Local government

Thursday, May 17, 2018

North Cheyenne Cañon plan challenged, appeal to be heard by Council

Posted By on Thu, May 17, 2018 at 4:45 PM

The South Cheyenne Creek in North Cheyenne Cañon Park is dry and has been for a few months. Opponents of the park's master plan take issue with the possibility of redirecting the creek. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • The South Cheyenne Creek in North Cheyenne Cañon Park is dry and has been for a few months. Opponents of the park's master plan take issue with the possibility of redirecting the creek.
On May 17, former El Paso County Commissioner Jim Bensberg paid the required $176 fee to appeal the city's Parks Advisory Board's approval of a new master plan for the North Cheyenne Cañon Park.

Bensberg and the Cheyenne Cañon Conservationists, a loose-knit group started in 2010, contend the master plan sets new policy without relying on the judgment of elected officials on City Council. Under the current set up, parks master plans aren't reviewed by Council, only the Parks Advisory Board.

The parks board approved the master plan on May 10 after an hours-long public meeting at which dozens of supporters of the plan, including Broadmoor employees, spoke in favor of it.
One of many picnic areas in North Cheyenne Cañon Park. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • One of many picnic areas in North Cheyenne Cañon Park.
Bensberg and others contend The Broadmoor, owner of Seven Falls on the park's west side, stands to gain from components of the master plan that would allow the city to reroute the south creek, shut roads in the vicinity of Seven Falls and take other steps to sanitize the natural character of the park and turn it into a "Disneyland" attraction.

Referring to a picnic area west of the Starsmore Center where gatherings such as weddings and receptions are frequently held, Bensberg says, "They want to bulldoze that area for a parking lot."

"We don't believe the problems city staff has outlined can justify these draconian measures they're taking," he says.

Opponents of the master plan also are against lumping the north and south sections of the park together into one master plan when, as Bensberg says, they represent two different ecosystems.

The south creek has been dry for months, and has been dry more often than not in recent years. Bensberg says City Council should explain why that is — suggesting that some of the water may be being syphoned off for other purposes. The Independent asked Colorado Springs Utilities about the lack of flow in the south creek and got this explanation via email:
There is no minimum streamflow requirement on South Cheyenne Creek. CSU entered into an agreement with the Cheyenne Creek Metro Park & Water District back in 1993 to bypass 1 cfs on North Cheyenne Creek between April 1 and October 31. Our Raw Water Ops staff monitors that flow daily.
Kent Obee, leader of Save Cheyenne, a nonprofit formed to oppose the city's 2016 deal to trade 186-acre Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor, says his group, too, is opposed to the master plan.

The chief complaint, he says, is the inclusion in the plan of the possibilities for shuttle buses, traffic restrictions and closing off the remaining south canyon loop, which they say could lead to converting Mesa Avenue into a Broadmoor-shuttles-only road. The Broadmoor takes hotel guests and anyone who pays to visit Seven Falls to the attraction via bus.

"They would literally tear up and revegetate the south canyon road," Obee says. "We thought that was one clearly catering to The Broadmoor." He adds the loop draws crowds of people who picnic at pullouts.

Though city officials say those are only possibilities to be determined later, Obee is suspicious.

"We would call it the camel's nose under the tent," he says, explaining that he suspects that  items in the master plan (often described simply as possibilities) will simply be rubber-stamped by the board later on.

Another sticking point is the inclusion in the plan of marketing efforts. "Too much in the plan is marketing, and this park belongs to the citizens, not the tourists," Obee says, citing a column that appeared in this week's Independent. "Too much in the plan is marketing to bring more people in, when frankly, that's the last thing on earth we need."

Council could hear the appeal on June 12, unless Bensberg seeks to delay the hearing due to Council members not being able to attend. He says he wants the entire Council to hear the matter.
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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Russians planted local "driving while black" case in Facebook ads

Posted By on Tue, May 15, 2018 at 12:12 PM

Ryan Brown accused the CSPD of stopping him and his brother for "driving while black." - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Ryan Brown accused the CSPD of stopping him and his brother for "driving while black."
A local case of racial profiling was used by the Russians to sow division among Americans in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election, according to an extensive report by USA Today that looked at all 3,517 Facebook ads used by Russians.

From the USA Today story:
The Russian company charged with orchestrating a wide-ranging effort to meddle in the 2016 presidential election overwhelmingly focused its barrage of social media advertising on what is arguably America’s rawest political division: race.

The roughly 3,500 Facebook ads were created by the Russian-based Internet Research Agency, which is at the center of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s February indictment of 13 Russians and three companies seeking to influence the election.

