Local Government

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

County hires defense attorneys for malicious prosecution case

Posted By on Tue, Nov 13, 2018 at 11:30 AM

John San Agustin Jr. sued many officials from El Paso and Arapahoe counties, as well as the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • John San Agustin Jr. sued many officials from El Paso and Arapahoe counties, as well as the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
El Paso County might face some pretty steep legal bills in defending various parties named as defendants in a recent lawsuit.

Former Sheriff's Commander John San Agustin Jr. filed a lawsuit last month alleging wrongful prosecution in a case he said was railroaded by a plethora of officials, including Sheriff Bill Elder and District Attorney Dan May.

County Attorney Amy Folsom says the county is in the process of finalizing agreements with several law firms to represent various defendants. They need separate counsel because each person's interest may run contrary to another's.

So far, four firms have been chosen. Those firms and their clients in the case are:

• Sherman and Howard — Sheriff's Office, Sheriff Bill Elder and Undersheriff Joe Breister

• Vaughan and DeMuro — 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office, DA Dan May and former Chief Deputy DA Shannon Gerhart

• Wells, Anderson & Race — county legal advisor Lisa Kirkman

• Bruno and Bruno — former Sheriff's Deputy Robert Jawarski

"After consultation with our own ethics counsel, the County Attorney’s office has determined that we have conflicts that will not allow us to defend any named defendant in this matter," Folsom reports via email. "Purchase Orders for the payment of the attorneys’ services will be opened and approved by the Board [of County Commissioners]. A decision on the amount of the purchase orders has not yet been made."

The lawsuit:
 
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Monday, November 12, 2018

City slammed in EPA lawsuit ruling; could stormwater fees be increased?

Posted By on Mon, Nov 12, 2018 at 1:32 PM

Many creeks in Colorado Springs like this one have eroded over time and contribute sediment downstream. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Many creeks in Colorado Springs like this one have eroded over time and contribute sediment downstream.
A federal judged ruled on Nov. 9 that Colorado Springs violated its stormwater discharge permit in at least three developments, which subjects the city to possibly significant fines under the Clean Water Act.

But Mayor John Suthers and several City Council members aren't willing to discuss whether the city's stormwater fees, approved by voters a year ago, will be amended to absorb what could be multi-million dollar penalties.

The stormwater measure, which charged residences $5 per month via their utilities billings and non-residential properties $30 per developed acre, included this provision:

"... such fees may be thereafter increased by City Council by resolution only to the extent required to comply with a valid court order, federal or state permits, federal or state laws, and intergovernmental agreements [IGA] of the city entered into before June 1, 2016." (The only IGA that qualifies in that provision is the April 2016 agreement with Pueblo County to spend $460 million over 20 years on the city's stormwater drainage system.)

While City Councilor Tom Strand told the Gazette that large fines might have to come from cuts to parks, police and fire departments, the stormwater fees obviously can be increased to cover such an expense. Strand didn't respond to a request for comment from the Independent.

Councilor Andy Pico says it's too soon to talk about penalties, because the case still has "a long ways to go." Councilor Bill Murray also sidestepped the question of increasing stormwater fees, saying he wants to "rebalance" all city fees rather than raid other departments.

"In this case the public will be the loser but this lawsuit was about the development winners," he adds in an email. "We need to take a critical review on how we encourage development."
Morning Star at Break Creek extended drainage basin never worked as it was intended. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Morning Star at Break Creek extended drainage basin never worked as it was intended.

Councilor Don Knight, who opposed the stormwater fee measure, also said it's "pre-mature" to say how the city would pay a fine until the city knows how much it might be.

He also  notes in an email that a fine could represent a one-time expense, while court-ordered additional drainage work could require multi-year commitments.

Councilor David Geislinger labeled it "fear-mongering" to speculate how the city would satisfy any fines in the case.

"It is my hope, and expectation, that the city’s earlier commitment to address the known deficiencies, and subsequent approval of the stormwater fee, will be taken into consideration by the court in any subsequent findings of damages, to include a fine," Geislinger says via email.

Councilor Jill Gaebler says via email, "I have never made any comments about raising stormwater fees, but I can tell you that I will consider raising the fee before ever cutting funding for public safety. Having said that, this lawsuit is not a done deal, and I remain hopeful."

For his part, Suthers issued a statement saying the city has taken "extraordinary steps" to build the "best stormwater program in the state" and will continue to work toward resolving the lawsuit, though it has no choice if the EPA wants to continue litigating.

It's worth noting that all three of the exemplar sites considered in the first nine-day trial in September that led to the Nov. 9 decision involved development that was initiated before Suthers became mayor in mid-2015.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch ruled that the city violated its municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permit for discharging storm runoff into creeks in the Arkansas River watershed.

A September trial focused on three developments: the 150-acre Indigo Ranch North at Stetson Ridge Filings 11, 13 and 14 in the city's northeast area; Star Ranch Filing 2, a 26-acre development for 32 homes on the city's southwest side; and Morning Star at Bear Creek, a senior facility built on five acres north of Bear Creek Regional Park.

Those are among 10 claims for relief from multiple violations of the city's permit cited in the lawsuit, filed in November 2016, by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District have also joined as plaintiffs.

For the plaintiffs, the bar was low. As noted by Matsch, they only had to show the city violated its permit conditions.

In his 43-page ruling, Matsch walks through each development in detail, citing the city's failures.

But in short, he notes the city didn't require developers to file drainage reports and perform other drainage work, despite requirements contained in the city's own drainage manuals and stormwater management regulations.

It's unclear what the next step might be, other than scheduling another trial to examine other cases in which the city failed to comply with its MS4 permit.

We've asked the Lower Arkansas District and Pueblo County for a comment on the judge's ruling and will circle back if and when we hear something.

