

In a southeast neighborhood that's long felt ignored, the change in plans made some people angry, and inspired them to rally around a piece of their neighborhood that's considered not only an integral part of its character, but also a monument to a Colorado Springs trailblazer.

For many neighborhood residents, Parks' offer to revisit the structure for the next grant cycle, looking at minor beautification projects such as adding picnic tables instead of replacing the pavilion, wasn't enough.

The Leon Young Pavilion is near the southern end of Shooks Run trail. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The Leon Young Pavilion is near the southern end of Shooks Run trail.
"$150,000 would make that park something that we could honor," activist June Waller said. "If we had the $150,000 we could take care of that now. Our babies could play in that park now."

Tilah Larson, a representative from Parks who fielded protests from community members, reiterated that the project "was not something we could accommodate at this time" because of two "pending, very large infrastructure projects": the Envision Shooks Run and Legacy Loop plans.

The Legacy Loop, a planned trail system that incorporates the Shooks Run Trail, and circles the greater downtown area, was first envisioned a century ago. There is no timeline for completing it, and the project is complicated by steep costs and stubborn landowners.
The Leon Young Pavilion sits near the Loop’s southern end and, as previously noted, already has a wide, smooth trail in place that goes around the structure. And Catherine Duarte, a representative from the city’s Community Development Division who worked with the city to identify the pavilion as a space for federally funded improvements, says she looked at the city’s plans and didn’t find any reason to believe the project would interfere.

Since they didn't think the pavilion would get in the way of the city's plans, said activist Mia Ramirez, community members didn't approach the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board until it was too late to work out a solution.

Replacing the pavilion, Larson says, is "not something [Parks is] comfortable with because when this planning process [for the Legacy Loop] comes to fruition, you’re going to see the possibility of adding a ton of new park elements down there... What we don’t want to do is put a new structure and then in a few years from now sit there and go, 'I wish it would have been here,' or 'If only we would have done this,' because that’s not a good use of federal funding."

But that argument didn't hold water for some neighbors at the meeting, frustrated that grant money was going to Memorial Park instead of Hillside's aging, splintering pavilion named for Leon Young.

Several women took turns raising their voices at Larson, who stayed on the defensive, backing up Parks' actions at every turn.
"The funds are there," said Hillside resident Sharon Dickerson. "It sounds like [improving the pavilion] could be done right away, but I’m getting that the city is saying, 'No, we can’t do anything about what you want to do until we decide what we’re gonna do.'"

One resident, Deborah Harvin, held up the neighborhood's damaged sidewalks as an example of why Hillside feels neglected. She says that although people visiting downtown walk through the neighborhood regularly, the city won't pay to fix the sidewalks.

"Thousands of people...come down our streets, use our neighborhood to get to that park or to get to that park, and you’re not gonna buy us sidewalks?" she said.

Joan Clemons, the director of Hillside Community Center, intervened to say that if people were upset, they should come to the city's public meetings and speak their opinion about development projects at every opportunity.

"The community needs to find out what’s going on in their community," she said. "You can’t beat somebody up for something that you’re finding out about now."

But Stephany Rose Spaulding, an outspoken attendee and the Democrat running against Rep. Doug Lamborn in the 5th Congressional District race this year, said the city wasn't making enough effort to solicit input from Hillside, a neighborhood known for poverty and high crime rates as well as racial diversity.

"(Outreach) might look very different in the way that we reach out to this specific community about what is happening," Spaulding said. "It might not be, 'come to our stuff,' it might be, I need to show up at your house to have this conversation so that you all don’t feel left out of the process....to make sure that the most vulnerable of us are brought into the conversation."

The city has scheduled an open house Aug. 21 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Hillside Community Center (925 S. Institute St.) to discuss current and planned Parks projects, CDBG grants and applications, and homelessness issues. City Councilors Richard Skorman and Tom Strand will attend along with city staff.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A single protester showed up to a "rally" against county shooting secrecy

Posted By on Tue, Aug 14, 2018 at 3:36 PM

A few media and one citizen were the only ones to show up at the rally. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • A few media and one citizen were the only ones to show up at the rally.
Media, including the Independent, are fighting to know exactly how the shootings went down at the Murray Hill Apartments. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Media, including the Independent, are fighting to know exactly how the shootings went down at the Murray Hill Apartments.
One person showed up at a rally on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Michael Varney was there to express his concern that city and county officials aren't pumping enough resources into public safety.