While some ads focused on topics as banal as business promotion or Pokémon, the company consistently promoted ads designed to inflame race-related tensions. Some dealt with race directly; others dealt with issues fraught with racial and religious baggage such as ads focused on protests over policing, the debate over a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico and relationships with the Muslim community.

That case involved Ryan and Benjamin Brown, which got widespread attention in 2015 after Colorado Springs Police Officers pulled Ryan Brown from a vehicle after a stop made for unknown reasons. The city later settled a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Colorado on the Browns' behalf. The city paid $212,000 and agreed to change some procedures.
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Thursday, May 10, 2018

Parks board approves Strawberry Fields, North Cheyenne Cañon plans

Posted By on Thu, May 10, 2018 at 5:37 PM

A portion of Strawberry Fields open space. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • A portion of Strawberry Fields open space.
Two contentious master plans won approval on May 10 from the city's Parks Advisory Board, but in both cases, a couple of concessions were made.

First, the Strawberry Fields open space plan was unanimously approved, with the caveat added by the board that no ground would be broken toward construction The Broadmoor's picnic pavilion or stable until the court case involving the property ends.

That provision was added after The Broadmoor's CEO Jack Damioli announced the resort could agree to that.

The court case stems from a lawsuit filed by Save Cheyenne, a nonprofit that opposed a land swap approved in May 2016 to trade the open space to The Broadmoor in exchange for other property.

A district judge dismissed the lawsuit, so Save Cheyenne appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which earlier this year sided with the city and The Broadmoor. Save Cheyenne has since asked the state Supreme Court to hear the case and is waiting to hear if the court will do so. If it doesn't, the case is over. If it does hear the case, Save Cheyenne leader Kent Obee says, it means there's an aspect to the case that the court feels is worth review.

Obee called the provision to hold off on construction as "a silver lining" to the master plan's approval. "It's something I think we can live with," he tells the Indy. "It means we won't be seeing bulldozers in the next month or so."

The other master plan, for North Cheyenne Cañon, was approved on a vote of 6-3, the city reported in a news release.

The only concession made by the Parks Board, Obee says, was to change language regarding reducing the number of pullouts from 42 to 12. The new language could lead to closing fewer of them.

Other sticking points were opposition to the possibility of future shuttles, traffic controls and reconfiguring the south side of the canyon.

A motion to delay action for further negotiation with Friends of North Cheyenne Cañon failed.

Obee says opponents are already talking about appealing the masterplan for the canyon to City Council. "There is a procedure for doing that," he says.

Here's the city's news release about the actions:
The City of Colorado Springs’ Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Advisory Board voted to approve two masters plans at its regular meeting on May 10.

Strawberry Hill Master Plan
The parks board voted unanimously to adopt the Strawberry Hill Master Plan.

Public input over the past 2 ½ years helped shape the numerous terms and conditions that ensure continued public access to a new trail network to be built over the next five years and all but the 8.5 acre Building Envelope that will be developed for a picnic facility and small stable area. The Broadmoor will construct the trails and facilities and will be responsible for maintaining the property in accordance with a conservation easement held by The Palmer Land Trust.

Construction on the Strawberry Hill property, phase 1 of the plan and the creation of an erosion control plan will not commence until the completion of the current legal case that has been submitted to the Colorado Supreme Court. Visit www.StrawberryHillMasterPlan.com for more information.

North Cheyenne Cañon Park Master Plan
The new master and management plan for North Cheyenne Cañon Park has been approved by the parks board by a 6-3 vote. The plan will guide use and management of the park for the next 10 to 15 years, providing a framework to accommodate a variety of recreational uses while also taking care of the land, its history and the natural environment.
Some highlights of the North Cheyenne Cañon Master Plan:
• 350+ residents participated in the drafting of the plan
• The park will expand from 19 to 35 miles of trails
• New interpretive programs will be offered
• Recommendation of improved parking and additional trailheads
• Criteria for keeping or removing pullouts
• Recommendation to hire additional seasonal employees

The plan was drafted using public feedback gathered online and during several workshops over the past nine months. It focuses on approximately 1,855 acres of land, including the core park property, as well as the adjacent Cresta and Stratton Forest Open Spaces.

Trail building begins Saturday, June 16 with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (http://www.voc.org) scheduled to coordinate work on the Buffalo Canyon Trail at Helen Hunt Falls. Additional projects are planned for this summer.

Visit www.ColoradoSprings.NCCMasterPlan for more information. 
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Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Will EPA drop its Clean Water Act lawsuit against Colorado Springs?

