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Local Government

Friday, March 20, 2020

Human remains found in Florida linked to Gannon Stauch

Posted By on Fri, Mar 20, 2020 at 1:20 PM

Letecia Stauch: Charged with murder in the disappearance of her step-son. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • Letecia Stauch: Charged with murder in the disappearance of her step-son.
Human remains found in Santa Rosa County, Florida, have tentatively been identified as those of Gannon Stauch, the 11-year-old reported missing Jan. 27.

Letecia Stauch, Gannon's stepmother, was arrested March 2 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in connection with his disappearance and presumed death.

Here's the release:

On March 18, 2020, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office was contacted by the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office stating they responded to a call of a deceased juvenile male in Pace, Florida.

An autopsy was performed by the District One Medical Examiner and the deceased male has been tentatively identified as Gannon Stauch. We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to the friends and family of Gannon.

If anyone saw Letecia Stauch in Pace or Pensacola, Florida during the time frame of February 3-5, 2020, we are asking you call the El Paso County Sheriff's Office Tip Line at 719-520-6666 or email tips@elpasoco.com.

There is a gag order in effect for this case and has been attached to this media release along with a mug shot of Letecia Stauch.

We would like to thank the Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office and the District One Medical Examiner for their invaluable assistance with this case.
A spokesperson for the District One Medical Examiner's office in Pensacola, Florida, tells the Indy the autopsy report is not yet public record and won't be released for "quite some time," pending the medical examiner signing off on it. The spokesperson didn't say when the report would be available.

In a related story, members of the media, including the Indy, are seeking disclosure of the arrest affidavit in the case.
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Local elected officials mull ways to jump-start economy following COVID-19 devastation

Posted By on Fri, Mar 20, 2020 at 1:14 PM

Mayor Suthers: No direct aid to businesses but supports finding ways to accommodate state and federal aid. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Mayor Suthers: No direct aid to businesses but supports finding ways to accommodate state and federal aid.
Colorado Springs won't be immediately following Denver's lead in coughing up cash to help small businesses weather the COVID-19 storm.

But El Paso County is still considering some kind of relief, though talks are just getting started.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's administration announced March 19 the city and county of Denver will seek to identify, develop and implement local programs to support Denver business owners and their employees affected by the city's response to the virus.

The city is creating an initial $4 million relief fund to bolster small businesses with the goal of helping those most directly impacted by COVID-19 disruptions. The idea is to help businesses so they can support their employees. To that end:

• Denver Economic Development and Opportunity (DEDO) is setting up an emergency relief program to provide cash grants up to $7,500 to qualifying small businesses. The highest priority will be the industries most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, such as the food industry. These businesses may have had to temporarily close, are struggling with paying their rent and utilities, or have had to lay off staff.

• An existing micro-loan program will be refocused to support small businesses’ stabilization efforts. Current recipients of loans from DEDO will have the ability to temporarily defer loan payments, should they need to.

• The city will work in partnership with Mile High United Way and Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP) to distribute the cash grants and micro-loan funds. The city and DDP are also working together on expanding business relief funding and will be reaching out to the business community to amplify the impact of the small business support through donations.

• Grants of up to $1,000 will be made to individual artists who live in Denver whose incomes are taking a hit due to cancellations of events and classes. The mechanism will be the existing IMAGINE 2020 Artist Assistance Fund and Denver Arts & Venues.

• The Denver Department of Finance will waive the 15 percent penalty for late payment of February and March sales, use, and occupational privilege taxes due March 20 and April 20. The return must be filed and funds remitted within 30 days of the due date. DOF will evaluate extension of the waiver on a month-by-month basis.

Mayor John Suthers' spokesperson Jamie Fabos says the city is facing challenges in dealing with expected downturns in sales tax revenues, on which the city relies almost exclusively for its general fund operating budget. That budget funds police and fire, public works, parks and other basic services.

"While we are committed to first making budgetary adjustments that will have the least impact on the public, we fully expect to have to make significant budget reductions this year," she tells the Indy via email. "Of course restricted revenues – Stormwater and 2C, for example – will and must remain dedicated exclusively to those efforts. The general fund, however will need to be adjusted based on an anticipated downturn in sales tax revenues."

That said, Fabos notes the city has been in contact with state and federal governments "and are doing all we can to ensure that Colorado Springs and its local small businesses are prepared and eligible for the dedication of the federal relief package and/or any state resources."
Waller: No silver bullet for supporting an economic recovery. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Waller: No silver bullet for supporting an economic recovery.
She also says the city is partnering with Support The Springs — a campaign started by several local creative organizations/industry professionals.

"The website is launching fully soon - it's meant to encourage people to support local businesses in non-traditional ways," she says.

Board of County Commissioners Chairman Mark Waller says "everything is on the table" for assisting in an economic recovery from the COVID-19 impacts.

He notes the county has a "pretty robust reserve right now," but stopped short of proposing grants to small businesses. Rather, he noted the Small Business Administration has declared Colorado an emergency disaster zone, which qualifies businesses to seek low-interest loans.

"In these circumstances," he says, "there will be no silver bullet." Rather, he predicted a combination of efforts will coalesce around propping up those most devastated by the mandatory closures caused by the virus.

Commissioner Stan VanderWerf says he's putting together a coalition that will find ways to support businesses and their employees during an economic recovery. (A meeting was held March 20.)

Players include the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, the county and the city of Colorado Springs.

"We have got to get the economy kickstarted and up and running," he says.

While more formal programs are pending, he says the initial message is for people who have the means to buy local, "so we can produce demand that signals to companies to hire people back."

VanderWerf: No plans for county layoffs. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • VanderWerf: No plans for county layoffs.
The county plans to ask voters in November to allow the county to retain $3.5 million in excess funds collected in 2019 under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. While that money wouldn't be freed up until after the election, it could be a source of relief funding, VanderWerf says.

Of course, the county also foresees a reduction in its own revenue from the economic devastation caused by sequestering due to the virus, and he says the county finance department is running various scenarios for future spending. But VanderWerf emphasized the county has "absolutely [no plans] whatsoever right now" to lay off workers, and county services remain fully functional, though some services have been largely moved online.

One way to help people financially, he notes, comes via the waiving of penalties for late payment of taxes and fees.

