Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Colorado Republicans mock sexual assault charges against Kavanaugh

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2018 at 1:22 PM

Three state House Republicans took to Facebook to joke about recent sexual assault charges brought against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

On Sept. 15,Rep. Patrick Neville, the House minority leader from Castle Rock, shared a satirical article from Christian satirical news site, The Babylon Bee, that mocked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's allegations against Kavanaugh. Ford has accused Kavanaugh of pinning her to a bed, groping her and trying to remove her clothing at a party in the 1980s when the two were teenagers. She also says he covered her mouth when she tried to scream, causing her to fear for her life.
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Kavanaugh had been scheduled for a confirmation vote Sept. 20, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for a delay in light of the allegations.

Ford originally said she was willing to testify, but on Sept. 19 her attorney said she wanted the FBI to investigate first — making some Republicans less willing to delay the vote past Sept. 24.

Shane Sandridge, who represents Colorado Springs' House District 14, was quick to join in on Neville's mockery, saying that Kavanaugh was also a cheater at "Duck, Duck, Goose" as a child. Sen. Chris Holbert, the Senate majority leader from Douglas County, added, "An anonymous source who may or may not have ever been associated with the Little League has allegedly stated that, at the age of nine, Kavanaugh's right foot did not touch the base when rounding second. #LifeChoices"

(Disclosure: Sandridge was appointed to the vacant House District 14 seat in 2017, beating this reporter's mother, Anita Miller.)

As of Sept. 19, the post had 22 shares and dozens of comments, many disparaging the three prominent Republicans.

"The time for believing women is now," wrote Rep. Faith Winter (D-Westminster), who is running for reelection. "When our House Minority Leader and Senate Majority Leader jokes about sexual [harassment] and assault, it is no wonder why women do not feel safe working in the Colorado Capitol. A report from April of this year documented that 30% of folks at the Capital saw or experienced harassment, yet very few reported it."

Winter was referring to a report by outside consultant Investigations Law Group commissioned after a slew of sexual harassment allegations against state lawmakers, including former Rep. Steve Lebsock (D-Thornton), who was expelled from office in March. Winters accused Lebsock of harassing her.

Morgan Carroll, the Colorado Democratic Party chair, demanded that the representatives apologize for their comments.

"After everything that went on at the Colorado legislature this year, it is outrageous that three members of the GOP caucus — including two in leadership — thought it was appropriate to mock a credible accusation of sexual assault against Judge Kavanaugh," she is quoted in a Sept. 19 release. "The people of Colorado deserve an apology from these lawmakers who apparently think sexual assault is a laughing matter."

All three representatives are up for reelection in November. Neville faces Democrat Danielle Kombo, Sandridge faces Democrat Paul Haddick, and Holbert will run against Democrat Julia Varnell-Sarjeant and Steve Peterson, an independent.

Notably, on his campaign website, Sandridge touts his experience as a "clinical psychotherapist working with many teenagers and adults with major depression disorder and suicidal ideations."
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5 Questions for Ron Stallworth, the BlacKkKlansman

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2018 at 11:26 AM

COURTESY RON STALLWORTH
  • Courtesy Ron Stallworth
Indy: What was it like joining the CSPD when you were still a teenager?

Ron Stallworth:
It wasn’t easy. While some cops treated me fairly, many did not. Also, I was too black for many whites, and too blue for many blacks. Whites would call me boy, Nigger or worse. And many blacks thought of me as an Uncle Tom or a Pig. But I just kept my head up, for I believed then, just like I believe now, that while it is fine to 
protest from the outside, you can have a real impact if you are inside the system.

Why were you assigned to provide protection for KKK Grand Wizard David Duke when he visited the Springs? Was it to get under Duke’s skin or to piss you off?

Actually, neither. I got the assignment because I was the only intelligence officer available at that time. I did not want the assignment because I thought it might jeopardize our undercover investigation, since I already had had so many phone conversations with Duke. But he never recognized my voice.

You have refused to disclose the identity of the undercover operative who served as the “white Ron 
Stallworth.” Why?

I reached out to him when I was 
writing the book back in 2013. He said he did not want anything to do with this project. I have respected his request.

Any thoughts about the current CSPD?


Chief [Pete] Carey is a professional with a solid reputation. The CSPD has never reached out to me. But if they did, I would welcome the opportunity, for the department gave me a start to a wonderful career. I am forever grateful for that.

How has the movie changed your life?

“[There’s] no way I could plan for what has transpired. For a while last month, my book was No. 1 on The New York Times Best Sellers list. And so far, I am already booked solid with speaking events through February 2019. It’s exhilarating and exhausting, quite the roller coaster ride.”
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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Trump administration proposes historically low refugee ceiling for 2019

Posted By on Tue, Sep 18, 2018 at 1:39 PM

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks in Washington in May. - U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
  • U.S. Department of State
  • Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks in Washington in May.

The State Department will accept a maximum of 30,000 refugees next year, breaking the record for the lowest cap on admissions for the second year in a row.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the new number — 15,000 under this year's limit — during a Sept. 17 media briefing, adding that the administration also plans to process more than 280,000 asylum cases. Historically, there has been no official limit on the number of admitted asylum seekers, and Pompeo did not provide an estimate of how many would actually be granted protection.

While refugees and asylees must both prove a "well-founded fear of persecution" in their country of nationality based on race, religion, nationality or social group, refugees must have their paperwork approved before entering the United States. Asylum seekers, on the other hand, ask for protection when presenting themselves at a port of entry or submit an application from within the U.S.

Currently, about 800,000 people already in the U.S. are waiting for a judge to rule on their asylum cases, Pompeo said. That's due in large part to an influx in Central and South Americans, including teenagers and young children, crossing the border to escape violence and extreme poverty.
"In consideration of both U.S. national security interests and the urgent need to restore integrity to our overwhelmed asylum system, the United States will focus on addressing the humanitarian protection cases of those already in the country," Pompeo said. "This year's refugee ceiling also reflects our commitment to protect the most vulnerable around the world while prioritizing the safety and well-being of the American people, as President Trump has directed."