Posted By on Wed, May 9, 2018 at 12:44 PM

Storm drains in waterways in Colorado Springs require ongoing maintenance. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • Storm drains in waterways in Colorado Springs require ongoing maintenance.
In the Independent's latest issue, we report that litigants in the EPA lawsuit against the city have expressed concern the federal agency might be willing to dump the case.

In a March 26 letter to the EPA, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and two other agencies that have intervened in the case note that downstream communities and farmers "have borne the brunt of the City of Colorado Springs' years of noncompliance" with the Clean Water Act and its stormwater discharge permit, as well as the Colorado Water Quality Control Act.

The intervenors are Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District.

This noncompliance takes the form of:

• Continuing failure to require installation of permanent stormwater controls for several large areas of new development and redevelopment, resulting in significant ongoing untreated runoff. This includes granting of waivers for controls to large developments of single family homes and "grandfathering" new developments using more lenient and outdated standards for pollution control requirements.

• Continued failure to accept responsibility for ensuring the operation andmaintenance of all permanent water quality controls required by the city's discharge permit, allowing structures to fall into disrepair.

• Systemic failure to implement required controls to reduce runoff and pollution from new development and redevelopment.

• Continuing failure to require design, installation, and maintenance of pollution controls at active construction sites. "The City is still not conducting inspections correctly or following up to correct deficiencies when identified," the letter says.

Read the letter here:
In its 2017 report on compliance with the drainage permit, the city showed it's stepped up inspections of job sites, though it hasn't imposed any monetary penalties.

The city declined to comment on the matter, but as the story notes, EPA Director Scott Pruitt met with builders and developers in Colorado Springs last fall.

Jay Winner, executive director of the Lower Arkansas District who signed the letter, tells the Indy that the city's longstanding neglect of its storm drainage system doesn't engender much trust.

"There’s not a lot of faith there," says Winner. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. We just want something in place that will last forever."

The most recent filing in the lawsuit is the setting of a pretrial conference for May 31.

In this week's edition, we also report the city's plans for imposing stormwater fees approved by voters in November 2017.
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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

El Paso County Sheriff's Office adopts program to identify mental health issues

Posted By on Tue, May 8, 2018 at 4:32 PM

Sheriff Elder wants to reduce the population in his jail of people with mental issues. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Elder wants to reduce the population in his jail of people with mental issues.
If someone with a mental disorder is having a bad day, they could easily wind up in jail, because when they act out, the default action has been to arrest them.

But now, thanks to a state grant for $1.8 million over five years, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office will have a trained mental health professional on calls that involve subjects with mental health issues.

That could eventually reduce the burgeoning Criminal Justice Center population, which today includes 900 inmates — roughly 60 percent of those incarcerated — who suffer from some type of mental problem, says Sheriff Bill Elder.

Elder called a news conference on May 8 to announce the grant program, which will be carried out under a partnership with UCHealth Memorial Hospital, officials said.

"It brings a continuity of care to the community like we've never seen," Elder said.

Deputy John Hammond, who's worked on setting up the program, said the department receives one to two calls per shift that would qualify for intervention by a trained professional. And Lt. J.D. Ross, who's also working on the program, said the department received about 1,600 calls in 2017 that were mental health related.

Commander Clif Northam said a professional won't be available 24/7, but rather the program will begin with a person available for four 10-hour shifts per week.

Stephanie Gangemi, a licensed clinical social worker, has been hired to provide ride-along services when calls warrant her presence.

"Our goal is to reduce our average daily population [in the jail]," Elder said. "Our goal is to get better treatment for the community. If we could get 100 fewer in the jail, that's a win."

The program is one of eight in the state funded by the Colorado Department of Human Services.
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Friday, April 20, 2018

Nor'wood pledges "Vision Plan" for public spaces in Banning Lewis Ranch

Posted By on Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 1:27 PM

Undeveloped Banning Lewis Ranch, east of Colorado Springs, has been annexed for 30 years but not much has happened. Mayor John Suthers wants to change the agreement to motivate developers to build homes and businesses, rather than see that development leap frog into El Paso County. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Undeveloped Banning Lewis Ranch, east of Colorado Springs, has been annexed for 30 years but not much has happened. Mayor John Suthers wants to change the agreement to motivate developers to build homes and businesses, rather than see that development leap frog into El Paso County.
Controversy over the amended annexation agreement for Banning Lewis Ranch has given rise to a resolution, which is non-binding, that would "recognize the unique natural characteristics" within the ranch.

The resolution is on tap for consideration by City Council at its April 23 meeting, and approval at the April 24 meeting, along with the annexation agreement itself.