Here's the ruling:

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El Paso County sheriff faces new lawsuit

Posted By on Mon, Nov 12, 2018 at 9:39 AM

Keith Duda and his daughter, Caitlyn, filed a lawsuit on Nov. 9 against El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Keith Duda and his daughter, Caitlyn, filed a lawsuit on Nov. 9 against El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder.
Former El Paso County Sheriff's Sgt. Keith Duda and his daughter, Caitlyn Duda, have filed a federal lawsuit against Sheriff Bill Elder, alleging retaliation against them for reporting incidents that involved Lt. Bill Huffor.

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 9, also alleges Elder retaliated against Keith Duda for supporting the campaign of Elder's primary opponent, Mike Angley, though he did not do so on county time. Duda also alleges that Elder fired him after a story appeared in the Independent about the retaliation against him and his daughter.

From the lawsuit:
Keith Duda also spoke to the press as a private citizen about a matter of public concern: unlawful discrimination, retaliation, and political retribution in the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and by EPSO members.

Keith Duda was not acting pursuant to his job duties when he spoke to the press about unlawful discrimination, retaliation, and political retribution in the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and by EPSO members.

Keith Duda’s speech about unlawful discrimination, retaliation, and political retribution in the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and by EPSO members was not personal to him, but was directed to informing the community at large about acts committed by EPSO employees.
We've reached out to the Sheriff's Office for a comment and will update if we hear back.

The Sheriff's Office declined to comment.

Here's the lawsuit:
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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Colorado Springs Airport lease to BLANK revealed!

Posted By on Thu, Oct 25, 2018 at 10:08 AM

Colorado Springs Airport stands to gain nearly a half million dollars from BLANK by leasing four acres to BLANK for up to three and a half years for the purposes of BLANK.

That's according to a lease obtained by the Independent between the city and BLANK.

See? Here's how BLANK signed the contract:

screen_shot_2018-10-24_at_3.36.47_pm.png

Why all the secrecy? The "Modular Delivery Station Lease Agreement" contains this provision:
No Landlord Party will make any public announcements regarding this Lease or Tenant's proposed or actual occupancy of the Premises without Tenant's prior consent, which Tenant may withhold in its sole discretion.
The agreement allows for certain permitted uses, but doesn't want the public to know what those are. From the agreement:
screen_shot_2018-10-24_at_4.41.56_pm.png

What isn't redacted from the lease agreement is the term, which runs from Sept. 1, 2018, to March 31, 2020, with the tenant allowed to extend the term for an additional two terms of one year each.

If Amazon — er, I mean, BLANK — sticks around for the entire time covered by the lease, the airport would collect $420,000 ($10,000 a month for 42 months).

We wrote about this a couple weeks ago, as did other media. The tenant is very likely Amazon, because about that time the online giant held a job fair at the Pikes Peak Workforce Center.

We sought the agreement through the Colorado Open Records Act and were rather surprised to get anything.  But then again, all the pertinent parts are BLANKety BLANK BLANK redacted.

Here's the lease:
SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
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Monday, October 22, 2018

Multi-million dollar Sand Creek stormwater project completed

Posted By on Mon, Oct 22, 2018 at 11:21 AM

Before the stabilization project on Sand Creek. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Photos courtesy of city of Colorado Springs
  • Before the stabilization project on Sand Creek.
What a difference $6 million can make, as evidenced by a stormwater stabilization project on Sand Creek in the vicinity of Platte Avenue bridge.

The city announced completion of the project on Oct. 22, noting it's one of 71 projects the city agreed to complete under a 20-year, $460-million agreement with Pueblo County. Since that deal, inked in 2016, the city has completed six projects, says city spokesperson Vanessa Zink via email. Check out the entire list here.

The work on Sand Creek took 10 months and spanned a half mile, the city said in a release. Crews filled and reshaped the creek, installed grouted boulder drop structures to step the creek down and rebuilt the natural habitat along the creek. "The project raised the bottom of Sand Creek and regraded the banks back to a stable slope to prevent erosion and provide flood protection for up to a 100-year storm event through the half-mile improved section that will ultimately improve water quality for downstream communities," the release said.

Funding for the project broke down this way: $3.9 million from a Federal Emergency Management Agency grant; $600,000 from the state and $1.5 million from the city.

Contractor was Tezak Heavy Equipment.
After the project was completed.
  • After the project was completed.
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Friday, October 12, 2018

Amazon building at Springs' airport has "end date" of Feb. 1, 2019

Posted By on Fri, Oct 12, 2018 at 5:01 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
A bit of a tizzy erupted last week when, on Oct. 4, it was learned that online giant Amazon was hiring about 300 part-timers locally via a job fair at the Pikes Peak Workforce Center, and building some sort of facility near Colorado Springs Airport.

The issue became more intriguing when Mayor John Suthers wouldn't comment on the hirings or whether the city has an agreement and details about that agreement.

Nor would City Councilor Andy Pico, who also serves as the Council representative on the Airport Advisory Commission. He wouldn't even confirm to the Independent the company is Amazon.

But it might be time to say, "Whoa, Nellie. Don't get too excited."

A close look at plans, filed with the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department, for a $2.8 million building that appears to be associated with the Amazon hiring push states, "THE SITE IS TO BE USED TEMPORARILY WITH AN END DATE OF FEBRUARY 1ST 2019."

Those plans — for a "frame supported fabric structure" to be used as a "distribution warehouse (postal)" by a "confidential corporate client" — can be found on the website of the Regional Building.

The plans also note, "This application is for a temporary use to be used for a distribution center." The layout, according to the plans, includes a tent facility, support office building, support restroom building and support breakroom building.

The construction is taking place on land owned by the city, according to the El Paso County Assessor's Office.