As of Sept. 14, with just weeks left in fiscal year 2018, the U.S. had admitted a mere 20,825 refugees, far short of the 45,000-person limit set by President Donald Trump's administration. The year before, President Barack Obama had set the cap at 110,000, but Trump cut that number in half with an executive order after Obama left office.

Normally, the total number falls no more than a few thousand short of the cap, but changes at the administrative level overseas, including a longer vetting process, have caused a shortfall unheard of since right after 9/11.

Pompeo says part of the reason the cap is lower this year is to maintain rigorous vetting: "The security checks take time, but they're critical."

Refugee program cuts have already taken a toll on Colorado's resettlement agencies, the Independent reported in June. At the time — about three-fourths of the way through the fiscal year — Lutheran Family Services in Colorado Springs had resettled only 40 refugees, compared to 110 total last year, according to volunteer coordinator Cathy Verdier.

Denver's African Community Center had resettled 134 refugees in June, though it had planned to accommodate 400 by the end of September, Managing Director Melissa Theesen said. Two years ago, ACC's total was 581.
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Monday, September 17, 2018

Colorado Springs Utilities chooses new CEO

Posted By on Mon, Sep 17, 2018 at 4:43 PM

Aram Benyamin: Chosen as CEO. - COURTESY CSU
  • Courtesy CSU
  • Aram Benyamin: Chosen as CEO.
Monday, Sept. 17, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board voted to offer the energy supply general manager, Aram Benyamin, a contract as the new CEO of the $2 billion enterprise.

Benyamin would replace Jerry Forte, who retired in May after more than 12 years as CEO.

He came to Utilities in 2015 from Los Angeles Department of Water and Power after he was ousted the previous year due to his close association with the electrical workers union, according to media reports. He also had supported the challenger of Eric Garcetti, who was elected as mayor.

Benyamin tells the Independent that he will accept the offer, although details are being worked out, including the salary. Forte was paid $447,175 a year.

Benyamin will take his cues on major policy issues from the Utilities Board but does have thoughts on power supply, water rights and other issues involving the four services offered by Utilities: water, wastewater, electricity and gas.
Drake Power Plant near downtown will continue to be a hot button issue, regardless of who fills the CEO chair. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Drake Power Plant near downtown will continue to be a hot button issue, regardless of who fills the CEO chair.
He says he hopes to see more options emerge for Drake Power Plant, a downtown coal-fired plant that's been targeted for retirement in 2035. That's way too late, according to some residents who have pushed for an earlier decommissioning date.

"Along the way, we talked about transmission upgrades that will allow us to import more energy that will make it more reliable," Benyamin says. Noting the city has employees who assess power costs round-the-clock, he adds, "Because of the city’s size and the importance of having your own sustained generation, we look at opportunities on the market to bring in energy if it’s cheaper or generate our own if it’s cheaper. The problem with transmission coming in is, if there’s congestion the price goes up and its uneconomical to import."

Benyamin will have to walk a fine line between traditional fossil fuels, supported by some on the Utilities Board as the cheapest source of power, and renewables, which also have support on the board.

Regardless of President Donald Trump's push to remove pollution requirements from coal to prop up the coal business, Benyamin says those policies haven't affected the direction Utilities is moving, which is toward more renewables.

Utilities has been slower than some to embrace solar and wind, because of the price point, but Benyamin says prices are going down. "Every time we put out an RFP [request for proposals] the prices are less," he says, adding that renewables will play a key role in replacing Drake's generation capacity, which at present provides a quarter to a third of the city's power.

While sources are studied, he says the city is moving ahead with "rewiring the system" to prepare for shutting down the plant. But he predicted a new source of generation will be necessary.
This outlet is part of the Southern Delivery System water pipeline that increases the city's water supply via Pueblo Reservoir. Benyamin says he's open to sharing water outside the city, but city needs should come first. - COURTESY CSU
  • Courtesy CSU
  • This outlet is part of the Southern Delivery System water pipeline that increases the city's water supply via Pueblo Reservoir. Benyamin says he's open to sharing water outside the city, but city needs should come first.
Though he acknowledged he's not fully versed in Utilities' water issues, he says it's his goal to "serve the city first."

"Any resources we have we need to prioritize them to the need of the city today and the future growth and then decide what level of support we can give to anybody else," he says.

The Utilities Policy Advisory Committee earlier this year called for lowering the cost of water and wastewater service for outsiders — notably bedroom communities outside the city limits which are running lower on water or face water contamination issues.

Benyamin also says he's open to further studying reuse of water. "Any chance we have to recycle water or use gray water for irrigation or any other use that would take pressure off our supplies, that’s always a great idea to look into," he says.

Asked for his take on policies that reduce development costs at the expense of residential customers, Benyamin repeats his unfamiliarity with some policies but adds, "My approach to economic development has to be put in the context of overall benefit to the city. I look at it from a broader perspective. What you call a subsidy I might call a development opportunity."
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Friday, September 14, 2018

County's Dave Rose retires after 40+ years in the information business

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 4:10 PM

Rose: Heading for retirement. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF EL PASO COUNTY
  • Photos courtesy of El Paso County
  • Rose: Heading for retirement.
This isn't an obituary or anything, but on the momentous occasion of the retirement of Dave Rose, it's worth taking note of his long service to the community in more ways than one.

I first became aware of who Dave Rose was in the mid-1990s when I was working for the daily newspaper and had just produced a story raising questions about Colorado Springs Utilities' payments to his boss, former Colorado Springs mayor Harry Hoth, who owned KRDO TV where Rose worked as news director.

Rose was in my face demanding answers to questions about why I had suggested anything untoward in the Utilities deal, which would pay Hoth $500,000 for right-of-way to accommodate a water project.

Which is to say, Rose can be passionate about what he does, whether in the journalism world, or as public information officer for El Paso County, a position he held for 10 years and from which he soon will step down.

Lots of journalists transition from news to public relations, and Rose did so flawlessly. For journalists, it's somewhat of an advantage to deal with former journalists in the PR world. One hopes they recall their own days trying to squeeze information from public agencies.