"We need to do everything we can to reassure the public that the county is trying to do everything we can," he says.
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Monday, March 16, 2020

City announces new closures to help prevent spread of coronavirus

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2020 at 4:03 PM

Pioneers Museum: Closed indefinitely as a precaution due to the coronavirus. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Pioneers Museum: Closed indefinitely as a precaution due to the coronavirus.
The Colorado state lab has found 131 of the 758 people tested had positive results for the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. (El Paso has four cases.) Those numbers are as of Sunday, March 15.

Within an hour of Denver announcing the closure of bars and restaurants except for carry-out orders, the city of Colorado Springs issued a release March16 outlining which programs and facilities are closed.

The closures and suspensions, the city said, are aligned with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, El Paso County Public Health and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The goal is to slow the spread of the disease.

From the city:

The following closures, postponements, cancellations and adjustments are effective starting Monday, March 16.

· The Pioneers Museum is closed until further notice.

· The Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center, operated by the Garden of the Gods Foundation, is closed until further notice.

· All programming offered in Garden of the Gods Park, the Starsmore Visitor and Nature Center and the Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site is suspended until further notice. Garden of the Gods Park, North Cheyenne Cañon Park and Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site remain open.

· All scheduled and reserved events are postponed or cancelled until further notice. This includes special events permitted through the City’s Office of Special Events as well as events booked in the City Auditorium, the three City-operated community centers (Deerfield Hills, Hillside and Meadows Park), Sertich Ice Center and the two municipal golf courses (Patty Jewett and Valley Hi). The City is working with permit and reservation holders to communicate these impacts.
o Although special events are cancelled, the municipal golf courses and their restaurants will continue normal operations at this time.

· The Deerfield Hills, Hillside and Meadows Park community centers are closed until further notice.

· All spring youth and adult recreation programs and activities, including the Therapeutic Recreation Program (TRP), are cancelled. Sport facilities and rentals are also closed until further notice.

· The City Auditorium is closed until further notice.

· Pikes Peak – America’s Mountain remains open to online reservations only. Visitors will not be able to pay via credit card or cash at the gate. Staff will encourage social distancing to all guests.

· The following public meetings and park department events have been either cancelled or postponed. Additional details on postponement will be shared at a later date.

o March 18: Urban Forest Management Plan community meeting – postponed; will also offer an online presentation and survey
o March 31: E-Bike stakeholder meeting – postponed
o April 1: Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) Working Committee – cancelled
o April 6: Downtown Historic Parks community meeting – postponed
o April 9: Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Advisory Board Meeting – cancelled
o April 18: Earth Day at Garden of the Gods Park – cancelled
o April 26: Motorless Morning in Garden of the Gods Park – cancelled
o May 2: Great American Cleanup – anticipate cancellation; coordinating with co-organizers

Additionally, the Colorado Springs Senior Center, operated by the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region, closed starting March 15 and will remain closed through March 29. More information about its programs, including Silver Key food pantry distribution, is available at www.ppymca.org/colorado-springs-senior-center/about-us/coronavirus.

Updates will be made as the situation progresses and communicated on www.coloradosprings.gov/covid19.

During the closures, facilities will undergo additional deep cleanings.

For facilities that remain open, which includes, but is not limited to, all parks, trails and open spaces as well as the City-owned cemeteries (Evergreen and Fairview), visitors are highly encouraged to practice social distancing and personal hygiene practices and should stay home if they are sick.
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COVID-19: Mayor Suthers declares local emergency

Posted By on Mon, Mar 16, 2020 at 12:33 PM

Mayor John Suthers. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • Mayor John Suthers.
As the number of COVID-19 cases in Colorado continued to climb, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers declared a local state of emergency March 16.

"The declaration does two things; first, it makes the City eligible for federal relief funding as it becomes available; second, it provides authority for Mayoral regulations that can be put in to place rapidly to address the situation as needed," Suthers said in a statement. "This should not be cause for further alarm, but a signal that our city continues to monitor the situation and respond in a prudent, efficient and effective manner in constant coordination with our partners at El Paso County Health and El Paso County."

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment was counting 160 positive cases of COVID-19 as of 3 p.m. March 16, including at least four cases in El Paso County.

The state's first death tied to the novel coronavirus occurred March 13, when an El Paso County woman in her 80s with underlying health conditions passed away.

According to El Paso County Public Health, the woman attended bridge games at the Colorado Springs Bridge Center between Feb. 27 and March 3. The county health department is asking people who attended games at the bridge center during that time to call a health provider if they're experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 virus 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 the virus that causes COVID-19 — can lead to more serious symptoms in some people.

Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, runny nose, cough and breathing trouble. For most people, the symptoms are mild, but older people and those with medical complications are at higher risk of developing more severe symptoms such as pneumonia.

Health officials ask that people having symptoms call a provider, clinic or hospital before visiting a facility in person.


The El Paso County Sheriff's Office has added protocols to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus at the Criminal Justice Center. Although the sheriff's office did not explicitly say whether it was implementing measures to reduce the number of admissions to the county jail (as some advocates have recommended), spokesperson Jacqueline Kirby said transports of inmates outside of the facility will be minimized.

In addition, "courtesy holds" (people being held on behalf of another jurisdiction) and transports to and from other jails will be accepted on a case-by-case basis, Kirby said in an email.

"Any inmates being released from the facility with symptoms will be advised to contact their primary care physician and educated on ways of preventing the spread of their illness," she added.

Criminal Justice Center employees who are experiencing symptoms, or have a household member who is experiencing symptoms, will be directed to stay at home (or go home), Kirby wrote. The same goes for employees who are members of high-risk groups, such as older people and those with underlying medical conditions.

The jail has also stepped up the frequency of cleaning its facility, as well as items handled by inmates and staff, Sgt. Deborah Mynatt said in an email. 

A COVID-19 screening tool at intake involves questions about travel, recent contact with someone that has traveled, and vital signs measurements, Mynatt explained. Depending on the results of the screening, an individual could be placed in isolation and monitored for symptoms of COVID-19.

Even if someone isn't yet showing symptoms, but they meet other criteria based on the screening, they could be placed in the jail's medical unit for monitoring, Mynatt wrote.

If all the chaos surrounding COVID-19 is affecting your mental health, you're not alone. Here's some suggestions from nonprofit Mental Health Colorado:

Stay busy and engaged in the necessary activities of life. Make a conscious effort to be present to your immediate tasks and surroundings.