According to RBD's website, the site had been graded by Sept. 11 but no materials for construction yet delivered. Since then, several inspections have been conducted.

Pico says he can't speak to the project in any way, but generally, the Commercial Aeronautical Zone at the airport enables the city to provide tax breaks to companies locating there.

Otherwise, the city also can offer new businesses sales tax rebates based on specified criteria, such as jobs created and the like, he says, adding, "And to be completely honest, I do not know if it’s Amazon. I know we are talking with companies."

He says City Council has not been briefed on the project, but an announcement about it could come at any time.
 
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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Springs announces Homelessness Action Plan

Posted By on Wed, Oct 10, 2018 at 10:23 AM

Mayor John Suthers announces the city's plan to fight homelessness. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Mayor John Suthers announces the city's plan to fight homelessness.

An assortment of cold city officials and nonprofit workers lined up underneath a highway-side billboard Oct. 9 to announce Colorado Springs' new Homelessness Action Plan. On the barely-above-freezing Tuesday, the timing couldn't have been better.

"The change in the weather highlights the ongoing need in our community for low-barrier shelter beds," Suthers said.

The city's action plan outlines eight steps to keep people experiencing homelessness out of the cold:

1. Continue "educating the public" via the HelpCOS campaign.

Advertising for the HelpCOS fundraising campaign, which the city launched May 31 in partnership with Pikes Peak United Way, has until now consisted mainly of signs posted near locations frequented by panhandlers. The signs tell commuters that "Handouts Don't Help" and encourage them to instead donate spare change to HelpCOS.org for the benefit of local nonprofits fighting homelessness. One hundred percent of donations will now benefit the expansion of low-barrier shelter facilities at Springs Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army, Mayor John Suthers said.

Lamar Advertising has donated four billboards to promote the campaign, the first of which was unveiled at the Oct. 9 event.

The city does not have an update on donations through HelpCOS, says Andrew Phelps, the city's homelessness prevention and response coordinator.

"We do expect that donations will increase as publicity increases, because we live in a very giving community," he says. (You can donate by texting "HelpCOS" to 667873.)

2. Add an additional 370 low-barrier shelter beds.

Hours after the Homelessness Action Plan was released to the public, City Council voted to approve $500,000 to help fund 370 low-barrier shelter beds at Springs Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army, both religious nonprofits. The rest of the funding for the beds will come from grants and donations.

Of those beds, 120 will come online at the Salvation Army and 100 at Springs Rescue Mission in November, Phelps says. The remaining beds will be available at the turn of the year.

Springs Rescue Mission CEO Larry Yonkers said his shelter had its first full-capacity night of the year on Oct. 8.

"This can't happen fast enough," Yonkers said, adding that Springs Rescue Mission also hoped to expand its kitchen and welcome center to accommodate more clients.

3. Implement a Homeless Outreach Court.


People experiencing homelessness often can't pay fines for crimes and misdemeanors often committed as a result of their circumstances — trapping many in the criminal justice system. The idea of a Homeless Outreach Court, according to the city's action plan, is to connect people with "case managers who can help guide them to the services they need" instead of charging them money that won't be paid. "By doing so, our Homeless Outreach Court will address the root causes of the offending behavior and empower individuals to take concrete steps to move out of homelessness," the plan says.

4. Establish a veteran housing incentive fund.

"This is the least that we can do for those who have served our nation," Phelps said.

The fund will encourage more landlords to rent to veterans who get vouchers through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program, a joint program between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. HUD recently announced $782,000 in additional funding for Colorado veterans.

"What often happens in our community is a homeless veteran receives a HUD-VASH voucher for an amount that is below a market-rate rent for a one-bedroom apartment," Phelps said. "So this fund will make up the difference and hopefully incentivize landlords to rent to homeless veterans with these HUD-VASH vouchers."

5. Develop a Comprehensive Affordable Housing plan.

In his State of the City speech last month, Suthers suggested Colorado Springs "make it a community goal to build, preserve and create opportunities to purchase an average of 1,000 affordable units per year over the next five years." That ambitious goal will be met in part by incentivizing private developers, he said.

The city's Homelessness Action Plan asserts that the city will begin developing a plan to address the affordable housing shortage next year. Nonprofit workers frequently cite the shortage as a contributing factor to homelessness: A 2014 Affordable Housing Needs Assessment by the city of Colorado Springs and El Paso County predicted a deficit of 26,000 available affordable units by 2019 for households making up to 120 percent of the area median income.

6. Support funding for a homeless work program with area nonprofit(s).

Programs like Albuquerque's "There's a Better Way" employ people experiencing homelessness on a day-to-day basis, doing jobs like picking up trash. The city's new plan says Colorado Springs will "investigate the feasibility" of such a program "via a competitive RFP process." Ideally, the plan says, the program would be within an existing local nonprofit and would involve the cleanup of parks, trails and illegal campsites. Funding is yet to be determined.

7. Add Neighborhood Services staff to aid in cleaning up illegal camps.

The mayor's proposed budget calls for hiring three full-time Neighborhood Services employees to work with the Colorado Springs Police Department's Homeless Outreach Team and handle camp cleanup. Two will be maintenance technicians solely responsible for cleaning up vacated homeless camps, and one will be a senior technician who can assist with larger cleanups or facilitate other needs identified by the HOT team. The proposed budget calls for $171,000 to fund salaries, benefits and overhead, city spokesperson Jamie Fabos says.

8. Develop "HelpCOS Ambassador Team" for downtown and Old Colorado City areas.

Such a team would consist of people who greet visitors in public spaces, providing maps and answering questions. The "ambassadors" would also help connect people experiencing homelessness with shelters and services.