Parsell: Picking up where Rose left off.
  • Parsell: Picking up where Rose left off.
That said, Rose was always fiercely loyal to his employer. He's adeptly kept the heat off commissioners at times, while providing information to reporters when they ask. He's become a skilled spin doctor, in other words, without sacrificing credibility.

It wasn't an easy gig. Rose has had to be anywhere and everywhere, such as coordinating information during the Waldo Canyon Fire in 2012 (he helped set up and oversee the Disaster Recovery Center) and the Black Forest Fire in 2013. He was also there early on snowy mornings advising about road conditions, traveling with commissioners to various conferences, and other meetings, and explaining or defending commissioners' actions.  He served in ancillary roles too, such as on the board of the El Paso-Teller 911 Authority, and was a board member of the National Association of Broadcasters and National Association of County Information Officers.

Anyway, Rose's days as the county's spokesperson will end on Oct. 19 when he relinquishes the reins to Ryan Parsell, who worked as PIO for the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office from 2013 to 2017, after which he served as deputy state treasurer. His salary will be $110,000.

Rose himself issued the news release, in which County Administrator Henry Yankowski is quoted as saying, "Ryan brings a broad range of experience in public communications, legislative and policy development and organizational management in private, public and non-profit sectors.”

So after more than 30 years in radio and television news, and another 10 with the county, Rose is calling is quits. Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age, but I, for one, am really going to miss Dave. 
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Three ways to help women beat ovarian cancer

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 2:06 PM

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  • Shutterstock.com
One woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer every day in Colorado. And every 40 hours, the disease kills a Colorado woman, according to the Sue DiNapoli Ovarian Cancer Society.

The Southern Colorado nonprofit works to raise awareness of ovarian cancer, and helps the women fighting it pay for medical expenses, prescriptions, household expenses and health insurance deductibles.

Since there's no test for ovarian cancer (it's not covered in a Pap test), women's best defense against the disease is being able to recognize its symptoms, the Ovarian Cancer Society says. Those can include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain or pressure, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and urgent or frequent urination. Women experiencing these symptoms for more than two weeks may have early-stage ovarian cancer, and should see a gynecologist for further testing.

If the disease is diagnosed early, a woman's chance of survival is 93% — more than double her chances when the diagnosis is late-stage cancer.

Here's how you can show your support for the women fighting this disease for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and into the future.

1. Get a tattoo

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  • Shutterstock.com
Between Sept. 11 and Sept. 15, Fallen Heroes Tattoo is donating $40 for every $60 tattoo to the Ovarian Cancer Society. On Saturday, the business will host an all-day party with lunch from Bird Dog BBQ, vendors and more to conclude its five-day Tattooathon event.

If you haven't scheduled an appointment, owner Brenda Brown says there's still a few times available through the 15th. "We are willing to stay as late as people are willing to come," she promises.

This is Fallen Heroes Tattoo's third year supporting the Sue DiNapoli Ovarian Cancer Society. Brown says the goal is to raise $15,000 — nearly double the $8,000 raised last year.

Call (719) 635-7431 to schedule an appointment with Fallen Heroes Tattoo, located at 524 W. Colorado Ave.

2. Get your exercise

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  • Shutterstock.com
The Ovarian Cancer Society's 10th Annual Be Ovary Aware 5K Run 3K Walk is Sunday, Sept. 16 at America the Beautiful Park. Registration is $35 for adults and $25 for youth 16 and under ($40 and $30 if you wait till the day of).

There are cash prizes for the first, second and third place 5K winners in each category. Whether or not you beat out the competition, you'll get an event shirt, a runners' bag, a door prize ticket and post-race snacks from Wooglin's Deli.

The event will also feature a pre-run yoga stretch, door prize drawings and a memorial balloon release.

3. Rock out

Double Your Trouble will donate a portion of proceeds from its Oct. 20 concert at Stargazers Theatre to the Ovarian Cancer Society. - JOHN ODEN
  • John Oden
  • Double Your Trouble will donate a portion of proceeds from its Oct. 20 concert at Stargazers Theatre to the Ovarian Cancer Society.
Clear your calendar Oct. 20 for Double Your Trouble's Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute concert at Stargazers Theatre and Event Center.

Double Your Trouble consists of Randy Stephens on guitar and vocals, Bill Taylor on bass and Kevin McBride on drums.

Tickets are $15 to $20 plus fees, and a portion of the proceeds will support the Ovarian Cancer Society. Stephens says Double Your Trouble will also give away a Stevie Ray Vaughan replica guitar at the event.

The show starts at 8 p.m., and doors open at 7. Stargazers Theatre is located at 10 S. Parkside Dr.
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Thursday, September 13, 2018

FDA cracks down on teen e-cigarette use

Posted By on Thu, Sep 13, 2018 at 9:46 AM

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on e-cigarette retailers, including a handful in Colorado Springs.

After a "nationwide, undercover blitz" of retailers around the country this summer, the FDA issued 1,300 warning letters and fines to businesses that illegally sold Juul and other e-cigarette products to minors, according to a Sept. 12 announcement. The statement called teen e-cigarette use a problem of "epidemic proportions," citing data that showed more than two million teens used the products in 2017.

Six businesses in Colorado Springs got warning letters, and one, Extreme Vape Pens, was issued a fine. (About 50 retailers earned warning letters or fines statewide.)


Colorado has the highest rate of teen e-cigarette use in the country, according to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than one in every four Colorado teens, or 26.2 percent, use e-cigarettes or products such as e-cigars, e-pipes, vape pipes, vaping pens, e-hookahs, and hookah pens. That's nearly twice the national average of 14.3 percent.

On the other hand, just 7 percent of Colorado teens use cigarettes, compared to 8.2 percent of teens nationwide.

FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb addressed the increased use of e-cigarette products among teens in strong terms, vowing to make business difficult for manufacturers that didn't work to solve the problem.