Avoid consuming toxic amounts of information about things over which you have no control.

Be physically active, preferably outside, where the sounds and sights of the natural world, and the sunshine, can help put the drama of our human world in a healthier perspective.

Help someone who may feel alone. As immunocompromised and high-risk patients are being advised to stay home as much as possible, some of us may experience feelings of loneliness and isolation. Offer to run an errand for someone who is at higher risk of getting sick.

Take this time to call a longtime friend, chat outside with your neighbors, or send a care package.

As always, to speak confidentially with a trained counselor, you can call the Colorado Crisis Services line at 1-844-493-8255 or text "TALK" to 38255.

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, health experts urge people 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 directly touching frequently contacted surfaces, such as elevator buttons or door handles, in public spaces. (Use a tissue to cover your hand or finger if you have to touch something.)
  • 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 colorado.gov/cdphe/2019-novel-coronavirus.

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 COHELP@RMPDC.org for answers in English.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the case total as of 3 p.m. March 16.
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Thursday, March 12, 2020

25 trees tagged for removal, replacement in America the Beautiful Park

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2020 at 8:45 AM

A sharp-eyed citizen dialed in this week to let us know the city is planning to rip out a bunch of trees as well as a fountain from America the Beautiful Park to make way for the new $18.7 million pedestrian bridge.

Well, it's true. The city plans to remove 25 mature trees in the park and along Cimino Drive and a fountain the city says hasn't worked for a decade to accommodate installation of the bridge.

Below is an illustration the city provided for how the bridge will be swung into place.

City spokesperson Vanessa Zink provides this description of bridge assembly and placement:
The pedestrian bridge contractor will assemble the pedestrian bridge in the gravel parking lot opposite of the entrance to America the Beautiful Park. Due to the structure type and the railroad requirement to limit the impact to their operations, the bridge will more or less be finished in the gravel parking lot. Once complete, tractors will lift each end of the bridge and rotate it from a north/south configuration to an east/west configuration, then drive it across the railroad tracks and place it on the abutments. The bridge will weigh well over a million pounds when it’s moved, and the tractors will need a level and stable pad to rotate the bridge and drive it into place.
COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
The 250-foot-long bridge will link the Olympic and Paralympic Museum, due to open in late May, with the park, and construction is to get under way this spring and summer.

Trees and even light poles are marked with blue ribbons, meaning they're tagged for removal.
PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
City spokesperson Vanessa Zink says the deciduous trees on the earthen mound are pear trees, and the others are white oak. Evergreen trees marked for removal are blue spruce.

The fountains in question flank the entry point to the park, as illustrated here:
The one on the left will be removed and not replaced, while the one on the right will remain, Zink says. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • The one on the left will be removed and not replaced, while the one on the right will remain, Zink says.

Construction, she notes in an email, "will not affect the Julie Penrose fountain."

Once construction is completed, the trees and landscaping will be replaced.

"Unfortunately," Zink notes, "the trees are not suitable for being preserved for replanting, so they will be replaced with younger trees of the same species. The fountain on the southern entrance mound has not been operational for more than a decade. The mound will be replaced and trees and shrubs replanted, but the non-functioning fountain will not be replaced."

Other information about the bridge project can be found on the project webpage.
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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell did business with campaign donor

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2020 at 1:44 PM

Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell stays busy with his sheriff's job and a gaggle of businesses on the side. - COURTESY JASON MIKESELL
  • Courtesy Jason Mikesell
  • Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell stays busy with his sheriff's job and a gaggle of businesses on the side.
Teller County Sheriff Jason Mikesell told the Indy several times there's no connection between his taxpayer funded office and his stable of side businesses, a topic explored in this week's cover story you can find here.

But there is one thread of commonality that's worth noting.

iXero LLC — Mikesell's company that billed $3.5 million to a California school district for a security project — lists several companies on its website as "trusted partners."

Two of those are MainNerve and Blue Light, both of which appear to be run by Bruce Parkman. Bruce Parkman made a $500 donation in March 2018 to Mikesell's sheriff's campaign.

Then, he benefitted from Mikesell's contract with the Beverly Hills Unified School District. One invoice, dated June 5, 2019, and submitted to the district by Mikesell, showed a bill for $79,600 for "Blue Light Special Bundle Packaging-Enterprise Insight Analysis (EIA) - Commercial Pricing - (BL-BF-ELA-CMRCL)."
MainNerve has an office on Aeroplaza Drive. - PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
  • MainNerve has an office on Aeroplaza Drive.
We attempted to reach Parkman through the Blue Light website but haven't heard back. We also went to the address shown on Secretary of State business records for the company, but it's accessible by keypad only and we didn't spot a buzzer to ask to be admitted.

The history of Main Nerve is worth noting as well. It used to be called NEK Cyber Operations Group LLC and was run from 110 W. Sierra Madre Street.
The office building where one of Mikesell's business partners and campaign contributors works.
  • The office building where one of Mikesell's business partners and campaign contributors works.
NEK, if you recall, paid a state fine for setting off explosives without a permit in Teller County in 2012, which we reported on here. (This was at a time When Mikesell served as a Teller County deputy. He became sheriff in 2017 by appointment and was elected to his first term in November 2018.)

In 2013, NEK changed its name to MainNerve. It's also changed its address twice to two different locations on Mark Dabling Road, state records show.

More recently, it gives an address of 2005 Aeroplaza. On his LinkedIn page, Parkman describes himself as CEO/founder of NEK Advanced Securities Group, Inc., from 2010 to 2012. He also notes he served in the Army Special Forces from 1980 to 2001.

We offered Mikesell an opportunity to comment about the intersection of his private business with his sheriff job by way of Parkman's campaign contribution and subsequent contract with iXero but haven't heard back.

We initially sent an email to Mikesell's commander and public information officer Greg Couch asking him to pass on our question to Mikesell. Couch also works for Mikesell's private companies. Here's what Couch said in response: "This should go to either Jason Mikesell personally or his company website. It isn’t appropriate for the Sheriff’s PIO to respond to questions about personal business matters."

He didn't explain why Mikesell wouldn't think it appropriate to comment on a donation to his sheriff's campaign during a time he served as sheriff, accepted the donation and was elected sheriff.

In any event, when we hear something from Mikesell, we'll update.