The intended purpose of the rally was to protest Coroner Robert Bux's desire to keep autopsies of Deputy Micah Flick and auto theft suspect Manuel Zetina, killed in a Feb. 5 shootout at an east-side apartment complex, secret.

Thomas Villanueva, who lived at the complex at that time, was shot during the shootout and paralyzed from the chest down.

But late on Aug. 13, rally organizer Michael DeRossett posted a message on Facebook, saying:

I regret to inform that Thomas has been advised against  the protest.. I will have to step back in the organizing of any further activities Due to I can not pursue something that might effect Thomas in his situation. HOWEVER FEEL FREE TO SUPPORT Thomas Villanueva AND YOUR RIGHTS TO TRANSPARENCY. I step down from here Thomas. I wish you luck
Then, Sallie Villanueva, who's relationship with Thomas wasn't made clear, wrote, "The advisement of our lawyer we have decided not to go we still want people to show up to help support Thomas we still want the records open."

Varney says he lives a mile from where the shooting happened. "I came down here to see what this is all about. I go by that apartment complex all the time. There's always a lot of shady stuff going on. I want to see better attention to public safety issues."

A second rally slated for Aug. 15 at the coroner's office is reportedly still a go.

————-ORIGINAL POST 12:01 P.M. MONDAY, AUG. 13, 2018————————————

A rally will be staged at 9 a.m., Tuesday Aug. 14 outside the El Paso County Courthouse at 270 S. Tejon St., to urge Coroner Robert Bux to release coroner reports for Deputy Micah Flick and alleged auto thief Manuel Zetina.

Both were killed Feb. 5, 2018, in a shootout after a task force consisting of the Colorado Springs Police Department, El Paso County Sheriff's Office and State Patrol attempted to arrest Zetina, reportedly without having their guns drawn, their police insignia showing or announcing who they were.

Wounded in the crossfire was Thomas Villanueva, a passerby who is now paralyzed from the chest down and has filed a notice of claim saying he could file a lawsuit against the county, the city and others. Three officers also were wounded.

Michael DeRossett, who was quoted in the Independent's June 20 report, "Officer (let) down," (at the link above) is organizing the event.

From a Facebook page about the rally:
Join us in our protest of the sealing of public records. Protest with us support Thomas Villanueva in our fact find mission and our search for answers on the 14th and 15th of August. The public deserves answers!

This is a media firestorm! Join us and be a part of the fight for our right to Autopsy records that are supposed to be public record! Do they have something to hide in this case? Who's responsible for all those stray bullets! Who shot who? Did they follow protocol? We demand TRANSPARENCY. We want answers. Our condolences to officer Flicks Family. We do not mean to rehash it all for you. But we must stand for the rights of others as well.
The Indy, the Gazette and other media have challenged Bux's proposal to keep the autopsies sealed forever. Here's what our news editor, J. Adrian Stanley, had to say about his effort.

The group also plans a similar rally outside the Coroner's office, 2741 E. Las Vegas St., at 9 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 15.

The official report of the shooting hasn't been released, and District Attorney Dan May has yet to issue a finding on whether the shooting was justified.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, August 13, 2018

CSFD firefighters defer collective bargaining request

Posted By on Mon, Aug 13, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Colorado Springs firefighters who belong to the International Association of Firefighters Local 5 won't seek City Council approval of a ballot measure for the April 2019 city election until November, the association said in an email. Local 5 had intended to ask Council to refer the measure during the Aug. 14 meeting.

The Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters Association has requested a deferment to City Council on the non-binding resolution concerning a Collective Bargaining ballot initiative scheduled for the 14th at Councils formal meeting.

We believe that broadening and improving our education to the public during our signature gathering campaign will ensure that City Council representatives know that their constituents are well informed. We have appreciated the work that City Council has done in working with this issue and we will continue to keep them up to date.

We will look to revisit the agenda item in November when Council will have an opportunity to actually place the measure before the electorate in the April municipal election.

Council President Skorman has accepted the request for deferment. 
We previously reported last year that Local 5 would push for a ballot measure, which would contain a clause prohibiting a strike in a case where Local 5 and city administration couldn't reach agreement.