"In enabling a path for e-cigarettes to offer a potentially lower risk alternative for adult smokers, we won’t allow the current trends in youth access and use to continue, even if it means putting limits in place that reduce adult uptake of these products,” he is quoted in the FDA's statement.

The FDA issued letters to the top five manufacturers of e-cigarette products (JUUL, Vuse, MarkTen XL, blu e-cigs, and Logic), demanding within 60 days plans "describing how they will address the widespread youth access and use of their products."

If the plans aren't sufficient, the FDA says it might require manufacturers to take flavored products — which it claims are particularly appealing to teens — off the market. The agency is also reexamining its timeline for manufacturers to comply with strict new federal guidelines announced last year. 
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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

ACLU thinks prison population can be cut in half by 2025 in Colorado

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2018 at 11:23 AM

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Colorado can and should cut its prison population in half by 2025, according to a Sept. 5 report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.

The report is one of 50 Blueprints for Smart Justice from the ACLU that identify problems with mass incarceration on a state-by-state basis. The point is to open discussion about each state’s unique situation and find solutions that work.

Here are the main takeaways from Colorado’s Blueprint.

How we stack up:

Colorado’s prison population is 20,136 as of June, down from 23,274 at its peak in 2008. The state ranked 16th in the nation for the number of people incarcerated, or under community supervision like parole or probation, on a per-capita basis: 2,830 per 100,000 adult residents in 2015.

Colorado had the ninth highest incarceration rate for black people, and the fourth highest for Latino people, as of 2014.

Of those incarcerated, 18 percent were in private prisons, compared to 7 percent of the state prison population across the U.S. The number of people in Colorado’s private prisons increased 83 percent between 2000 and 2018.

Colorado ranked 11th in the number of people serving life sentences as of 2016.

The problems:

The ACLU’s report argues that harsh sentence enhancement laws, such as those for habitual offenders, and mandatory minimum sentences are driving mass incarceration in Colorado.

Although Senate Bill 13-250 helped reduce prison sentences for drug possession (14 percent of people convicted of possession were sent to prison after the bill’s 2013 passage, compared to 19 percent before), drug sentences still account for one in seven admissions.

Racial disparity is staggering. While black people made up 4 percent of Colorado’s adult population in 2017, they constituted 18 percent of the prison population. Latino people made up 19 percent of the adult population and 32 percent of the prison population. And American Indians made up less than 1 percent of the adult state population, but they represented 3 percent of the prison population.

The number of imprisoned women increased 58 percent between 2000 and 2018 — more than twice the rate for men.

Almost three-fourths of prisoners had issues with substance abuse as of June. While 37 percent of prisoners were considered to have mental health needs, only 5 percent were enrolled in mental health programs.

The solutions:

Colorado should start looking at addiction not as a crime, but as a public health problem, the ACLU’s report says. That means looking into alternatives to incarceration such as diversion programs and community-based treatment.

The ACLU recommends creating legislation that will reduce overcharging and disincentivize plea bargaining, and remove mandatory minimums or indeterminate sentences in some cases.

Colorado should decriminalize nonviolent conduct and reclassify nonviolent felony offenses to misdemeanors, the report says.

The report also stresses the necessity of implementing racial justice strategies, such as ending overpolicing in communities of color, eliminating bias in charging and plea-bargaining practices, eliminating wealth-based incarceration.

The ACLU proposes reducing the prison population by 9,086 people, which would save the state more than $675 million.

That’s no easy task, but here’s what it suggests:

1. Institute alternatives that end all admissions for drug possession.
2. Institute alternatives that reduce admissions by 60 percent for public order offenses.
3. Institute alternatives that reduce admissions by 50 percent for drug distribution, theft, other property offenses and fraud.
4. Institute alternatives that reduce admissions by 40 percent for assault, burglary and robbery.
5. Reduce the average time served by 60 percent for public order offenses, assault, burglary, robbery, drug distribution, theft, other property offenses, fraud, motor vehicle theft and weapons offenses.

Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, has made criminal justice reform one of his top priorities while in office, sponsoring a long list of bills that include revamping the Division of Youth Services and expanding restorative justice programs. Lee called the ACLU's Blueprint for Smart Justice "very well-written" and said it "proposed some practical, though difficult to implement remedies."

Lee, along with Republican Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs, recently sponsored a bill to expand the use of community corrections as an alternative to prison — one of the ACLU's suggestions for cutting down the prison population.
The community corrections system in Colorado provides services to convicted adults who are “halfway in” or “halfway out” of prison. Community corrections, which includes housing and supervision, is either a “last chance” before being sent to prison, or a way for those leaving the criminal justice system to transition back into the community.

Lee's bill, which Gov. Hickenlooper signed in May, requires the Colorado State Board of Parole to submit a list of offenders for community corrections transition placement referrals to the state Department of Corrections, who will choose whether or not to make a referral. Community corrections boards, which then decide whether to accept or reject an offender, must do so through a “structured, research-based decision-making process that combines professional judgment and actuarial risk and needs assessment tools,” according to the bill.
Rep. Pete Lee, flanked by Rep. Tony Exum. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Rep. Pete Lee, flanked by Rep. Tony Exum.
Before the bill's passage, Lee says the state's community corrections program was often bogged down by a lack of communication. There were problems with the system that had "common-sense" solutions, he says.

For example, if a local community corrections board didn't want to accept a certain offender, it could just reject someone, sending the person back to the Department of Corrections and contributing to overcrowding, Lee says. The bill, he adds, helps ensure decisions are more "rationally based" by requiring a response about why someone was rejected, and keeping the door open for that person to be accepted in the future after meeting further requirements. Perhaps a local board would want an offender to get a GED so they could work in the community, for example.

But community corrections is just one piece of the puzzle. Lee believes another imperative is changing the bail system to reduce wealth-based discrimination, which can disproportionately affect minority communities. He says bail should be based on whether someone is a danger to the community, and whether they're a flight risk.

"Poor people don’t have bail, so they stay in jail, and the decision as to whether or not they should stay in jail is based on not having money," Lee says. "We have the local sheriff’s department asking for a tax increase to get more bed space in the jail because we’re reaching capacity. Well, we wouldn’t reach capacity if we had a better bail system, or non-monetary bail if we did a risk-based release system."