The Homelessness Action Plan points to the San Antonio Centro Ambassadors as an example. According to the plan, San Antonio, Texas, has 85 ambassadors who "work every day to keep the vibe alive and make San Antonio 'The Friendliest City in America.'" Phelps says Colorado Springs probably won't need that many ambassadors.

The program could be volunteer-based, contract-based or a mix of both, Phelps says, adding that the city is getting quotes from Block by Block, a company that provides ambassador services for downtown districts around the country.

The City of Colorado Springs and Council President Richard Skorman will host three town halls to gather public input on the plan. They are:

• Oct. 17 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Westside Community Center, 1628 W Bijou St.
• Oct. 25 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at City Council Chambers, 107 N. Nevada Ave.
• A third November event to be scheduled later
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Friday, October 5, 2018

Sheriff Bill Elder will be "more than done" after his next term

Posted By on Fri, Oct 5, 2018 at 4:29 PM

Elder: Not looking for a third term. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Elder: Not looking for a third term.
It's apparently been a rough four years for El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, who's seeking a second term in the Nov. 6 election.

Elder, a Republican, is a shoo-in for another four years, because the county is dominated by Republican voters. But a recent email exchange with a subordinate (obtained by the Indy through an open records request) makes it sound like he's not crazy about the job he's in.

On Aug. 29, Lt. Charles Kull sent an email to Elder saying he's thinking about running for sheriff after Elder's term is over. "That is of course unless you go back to a three term limit and you decide to run again," Kull says, adding that he would support him.

(Former Sheriff Terry Maketa served three terms after voters allowed a third term. But later, voters rescinded a third term for the sheriff, so Elder is eligible for only two, four-year terms unless voters again reverse the two-term limit.)

Elder's response, sent 40 minutes after Kull's message: "Dude, I will be more than done at the end of this 4 years and am not even considering an extension. We should talk."

Although Kull followed up by asking for a meeting, Sheriff's Office spokesperson Jackie Kirby says no such meeting took place.

Asked about the messages being sent on official government email, Kirby says via email, "The sending of an email expressing a desire to run for political office is not against policy. It is actually quite appropriate for someone within the Sheriff’s Office who is considering running for the position to inform the Sheriff."

Kull had a memory lapse last year while testifying at Maketa's trial, which didn't result in a conviction.

We asked Deputy County Attorney Diana May if it was appropriate for Kull to include a Bible verse on his official county email. She says via email: "Thank you for bringing this to our attention. The quote on the bottom of Lieutenant Kull’s email has been addressed and rectified."

Elder's Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6 election is Grace Sweeney-Maurer.

Here's the email exchange:
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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Teller County candidate Betty Clark-Wine cleared of campaign finance violation

Posted By on Thu, Oct 4, 2018 at 11:04 AM

2018electionbug.jpg
A complaint filed by the Teller County Republican Party Chair Erik Stone on Sept. 11 against unaffiliated county treasurer candidate Betty Clark-Wine has been dismissed.

Stone alleged she solicited donations to an unregistered political committee on her campaign website. But Clark-Wine called the donation tab an error and removed it hours after the complaint was filed. She says she's financing the entirety of her campaign, which will be decided in the Nov. 6 election.

On Oct. 2, the Secretary of State's Office issued a three-page decision in which it ruled, "The Elections Division finds that the Respondent has sufficiently cured the violations alleged in the complaint, and at this time, is not required to register a candidate committee under Colorado law."

Clark-Wine issued this news release about the finding:
Cripple Creek — The Secretary of State has dismissed the campaign finance complaint filed against Teller County Treasurer candidate Betty Clark-Wine by Erik Stone, Chair of the Teller County Republicans.
“I am very pleased that the Secretary of State acted promptly to dismiss the campaign finance complaint. I have not accepted contributions or donations and, I have financed my own campaign.”

Clark-Wine, who is the Teller County Assessor, is term-limited and is on the ballot in November as an unaffiliated candidate for County Treasurer.

“Since Mr. Stone also expressed concern about my having filed one campaign report one day late, I reviewed report filings on the Secretary of State website. Much to my surprise, I found that several elected officials have filed late campaign finance reports, including Commissioners Dave Paul, Norm Steen, and Mark Dettenreider, Sheriff Jason Mikesell and former Sheriff Mike Ensminger. In fact, I was shocked to find that the Teller County Republican Central Committee filed late reports more than once, paying penalties totaling $350.”

Clark-Wine is putting this behind her and moving forward with her door-to-door campaign and meeting fellow citizens. “I am excited about answering their questions about taxes, tax exemptions, assessments, and property values. I want to focus on the issues that are important to the people and, since experience matters, my eight years as the Assessor will be of significant benefit to our county.”
Here's the Secretary of State's Office's decision:
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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

New Colorado Springs Utilities CEO pay: $480,000 a year

Posted By on Tue, Oct 2, 2018 at 11:02 AM

Benyamin: A CSU customer as well as its CEO. - COURTESY COLORADO SPRINGS UTILITIES
  • Courtesy Colorado Springs Utilities
  • Benyamin: A CSU customer as well as its CEO.
Colorado Springs Utilities' new CEO Aram Benyamin has one qualification his predecessor, Jerry Forte, didn't have: Benyamin lives within Utilities' service area.

Forte, who retired in May, lived in Black Forest, outside the service area, meaning he wasn't subject to Utilities policies and rate changes, because he wasn't a customer of the agency he was in charge of. Over the years, Utilities Board members have said privately they hoped Forte's successor would be a Utilities customer. Benyamin owns a residential property in northeast Colorado Springs, according to the El  Paso County Assessor's website.

But that wasn't a deciding factor for everyone. Utilities Board member Andy Pico says via email he didn't recall "any discussion about requiring [Benyamin] or any utility employee to live in the service area" and that he isn't aware of Benyamin's residency. Pico voted against Benyamin's contract for a different reason: his high salary.