Mayor John Suthers has expressed opposition to collective bargaining.
  • Favorite

Tags: , ,

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo: Two more animals dead after hailstorm

Posted By on Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 12:54 PM

  • Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo continues to suffer from the consequences of a freak hailstorm Aug. 6, announcing the deaths of two additional animals that fell victim to baseball-sized hail that shattered skylights and pelted outdoor exhibits.

A meerkat pup, which had recently been born and wasn't yet named, went missing underground after the storm and has not been recovered. The zoo has assumed it passed away. The second new casualty is Snoop, one of the zoo's prized peacocks.

On Tuesday, the zoo had confirmed the loss of a rare cape vulture, Motswari, and Daisy, a Muscovy duck.

Among the injured animals is Twinkie, a Rocky Mountain goat who suffered an eye injury. She's improved since Monday, the zoo says, and an external veterinary team from the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University will visit her Friday. Other animals are improving or stable, and some have been removed from the zoo's list of medical concerns.

Many zoo guests and employees were injured during the storm, some rushed to the hospital. And vehicles in the uncovered parking lot were rendered undriveable by smashed windshields. The zoo says there's still about 100 cars waiting to be towed, down from more than 200 on Tuesday afternoon.

"Zoo security will continue to monitor the cars through 5 p.m. Aug. 9," reads an Aug. 8 statement. "At that time, if a vehicle is still in the lot, it will be towed to the south corner of the Zoo's parking lot without security monitoring...If vehicles are still not claimed by Tuesday at 8 a.m., they will be towed to a monitored facility at the owner's expense."

The zoo plans to reopen this Saturday, Aug. 11, at 8 a.m. for members and 9 a.m. for the general public. It will close at the regular time of 5 p.m. After that, the zoo will return to its normal schedule: seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EdVenture programs for kids and teens (including birthday parties, ZOOMobile appearances, WildNights, Kids-Only WildNights, Zoo exploration tours and teen programs) are canceled until Monday, Aug. 13.

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is one of only nine zoos with accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums that doesn't have tax support. Instead, it operates on admissions, membership dues and donations, the zoo says.

"Although the Zoo is fully covered by insurance, the revenue lost during these high-season days will still be a hit for our non-profit budget," the statement reads. "Our employees are also stretched financially, due to personal vehicle losses."

Those wishing to help the zoo and its employees recover from the storm can donate at https://bit.ly/2OYtInY.
  • Favorite

Tags: , , , , , ,

Colorado River still runs dry, Utah plan to divert more water to wasteful county


For the past several months, the Colorado River Basin has been in serious drought conditions. Now, Utah plans to build the Lake Powell Pipeline, which will divert even more water from this river to its most wasteful county.

The Lake Powel Pipeline will be 140 miles long, and it will divert 86,000 acre-feet of water every year uphill to Washington County. This county is known as one of the most water wasteful in the whole country. In fact, the average person in the seven Colorado River Basin states uses 164 gallons of water per day, whereas the state of Utah has an average water consumption per person of 214 gallons a day.

But wait, it gets worse. According to the pipeline's own federal project application, residents in Washington County use 325 gallons per capita a day, which is more than twice the national average.

"Utah's failure to reduce water waste while planning new, destructive diversions flies in the face of the collective progress made in the Colorado River Basin," Taylor Graham, Water and Environmental Journalist at the Utah Rivers Council, said in a recent press release.

A statewide goal encourages Utah residents to reduce water consumption by 25% by 2025, with no goals set beyond that. According to Utah's Division of Water Resources, much of the state has the ability to reduce their water consumption by much more than 25%.

A study conducted by James Lutz of the Environmental Energy Technologies Department of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated that 8% of the water used by an average family goes down the drain while waiting for the water to heat up. That's just one of the many water-wasting habits Americans have grown accustomed to. Bad habits like that are a serious waste of water, and the people of Utah will need to take things like that into account if they hope to reduce water waste in the years to come.

Already, residents of the Rocky Mountain state are expressing their concerns about the lack of urgency by those living in Utah.

"We don't have enough water to not conserve," said Roy Schell, a resident of De Beque, Colorado.

  • Favorite

Tags: , , , ,

Recent Comments

All content © Copyright 2019, The Colorado Springs Independent

Website powered by Foundation