Is the ACLU's ambitious proposal doable? Lee says it will take bipartisan support, especially on issues such as reducing sentences. "A lot of the ideas that are recommended in that ACLU report have been proposed in the Colorado legislature," he says.

Democrats and Republicans have in the past found common ground on criminal justice reform. Gardner and Lee, for example, recently joined forces to lead a comprehensive review of Colorado's juvenile justice system, in partnership with the Council of State Governments Justice Center. They'll introduce proposed changes at next year's legislative session.

"The fundamental principle I operate from is that we ought to reserve the most expensive option, prison, for people who really constitute a risk to public safety," Lee says.

Lee is term-limited and cannot run for re-election in the House this fall, but is running for the state Senate District 11 seat, left vacant by departing Sen. Michael Merrifield. Gardner's term ends in 2021.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Michael Bennet will vote "no" on Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court

Posted By on Tue, Sep 11, 2018 at 3:55 PM

Sen. Michael Bennet won't support Trump nominee. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sen. Michael Bennet won't support Trump nominee.
Not that it really matters at this point, but today, Sept. 11, Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, announced he would oppose the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice.

With each passing day, it seems there's nothing that can stop Kavanaugh from rising to the nation's highest court, as Vanity Fair reports here.

But as they say, ya never know. Bennet's statement, issued about 9:30 a.m.:
After reviewing his writings, opinions, and testimony, I have concluded that Judge Kavanaugh will create a new Supreme Court majority that will threaten women’s reproductive rights, roll back essential environmental regulations, and favor large corporations over workers. In addition, his view that sitting presidents may be immune from criminal investigations and subpoenas is particularly troublesome at this moment. For these reasons, I will oppose his nomination.

As I have said many times, I am deeply discouraged by the Senate’s descent into rank partisanship. Regrettably, the Majority’s accession to the administration’s refusal to disclose Judge Kavanaugh’s full record—including nearly 90% of the documents from his time in the Bush White House—represents a further abdication of the Senate’s constitutional responsibility to advise and consent. The hearing was a sham. The American people would be better served by a transparent, deliberate, and bipartisan confirmation process.

Sen. Corey Gardner, a Colorado Republican, released a statement in late July giving Kavanaugh his endorsement:
Today I was able to meet with Judge Kavanaugh – clearly he is a well-qualified judge who has incredible experience in the federal courts. We had a long conversation about the role of precedent and how a judge should perform on the bench. It’s not about personal opinion, it’s not about personal biases or policy preferences, it’s about looking at the law and ruling on the law and where the law takes you. We had a good conversation about how he would be on the Supreme Court. It was a very good meeting and I think he will make an incredible Supreme Court Justice.
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20-year-old hiker missing in Mount Herman area

Posted By on Tue, Sep 11, 2018 at 3:51 PM

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UPDATE: As of Sept. 10, the search for Kevin Rudnicki, a 20-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was still underway a week after he went missing in the Mount Herman area.

The search continues for Kevin Rudnicki, a 20-year-old student at the University of Wyoming who went missing Labor Day weekend in the Mount Herman area.

Rudnicki was last seen around 8:45 a.m. Sept. 2, and was known to be hiking in the Mount Herman area near Raspberry Mountain, says El Paso County spokesperson Jacqueline Kirby.

At first, it seemed normal for Rudnicki to be absent — he often camps and hikes in the area while on vacation from school, Kirby says. But concerns grew when he wasn't home by late evening. Kirby says he was expected back at school Sept. 3.

El Paso, Douglas and Fremont counties' search and rescue teams, the Forest Service, and private citizens have joined in the search effort.

Rudnicki is 5'9" and weighs 140 pounds, according to a missing poster shared on Facebook. He was last seen wearing a green T-shirt, khaki cargo shorts, a Wyoming baseball cap and tan military boots.

The disappearance is all the more disturbing a year after the death of cyclist Tim Watkins, who vanished last September while riding in the Mount Herman area. His body was found three days later near Limbaugh Canyon. The case is still unsolved.

It's unknown at this time whether foul play was a factor in Rudnicki's disappearance, Kirby says.

Any tips or information need to be reported to the Palmer Lake Police Department 719-481-2934.
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Monday, September 10, 2018

UPDATE: Regional Building Department asked to donate $200,000 to Salvation Army

Posted By on Mon, Sep 10, 2018 at 1:33 PM

Children's Hospital as it appeared last year under construction in the north part of Colorado Springs. It received $150,000 from RBD. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Children's Hospital as it appeared last year under construction in the north part of Colorado Springs. It received $150,000 from RBD.

UPDATE: To be clear, the $200,000 request is for updates and renovation at the Salvation Army Shelter and Services at R.J. Montgomery, 709 S. Sierra Madre ST., not a facility on Weber Street.

————ORIGINAL POST 1: 33 P.M. MONDAY, SEPT. 10, 2018————————

A recovering economy and a devastating July 2016 hail storm pumped the coffers at Pikes Peak Regional Building to overflowing with money from inspection and building fees.

Feeling flush, RBD officials gave away nearly $1 million during 2016 and 2017 without any guidelines on how the money would be disseminated. When those give-aways became public, and not everyone was thrilled with the practice, RBD decided to put their philanthropic activities on ice until a policy was adopted.
Jill Gaebler: More information is needed. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • Jill Gaebler: More information is needed.

RBD is sitting on a reserve of some $10 million, not including $3.1 million it has from the sale of a downtown property.

Now, still lacking a policy, the Regional Building Commission is set to approve a $200,000 request by Salvation Army to expand its homeless shelter at 709 S. Sierra Madre St. South Weber Street by about 300 beds. (That's only part of the cost; another $250,000 came from a federal block grant program and $200,000 from another donor.)
A draft policy has been reviewed by both the Regional Building Advisory Board, and the panel it advises, the Regional Building Commission, comprised of Colorado Springs City Councilor Tom Strand, Green Mountain Falls Town Trustee Tyler Stevens and El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller.