(The owner of the NEK entity when the explosions were set off was Tony Porterfield of Woodland Park. He doesn't appear to be associated with the company today. He and his wife contributed a total of $800 to Mikesell's 2018 campaign.)
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Monday, March 2, 2020

11-year-old's step-mom arrested in South Carolina, faces murder charges

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2020 at 12:55 PM

Landen Hiott, Gannon Stach's mother, speaks to reporters on March 2 after authorities announced the child's stepmother has been arrested in connection with his death. - PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
  • Landen Hiott, Gannon Stach's mother, speaks to reporters on March 2 after authorities announced the child's stepmother has been arrested in connection with his death.
Letecia Stauch, stepmother of 11-year-old Gannon Stauch, was arrested in Horry County, South Carolina at 8 a.m. Monday, March 2, in connection with his disappearance.

Authorities held a news conference at Centennial Hall at noon March 2 to announce the pending charges against Stauch, which include murder in the first degree of a child under 12 by a person in a position of trust, child abuse resulting in death, tampering with a deceased human body and tampering with physical evidence.

While the widespread investigation that involved dozens of agencies and thousands of hours have yet to find the child's body, authorities said they're confident Gannon was killed.

He was reported missing on Jan. 27 via a 911 phone call from his step-mother who reported the child had not returned from a friend's house. Major crimes took control of the case on Jan. 28.

Sheriff Bill Elder noted that five weeks to the day of the report that he was missing marked the arrest of his stepmom, who told a KKTV reporter in the early days of the investigation that she would never harm the child.
Gannon was reported missing Jan. 27. Five weeks later, authorities arrested his stepmom, who's facing murder charges.
  • Gannon was reported missing Jan. 27. Five weeks later, authorities arrested his stepmom, who's facing murder charges.
Elder expressed condolences to the family, some members of whom attended the news conference, including his mom Landen Hiott and his father Al Stauch.

"There's no way we can express the depth of our sympathy," Elder said.

He also noted the exhaustive effort to search for Gannon "underscores the significance of team work." Dozens of agencies, including neighboring departments, the FBI and others aided in the investigation.

But Elder also stressed that the investigation "has only begun," because Gannon's body has not been found.

No clues were revealed at the news conference that leads investigators to believe Gannon was killed and that his stepmother is responsible.

Rather, Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen said the affidavit will be sealed to protect information surrounding the case and added that investigators "want to bring Gannon home" and hold the person charged accountable.

Hiott gave a tearful speech to a bank of news cameras and reporters, saying she wants justice to be served "100 percent for the pain she caused." She also thanked all the agencies who have been involved in the search.

Letecia Stauch is being held without bail in South Carolina from which she will be extradited to face the charges in El Paso County. 
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Friday, February 28, 2020

CSFD adds four engines and a ladder truck

Posted By on Fri, Feb 28, 2020 at 9:40 AM

The city added five pieces of heavy apparatus this week, reducing the age of its fleet. - PHOTOS COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Photos Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • The city added five pieces of heavy apparatus this week, reducing the age of its fleet.
It goes to show you how much of a difference just one year can make.

A year ago, we reported the average age of the Colorado Springs Fire Department's fleet was older than it should have been and how old equipment can place firefighters at risk.

In 2018, the average overall age of the fleet was over 14 years, while engines averages more than 12 years and trucks, over 16 years.

Starting in 2017, the city has been switching out the old stuff for new equipment and by this year's end will have replaced 10 engines and three trucks at a cost of $8.5 million. That's nearly half of the CSFD's heavy equipment fleet.

The latest replacement, celebrated by Mayor John Suthers and firefighters this week, includes four engines and a ladder truck. The engines will be assigned to Station 2 (Weber and San Miguel streets), Station 3 (Colorado Avenue and Limit Street), Station 11 (Jetwing Drive and Academy Boulevard), and Station 14 (Dublin Boulevard and Academy). The ladder truck will serve the city from Station 10 (Meadowland Boulevard and Academy).
Mayor John Suthers speaks at a Feb. 26 dedication of the new equipment.
  • Mayor John Suthers speaks at a Feb. 26 dedication of the new equipment.
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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Hairstyle discrimination ban passes in Colorado House

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2020 at 10:45 AM

Members of the public testify at a Black Caucus community hearing, prior to a House committee hearing on House Bill 1048. - COURTESY REP. LESLIE HEROD
  • Courtesy Rep. Leslie Herod
  • Members of the public testify at a Black Caucus community hearing, prior to a House committee hearing on House Bill 1048.
Over the objections of five Republicans from El Paso County, a bill aiming to ban hairstyle discrimination passed the Colorado House on Feb. 12.

House Bill 1048, also known as the "Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act" or CROWN Act, clarifies that protection from discrimination in state law extends to people choosing to wear certain hairstyles in the context of public schools, employment, housing, public accommodations and advertising.

This would include protection from discrimination regarding hair texture, hair type, and hairstyles "commonly or historically associated with race," such as "braids, locs, twists, tight coils or curls, cornrows, Bantu knots, Afros, and headwraps."

The bill — sponsored by Democratic Reps. Leslie Herod of Denver and Janet Buckner of Aurora — passed the Colorado House by a vote of 42 to 21, with two legislators excused (including Republican Rep. Lois Landgraf of Fountain). Included among those who voted against the bill were El Paso County Republicans Terri Carver, Tim Geitner, Larry Liston, Shane Sandridge and Dave Williams.

Before the bill's second reading Feb. 10, Williams spoke on the House floor and urged legislators to oppose it.

"I wholeheartedly agree that racial discrimination is unacceptable... [but] I would encourage everyone here to at least vote your conscience and realize that perhaps there is a need for this, but also recognizing at the same time that this might be redundant or duplicitous," Williams said, suggesting that laws already exist to prevent such discrimination.

Rep. Herod argued the bill was, in fact, needed.

"I want to be clear that we're not just adding something to law just for the fun of it," she said in response, referencing a federal appeals court's decision in a case that was brought by the Equal Employment and Opportunity Commission on behalf of an Alabama woman whose job offer was rescinded because she would not cut off her natural locs. The court ruled in 2016 that the company had not violated the Civil Rights Act, and the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 declined to hear the woman's case.

"In order to have protection for women and men and people living outside of the gender binary who are of color, who have hair growing ... a certain way and not be asked to cut it or straighten it, we need these protections in law," Herod said.

On Feb. 13, the CROWN Act was introduced in the Senate and assigned to the State, Veterans, & Affairs Committee, where it's scheduled for a hearing on Feb. 24.

In his Oscar acceptance speech, Matthew Cherry, the director of Academy Award-winning short film "Hair Love," called attention to state bills banning hairstyle discrimination. New York, New Jersey and California have passed similar laws already, with additional bans under consideration in 22 states including Colorado.

"The CROWN Coalition, co-founded by Dove in partnership with the National Urban League, Color Of Change and the Western Center on Law, has taken a leading role in organizing support for the bill around the country," a statement on HB1048's passage notes.
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Colorado Springs park "protectors" strategize next move

Posted By on Wed, Feb 19, 2020 at 10:43 AM

Kent Obee, a long time parks supporter, on a hike in the Stratton Open Space. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Kent Obee, a long time parks supporter, on a hike in the Stratton Open Space.
A band of citizens dedicated to preserving city parkland continues to mull what its next step might be after a defeat last summer for a bid to require voter approval for disposal of parks.

Protect Our Parks, a movement born from the city's 2016 deal to trade its 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor for wooded acreage and trail easements, might yet pose a ballot measure. Go here for background on the issue.

Or, the group might try an end run around a local process by seeking a change in the state Constitution which could prove equally daunting.

Kent Obee, a leader of Protect Our Parks (POPs), writes in a briefing to members that member Donna Strom suggested appealing to state lawmakers to refer a measure to voters statewide that would "require voter protection of parklands in home rule municipalities as is already the case with our statutory municipalities." Colorado Springs is a home-rule city and, as such, asserts that it can dispose of parkland and open space by City Council vote. But Strom acknowledged the research for that possible avenue is incomplete.

As POPs supporters have previously noted, nearly all cities of significant size in Colorado have adopted a similar measure to Protect Our Parks, including most major cities on the Front Range — Denver, Aurora, Lakewood, Boulder, Greeley, Parker, Castle Rock. But over the past several decades, only one or two elections have taken place regarding a land sale or swap.

Two other options outlined by Obee:

• Collect thousands of signatures to petition a measure onto the city ballot in April 2021. (Twice as many signatures would be needed to force a measure onto the November 2020 ballot.)
• Try once again to work with Council.

"We did not achieve unanimity," he advised in an email to supporters. "The majority view (with varying levels of optimism/enthusiasm) was to give the Council option one more try within real limits. These limits included getting things resolved in the next couple of months to avoid the kind of photo-finish disaster we experienced last summer, getting clarity in the [ballot] referral that the list of parks being protected was the one developed and approved by the City POPS Committee and to firmly resist further Wayne Williams attempts to subvert POPS. On this latter point, it was agreed that his super majority requirement would only be acceptable as a part of a referral as long as the final decision on any parkland conveyance remained in the hands of the voters — in other words, the requirement of a Council super majority vote to refer a parkland conveyance to a vote of the people was okay as long as the final say remained with the voters."

(Williams injected a proposal into the process last year that would allow Council to dispose of parkland but require a 6-3 majority to do so. This morphed into a second ballot measure, which lost favor and ultimately wasn't referred to the ballot.)

The POPs meeting ended with general agreement to give Council another try while also gathering more information about the state constitutional change option.

Obee also called attention to two other parks issues he says are deserving of residents' attention:

• The city will consider changing the Park Land Dedication Ordinance to reduce the required amount of parkland set aside in new developments from the current 7.5 acres per 1,000 residents to 5.5 acres per 1,000. Says Obee, "This is the wrong way to be going — particularly for a city that smugly bills itself as the 'second best place' (or whatever) to live in the country."
He was referring to U.S. News & World Report naming Colorado Springs the most desirable place to live  2019.

• The city's attempt to "activate" three of the city's oldest and most historic downtown parks: Acacia Park, Antlers Park and Alamo Park, which Obee refers to as the "Disneyfication" of those parks, and encourage citizens to participate in the city's process. Find information about that here.

The city's report shows that less than 40 percent of those surveyed expressed support for holding more events and entertainment in those parks, whereas more than 70 percent supported more "cleanliness and maintenance" and "greater safety and security."
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Thursday, February 13, 2020

Colorado bill would close 'loophole' allowing sex offenders to skip treatment

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2020 at 11:01 AM

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Currently, a so-called "loophole" in state law allows certain high-level sex offenders to enter community corrections before participating in behavioral treatment.

Colorado lawmakers aim to close that loophole with Senate Bill 85, which was approved by the state Senate (32 aye votes, 0 no votes, 3 excused) on Feb. 13 and heads to the House for consideration.

The legislation would make certain requirements for being released into community corrections the same as those for being released on parole.

Thus, an offender would have to have "successfully progressed in treatment" and be considered neither a threat to the community, nor likely to commit another crime, before they're sent to community corrections. The bill also requires the executive director of the state's Sex Offender Management Board to review the relevant criteria and give final approval before releasing someone into community corrections.

Community corrections, an alternative to incarceration in prison, combines residential supervision with special privileges. Offenders in community corrections programs may be employed and required to attend classes.

The loophole in the law applies to those who've committed so-called "indeterminate" sex crimes, which include: felony sexual assault, including drug- and alcohol-facilitated sexual assault; felony unlawful sexual contact by force; sexual assault on a client by a psychotherapist or sexual misconduct by a police officer; incest and aggravated incest; sexual assault on a child, including sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust; enticement of a child; and felony internet luring or internet exploitation of a child.

While those with "determinate" sentences have a maximum number of years in prison, those with "indeterminate" do not. Instead, they must remain incarcerated or supervised until they meet certain requirements.

More than three-quarters of indeterminate sex crimes are crimes against a child, according to a fact sheet (see below) in support of the bill released by the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.

But while these individuals must have progressed in behavioral treatment in order to be released on parole, they don't currently have to meet the same requirements before being released into community corrections, where offenders reside in a supervised facility but may be allowed to leave for work or when they're granted privileges.

"We tell victims of these crimes that the indeterminate sentence will be at least four years, and otherwise lifetime supervision and indeterminate, but in reality, these individuals may be released into the community in 16 months," bill sponsor Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, testified at a Feb. 10 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Over the past 20 years or so — since the Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act was passed — close to 150 sex offenders who received indeterminate sentences have transitioned into community corrections through the loophole, testified Amanda Gall, sexual assault resource prosecutor at the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.

Among those, Gall said, "there are folks ... who have gone on to commit new felony sex offenses."

"Allowing high-level sex offenders to return to a community setting without treatment is dangerous and unacceptable," bill sponsor Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, testified to the Judiciary Committee.
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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

UPDATE: City Council approves developer debt, public improvements to revive southwest downtown

Posted By on Tue, Feb 11, 2020 at 11:11 AM

Here's a map of the Southwest Downtown project. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • Here's a map of the Southwest Downtown project.
UPDATE: This just in from the city's economic development official Bob Cope about the lag in transferring city property to Nor'wood Development Group:

“The Cimino land exchange was originally approved by City Council on April 25, 2017. On October 23, 2019 City Council approved a Resolution allowing 25 Cimino and 125 Cimino to be conveyed separately. Since October 23, 2019 the parties have been conducting the necessary due diligence to complete the sale of 125 Cimino as the first leg of the transaction. We expect the transfer of 125 Cimino to occur in the very near future.”

——————-ORIGINAL POST 11:03 A.M. TUESDAY, FEB. 11, 2020—————————

City Council voted unanimously Feb. 11 to goose development of the long blighted southwest downtown by approving a "cooperation agreement" with the developer — Nor'wood Development Group — that pledges at least $20 million in public spending and allows a newly formed business improvement district to issue $50 million in debt.

The public money would be spent on parking, drainage, street upgrades, including an overhaul of Vermijo Street from the Olympic Museum to Wahsatch Street, utilities work and more.

As the agreement states:
The vision set forth in the Urban Renewal Plan is to create a world class urban neighborhood, comprised of new residential, office, retail, restaurant and hospitality uses catalyzing around the Museum, Hall of Fame, the [America the Beautiful] Park and their connections to the downtown core area and the City in general.
Before the votes, Councilor David Geislinger noted the city had conducted its due diligence, noting an "extensive, extensive, extensive" involvement by city officials "over the last several weeks or months."

The roughly 100 acres at issue has been designated for urban renewal for 20 years but nothing happened until the Olympic Museum project, at Vermijo and Sierra Madre Street, arose a few years back — it opens in May — along with plans for a stadium to host Switchbacks soccer club games a block or so south. It's slated to open in 2021.

Nor'wood's plan in the near term calls for building 300 residential dwelling units to the east of American the Beautiful Park, a multi-story office building of 180,000 square feet and a 240-room hotel. The 20-year build out will see construction of 4,500 residential units, 750,000 square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and 500 hotel rooms.

Here's a list of what will be funded with public money to help the developer get that ambitious redevelopment off the ground.

• $8.8 million from City for Champions state sales tax rebates. C4C is the tourism venture approved by state economic development officials in 2013 that also includes a new Air Force Academy visitors center, the museum, downtown stadium, Colorado College hockey arena, and sports medicine facility at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
• $12.25 million from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, funded with a 1 percent sales tax for regional road, bridge and trails projects.
• $1.55 million from the city's parking enterprise.
• $1.35 million from city stormwater fees collected from residents and property owners.
• $3.5 million from Colorado Springs Utilities.

Read the cooperation agreement here:
Here's file:///Users/pamzubeck/Downloads/SWD%20Infrastructure%20-Exhibit%20F%20(1).pdf" target="_blank">more about infrastructure costs.

Council also granted the Southwest Downtown Business Improvement created by Nor'wood authority to issue $50 million in debt to execute the first stage of development. Here's an artist's rendering of the area, with America the Beautiful Park on the left:

COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
Note the multi-story buildings immediately northeast of the park in this rendering. Those would sit on property at 25 Cimino Drive, which the city agreed to trade to Nor'wood in exchange for a small tract to the south that serves as a trail connection made necessary by the Cimarron Street interchange.

But that was three years ago and the land still hasn't changed hands.

The site is plagued with pollutants left behind by a coal gasification plant that sat there 100 years ago, and Nor'wood initially accepted the liability for cleanup. Now, the delay could signal the developer is trying to make a better deal. We've asked Nor'wood President Chris Jenkins about that and will update if and when we hear from him.

We've written about this issue here, and here and here also. It's also worth noting that the Cimino property gave rise to a lawsuit that remains pending, which we wrote about here.

We've also asked the city what the hold up is in transferring the land to Nor'wood but haven't heard back. We'll update when a response lands in our in-box.

To see the file:///Users/pamzubeck/Downloads/PowerPoint%20(1).pdf" target="_blank">presentation about the $50 million debt plans, go here.
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Friday, February 7, 2020

El Paso County commissioner calls for Senate bill to inhibit city annexations

Posted By on Fri, Feb 7, 2020 at 3:44 PM

El Paso County Commission Chair Mark Waller - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • El Paso County Commission Chair Mark Waller
A bill that would make it harder for cities to annex property is getting a lot of attention, especially in Colorado Springs where the city has shown interest in expanding its boundaries of late.

Senate Bill 147, proposed by Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, would restrict which properties could be sucked into a city's limits. Now, an area can't be annexed unless one-sixth of the perimeter of the land area is contiguous with the municipality. Gardner's bill would enlarge that to one-third.

Gardner was urged to propose the bill by El Paso County Commission Chair Mark Waller, himself a former state lawmaker, who argues that under current rules, the city calls all the shots and the county has little say-so.

"As we have more pressure on the rural-urban interface, I think we need to have more collaboration in development and annexation policies," Waller tells the Indy by phone.

"Now, cities have complete control of what gets annexed and what doesn't," he says. "The county doesn't have any control. We need to have a seat at the table."

Waller says when the city annexes property without county input, it can end up leaving the county with a big bill to pay for roads requiring upgrades that are left in the county while abutting the city.

The poster child for this, he says, was the annexation of the Air Force Academy's site for a new visitors center, office space and hotel at the north gate. The annexation included Northgate Boulevard east and west of Interstate 25 but didn't include the interchange, leaving that to the county to pick up the $5 million to $10 million tab for an overhaul when the visitors center attracts larger volumes of traffic and makes the work necessary. Waller is quick to explain the county was able to resolve the issue by forfeiting county sales tax toward the project through the city's Urban Renewal Authority.

A map showing the city's annexation of property to bring the proposed Air Force Academy's new visitors center into the city limits. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • A map showing the city's annexation of property to bring the proposed Air Force Academy's new visitors center into the city limits.
"We got rid of the problem," he says, "but we gave up a lot of sales tax."

He calls Marksheffel Road on the city's east side "an absolute mess," and another example of the city's annexation maneuvers. The road flows in and out of the city, changing from two lanes to four and back to two.

Waller thinks a state law that forces more discussion might help, though he says at least one of his commissioner colleagues feels an intergovernmental agreement could accomplish the cooperation needed. Problem is, Waller says, nothing has materialized in the way of an IGA.

"I don't care how we do it," he says, adding that he hopes the proposed Senate bill will bring the city to the table.

That's far from certain, following what City Councilor Jill Gaebler describes as a contentious city-county meeting held last week. Gaebler agrees the city and county need to better-coordinate development, to avoid the city eventually annexing subdivisions that contain roads and other infrastructure built to lower standards than the city requires.

In a Feb. 7 email to the Indy, she says:
As you know, CSU [Colorado Springs Utilities] is currently working to establish an annexation policy that allows us to protect our current ratepayers' water access, while considering how we can annex new areas that are likely to be out of ground water in the short-term. We host our third water workshop next Wednesday before our CSU Board Meeting. These meetings have been open to the public and the County has been invited.

As Commissioner Waller stated in his State of Region address that he wanted more collaboration within our region, it is disappointing to know that he has secretly been working on a bill that would significantly harm Colorado Springs and the 270 other municipalities within our state. And he did all of this without any communication with us, or working with us to draft a bill that would benefit our entire region.
The city also is in the process of annexing more land in its northeast sector and has expressed interest in bringing the business district in unincorporated Falcon into the city to snare sales tax from those businesses.

The Colorado Municipal League is in Colorado Springs' corner on this one, posting an explanation of the bill and why it opposes the measure on its website, as follows:
SB 147 substantially modifies and changes the municipal annexation statue in title 31. Of note, major changes identified in the proposed legislation include:
1. Under current law, municipal annexation requires 1/6 contiguity in order for a parcel of land to be considered for annexation. SB 147 doubles the contiguity requirement to 1/3. This will significantly limit municipal authority to annex, creating a burden on property owners.

2. Would prohibit any annexation from crossing a county road or other county-owned property without consent from the county. This may severely limit an annexation and negatively impact a landowner who has requested to be annexed into the municipality.

3. Currently, municipalities adopt and regularly update a so-called “three mile plan” as a pre-requisite to annexation. SB 147 requires that the municipality put into place a comprehensive annexation plan for the area, and that the plan be adopted at least two years in advance of any annexation. It is unclear if the current requirement of a three mile plan and the new comprehensive plan would be duplicative of one another or two separate requirements.

4. As a new proposal, if at least 1/3 of the land proposed to be annexed has been used for agricultural purposes within the last three years, a county may challenge the annexation.

5. Under the proposed language, counties would be given authority to veto any county-owned land in an annexation absent an IGA. The bill also contains language suggesting that counties may use this power to force municipalities to enter into an “operations and maintenance agreement” before any county-owned facility can be annexed (this is not an enforceable principle and may result in additional litigation between the two parties).

6. SB 147 would require that an IGA between a municipality and county first be settled before a property owner may petition for annexation. This ultimately forces property owners to be responsible for the county-municipality IGA.

For several years, elected officials at the local level have successfully resolved disagreements surrounding proposed annexation. SB 147 proposes to make sweeping changes to the annexation statute without a significant demonstrated need. Prior to introduction, CML and its membership was not notified or consulted on the necessity for statewide legislation, and believes that if changes are to be made, robust conversations between stakeholders need to occur.
The fiscal note from the Legislative Council staff notes the bill would increase administrative workload for cities for annexations, including oversight and legal review. But counties, too, would see higher costs for administration in review of annexation proposals, the staff noted.
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Thursday, February 6, 2020

Updated: Arbitration reform bill moves forward

Posted By on Thu, Feb 6, 2020 at 9:20 AM

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——-UPDATE THURSDAY, FEB. 6 AT 12:40 P.M.——-

Senate Bill 93 passed second reading in the state Senate with a long list of amendments. View them online here.

——-ORIGINAL POST THURSDAY, FEB. 6 AT 9:20 A.M.——-

A bill reforming the arbitration process in Colorado is close to passing in the state Senate, despite opposition from homebuilders and developers.

Senate Bill 93, also known as the "Consumer and Employee Dispute Resolution Fairness Act," was approved by Judiciary Committee on Jan. 29, after more than two hours of public comment. The bill awaits a Senate vote that's been delayed the past few days.

In an effort to add protections for individuals filing claims against businesses or employers in arbitration court, SB93 would establish ethical standards for arbitrators and increase transparency around the process.

It’s supported by the Colorado Consumer Protection Coalition and sponsored by Sens. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, and Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder.

"This is an important bill because it really does deal with such a fundamental issue, and that is, that issue is access to justice that is based on fairness and transparency," Fenberg said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Jan. 29, where the bill was approved with minor amendments.

Most people have signed a contract that includes a forced arbitration clause, which often appears in employment contracts or agreements governing the purchase of goods or services. Such clauses mandate that customer or employee complaints are adjudicated in arbitration court rather than in front of a judge and jury. Often, the company gets to decide the terms of the arbitration process and may even be paying the arbitrator, and the public doesn't have access to the arbitrator's history.

The bill doesn't get rid of forced arbitration — only Congress can do that, Foote pointed out at the hearing — but creates changes that are aimed at leveling the playing field for someone suing a large corporation.

Nancy Burgess, a Highlands Ranch resident who testified in support of the bill, said she'd been hired as an independent contractor by a large company that imposed unfair conditions.

"The work was long and grueling and the pay was atrocious," Burgess said. "...My wages frequently fell below...the Colorado minimum wage."

When she considered pursuing legal action, Burgess realized she'd signed a contract that included a forced arbitration clause. Her contract said she had to go to Texas for arbitration and suggested she could end up having to pay the company's attorney fees should she lose her case.

Notably, the bill would not allow companies to require that arbitration take place more than 100 miles from where the consumer or employee lives or where the contract was executed. It would also bar either party to the dispute from choosing the arbitrator, a common practice that proponents of the bill argue stacks the odds in the favor of a business or employer.

Several people who testified on behalf of builders and developers, however, said the bill could have the unforeseen consequence of limiting the state's affordable housing supply.

To understand that reasoning, we have to look back at Colorado's history with "construction defects" litigation.

Prior to 2017, it was relatively easy for people to file expensive class-action lawsuits against developers of townhomes or condominiums for problems with construction. That limited developers' willingness to build such multifamily housing projects in an affordable price range — because insurers didn't want to work with developers who could end up on the hook for huge settlements.

Then, a Colorado Supreme Court decision in 2017 and a state law passed that same year somewhat improved the landscape.

"Over the last several years...we've gone from a market where many insurers wouldn't even write in Colorado, particularly for multifamily projects, because of the dramatic uncertainty in both litigation costs and exposure, to a market where insurers are now writing more proficiently and more prolifically within Colorado," Scott Wilkinson testified on behalf of the Colorado Association of Home Builders.

Wilkinson said builders were worried that SB93 would undermine their ability to develop affordable housing as townhomes or condos, because insurers would be less willing to cover possible costs arising from dispute resolution in a more uncertain arbitration process.

The 2017 changes "put construction cases, which are highly technical, in front of arbitrators who were knowledgeable in this subject — which meant you had verdicts that more closely resembled the cost necessary to compensate the victims, as opposed to outlier verdicts that might not have been related to the actual harms," Wilkinson said. "What this bill does is it takes that progress we’ve made and it now gives the plaintiffs’ attorneys an excuse for attacking it and introducing additional uncertainty."

The bill sponsors said they were willing to tweak the bill's language to appease those who testified in opposition.

In closing remarks, Foote acknowledged that arbitration has a "very valuable spot" in dispute resolution.

"But when you have an imbalance of power," he added, "when you have a big corporation that's represented by counsel versus a consumer that's not, when you have a student loan corporation versus a student... that's an imbalance of power."
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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

DA Dan May wants his credit from county commissioner

Posted By on Wed, Feb 5, 2020 at 8:59 AM

May with his backup crowd. - IMAGES TAKEN FROM EL PASO COUNTY'S MEETING VIDEO
  • Images taken from El Paso County's meeting video
  • May with his backup crowd.
District Attorney Dan May was nonplussed when he sat through the Board of County Commissioners Chair Mark Waller's Dec. 12 State of the Region address, sponsored by the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC.

That's because Waller apparently didn't mention the DA's Office, and May took that as a personal affront.

Instead of doing a little investigating as to why, May jumped off the deep end and on Dec. 17, he marched as many people from his office as he could muster over to the County Commissioner meeting.

Nevermind that the theme of Waller's address was overseen by County Administrator Amy Folsom, who says the goal was to name certain departments that rarely get attention, including the Department of Human Services and the Department of Public Health. No slight, intended, she said.

Regardless, May had a point to make, especially since he opposes Waller's bid to replace him as district attorney in this year's election. May favors his own Deputy DA Michael Allen for the job. Both Waller and Allen are Republicans, as is May.

May, who's term-limited, made attendance at the meeting mandatory for everyone who wasn't due in court that day, according to insiders. So they all trouped over in a parade of sorts from the DA's office at 105 E. Vermijo St. to Centennial Hall, a little over a block. The employees then sat through May's 20-minute speech of why his office should have gotten accolades from Waller in the State of the Region speech.

Insiders report nobody knew why the 100 or so employees — judging from video of the meeting — were being forced to swamp the commissioner meeting. Even May admitted in his opening remarks that "nobody knows why we're here except a couple of people." The DA's office has  234 employees.

"I put together a quick presentation," May said. "I want you to see, to confirm that you know we do exist."

The crowd dutifully applauded when called upon to do so as May read the many reasons why Waller should have exalted his office. Those reasons include:

• His office does more with less. Its budget is $15 million a year, compared to $20 million in other large counties, including Denver and Arapahoe counties.

• 125 volunteers give some 18,000 hours of work per year.

• Several prosecutors have won distinguished awards.

• His office prosecuted 160 illegal pot grow cases last year. (Waller mentioned the Sheriff's Office's enforcement but apparently omitted the prosecutorial part of that.)

• His office files about 33,000 cases per year, 7,000 of them felonies, the most in the state.

• His office collected $6.2 million in restitution last year, the most of any office, and handed out $1.8 million to victims of crimes in victim compensation.

May making a point of the greatness of his office.
  • May making a point of the greatness of his office.
You get the idea.

The three commissioners on hand that day — Stan VanderWerf, Longinos Gonzalez Jr., and Cami Bremer — made a point to lavish praise on May.

"I appreciate everybody coming over here," VanderWerf said. "I just want you to know I was not part of the development of that [Waller's] presentation. I deeply appreciate the work that you all do."

Bremer thanked May for the presentation, adding, "Any opportunity we have to celebrate the successes of the county, whatever form that might take ... I think we should celebrate our successes."

Folsom then cleared the air a bit, saying she might have been the only one in the room who had "intimate knowledge" of how the speech came together.
Folsom: Setting the record straight about why the State of the Region speech omitted any mention of Dan May.
  • Folsom: Setting the record straight about why the State of the Region speech omitted any mention of Dan May.

"I want to echo the comments that you all do fantastic work," she said, adding she wanted to dispel the idea that "there’s a nefarious thing going on."

Rather, she explained, "We made a conscious decision to mention departments we’d never mentioned before." Those include human services, where social workers and others look out after the interests of thousands of children each day.

"Nobody made a decision [of] don’t include the district attorney's office," she said.

Folsom left the group with this thought and advice: "Think big. Celebrate your success and don’t care who gets the credit. That’s my ask of you today."

We asked Waller for his take on all this and received this comment in an email:
"One of the themes of the speech was a quote by Ronald Reagan, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” Unfortunately, our District Attorney completely missed that point.

As a former deputy district attorney myself, I certainly understand and appreciate the important role the district attorney’s office performs regarding public safety. In this speech, we wanted to highlight others in the county doing great things. For example, our coroner, Dr. Leon Kelly, is doing innovative work to prevent teen suicide, and the citizens should know it.

With over 2,850 employees and numerous agencies in the County, we couldn’t mention them all. It’s disappointing our District Attorney fails to recognize that, and it’s disappointing he fails to understand the importance of President Reagan’s simple leadership lesson."
 
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