On Oct. 2, Benyamin was sworn in to his new position, with an annual salary of $480,000, higher than Forte's $447,175. The salary makes Benyamin the city's highest paid employee. But Benyamin's contract doesn't include incentive pay like Forte's contract, which afforded Forte tens of thousands of dollars per year toward his retirement.

Read Benyamin's contract here. It allows him a vehicle at Utilities' expense, but provides only standard retirement and health insurance benefits provided to other employees. If he resigns, he gets no severance pay. If he is terminated without cause, he could receive up to six months severance pay and six months employer contribution to health insurance.

The contract also includes a non-disparagement clause and bars Benyamin from working for or on behalf of a competitor for two years after his departure, as well as trying to hire Utilities employees for a different employer.
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Monday, October 1, 2018

Mayor John Suthers presents record-high Colorado Springs budget for 2019

Posted By on Mon, Oct 1, 2018 at 1:35 PM

Mayor John Suthers discusses his proposed 2019 budget, saying revenues are rising due to a vigorous economy. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Mayor John Suthers discusses his proposed 2019 budget, saying revenues are rising due to a vigorous economy.
Mayor John Suthers unveiled a $302.1 million general fund budget on Oct. 1, a record high.

Under Suthers' plan, which requires City Council approval, the city will spend $15.4 million more next year than this year, an increase of 5.4 percent. The increase comes as the city rides a wave of rising sales and use tax revenue, which comprises 60 percent of the general fund budget, or $182.3 million. Other sources are property taxes, charges for service, fines and intergovernmental payments.

Most city employees work in the Police Department. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • Most city employees work in the Police Department.
That increase, projected to be 4.5 percent more in 2019 compared to this year, is due to a rebounding economy, which will slow to 1.5 percent growth in 2020 and 2021, the budget forecast shows.

Suthers' increased spending also is made possible by voter approval in November 2017 of stormwater fees, effective July 1, 2018, that are charged to residents. The fees raise about $16 million annually and are exempt from TABOR caps. That allows the city to shift general fund money previously spent on drainage projects and maintenance to other needs, notably more public safety workers and employee raises.

The budget presented by Suthers, a former district attorney and Colorado Attorney General, calls for $4.5 million to fund 61 more police officers and eight more firefighters, as well as "$9.9 million to bring police and fire sworn position compensation to the market average" and give raises to other city employees as well.

Suthers says in an interview he hopes that two classes of 48 police recruits in 2019 will increase the force by 26, considering 35 will merely replace veteran officers who leave or retire. His goal is ultimately to grow the force by 120 officers, he says.
Of the $9.9 million in compensation money, 75 percent will go toward bringing police lieutenants and below and firefighters at battalion chief and below to the market average. A portion also will go toward moving civilian employees to the second step in a multi-year effort to achieve the market average as it compares to seven other cities in Colorado, he says.

Most city revenue comes from sales tax, making the city's budget susceptible to the ups and downs of the economy. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • Most city revenue comes from sales tax, making the city's budget susceptible to the ups and downs of the economy.
(Apparently, Suthers has no taste for bringing back the Police Department's helicopter unit, which has been under study in the past as a force multiplier, especially for a city that sprawls over 200 square miles. He says there have been no serious discussions of reauthorizing a helicopter program presented to him. "I would have to see a cost benefit analysis," he says.)

But Suthers' budget states that although the city collected more than $8.6 million in excess revenue above caps imposed by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) in 2016 and 2017 ($6 million was retained with voter approval, with the balance refunded to voters), there apparently isn't any excess expected in 2018 or 2019.

"What you're starting to see happen is you're starting to see new construction, expansion," he says. "It's very much a reflection of good times."

As for parks, the mayor's budget calls for increasing park maintenance funding by $950,000, including adding a new forestry crew, as well as adding $1 million for parks water.

He also wants to bolster funding by $1.36 million for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, (the city recently settled a lawsuit over the ADA), and add $1.1 million for city fleet replacement.

Other additions:
· $171,000 in increased funding for an additional Quality of Life/Camp Cleanup crew
· $209,000 increased funding to Mountain Metro Transit
· $1.8 million increase to address Information Technology core infrastructure, applications, and cybersecurity improvements and sustainment
Suthers doesn't foresee significant pushback from City Council during the budget process.

"We have really dramatically changed the process," he says. "I don't just sent them the budget on Oct. 1. They have a budget committee that gets a lot of input."

The complete proposed 2019 budget is available at here.

Budget dates:
Oct. 15 – Budget presentations to City Council (all day)
Oct. 18 – Public input meeting (5-7:30 p.m.)
Residents may also provide input via email to allcouncil@springsgov.com
Nov. 13 – Introduction of 2019 budget ordinance at City Council work session
Nov. 13 – First reading of 2019 budget ordinance at City Council regular meeting
Nov. 27 – Second reading of 2019 budget ordinance at City Council regular meeting

The mayor's letter to Council:

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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Sheriff Bill Elder files only "vote yes" statement for the sheriff's sales tax

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2018 at 5:24 PM

Sheriff Bill Elder was the only one to file a statement in support of extending for eight years the sheriff's sales tax, ballot measure 1A on the Nov. 6 ballot. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Bill Elder was the only one to file a statement in support of extending for eight years the sheriff's sales tax, ballot measure 1A on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The Nov. 6 election is less than six weeks away and it appears no committee has been formed to campaign for El Paso County's 1A, a continuation of the .0023 percent sheriff's sales tax.

Moreover, only one "pro" statement has been filed with the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office for the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights Notice, and it was filed by Sheriff Bill Elder, although his name initially was withheld from the public. More on that later.

The measure would extend the eight-year sales tax first approved by voters in 2012 for a second eight years, or through 2028. County officials estimated the tax would raise $17 million the first year, but receipts exceeded that, resulting in a lawsuit. An appeal of a judgment in favor of the county was filed in March with the Colorado Court of Appeals.
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A search of active committees for campaigns in El Paso County filed with the Secretary of State showed no committee formed to support 1A. Advocates who spend $200 or more on campaigning for an issue must file reports. (A committee formed to support the measure in 2012, when then-Sheriff Terry Maketa was riding a wave of support, spent only about $7,000.)

The deadline to file TABOR "pro" and "con" statements, summaries of which will be mailed soon to all voters, was Sept. 21. Three people filed "con" statements but only Elder filed a "pro" statement.

In it, Elder argues, "This proposal creates no new or increased taxes while assuring the continuation of dedicated and restricted funding solely to support public safety needs throughout El Paso County. These include crime prevention, criminal investigation and the mandated detention operation in the jail."

He also notes that calls for service have gone up by 57 percent since 2012, while the daily average inmate population has increased by 24 percent. Elder also says the tax:
...currently pays for more than 190 Sheriff's Office employees working in all bureau. It provides resources needed for increased illegal marijuana enforcement and multi-jurisdictional task forces targeting organized violent criminal activity that includes manufacturing and distribution of various types of dangerous drugs, motor vehicle and vehicle parts theft operations and human trafficking. It also provides resources for a Jail Veterans Ward addressing specific needs of veterans, a Rural Enforcement Unit and additional patrol deputies in the rapidly growing Falcon area.
But the Clerk and Recorder's Office initially released the statement with no name, signature or address. (The other filings contained names and addresses. State law stipulates that pro-con statements must be filed by registered voters and bear their names and addresses.)

Asked about that, county director of elections Angie Leath explained that Elder is a "confidential voter," so, therefore, his name and address were removed from the TABOR "pro" statement. A confidential voter is one who signs an affirmation to have their voter registration information kept secret. That information includes their address, among other data points.

After we asked about Elder's name and address being withheld, we were sent a new Elder statement bearing his name.

Leath says confidential voting status is granted to law enforcement officers, judges, elected officials and others who believe they might be in danger if someone could their address, including stalking victims.

"We have a lot of law enforcement who sign up as a confidential voter," she says.

There are more than 800 confidential voters in El Paso County, according to County Attorney Amy Folsom.

As for the three statements urging a "no" vote on 1A, portions of those submissions follow, and all four statements in full are posted below.

Douglas Bruce, author of TABOR, former county commissioner and state legislator who was convicted of tax evasion:
This is not about backing cops; it's about overpaying incompetent commissioners who can't balance a budget the way your family must. Read their vague "to do" list; the money is for general overhead.... Our combined sales tax rate is 8.25%. Higher than Denver! THE HIGHEST BIG CITY SALES TAX RATE IN COLORADO. This "temporary" tax is not needed. Your "NO" vote will force it down to 8.02% in 2021 — a step in the right direction. 
Unsuccessful primary candidate for sheriff Mike Angley wrote comments opposing the sheriff's tax extension. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Unsuccessful primary candidate for sheriff Mike Angley wrote comments opposing the sheriff's tax extension.
Mike Angley, Republican candidate for sheriff in the June primary who lost to Elder:
The County has had six years to find a permanent solution to the temporary Public Safety Tax but has failed to do so. Poor management should not become a burden on the taxpayer today. County Question I A merely ducks responsibility.... The main purpose of the original Public Safety Tax was to provide for more manpower in both patrol and detention at the Sheriffs Office. For the last four years, the Sheriff's Office has seen double-digit attrition losses to the point that patrol and jail manning are now at dangerously low levels. If the County has failed to accomplish what the original tax was approved for why should residents trust the County to get it right with a second chance?
Roger Bishop Jr.:
The Sheriffs Department commissioned two reports on how to improve the Department they will not release to you, the taxpayer who paid over $70,000... Halfway through the current term the leadership commissioned a 2nd report at a cost of $14,900 that had 52 new recommendations — but the Sheriffs Department leadership never had the firm finish the report! Why did we waste money on reports?... The Sheriffs Department spent more on frivolous reports than on a deputy's salary. Wouldn't you want to implement some of the recommendations made in a report you paid for? If the Sheriffs Department wants additional money, why not be transparent in how the money is currently being spent?
Here are all four statements submitted to the county for the TABOR notice.
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Tuesday, September 25, 2018

UPDATE: City Council President Richard Skorman's ethics complaint dismissed

Posted By on Tue, Sep 25, 2018 at 5:18 PM

City Council split on how to handle a recommendation from a citizen panel that ruled Council President, center back row, violated the city's Code of Ethics. - CITY WEBSITE
  • City website
  • City Council split on how to handle a recommendation from a citizen panel that ruled Council President, center back row, violated the city's Code of Ethics.
UPDATE:
We just received this statement from Richard Skorman:
Again, I want to apologize to the Sutherlands and to the City of Colorado Springs. My intent that day was to identify myself as easy to find and not to use my position on Council for a special privilege. I appreciate that after careful research and deliberation, my colleagues on Council rightfully dismissed this complaint so we can move forward.

————————-ORIGINAL POST 5;18 p.m. SEPT. 25, 2018———————————-


On a vote of 5-3, Colorado Springs City Council voted to dismiss an allegation against Council President Richard Skorman of violating the city's Code of Ethics.

The motion, made by Councilor Bill Murray, called for dismissal based on insufficient evidence upon which an administrative law judge was unlikely to uphold a violation, and in the interest of justice.

Voting to dismiss were Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler, Murray, and Councilors Merv Bennett, Yolanda Avila and David Geislinger. Councilors Don Knight, Tom Strand and Andy Pico opposed dismissing the matter and said they preferred to send the allegation through adjudication, which they acknowledged could be expensive and time consuming. Strand suggested it was the only way for Skorman to "clear" his name. "We are cheating him in this motion for that opportunity," Strand said.

The allegation, submitted to the city on March 27 by Barbara Sutherland, alleged that Skorman arrived at the scene of a fender bender involving a woman he knows, and told Sutherland he could vouch for her. The woman, Madalyne Mykut, didn't have a drivers license. Sutherland alleged Skorman improperly asserted he was president of Council as if he was trying to push his weight around. Skorman has told the Independent he cited his position as a way Sutherland could be assured of who he was and that he could easily be contacted.

You can read more details about the incident here in a story in the Sept. 26 edition of the Indy.

In any event, the five-member citizen Independent Ethics Commission agreed Skorman's actions were a violation of the city's ethics code, which bars officials from using their position to get special consideration, treatment or advantage.

However, councilors were deeply split on whether Skorman's actions truly rendered him with some special consideration or advantage.

Before we get to the details of councilors' positions, here's what Sutherland told the Indy about the ruling:
"I’m incredibly disappointed in the outcome and even more disappointed that City Council completely ignored the 5-0 vote by the IEC. What is the point of appointing an ethics committee when they don’t vote in their favor? I’m very disappointed in the entire outcome. As a citizen, a voter of this city, I feel like City Council completely disregarded my case. And I believe they made a decision based on politics and not on the well-being of citizens of Colorado Springs. From my perspective, they were wrong. They voted wrong. I know in my heart of hearts he was guilty. I’m not sure I’m ready to sit and be quiet."

She declined to elaborate on what action she might take next.

Here's how Council members voted and why:

No votes:
Knight: "Richard can accept the finding of the IEC [Independent Ethics Commission], and that would be the easiest way to put this to bed legally and publicly. We have five people out of five on the Independent Ethics Commission, independent, not members of of council, that we picked to be our conscience, and five of five of them are saying there was a violation. If we turn around and say we disagree with them, this is not going to die. I can see the headlines: Council protects its own."

Pico: "I've thought long and hard about it. You’ve got five members of IEC who came to the same conclusion for different reasons. It’s not a major thing to burn down the buildings over, but I cannot ignore that. I think there is grounds in there."

Strand: I couldn’t agree more with the comments Mr. Knight just made. When they’re unanimous in something and you don’t pay attention to that and now they’re going to go back to their families and wonder what contribution they’re making to this community. They did spend months on this report. Quite frankly, I think by not sending this to an administrative law judge [who has to] find clear and convincing evidence this code was violated, I don’t think [a judge is] going to make that finding. And then in public, it would clear his name. I’m not doing this to hurt him but to follow it through a process where the public thinks we treated Mr. Skorman as we would any other citizen. We are cheating him in this motion for that opportunity."
President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler presided over the discussion, with President Richard Skorman absent. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler presided over the discussion, with President Richard Skorman absent.

Yes votes:
Avila: "There have been times Planning Commission has been unanimous, but I haven’t voted in that direction, because I come from a different perspective. It’s not fair to say we’re protecting our own. I’m going with what I see and how I read things. Based on what was said, I don’t see this as a violation of the ethics code. Richard was saying, 'Here’s my identification. Here’s how to find me.' He wasn’t trying to get anything free, special favors. I think it would be unjust to see this as a violation."

Bennett: "I feel that we’re making a mountain out of a mole hill. We have a Council member who identified himself thinking that would help. It was probably a mistake. He has apologized for it. Let’s move on. We have far more important things to deal with. I feel like this is a dead issue."

Geislinger: "Richard’s official capacity had nothing to do with interjecting to say, 'I know who she is.' He was offering to say this person in an auto accident, I know who she is. That’s not, in my opinion, and there’s no evidence anywhere, of special consideration, treatment and advantage beyond what's available to anybody else."

Murray: "We just had a five-member board look at it. We’ve got a gentlemen who said, 'I’m identifying myself.' He didn’t ask for special benefit. We’re taking this particular situation of an individual identifying himself and how does it become an ethics violation? The motion is to dismiss, because the preponderance of the evidence does not suggest he used his position to get favored treatment. It’s just not there."

Gaebler: "We are jockeying over the minutiae of a couple of words here and there. In my opinion I do not believe that there was any evidence that provided proof that he did anything contrary to our Council rules and ethical rules. I don’t believe that I owe them [IEC] anything. We are the ones that have to make that final decision."

Here's a link to the IEC decision.

 
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Monday, September 24, 2018

Strawberry Fields legal battle ends, Broadmoor and City prevail

Posted By on Mon, Sep 24, 2018 at 3:13 PM

Strawberry Fields no longer is subject to a legal fight. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Strawberry Fields no longer is subject to a legal fight.
After nearly two years of court maneuvering, an effort to halt the city's land exchange of Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor is over.

It ended on Sept. 24 when the Colorado Supreme Court announced it wouldn't hear an appeal from a state Court of Appeals decision that sided with the city's argument that the land swap was proper.

Save Cheyenne, which formed to oppose the swap of the 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor in 2016, could find a new cause to rally behind, however.

The Strawberry Fields land swap, introduced by the city in early 2016, was approved by City Council on May 24, 2016. Besides giving the open space to The Broadmoor, along with a parking lot at the base of the Manitou Incline, it also gave the city Broadmoor-owned wooded lands and trail easements totaling nearly 400 acres.
Public meetings drew hundreds of people, most of whom said they opposed the land swap. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Public meetings drew hundreds of people, most of whom said they opposed the land swap.

The proposal's public hearings filled school cafeterias and other venues where the city held the feedback sessions from residents. Save Cheyenne says several polls showed the deal was overwhelmingly unpopular among citizens, but it was approved anyway.

But the deal triggered a legal challenge on Aug. 2, 2016, by Save Cheyenne, which raised donations from opponents of the land swap to carry the case to the state's appellate court.

Save Cheyenne argued that because the property was acquired by the city after a vote of the people in 1885, it couldn't be disposed of without voters' permission. The suit also argued that because Strawberry Fields has a greater value than land traded to the city, the swap violates the state Constitution, which bars government gifts to corporations.
Kent Obee and others comprising the nonprofit Save Cheyenne lost their bid to overturn the city's land swap with The Broadmoor of Strawberry Fields open space. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Kent Obee and others comprising the nonprofit Save Cheyenne lost their bid to overturn the city's land swap with The Broadmoor of Strawberry Fields open space.

After District Judge Michael McHenry ruled in the city's favor on Dec. 1, 2016, by dismissing the case, Save Cheyenne appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals. That move was followed by the intervention of the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway Co., COG Land & Development Co. and The Broadmoor. All are controlled by The Broadmoor's billionaire owner Philip Anschutz.

The city and The Broadmoor contended the city's home-rule authority allowed the city to dispose of the property via a trade, and that the city got property from the resort valued at $3.6 million, versus Strawberry Fields' $1.6 million appraised value, negating the constitutional argument.

“We fought a good fight and I continue to believe that, while the court system may have deemed that the City/Broadmoor land swap was technically and legally correct, it — and the way in which it was carried out — was morally and ethically corrupt,” Obee wrote to supporters in an email.

About eight acres of prime meadow will be closed to the public under The Broadmoor's ownership, but the vast majority is to be open for public access under a conservation easement. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • About eight acres of prime meadow will be closed to the public under The Broadmoor's ownership, but the vast majority is to be open for public access under a conservation easement.
The case has some twists and turns along the way, such as a report by the Independent that the appraiser hired by the city to appraise Strawberry Fields had been hit with penalties by the Colorado Board of Real Estate Appraisers, which ruled the appraiser's report "did not contain documentation in support of the judgments made."

The Supreme Court's decision to not hear the case means The Broadmoor can proceed with building a picnic pavilion and horse stable on about eight acres of Strawberry Fields, with the remainder under a conservation easement requiring access by the public.

Though the loss is hard for Save Cheyenne supporters to swallow, Obee suggests the group's work might not be done.

Obee says in a email to supporters he wants to open the door for "some preliminary discussion about where we as a group might go from here."
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Friday, September 21, 2018

Mayor John Suthers: Let us become the good ancestors to future generations

Posted By on Fri, Sep 21, 2018 at 2:58 PM

City communications staff monitors Mayor Suthers speech at The Broadmoor on Sept. 21. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • City communications staff monitors Mayor Suthers speech at The Broadmoor on Sept. 21.
Mayor John Suthers, who will seek a second term next year, delivered a state of the city address at a luncheon on Sept. 21. His speech was packed with cited accomplishments, but also a warning that challenges remain.

Some 850 people attended, a record high for the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC event held at The Broadmoor.

Notably, affordable housing and dealing with the city's homeless population top Suthers' list of items that still require attention.

While he drew applause for the "booming local economy," he noted that such prosperity has brought rising housing costs, and that Colorado Springs hasn't kept up with demand for affordable housing.

He vowed to work with nonprofits to secure federal grants and other means to spur developers to build more housing for lower-income residents.

"I am pleased to report that 485 affordable units have recently been completed or soon will be," he said. "While this is admirable, we need to step up the pace. I would suggest we make it a community goal to build, preserve and create opportunities to purchase an average of 1,000 affordable units per year over the next five years."

Suthers recounted major accomplishments in infrastructure funding — roads and drainage; progress on the City for Champions tourism attractions, including the Olympic Museum under construction downtown and due to open next year; and impact on the local economy of healthy educational institutions and the military.

But Suthers, who's 66, obviously is taking stock of his and the city's impact on future generations.

"It’s a tribute to our predecessors that even after 147 years and a population of almost a half million people Colorado Springs is the most desirable city in America to live," he said. "Our job is to ensure it remains so far into the future. As I say repeatedly, our challenge today, as citizens of this great city, remains the same that General Palmer embraced. We must continue the task of building a city that matches our scenery, a shining city at the foot of a great mountain. Let us also embrace the challenge and let us all resolve to become the good ancestors that future generations of Colorado Springs residents need us to be, because we are writing their history. Thank you, and may God continue to bless the City of Colorado Springs."

Read his entire speech here.

Suthers honored Chuck Murphy with a special lifetime achievement award. Both met with reporters after the luncheon - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Suthers honored Chuck Murphy with a special lifetime achievement award. Both met with reporters after the luncheon
Suthers awarded the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award to Chuck Murphy, 83, owner of Murphy Constructors, with whom Suthers grew up. Both attended Pauline Chapel during their adolescent years, he noted.

Read more about Murphy's contribution to Colorado Springs, of which he is a native, here.

One of the more touching moments of the luncheon came when Suthers invited the audience to wave signs at every table as a tribute to Springs Police Officer Cem Duzel, who's recovering from a gunshot wound to the head, suffered in a shootout on Aug. 2.
The crowd was happy to send a group message to Police Officer Cem Duzel, who was injured in the line of duty and is recovering in a Denver hospital. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • The crowd was happy to send a group message to Police Officer Cem Duzel, who was injured in the line of duty and is recovering in a Denver hospital.

This was one of hundreds of signs hoisted as a tribune to Officer Duzel. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • This was one of hundreds of signs hoisted as a tribune to Officer Duzel.
 
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