The resolution states that Council "finds there is significant community interest in preservation of certain areas of that part of the City of Colorado Springs commonly referred to as the Banning Lewis Ranch, particularly in the vicinity of the Corral Bluffs Open Space and Jimmy Camp Creek Regional Park noted within the Park System Master Plan...."

It also states that the owner of most of the ranch, Nor'wood Development Group, "Has acknowledged its desire to create a meaningful open space system that improves connectivity of existing City-owned parks, trails, and open space, provides multi-use trail access, integrates into future development patters, and protects sensitive landscapes and creek corridors."

The resolution goes on to say Nor'wood agrees to invite Council reps to participate in a planning effort that would yield a "Vision Plan" for the property.

Read the resolution here:
The resolution materialized after an April 11 meeting for public comment at which at least a dozen residents expressed concern about the lack of public open space, parks and trails built into the new annexation agreement.
Bill Koerner, with the Corral Bluffs Alliance, calls the resolution "a good step" and hopes the city follows up.

"We do need to do some visioning. We need to understand the resources, how Banning Lewis is going to develop and the time frame," he tells the Independent. But he's concerned there's no explicit timeline for the vision plan.

"We've got to start on it now," he says.

With the city's Trails, Open Space and Tops sales tax expiring in 2025, and the possibility of a renewal ballot measure in 2019 or 2021, Koerner wonders if certain areas of the ranch could become the poster child for passage of an extension of the tax.

"Nor'wood is a good partner," he adds, but says he wants to see some specific dates for getting the vision plan under way and completed.

Nor'wood has expressed interest in selling portions of the ranch to the city for open space and said when it purchased the property in 2014 for $28 million:

Nor’wood Development Group is pleased to announce that after careful consideration and much due diligence, the purchase of the Banning Lewis Ranch has been finalized. As a locally owned multi-generational business operating in the Pikes Peak Region for more than 40 years, we consider it a privilege to be the stewards of this great community asset and will ensure that the property’s long term potential is discovered and achieved. Responsible development, recreation and conservation will be foundational principles of the vision for Banning Lewis Ranch, which will take decades to fully realize.

We have previously outlined and restate our commitment to promote the stewardship of environmental resources, quality neighborhood and commercial design, support efficient public services and facilities, leverage opportunities for the long-term viability of our local Air Force installations, protect the property’s world-renown natural formations with a signature conservation effort, and encourage meaningful outdoor educational and recreational opportunities.

We will continue and expand our work with a knowledgeable and experienced team of local and national professionals, municipal leaders, conservationist, community stakeholders and citizens to develop land use and development strategies for the property. We look forward to sharing periodic updates, timelines and additional details when appropriate. 

Not everyone was thrilled with the resolution. Sustainable growth advocate Dave Gardner tells the Indy via email the measure seems "worthless."

"Looks like a resolution to somehow appease open space advocates and get them to back off on Banning Lewis Ranch. But this resolution is worthless," he says. "It is just words and vague promises. No guarantees at all. I will be sorely disappointed if this is all it takes for open space advocates to accept the current BLR amendment. We need to set the bar higher!"

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

El Paso County Sheriff's lieutenant has been given six raises under Elder

Posted By on Wed, Apr 18, 2018 at 11:32 AM

Sheriff Elder basks in the limelight after taking the oath of office. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Elder basks in the limelight after taking the oath of office.
In this week's Independent, we report that several delegates at the GOP assembly on March 24 felt intimidated by El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder or Lt. Bill Huffor, who reportedly screamed at several delegates regarding their votes.

Huffor, who works in detentions, has been a rising star at the department in recent years. He's worked there since 2004, according to employment records obtained by the Indy through an open records request, but after Elder came into office on Dec. 31, 2014, Huffor's career took a leap.

He's received six raises since then, which comprise a 52 percent increase in pay, to his current salary of $97,605.

During the previous 10 years, from 2004 to 2014, Huffor's pay went up by 77 percent, from $36,228, to $64,334. During that time, he had four merit raises. Since Elder became sheriff three years ago, Huffor has had at least three merit-based salary bumps.

It's worth noting that Huffor's wife, Janet, serves as Elder's chief of staff, at an annual salary of $90,986. She's had one raise since she was hired on Jan. 1, 2015, Elder's second day in office.

Here's Lt. Huffor's employment history, as provided by the county's HR department:
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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Memorial Hospital earns Level 1 Trauma Center designation

Posted By on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 at 10:24 AM

Memorial Hospital's emergency department got a new designation: Level 1 Trauma. It's the first outside of the Denver metro area. - COURTESY UCHEALTH-MEMORIAL HOSPITAL
  • