Friday, April 10, 2020

Disenrolled Air Force Academy cadet's lawsuit tossed, vows to appeal

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2020 at 1:24 PM

Adam DeRito in 2017 near the Air Force Academy. - CRAIG LEMLEY
  • Craig Lemley
  • Adam DeRito in 2017 near the Air Force Academy.

Former Air Force Academy cadet Adam DeRito lost his case recently when the U.S. District Court in Colorado sided with the Academy on his claims that he was railroaded out of the school. DeRito was disenrolled by Academy leaders after a psychological diagnoses was assigned to him without his knowledge by a clinician he had never seen.

DeRito's case was one of several highlighted in the Indy's 2017 report about how the Academy used psychological diagnoses to push cadets who had reported being sexually assaulted out of the school. DeRito was among those cadets.

Assaulted at a party off campus, DeRito reported the incident and later was labeled with a mental disorder he didn't find out about until he later applied to the Army National Guard.

He filed suit, accusing the Academy of manipulating his medical records without his knowledge to accommodate its desire to shove him out the door just before graduation.

Now, his attorney, Herbert Rubenstein of Brooklyn, New York, tells the Indy the case has national implications, notably in the recent removal of Capt. Brett Crozier from command on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt, as well as the Academy's decision to keep senior cadets on base amid the coronavirus, during which two cadets died by suicide.

He also says his client will appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rubenstein says the federal court ruling dismissed every argument raised by DeRito, including that he was kicked out of the Academy based in part on a bogus psychological diagnosis, falsification of his medical records by entering that diagnosis on his record in 2011, a year after he was disenrolled, and the unfair or even illegal garnished his wages for $260,000 the Academy charged him for his education after it disenrolled him in 2010.

"They [judges] said there are no procedures to cover any of this," Rubenstein says, adding that because the court ruled there were no procedures, the Academy can't be held accountable for violating procedures that didn't exist.

"If we lose our case this way, then Captain Crozier, even though he may have been taken off the command of the Theodore Roosevelt for a bogus reason, has no right to go to court," he said. "The 1,000 seniors who are presumably still at the Academy [graduation is set for April 18], can't go to court."

If they tried to file suit, the court would rule, "That's a military decision, and we courts don't have any guidance in that," Rubenstein said. "They basically said the Constitution stops at the door of the Academy, or the flight deck of the Theodore Roosevelt. So if that's the case, we have an unaccountable military, unaccountable to the Constitution, unaccountable to the court system. That's the implication of this decision."

Rubenstein says via email, "If the military does not have an internal rule governing it’s conduct then the courts will not intervene and apply the constitution to internally unregulated behavior. Bottom line is that if a government agency wants to act they should not have any rules in place - thus the court will not be able to review the conduct to ensure it is constitutional both procedurally and substantively. "

  • Courtesy Air Force Academy
Crozier was relieved of his command of the ship in early April after sending a memo pleading to have onboard personnel who had been infected with COVID-19 removed from the ship and treated.

As for the Academy's seniors, Rubenstein called dormitories a vector for the coronavirus, and asserted that the cadets and their families might want to bring a legal action against the Academy for requiring them to stay, while the lower three classes were sent home in March.

"The military did something against one of their own," Rubenstein says, speaking of the DeRito case. "Adam is no different than Captain Crozier. He's no different than those seniors who are being forced by the Air Force Academy to stay in Colorado Springs."

DeRito is still waiting for the results of his application to the Boards for Correction of Military Records, and now he'll appeal the federal court ruling.

Meantime, DeRito, who was told he wouldn't graduate hours before graduation in 2010 and was disenrolled in June that year, has since earned a bachelor's degree and master's degree, serves with the Army National Guard and works full time as an industrial wastewater specialist.

"His life would be improved if justice were served in this case, but he's weathering through it," Rubenstein says, speaking for his client.

From the ruling:
The Court has determined that plaintiff’s due process claims are not justiciable and, accordingly, these claims cannot be the independent basis of jurisdiction required by the Declaratory Judgment Act.... As a result, plaintiff’s declaratory judgment claim will be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

We've asked the Academy for a comment on the lawsuit's dismissal, as well as provide an update on number of cadets and other personnel at the Academy testing positive for COVID-19— one cadet and one employee had tested positive as of late March. We will update if and when we hear back.
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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Update: Polis declares COVID-19 state of emergency

Posted By and on Tue, Mar 10, 2020 at 12:53 PM

Gov. Jared Polis has declared a state of emergency in Colorado to help the state "more effectively contain the spread of COVID-19 and avoid greater disruption."

With the declaration, the state will boost testing capacity for COVID-19 (also known as novel coronavirus), waive testing costs, launch drive-up labs for testing, and ensure paid leave for affected hospitality, food handling, child care, health care and education workers.

Polis said the state "will continue the pressure on the federal government ... to rapidly expand testing capacity and ensure the Colorado has enough tests that we can identify positive cases, isolate them, and notify others who may have been exposed."

COVID-19 is a member of the coronavirus family of viruses, named for the crown-like spikes on their surfaces. Some coronaviruses lead to the common cold, while others — such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) and COVID-19 — can lead to more serious symptoms in some people.

Coloradans should expect an increase in the number of positive cases in the days ahead, Polis said, as more people are tested.

"As of this morning, we've confirmed 15 positive cases in the state, and another indeterminate case that we're retreating as a positive," he said at a news conference the morning of March 10.

So far, one presumptive positive case has been counted in El Paso County. The patient, a man in his 40s, had recently traveled within the United States, according to CDPHE.

"We're going to get through this together, but the actions that we take in the next few days and weeks will really determine the trajectory of coronavirus in Colorado," Polis said.

"I've consulted extensively with public health officials and studied the response in other nations, what's worked and what hasn't worked — successful efforts to contain coronavirus like in Taiwan and failures like in Italy. And I'm basing our approach here in Colorado on what has been shown to work.

"Today, in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus, to protect our most vulnerable populations, and to maximize our chances of avoiding widespread disruptions in the daily lives of Coloradans and our economy, I'm declaring a state of emergency here in Colorado."

Polis said the declaration gives the state access to resources and more legal flexibility to take immediate steps to protect Colorado's most vulnerable people and to better contain the outbreak, "truly reducing the chances of the trajectory that has occurred in countries like Italy, from occurring here in Colorado."

There'll be immediate action to protect public health, he said, with a focus on the most vulnerable populations — meaning people over 60, as well as those who are immunocompromised.

The expansion of testing capacity is a priority, Polis said, "so that eventually we can reach the point — the sooner the better — where anybody exhibiting flu-like symptoms can get tested.

"We need more testing because the sooner that we can identify positive cases and hotspots — regardless of the severity of the illness for any one individual — the more effectively we can isolate those who test positive and we can limit and slow the spread of the virus in Colorado."

Polis said the state currently has about 900 test kits, and is expecting many more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Last night I spoke one-on-one with Vice President Pence and in that conversation ... I stressed the need for exponentially more testing in Colorado," Polis said. "We really need to significantly increase our capacity and I made a direct appeal for more test kits to be released to Colorado."

Polis said CDC head Dr. Robert Redfield had committed to fulfill Colorado's request for 1,500 additional test kits this week.

"This test is a crucial tool in our efforts to slow the spread of the virus, and to ensure that those individuals who have tested positive and need to isolate have the support they need during this challenging time," Polis said. "The bottom line is this: The more people we test and the sooner we do it, the better chance we have for a successful containment."

Another priority is to cut financial obstacles to testing.

"We know that people are more likely to get tested if they know they won't be penalized
financially for exhibiting symptoms of the virus," Polis said. "That's why yesterday my Department of Insurance instructed insurers across the state to waive costs and fees associated with providing the test. That also applies to state employees."

Polis said one of his major goals as governor has been to create a system where health care costs are not a barrier to people getting the care that they need.

"Now that's always true, it's always important — but it's especially true when facing a public health crisis like coronavirus," he said. "We don't want red tape to get in the way of people getting the test, or the treatment that they need. That's why I'm proud to announce that starting tomorrow, the Department of Public Health and Environment will be opening a drive-up lab for testing at our facility in Lowry to test anyone who has a note from their doctor stating that they need testing."

More drive-up testing locations will be rolled out over the coming weeks.

Under the emergency authority, Polis has directed the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment ensure workers in food handling, hospitality, child care, health care and education, get paid sick leave to miss work if they're awaiting test results.

“If they exhibit flu-like symptoms and have to miss work awaiting their testing results for novel coronavirus, this step not only helps prevent the spread of the virus but also inspires confidence for both tourists and Coloradans that we are minimizing risks in our state — especially in professions that could potentially be significant vectors for contagion,” Polis said.

For workers who test positive and don’t have access to paid leave, the Department of Labor and Employment is identifying wage replacement support, such as access to employment insurance, “so that people [with a confirmed case of coronavirus] are able to make their rent and afford food, if they’re unable to earn any hourly wages.”

These are important steps for workers who test positive, Polis said, “because for those who work with vulnerable populations, for those who work in food services and hospitality, for those who work with older Coloradans, it's absolutely critical that they are able to take that sick leave if they are ill.

“When those workers lack access to paid sick leave, it poses a great risk to our ability to protect the public,” he said.

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, CDPHE urges Coloradans to:

- Frequently and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, or use your inner elbow or sleeve.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay home if you’re sick, and keep your children home if they are sick.
- Clean surfaces in your home, and personal items such as cell phones, using regular household products.

Helpful resources:

For the latest COVID-19 information from CDPHE, visit

For updated case totals, visit CDPHE's Fast Facts page.

If you have general questions about COVID-19, call the CO-HELP call line at 303-389-1687 or 1-877-462-2911, for answers in many languages, or email for answers in English.
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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Forget a free lunch. Check out a museum at no charge.

Posted By on Wed, Feb 26, 2020 at 11:40 AM

Pikes Peak Library District is joining with seven area organizations to allow free access for PPLD cardholders via the Pikes Peak Culture Pass.

According to a news release, anyone 12 and up with a valid library card can access seven different museums and attractions in El Paso County.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with so many exciting organizations in our community to make culture and recreation more accessible in the Pikes Peak region,” Elyse Jones, Community Partnership Coordinator for PPLD, said in the release. “This takes the opportunities presented by a library card well beyond our collection and right out into our community.”

Your library card will get you into the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center at Colorado College, U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, ProRodeo Hall of Fame, Space Foundation Discovery Center, The Money Museum, Rock Ledge Ranch Historical Site, and the Western Museum of Mining and Industry.

From the release:
These free admission passes are available for check out, similar to how you check out an eBook or other electronic resource. Starting Monday, March 2, patrons can log in to the online reservation page and book a pass up to 30 days in advance. Patrons can then print their confirmation, which will serve as their ticket, directly from home or at any Library location. “This is right in line with our mission, and something we’re so excited to bring to the region,” Jones said. “The Pikes Peak Culture Pass increases opportunities for education and cultural learning, creating a valuable connection between our in-house collection and hands-on experiences.” Each location admits a different number of people with the Pikes Peak Culture Pass. Details are listed on each pass at the time of reservation. Learn more and get started at
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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Vaccine bill: Here's the basics on state lawmakers' new attempt to boost immunization rates

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2020 at 5:19 PM

State lawmakers have a new bill they hope will boost Colorado's dismal vaccination rates among school-age kids.

Senate Bill 163, which was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 25 and referred for a vote of the full chamber, would standardize the process of obtaining a vaccine exemption for non-medical reasons. It's sponsored by Sens. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, and Kevin Priola, R-Henderson.

Last year, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis frustrated some Democratic lawmakers when he said he wouldn't sign a similar bill, House Bill 1312 — stopping that bill in its tracks. Specifically, Polis opposed a requirement for parents to submit exemption forms in person at a state or local health department.

Even though that bill wouldn't have done away with non-medical exemptions, it drew plenty of determined supporters and impassioned opponents to testify on Capitol Hill before it ultimately didn't get passed sans support from Polis.

Likewise, lawmakers on the Senate Health & Human Services Committee heard more than 14 hours of testimony on SB163 at a hearing Feb. 19. It eventually passed on a 3-2 party-line vote.

In case you want to listen to the testimony on a 1,000-mile road trip, here's a link.

Here's what this year's bill would do:

• Formally define "nonmedical exemption" as an immunization exemption based upon a religious belief whose teachings are opposed to immunizations, or a personal belief that is opposed to immunizations.
• Require the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to develop standardized forms and a submission process for people who want to claim a non-medical exemption for their child.
• Require a person who wants to claim a non-medical exemption to do so by submitting to the child's school either:
       - A certificate of completion of an online, interactive education module (which would include evidence-based, peer-reviewed data on "the benefits and risks of immunization and evidence-based practices to prevent the spread of vaccine-preventable disease"); or
       - A certificate of non-medical exemption.
• Require CDPHE to annually evaluate the state's immunization practices, and allow the state Board of Health to update the immunization practices if needed.
• Create a "vaccine-protected children standard" for 95 percent of the student population to be vaccinated, and require every school to publish its immunization rate and exemption rate on documents distributed annually to the parents, legal guardians and students.
• Require health practitioners to administer immunizations within their scope of practice to students and to submit immunization and exemption data to the immunization tracking system. (Practitioners would not be sanctioned for noncompliance.)
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Thursday, December 26, 2019

Daycare operator arrested, charged with felony

Posted By on Thu, Dec 26, 2019 at 2:23 PM

Carla Faith operated an unlicensed day care on Willamette Avenue. - AMANDA MILLER LUCIANO
  • Amanda Miller Luciano
  • Carla Faith operated an unlicensed day care on Willamette Avenue.

Carla Faith, who operated two day care facilities in downtown Colorado Springs, was arrested Dec. 23 on one class 2 misdemeanor charge of child abuse and one class 4 felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant, court records show.

The charges stemmed from a Nov. 13 welfare check at Play Mountain Place, one of Faith's daycare properties. The state Department of Human Services had asked the Colorado Springs Police Department to assist in responding to complaints that the facility was housing more children than its license allowed.

When a police officer arrived at Play Mountain Place (838 1/2 Willamette Ave.), she spent about 20 minutes attempting to contact Faith at the front door, back door and by phone, according to the police report.

Then, the officer was notified that a parent had been able to reach Faith by phone to say she "wanted to pick up her son immediately." Christina Marie Swauger, another suspect who was arrested on the same charges as Faith, met with the parent after carrying the parent's son out the back gate.

The officer then asked Swauger to meet with Faith, and Swauger escorted the officer into the cottage daycare — where no children were present.

So, the officer asked to check the main house at 838 E. Willamette Ave., which was on the same property as the daycare.

The officer noticed "a large stack of children's backpacks in a closet," but Faith "explained that she was volunteering to clean the backpacks for a soccer team" and denied that any children were in her residence.

The officer heard children's music coming from the basement, but Faith denied the house had a basement at all.

A second officer arrived on the scene and discovered a false wall and stairwell leading to the basement.

Downstairs, the officers found two adults and 26 children younger than 3 years old. They noticed "many of the children had soiled or wet diapers, were sweating, and were very thirsty upon contact."

Police found that Faith's 2019 license renewal form required that she care for no more than six children at Play Mountain Place, and no more than two children younger than 2 years old.

The arrest affidavit notes that the fire department also conducted an inspection on Dec. 5 and found multiple violations, including "issues with carbon monoxide detectors not being installed" and "emergency escape and rescue openings not being adequate" given that the basement exit was blocked by a false wall.

A third suspect in the case, Katelynne Dianna Leigh Nelson, was arrested on one charge of class 2 misdemeanor child abuse and one class 4 felony charge of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, KOAA News 5 first reported.

According to the arrest affidavit posted online by News 5, officers found a backpack in the basement daycare with payslips for Nelson as well as two baggies that tested positive for meth — which led to the possession charge.

Class 2 misdemeanor child abuse, under Colorado law, entails acting "knowingly" or "recklessly" — exceeding "criminal negligence," a class 3 misdemeanor — without causing serious injury or death to a child.

In Colorado, a class 4 felony comes with a minimum sentence of two years in prison and/or $2,000 fine. A class 2 misdemeanor charge entails a minimum three-month jail sentence, a minimum fine of $250 or both.

On Dec. 5, 29 parents and guardians of children under Faith's care filed a civil lawsuit against her and her companies, alleging negligence that led to behavioral problems, developmental delays, eating problems, infections and physical illnesses, phobias, injuries, and sleep problems.

Children suffered from "severe separation anxiety, fear of the dark, fear of sleeping alone, fear of authority, fear of strangers, fear of bugs, fear of bathing and/or bathtubs, fear of the word 'movie,' fear of conflict and fear of other daycares," according to the parents, who are represented by attorneys Jeffrey Weeks and Daniel Kay.

One of those parents, Amanda Miller Luciano, wrote a Nov. 25 analysis of the police raid on Faith's property for the Indy.

"All of us parents have been pretty anxious to see something happen, and it's nice to see that there have been arrests made," Luciano says in response to the news of Faith's arrest.

Luciano points out that Faith was also allegedly caught hiding kids from authorities in California in the late '90s.