But the agency won't release the document. Although it's been placed on an overhead projector at meetings of the advisory board and building commission, RBD attorney Jina Koultchizka says she won't share it beyond that. Basically, the criteria for those seeking a donation: limit requests to nonprofits, require the request to be directly related to the building industry and require the project benefit El Paso County.
Commissioner Waller has repeatedly said he wants the policy to be circulated among all seven members of RBD, which includes Colorado Springs, Fountain, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Monument, Palmer Lake and El Paso County.

Toward that end, he, for one, is making sure the item is scheduled for discussion by the Board of County Commissioners sometime this month, he says. "If my colleagues have issues, then, we'll go from there," he says. "I want it to be out there. I don't want anybody saying, 'We didn't know about it,' that we're not being transparent. And, we want to make sure we do it correctly."
But as Strand tells the Indy, "I would suggest we don’t have to get permission from other organizations. That’s why we have a commission to make decisions in the best interest of the organization."

RBD meetings are generally held on weekdays during the hours most people are at work.

Jill Gaebler, Strand's colleague on City Council, is perturbed about al
Tom Strand: Wants approval of a new donation. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • Tom Strand: Wants approval of a new donation.
l this, saying she and others have had a hard time getting information from Strand about RBD. "He should represent the body [City Council] on that board, not his own opinion," she says, adding Strand doesn't give the Council the straight skinny, or any skinny, about what's happening at RBD.

Strand disputes that, saying, "I’ve been sharing everything with City Council. Much like [Colorado Springs] Utilities, we have a couple of members who think money shouldn’t go to anything other than what the organization was designed for." (He was referring to opposition from some Utilities Board members for payments made by the utility to nonprofits as "community partners.")

Asked if he would give the Indy a copy of the draft donations policy, Strand said, "I won’t give you a copy with her [Koultchizka] fighting it. I have provided it to all members of City Council... The public should attend our meetings. They’re open. You can be there, anybody can be there."

He also suggested the Indy acquire a copy from the RBD Commission president, Tyler Stevens, who didn't return the Indy's phone call.

Meantime, Strand wants to push ahead with the Salvation Army donation, regardless of the status of a donations policy, so that adding extra homeless beds isn't delayed.

Mark Waller: Wants to vet the donations policy. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY
  • Courtesy El Paso County
  • Mark Waller: Wants to vet the donations policy.
But then, it's possible both the donations policy and the Salvation Army donation will be approved considered on the same day.

RBD Building Official Roger Lovell says he expects both matters to be addressed on the Sept. 19 agenda for the Advisory Board's consideration. Lovell also says the donations proposal has been sent to all member governments, who can then comment as they wish, although the role of the Advisory Board, comprised of representatives of each member government, is to vet issue on behalf of those agencies.

The Advisory Board's recommendation on both issues will be taken up on Sept. 26 by the Building Commission.

Hold on, says Waller. "I'm not so sure we're going to vote on it in September," he says. He also notes Strand was a big opponent of the give-away program, but now he is endorsing the Salvation Army request.

When the Indy first reported on RBD's donations, Strand said this: “How did we get so involved with charitable kinds of things? I’m going to look into it, I promise you that. There shouldn’t be any extra [revenue for donations]. I’d like to take a hard look at that immediately.” 
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Friday, September 7, 2018

Micha Flick autopsy report released by coroner in change of course

Posted By on Fri, Sep 7, 2018 at 2:35 PM

Deputy Micah Flick was killed in the line of duty on Feb. 5. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • Deputy Micah Flick was killed in the line of duty on Feb. 5.
El Paso County Coroner Robert Bux has changed his mind and released the autopsy reports for Deputy Micah Flick and auto theft suspect Manuel Zetina on Sept. 7.

Flick, 34, died in a shootout with Zetina as part of the State Patrol's Beat Auto Theft Through Law Enforcement (BATTLE) task force that includes the Colorado Springs Police Department and El Paso County Sheriff's Office.

The shooting took place minutes before 4 p.m. at the Murray Hill Apartments at Galley Road and Murray Boulevard. Injured in the shooting were Sheriff's Deputies Scott Stone and Jake Abendschan and CSPD Detective Marcus Yanez, and innocent bystander Thomas Villanueva, 29, who was paralyzed from the chest down by a bullet from Zetina's gun.

Bux petitioned the District Court on July 12, seeking to have the reports sealed, citing grief of the Flick family as a reason. The Independent and other local media opposed his petition. After District Attorney Dan May released his report on Aug. 21 finding no basis for criminal charges, and the CSPD released its 907-page report on Sept. 5, Bux decided there was no longer a reason to seal the reports of the autopsies, conducted by Dr. Daniel Lingamfelter.

The autopsy of Flick, who was pronounced dead at 4:26 p.m. on Feb. 5, found that a gunshot entered his upper chest and exited his back on the right side. The bullet perforated the aorta, right lung and a rib. The trajectory was from front to back, left to right and downward. Flick suffered massive blood loss before he died.

The bullet was not recovered.

Zetina, 19, was shot three times: in the right chest; in the lower left back, and in the left arm.
The first shot was from right to left, slightly downward and slightly from front to back. The second traveled back to front, left to right and upward. The direction of the bullet that grazed his arm couldn't be determined.

The bullets resulted in perforations of the heart, left lung, diaphragm and the liver, resulting in massive blood loss and death, the autopsy report said.

Those conclusions were described generally in the DA's report and CSPD report released in recent weeks.

The autopsy report for Zetina further noted his pockets contained a pack of Quaker Oats instant oatmeal, two cell phones, a partially smoked, possible marijuana cigarette and a glass pipe. He had a a tattoo of a cross and multiple names on his right forearm and another, "RAMIRO," on his left forearm.

The toxicology report showed positive results for amphetamine and methamphetamine.

Zetina wasn't pronounced dead until 11 p.m. on Feb. 5, but that's likely because that's the approximate time the Coroner's Office picked up the body from the apartment complex parking lot where light snow was beginning to cover the body, the police reports said.
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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

CSPD report on Micah Flick's shooting portrays scene of chaos

Posted By on Wed, Sep 5, 2018 at 5:38 PM

"We do the bear hug and just grab him," El Paso County Sheriff's Detective John Watts told an investigator about an hour after Deputy Micah Flick was killed, about 4 p.m. on Feb. 5, in a shootout with an auto theft suspect.

"Immediately the guy pulls a gun," Watts continues on page 286 of the 907-page report, referring to the suspect, Manuel Zetina, 19, who was killed in the shootout. "The rest of us are approaching obviously at this time and a shot is fired and I start to draw my weapon.... I can’t tell you how many shots were fired then in a matter of a second, I mean multiple. As soon as they grabbed him, they were yelling police, police, police.”
Deputy Micah Flick - COURTESY EL PSAO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Psao County Sheriff's Office
  • Deputy Micah Flick

But the 10 members of the multi-agency Beat Auto Theft Through Law Enforcement (BATTLE) task force didn't yell police before Deputy Scott Stone grabbed Zetina. Nor did they have visible police insignia showing or badges displayed, according to officers and witnesses interviewed by police that day.

All of which verifies the Independent's June 20 account based on interviews with officers and witnesses, which raised questions about the tactics of sneaking up on a suspect and taking him by surprise rather than announcing their presence with guns drawn.

The long-awaited report was released Sept. 5 by the Colorado Springs Police Department, which investigated the incident although the CSPD itself had officers involved in the shooting.

The report about the shooting, at Murray Hill Apartments, Galley Road and Murray Boulevard, comes 15 days after District Attorney Dan May issued his report on Aug. 21 concluding no criminal charges are warranted.

Although May's report didn't assess tactics of the operation, it confirmed the Indy's prior report that Zetina was given no obvious warning that it was police officers grabbing him from behind.

Besides the death of Flick, the mission to capture Zetina after he was spotted driving driving a stolen 1999 Saturn resulted in injury to three officers — Sheriff's Deputy Scott Stone and Sgt. Jake Abendschan and Police Detective Marcus Yanez — and paralysis of a civilian, Thomas Villanueva, 28. He's filed a notice of claim, a standard step in the process toward filing a lawsuit.

Only three officers returned fire after Zetina produced a handgun, after Stone grabbed him. Those were Sheriff's Detectives Trey White and Mike Boggs and Yanez.
The suspect vehicle the task force tracked for hours before the shooting. It started out green but was spray painted blue by Zetina. - CSPD REPORT
  • CSPD report
  • The suspect vehicle the task force tracked for hours before the shooting. It started out green but was spray painted blue by Zetina.
Police Detective Phil Tollefson writes in his report of an interview conducted at 5:15 p.m. the day of the shooting that CSPD Sgt. Kevin Miyakusu, who with State Patrol Detective John Reindollar ran the operation that day, reported that "After the first shot was fired, he [Miyakusu] and Reindollar unholstered their guns."

Miyakusu also told Tollefson he didn't know the name of Zetina when they tracked him for four hours that day. (Zetina's record shows three stops for minor offenses during which he never attempted to flee or harm officers.)

Miyakusu described how Zetina rifled through the trunk of the car when it was parked in another location that day, appearing to be "frantic." But he added that "he did not believe he [Zetina] knew the police were there.”
Deputy Scott Stone was seriously injured on Feb. 5. - COURTESY EPSO
  • Courtesy EPSO
  • Deputy Scott Stone was seriously injured on Feb. 5.
Later, at the Murray Hill Apartments, Miyakusu recounted to Tollefson that he and Reindollar "were trying to ascertain whether or not they were going to try and contact him while he was there, wait for him to go to the car or what."

When Tollefson asked Miyakusu if he had his badge displayed, "He stated no. He stated that when they roll up with other police gear, he said typically suspects look and say oh there’s the police. He said typically they are able to get close enough and grab the suspect. He stated he didn’t pull his badge out until afterwards and he had no idea what happened when the other officers made contact with the suspect."

Sheriff's Detective Stephanie Criss told an investigator that she saw Villanueva before the shooting started but the operation was afoot at that time and soon Zetina, who earlier was described as wearing a shirt with the number "13" on it, pulled a gun and started shooting.

"She said that as she saw the motor vehicle theft suspect reaching towards his waistband, she was thinking in her head surely that the suspect was not going to be pulling a gun," the police report says based on an investigator's interview of Criss. "She said that after that, people just began falling. She said that she was also aware that Detective Flick fell as well as Detective Stone. She said that she also saw this white male [Villanueva] that she had talked about earlier, falling right in front of her."

Criss described the scene as "chaos" and broke down a couple of times during the interview, demonstrating the emotional toll the shooting took on law enforcement officers. At least one other officer, who had blood on both hands after tending to Flick, was described during an investigator interviews as "crying and distraught."
Thomas Villanueva, middle, with friends before the Feb. 5 incident. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Thomas Villanueva, middle, with friends before the Feb. 5 incident.
The first uniformed sheriff's deputy on scene after the shooting, Jason Haag, told Tollefson that he "removed the weapon from the holster on Deputy Flick’s belt, as well as the radio, and set them on the curb line nearby so medical folks could load Deputy Flick into the ambulance.”

Within minutes, dozens of police officers swarmed the complex parking lot and tended to traffic control, preservation of evidence and identifying witnesses.

Underscoring the potential risk to which the public was subjected by the task force mission, Officer Mario Aoki wrote in his report that while conducting traffic control immediately after the shooting, "two school girls approximately 12 years of age [were] returning from school [and] attempted to return home toward the Murray Hill Apartments. I informed the girls the access was blocked at this time." Officer Aoki called their mother who came to get them from her apartment, and then initially was barred from returning, although her two sons remained there. The family was eventually reunited.

Several witnesses described seeing "males" in the parking lot who didn't appear to be police officers. They described a hail of gunfire ranging from five to nine rounds.

Michael DeRossett told police "he did not see any badges or police insignia at any time," the report said. "Michael stated he only assumed the people outside and involved were police officers after the shots were fired because of how fast they [police] arrived on scene.”

El Paso County Coroner Robert Bux has petitioned the District Court seeking to have autopsy reports of Flick and Zetina sealed. The Indy, Gazette and other media outlets are opposing the petition.
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Pueblo could become "Colorado's clean energy hub" with coal plant closures

Posted By on Wed, Sep 5, 2018 at 1:00 AM

JEFFREY BEALL
  • Jeffrey Beall

The Colorado Public Utilities Commission gave Xcel Energy unanimous verbal approval Aug. 27 to close two of the three coal-fired units at Pueblo's Comanche Generating Station, 10 years ahead of schedule.

Xcel will also invest $2.5 billion in renewable energy, including wind and solar generation and battery storage, as part of its Colorado Energy Plan. The plan was approved Aug. 27 by a 2-to-1 vote, says Utilities Commission spokesperson Terry Bote.

Currently, about 80 people work at Comanche Generating Station's two coal-fired units, Xcel spokesperson Michelle Aguayo says. Some current employees will be retiring when the units close in 2022 and 2025, she adds, and the rest will be trained to work in other jobs with the company.

One future project would include a new solar facility to power Pueblo's EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel, though that project needs to secure approval from the Utilities Commission separately. Xcel and EVRAZ recently agreed to a 22-year contract that clears the way for a potential $500 million expansion at the steel plant, the Pueblo Chieftain reports.

Xcel estimates that its new energy plan will mean Colorado could get 53 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2026 — an increase from 28 percent last year. The company also predicts the plan will save ratepayers $213 million, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions 60 percent from 2005 levels (though Bote says some Utilities Commission staff members thought those figures were overstated).

In 2017, 44 percent of Colorado's energy came from coal. The new plan would reduce coal dependence to just 24 percent by 2026, Xcel claims.

“By making this step change now, we reduce future fuel costs for the long term – and we can pass those savings directly along to our customers,” Alice Jackson, president of Xcel Energy—Colorado, is quoted in a company statement from the plan's June unveiling. “Our plan takes a significant step forward in transitioning our supply mix to cleaner and more diverse resources, benefiting our customers and the environment.”

Xcel's Colorado Energy Plan also includes solar and wind projects in Adams, Baca, Boulder, Kit Carson/Cheyenne, Morgan, Park and Weld counties. Pueblo County would be a leader, with 525 megawatts of solar power and 225 megawatts of battery storage.

“With approval of this plan, Pueblo is poised to become Colorado’s clean energy hub," David Cockrell, chair of the Colorado Sierra Club's Conservation Committee, is quoted in an Aug. 27 statement from the Sierra Club.

A new partnership between Pueblo Community College and NextEra Energy Resources would also push the city closer to that goal. NextEra plans to install 52 solar panels on Pueblo’s campus, and “provide training and curriculum to help the college create a pipeline of skilled workers for the rapidly evolving industry,” according to an Aug. 24 statement from the school.

The number of solar-panel installer jobs in the U.S. was expected to more than double between 2016 and 2026, according to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Meanwhile, Colorado Springs Utilities has two solar projects coming online in 2020, after which 15 percent of its energy portfolio will come from renewable sources, says Utilities spokesperson Amy Trinidad. Currently, 11 percent of Utilities’ portfolio comes from renewables.

Colorado Springs’ controversial Martin Drake Power Plant, built in 1925, is slated to close no later than 2035 — though the Utilities Board, which is made up of City Council members, has toyed with the idea of accelerating the deadline.

Trinidad says the earliest the utility could have the infrastructure in place to allow for the closure would be 2023.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional reporting.
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Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Mayor John Suthers wants a second term

Posted By on Tue, Sep 4, 2018 at 9:00 AM

Mayor Suthers: Wants to give it another go. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Mayor Suthers: Wants to give it another go.
Mayor John Suthers announced on Sept. 4 he will seek a second term in the April 2019 city election.

"I'm pleased with the progress Colorado Springs has made over the last three and a half years in addressing a variety of challenges and I look forward to continuing that momentum in a second term," he wrote. "At this stage of my career I'm focused on becoming a good ancestor, and when I examine all my options at present, I see continuing my public service as Mayor of Colorado Springs as a great opportunity to do that."

The mayor said he will make his formal campaign announcement in January but will begin organizing and fundraising for his campaign now.

Suthers hinted strongly during the Independent's July 11 interview with him that he wanted to extend his service as mayor.

But he also suggested there might be other opportunities that could entice him away. From that story:
Indy: Your commentary doesn't sound like it's coming from someone who's winding down a four-year term. It sounds like you'll seek a second term.

Suthers: What if someone offered me a job I wanted to take?

Indy: What job would that be?

Suthers: Very few. I have turned down several jobs in the last several years. You know, I think I told you I was asked if I wanted a federal judgeship. I don't want a federal judgeship. I had some discussions with the Trump administration. Obviously, I had a very short life on the FBI [director] short list. That will be a hilarious chapter in my memoir. But they came back to me on some other things, none of which could entice me away from Colorado Springs. It would have to be — whether John Hickenlooper is president or somebody else — not very many things. I think he's [Hickenlooper] going to run [for president]. I'm just saying whoever is president there's a few jobs I would be interested in.
Since Suthers took office in June 2015, voters have approved a .62 percent sales tax to fund road improvements in November 2015, which sunsets after five years, and approved a stormwater fee in November 2017 that charges all residents $5 per month and other properties based on size and impervious surface. That measure lasts for 20 years.

Among other notable moves, Suthers also promoted an overhaul of the 1988 annexation agreement of Banning Lewis Ranch, which was approved by City Council earlier this year, and led the city to sanction a land exchange with The Broadmoor that transferred the city's 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space next to North Cheyenne Cañon to the resort. (That matter is tied up in the courts as the plaintiff in a lawsuit, Save Cheyenne, awaits word on whether the Colorado Supreme Court will consider reviewing an appellate court ruling in the city's favor.)
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