"Hopefully, these charges will be strong enough that they can convict her, and this conviction will prevent her from ever being able to do it again somewhere else," Luciano says.
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Friday, September 6, 2019

D-11 refuses to release severance pay agreement with former facilities chief

Posted By on Fri, Sep 6, 2019 at 9:40 AM

Colorado Springs District 11 won't release severance agreements. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Colorado Springs District 11 won't release severance agreements.
Six months after Colorado Springs School District 11 handed one of its top officials a raise, the district sent him packing — with severance pay, records show.

Scott Lewis, executive director of facilities, operations and transportation, earned a job performance rating of "exemplary" in June 2018, but was placed on paid administrative leave from Jan. 2 through Jan. 31.

The Jan. 9 school board agenda reports his departure as a resignation, effective Jan. 31, for "personal" reasons, but when the Independent asked for his resignation letter, the district said, "No such document exists."

The district paid Lewis $15,477 for the one-month leave in January, as well as $3,119 for district benefits such as health insurance, under a severance agreement, according to data released by the district. But D-11 refuses to release or discuss the agreement itself.

D-11 public information officer Devra Ashby, declined to comment but provided a statement:
Personnel matters are reviewed by the Board of Education during closed executive sessions. Severance pay for an exiting employee is determined on a case by case basis after a Human Resources review process, in consultation with the Superintendent. The District refrains from commenting on specific individuals.
Asked about that on Sept. 5, Board President Jim Mason called withholding the document "stupid" and promised to check into it. He later called the Indy, saying, "We're going to straighten this out, so stand by for more information."

Meantime, Lewis says he left because his job was completed. "From my perspective," Lewis told the Indy in a Sept. 5 interview outside his rural El Paso County home, "I did a lot of heavy lifting for my boss [CFO Glenn Gustafson], who is a stellar supervisor. He hired me as a change agent. From my perspective, I completed what he wanted me to do. I don't have anything to add." That work, he said, was to staff up to handle projects funded through a mill levy override approved by voters in November 2017.

Lewis joined the district on Aug. 13, 2015, and scored at least two pay raises during his tenure. His pay history:
2015-16 school year: $103,969
2016-17 school year: $108,617
2017-18 school year: $116,252
2018-19 school year (partial, through January): $76,393

Gustafson ranked Lewis as "exemplary" in job evaluations in June 2016 and June 2018. For the intervening year, in June 2017, Lewis received a rating of "effective — Meets expected performance." Gustafson didn't respond to an interview request submitted to Ashby.

(In addition to Lewis, D-11 awarded severance pay to three teachers and a principal over the last year, totaling $86,337, according to data provided by the district, though it withheld the severance agreements.)

In response to the Indy's Aug. 23 records request, D-11's custodian of records Katherine Ritchie Rapp cited a portion of the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) she contends allows severance agreements to remain secret.

CORA "does not require we provide copies of severance agreements, only amount paid or benefit provided incident to termination of employment," Ritchie, director of archives and records, wrote.

CORA allows certain information, such as addresses and phone numbers of public employees to remain private, but allows the release of records that include "applications of past or current employees, employment agreements, any amount paid or benefit provided incident to termination of employment, performance ratings, final sabbatical reports ..., or any compensation, including expense allowances and benefits, paid to employees by the state, its agencies, institutions, or political subdivisions."

D-11's stance on severance agreements is in sharp contrast to that of other local agencies:

• In March 2019, El Paso County released a waiver and release agreement with longtime former budget director and Deputy County Administrator Nicola Sapp, who was paid $150,628 upon her departure on March 19.

• In May 2018, Harrison School District 2 disclosed a severance agreement in which it agreed to pay former Superintendent Andre Spencer $250,000 to end his contract agreement.

• In early 2017, the city of Colorado Springs released the severance agreement for former Stormwater Manager Tim Mitros, who was paid $58,525 to retire effective Jan. 13, 2017.

• In March 2016, the city disclosed a severance agreement with former Fire Chief Christopher Riley in which the city agreed to pay him $80,000, or six months salary, to leave.

• In March 2016, the city released its severance agreement with former Police Commander Fletcher Howard. He received six months' pay, or $59,308; $7,917 in unused vacation time, which is required by law to be paid, and $41,059 paid into Howard's retirement health savings account in accordance with the city's policy for converting unused sick time to cash for retiring ranking officers. The agreement also required that, "Employee will be given a retirement ceremony which will be held on February 16, 2016."

• In November 2013 and January 2014, the city agreed to pay a total of $139,138 to departing city attorney Chris Melcher in severance pay, consulting fees and outside legal fees paid to negotiate Melcher's agreement.

Tellingly, the city noted in at least two of those agreements: "All parties acknowledge the City is subject to the Colorado Open Records Act (“CORA”)."
District 11's headquarters. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • District 11's headquarters.
Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, notes that under CORA, all records made, maintained or kept by the school district for their use in the exercise of functions authorized by law are public records absent a specific statutory exemption. Among the records that must not be disclosed are “personnel files,” but the definition of personnel files in CORA specifically excludes “any amount paid or benefit provided incident to termination of employment,” he says.

So while CORA requires a records custodian to deny inspection of personnel files, the definition of personnel files excludes severance payments.

"So it’s saying the public is entitled to inspect those particular records," Roberts says.
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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Colorado College makes big move to help in-state students afford school

Posted By on Tue, Aug 27, 2019 at 9:00 PM

  • Courtesy Colorado College
Colorado College has launched a new program meant to help middle- and low-income families pay college tuition.

The program, called Colorado Pledge, provides assistance for Colorado households making less than $200,000 a year, starting with the class of new students arriving in 2020.

For most students from families with an adjusted gross income of less than $60,000 annually, tuition, room and board at Colorado College will be free.

For students whose parents make between $60,000 and $125,000, parents are expected to pay for room and board only.

Finally, households making between $125,000 and $200,000 will be expected to pay “the same or less than the cost of attendance at the flagship state university in Colorado.”

For reference, tuition at Colorado College for the 2019-20 school year amounted to nearly $58,000. At the University of Colorado Boulder, in-state tuition was close to $29,000.
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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Cripple Creek-Victor school board recall election date set, for president only

Posted By on Thu, Aug 15, 2019 at 12:29 PM

Board President Tim Braun. - STACIE GONZALEZ
  • Stacie Gonzalez
  • Board President Tim Braun.
After the Colorado Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the Cripple Creek-Victor School District board president, a recall election is moving forward and slotted for Nov. 5, the same day as the towns' general election.

Hear Us: For Better Schools, the group seeking to overhaul the school board, originally set out to recall School Board President Tim Braun, Treasurer Dennis Jones and Secretary Tonya Martin. But Jones and Martin both resigned in June.

Braun, on the other hand, petitioned the Supreme Court to review an earlier case in 4th Judicial District Court, in which targeted school board members had asked the judge to invalidate the recall election.

According to the Mountain Jackpot News, Braun and Jones had argued in that case that the Teller County Clerk & Recorder's office shouldn't have allowed Hear Us extra time to collect signatures for the recall election, after they initially fell short of having enough valid signatures. Judge Scott Sells ruled against the school board members.

The Supreme Court denied to hear Braun's appeal of that case Aug. 8. As of Aug. 22, the recall election was still moving forward for Nov. 5, with Braun's name alone on the ballot, Teller County Chief Deputy Clerk Stephanie Kees confirmed.

Hear Us, the group behind the recall, claims the targeted school board members violated state statutes and district policies. Braun, Jones and Martin have all denied wrongdoing.
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City introduces draft historic preservation plan

Posted By on Thu, Aug 15, 2019 at 10:11 AM

A mid-20th century postcard depicting The Antlers hotel (in its second iteration). The building, which replaced The Antlers hotel that burned down in 1898, was torn down in 1964. - BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
  • Boston Public Library
  • A mid-20th century postcard depicting The Antlers hotel (in its second iteration). The building, which replaced The Antlers hotel that burned down in 1898, was torn down in 1964.

Colorado Springs residents first mobilized to preserve the city's historic character in the 1950s, notes the city's new HistoricCOS draft plan.

When a 14-story hospital was proposed at the northern edge of the Old North End neighborhood, at North Cascade Avenue and Madison Street, residents successfully opposed the construction in an effort to maintain the character of their community.

The original First National Bank Building, The Antlers hotel and Ute Theater buildings were not so lucky — these historic properties were demolished around the same time, according to HistoricCOS.

The 80-page draft plan (presented to City Council at a work session Aug. 12) chronicles some of the city's historic preservation efforts over the years, and provides a blueprint of sorts for how city government and elected leaders should work to preserve the city's character into the future.

"Colorado Springs will be a community knowledgeable about preserving its unique history and cultural heritage," the plan's vision statement reads. "We will be a community proud of its past and ready to share its heritage story with residents and visitors. We will actively protect and utilize our irreplaceable historic and cultural resources as part of our ongoing economic and community development strategy."

The city's effort to update the last historic preservation plan from 1993 started in late 2017. A team of consultants led by Stan Clauson Associates (a landscape architecture, planning and resort design firm) met with neighborhood organizations and other groups, and asked community members what they'd like to see in terms of preservation.

The $60,650 project was funded mostly through grants, including $29,900 from the State Historical Fund.

The draft plan still has a ways to go before it's finalized. Staff will present it to the Planning Commission in September, and once again to Council in September or October.

Like PlanCOS and neighborhood master plans, HistoricCOS doesn't explicitly commit Council to funding certain initiatives, but it does provide a vision for how to preserve the past as the city grows.

In that vein, the plan lays out a series of recommended tasks for the city. Here are just a few:

- Survey the public on which properties should receive historic designation.
- Determine which city-owned properties are historic (normally buildings that are at least 50 years old, and meet other criteria) and institute a documentation system so that the city can add new properties as they're acquired, or as properties age.
- Expand historic overlay zones, which require new development in those zones to meet certain design requirements.

The city will host an open house 5:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at the Colorado Springs Pioneer's Museum, located at 215 S. Tejon St., with a meet-and-greet, presentation and Q&A session on the draft plan.
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Friday, August 9, 2019

Gannett and GateHouse plan to merge, creating newspaper mega-group

Posted By on Fri, Aug 9, 2019 at 3:59 PM

  • Shutterstock
New Media Investment Group, the holding company that owns New York-based GateHouse Media, plans to acquire Gannett, the media companies announced Aug. 5.  Given that GateHouse and Gannett are the two largest newspaper chains in the country, the move has potential to change the face of local news — for better or worse.

"I'd love to say the mega-merger financed by private equity is likely to mean more investment in local journalism with new hires filling more beats, expanded circulation, and deeper coverage of their communities, but I doubt that's going to happen, at least in the short term," Corey Hutchins, the Colorado-based contributor for Columbia Journalism Review's United States Project, writes in an emailed statement.

"This is just where we are now in an era of hedge-fund journalism."

Colorado's GateHouse papers include the Pueblo Chieftain and La Junta Tribune-Democrat (dailies), as well as the Fowler Tribune and Bent County Democrat (weeklies).

Virginia-based Gannett, the group behind the USA Today national newspaper, counts the Fort Collins Coloradan among its many brands.

The combined companies — which will collectively own more than 260 daily newspapers, and more than 300 weeklies — will go by the name Gannett, the New York Times reports.

"Uniting our talented employees and complementary portfolios will enable us to expand our comprehensive, hyperlocal coverage for consumers, deepen our product offering for local businesses, and accelerate our shift from print-centric to dynamic multimedia operations," said Michael Reed, chairman and CEO of New Media Investment Group, who was quoted in a statement.

Both companies laid off employees this year. In May, GateHouse layoffs amounted to about 200 people out of its 11,000 staff, including two at the Pueblo Chieftain. Gannett laid off dozens in January, according to media reports, though an exact number was undetermined.

The layoffs and impending merger — which many fear will bring more layoffs — reflect an industry struggling to remain financially viable.

“Since GateHouse bought The Pueblo Chieftain the paper suffered cuts. Its journalists were protesting in the streets this summer," writes Hutchins, who is also a journalism instructor at Colorado College and a journalist at the Colorado Independent. "Earlier this year, Gannett's nationwide layoffs lashed the Coloradoan in Fort Collins and the paper scrap-heaped its weekly Opinion section to cut costs. Now these two companies are conglomerating. Great."

To Hutchins and other media observers, the industry's prospects often look grim.

A University of North Carolina study found the U.S. lost nearly 1,800 newspapers between 2004 and 2018.

And newsroom employment overall decreased by 25 percent between 2008 and 2018, the Pew Research Center found. The number of newspaper newsroom employees decreased even more — 47 percent.

In May, GateHouse planned to hire an entry-level reporter at the Chieftain for $13.41 an hour ($27,892 per year). The median annual salary for reporters and correspondents across the industry was $41,260 in 2018, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

Meanwhile, the new CEO of the combined companies, Paul Bascobert, will receive $3.9 million in Gannett stock and a sign-on bonus of $600,000, above his $725,000 salary, according to Matt Pearce of the Los Angeles Times.
According to the joint statement, the companies intend to cut costs by $250 to $300 million annually as a result of the merger. That's "not good news" for newspapers that "already have been cut to the bone," tweeted Eric Lipton of the New York Times.

Gannett and GateHouse already each have their "design hubs," which centralize design operations for local newsrooms around the country. (Disclosure: This reporter worked at Gannett's Phoenix design hub for two four-month internships.)

Presumably, by consolidating such hubs and other parts of their operations, the companies could save on overhead.

"I fear it's going to get worse before it gets better," Hutchins says. "Whatever happens to these newspapers after this deal, though, I hope they remain honest with their readers about it. I hope they let readers know the reasons why the way the papers are producing the news is changing instead of pretending it isn't happening or dressing up their own bad news in corporate Newspeak.

"I hope they bring their local readers into this conversation about one of the most challenging realities of our time. I also hope I'm totally wrong about all of this.”
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Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Gov. Polis signs final bills into law, announces five vetoes

Posted By on Wed, Jun 5, 2019 at 3:02 PM

Polis spoke about his legislative accomplishments at Pikes Peak Community College on June 5. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Polis spoke about his legislative accomplishments at Pikes Peak Community College on June 5.

At a June 3 appearance in Colorado Springs, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, said this year's legislative session delivered victories for health care and education.

He emphasized that 95 percent of the 454 bills he signed "were bipartisan: Republicans and Democrats working together to make Colorado better."

Polis vetoed five bills on May 31, three of which concerned state occupational licensing requirements. The vetoes drew consternation from lawmakers in Polis' own party, including Rep. Monica Duran of Wheat Ridge. Duran sponsored House Bill 1212, which would have extended a program requiring managers of homeowners associations, or HOAs, to have state licenses.

“We are greatly disappointed that the work we have done to protect homeowners’ biggest investments in their lifetime — their homes — has been undone," Duran said via a statement from the Community Associations Institute (CAI) Colorado Legislative Action Committee. CAI is an international membership organization for homeowners, HOA managers and businesses that provide services for HOAs.
"Managers of HOAs will no longer have to be licensed, which means they are not required to have background checks, demonstrate any knowledge of core competencies, show they understand Colorado HOA law or get continuing education," Duran continued.

On the other hand, Polis' vetoes drew rare approval from some conservatives.

“Governor Polis is right to veto legislation that makes it harder for Coloradans to find work," said Jesse Mallory, the state director of libertarian and conservative group Americans for Prosperity. Mallory was quoted in a statement from the group.

"Too often occupational licenses—government permission slips to work—are misused to protect entrenched interests, slamming the door on the dreams of would-be entrepreneurs," he added.

With his veto statement, Polis issued an executive order directing the Department of Regulatory Agencies to review existing and potential laws around HOAs and their managers, and recommend strategies for "efficient and effective" regulation.

"Before any unregulated occupation is to be regulated, or any regulated occupation is to be continued, the state should complete its due diligence to ensure that regulation will, in fact, ensure consumer safety in a cost-efficient manner," Polis wrote in his veto letter. "This bill does not meet that threshold."

Similarly, Polis vetoed Senate Bills 99 and 133, which would have required licenses for sports agents and genetic counselors. Both bills were sponsored by Democrats.

"Licensing in the United States over the years has at times prevented minorities and the economically disadvantaged from having the ability to access occupations," Polis wrote.

He also vetoed Senate Bill 169, which would have made changes to the budget submission process for information technology projects, saying that it limited the governor's ability to manage state contracts.

House Bill 1305 would have given tribal governments access to state databases for conducting background checks in child welfare cases. In his veto letter, Polis said the bill contained errors that would have forced tribes to comply with state child protection requirements. So in place of the bill, he issued an executive order allowing tribal governments access to the state databases while leaving out those mandates.

"In Colorado, we respect our government-to-government relationship with the Tribes," Polis wrote. "We also are committed to making resources available to assist the Tribes in conducting their governmental responsibilities."

In other news, here's some highlights from the list of bills Polis recently signed.


House Bill 1032: "Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education" appropriates money ($1 million annually) for the state’s grant program for schools that want to add comprehensive sexual education, closes a loophole that allowed private contractors to collect government money for teaching abstinence-only classes in public schools and ends an exemption for charter schools to the requirements. It also prohibits schools that have sex ed courses from teaching religious ideology, using shame-based or stigmatizing language, employing gender stereotypes, or excluding the experiences of LGBT individuals.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, and Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, and Sens. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and Don Coram, R-Montrose
House Bill 1110: "Media Literacy" creates an advisory committee to make recommendations for ways to teach K-12 students how to read news critically, and discern fake news from the real thing. It allocates $19,800 from the state's general fund to the Department of Education for this purpose.
  • Sponsors: Rep. Lisa Cutter, D-Evergreen, and Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood
Senate Bill 007: “Prevent Sexual Misconduct At Higher Ed Campuses” requires higher education campuses to adopt policies on sexual misconduct based on minimum requirements set out in the bill. It provides for oversight and requires training on the policies.
  • Sponsors: Sens. Pettersen and Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Reps. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, and Janet Buckner, D-Aurora


House Bill 1039: "Identity Documents For Transgender Persons" makes it easier for transgender and nonbinary people to change the gender on their birth certificates (without court order, surgery or doctor recommendation).
  • Sponsors: Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, and Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City
House Bill 1129: "Prohibit Conversion Therapy for A Minor" prevents licensed mental health and medical professionals from attempting to change a minor’s gender identity or sexual orientation through therapy. Democrats, who won control of the Senate last fall, were finally able to pass this bill on the fifth annual attempt.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, D-Commerce City, and Esgar, and Sen. Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder


House Bill 1176: The "Health Care Cost Savings Act of 2019" creates a task force to analyze the costs of alternative health care financing systems, such as single-payer, and make a report to state legislators. Polis signed the bill, but noted his concern that the bill's appropriation (around $100,000) wouldn't be enough to hire an analyst. He directed the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to let him know in October whether legislators should request more money next session.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Emily Sirota, D-Denver, and Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, and Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette
House Bill 1279: "Protect Public Health Firefighter Safety Regulation PFAS Polyfluoroalkyl Substances" bans firefighting foam that contains certain toxic, man-made chemicals: those classified as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, better known as PFAS. (An amendment to the bill makes an exception for when PFAS-containing foam is "required for a military purpose.") The bill also requires manufacturers to disclose when personal protective equipment contains PFAS.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, and Lois Landgraf, R-Colorado Springs, and Sens. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Dennis Hisey, R-Colorado Springs
Senate Bill 077: "Electric Motor Vehicles Public Utility Services" requires public utilities to facilitate charging stations and to support the adoption of electric vehicles.
  • Sponsors: Sens. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Angela Williams, D-Denver, and Rep. Chris Hansen, D-Denver


House Bill 1324: "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" adds protections against lawsuits viewed by First Amendment advocates, media organizations and others at infringing upon free speech. Specifically, it allows defendants accused of libel or slander to ask a judge to dismiss a civil case on the grounds that they were simply exercising their constitutional right to free speech or to petition the government.
  • Sponsors: Reps. Cutter and Shannon Bird, D-Westminster, and Sen. Foote
Senate Bill 179: "Enhance School Safety Incident Response Grant Program" adds funding to an existing state program, which funds nonprofit-led school safety training for law enforcement and school districts. The bill appropriates $1.16 million to the Department of Public Safety for the program.
  • Sponsors: Sen. Lee and Rep. James Wilson, R-Salida
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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo prepares to welcome another baby giraffe

Posted By on Tue, May 21, 2019 at 5:51 PM

Msitu was born at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 2009. She's due to give birth soon to her third calf. - COURTESY OF CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO
  • Courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  • Msitu was born at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 2009. She's due to give birth soon to her third calf.

Less than a week after Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's two-toed sloth Chalupa had her first baby, the zoo announced it has another pregnant mammal in its midst: Msitu, a 10-year-old reticulated giraffe, is due to give birth sometime in the next couple of months.

Msitu has already given birth to two healthy calves. Emy, 5, now lives at Peoria Zoo in Illinois, and 2-year-old Rae is currently the youngest member of the herd at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.

Msitu bred with 11-year-old Khalid last April, which means she'll likely give birth sometime in June or July (giraffe pregnancies are 14-15 months).

You can try guessing the exact date, hour and minute Msitu will give birth at to win a "behind-the-scenes animal encounter" with the giraffe herd, zookeepers announced May 21.

Giraffe keepers and veterinarians will also provide weekly updates about Msitu's pregnancy on the zoo's Facebook page.

“Giraffe calves can be fragile, so we try to encourage people to be realistic about the risks while they enjoy the excitement of the hope we know giraffe calves bring to so many,” says African Rift Valley animal care manager Jason Bredahl, who was quoted in a statement from the zoo. “We’re optimistic that advances in medicine, like the availability of giraffe plasma and stem cell treatments, will help us navigate any medical needs the calf may have.”

Last summer, the zoo euthanized giraffe calf Penny just two months after mom Muziki gave birth to her. She faced an infection and dislocated hip that zookeepers and veterinarians determined would keep her from having a good quality of life.

While you eagerly wait for the zoo's live-streaming giraffe "birth cam" to activate on May 28, here's another cute sloth pic:

Chalupa bonds with her new baby. - COURTESY OF CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO
  • Courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  • Chalupa bonds with her new baby.
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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Baby sloth born at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2019 at 4:37 PM

We feel like "Junior" is a pretty good nickname for this wee creature. - COURTESY OF CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO
  • Courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  • We feel like "Junior" is a pretty good nickname for this wee creature.
Big news from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo: Two-toed sloth Chalupa gave birth to an adorable baby sloth at 12:15 p.m. on May 15.

"The baby appears to be strong, and first-time mom, 19-year-old Chalupa, is exhibiting quality maternal instincts," the zoo notes in a statement.

Before discovering Chalupa was pregnant during an unrelated check-up, zookeepers had no idea that Chalupa and the baby daddy, 27-year-old Bosco, were even into each other. They lived together four years and had showed no signs of breeding, but they apparently kept their relationship on the down-low.

Chalupa and "Junior" just chilling out. - COURTESY OF CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN ZOO
  • Courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
  • Chalupa and "Junior" just chilling out.

“Sloths are famously adored for their slow-motion lifestyles,” Joanna Husby, Monkey Pavilion animal care manager, is quoted as saying. “Even successful breeding and conception can take longer for sloth parents than other animals. This baby was worth the wait, though."

The baby's gender won't be known for months, and there's no immediate plans to name the young sloth. Chalupa and baby are visible to guests in the Monkey Pavilion, but they're staying in an exhibit with a little more privacy, separate from the main sloth hangout over guests' path. They'll join Bosco in the main exhibit in a few months.

Here's a cute video of Mom and baby snuggling:

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Gov. Polis travels to Colorado Springs, Pueblo for bill signings

Posted By on Tue, May 14, 2019 at 11:21 AM

Gov. Jared Polis speaks at Sierra High School on May 4. - DEREK KUHN
  • Derek Kuhn
  • Gov. Jared Polis speaks at Sierra High School on May 4.

After stopping in Pueblo to sign several health care and agriculture-related bills, Gov. Jared Polis will visit Centennial Elementary School in Colorado Springs on May 14 to sign three bills passed by the state Legislature.

They include:

House Bill 1013: Sponsored by Rep. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, this bill extends through 2028 the state's existing tax credit for child care expenses to low-income families, equal to 25 percent of child care expenses for taxpayers with a federal adjusted gross income of $25,000 or less. The credit is capped at $500 for a single dependent or $1,000 for two or more dependents.

Senate Bill 176: "Expanding Concurrent Enrollment Opportunities" — sponsored by Sens. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, and Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village — requires school districts to offer opportunities for qualified high school students to enroll in college-level classes that can be applied to both a high school degree and a college degree. They may include academic courses, career and technical education, or apprenticeship and internship programs.

House Bill 1147: "Revise Traumatic Brain Injury Program" makes changes to the Colorado Traumatic Brain Injury Trust Fund, which provides services for people with brain injuries and funds research and education. Currently, the fund receives revenue from surcharges on DUI convictions, speeding and not wearing a helmet. The bill increases the surcharge assessed for speeding convictions, and expands the types of brain injuries that can be treated, among other changes. The bill's sponsors include two El Paso County Democrats, Rep. Marc Snyder and Sen. Pete Lee.

The bill signing at Centennial Elementary, located at 1860 Chelton Road in Colorado Springs, is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. May 14.

Before that, Polis plans to sign House Bill 1132, "School Incentives to Use Colorado Food and Producers," at Milberger Farms in Pueblo at 2 p.m.

He'll also sign House Bill 1174, "Out-of-Network Health Care Services," and House Bill 1326, "Rates for Senior Low-Income Dental Program," at 1 p.m. at Pueblo Community Health Center.

Polis' first stop in Pueblo is scheduled for 12 p.m. at Crossroads Treatment Clinic, where he'll sign four bills:

• Senate Bill 174, "Dependent Tuition Assistance Program Eligibility";
• Senate Bill 001, "Expand Medication-assisted Treatment Pilot Program";
• Senate Bill 065, "Peer Assistance Emergency Medical Service Provider";
• House Bill 1287, "Treatment for Opioids And Substance Use Disorders."
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Thursday, April 18, 2019

University of Colorado faces backlash over presumed pick for president

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at 2:16 PM

For nearly three years, Mark Kennedy has served as president of the University of North Dakota, but he made a name for himself as a Congressman in Minnesota. - PUBLIC DOMAIN
  • Public domain
  • For nearly three years, Mark Kennedy has served as president of the University of North Dakota, but he made a name for himself as a Congressman in Minnesota.

Since the University of Colorado Board of Regents named Mark Kennedy as the only finalist for the position of president of CU’s four-campus system (which includes local UCCS), blowback has been monumental. On April 14, a group of CU stakeholders including professors, students, community members and more — more than 4,500 people total — released an open letter to the Board of Regents condemning their choice.

Why? Because Mark Kennedy, former Republican member of Congress, has a voting record that seemingly goes against values CU ostensibly supports. This open letter reads, in part:

Colorado’s reputation as an open and inclusive place to live, work, and study would be damaged by the choice of Mr. Kennedy as President of the University of Colorado. As a member of Congress, Mr. Kennedy voted against stem cell research and against grants for colleges serving Black and Latinx students, and he voted twice against marriage equality. This record runs contrary to the Regents’ commitment to cutting-edge research and to “building a community of students, faculty, and staff in which diversity is a fundamental value.”

A protest was held on the CU-Boulder campus on April 15, and demonstrations will likely continue as Kennedy plans visits to CU campuses throughout the week of April 22. United Mexican American Students y Movimiento Estudiantil Chincanx de Azlán and CU Young Democratic Socialists of America have begun planning a major demonstration on April 26, when Kennedy is slated to appear at CU-Boulder. A comprehensive Facebook page has even been created: CU Against Kennedy, encouraging use of the hashtags #studentsagainstkennedy and #CUagainstkennedy.

Kennedy’s seemingly imminent appointment has even gotten the attention of a major nonprofit organization. On April 18, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains released a statement from its CEO Vicki Cowart, in opposition to Kennedy. “I am alarmed by a litany of his congressional votes on civil rights,” Cowart’s statement says. “Congressman Kennedy voted yes on increasing federal funding for health care providers that refuse to provide or even refer patients for abortion care, voted yes on banning family planning funding for providers abroad who counsel patients on abortion options, and has been a full-throated supporter of the extremist anti-choice movement.”

The statement also mentions his record on same-sex marriage, pointing out that he cosponsored a “Marriage Protection Amendment” during his time in office.

"His background does not rise to the level of president of Colorado’s flagship university that values diversity, human rights, academic research, science, and educational freedom of thought,” Cowart says. “The regents should vote no."
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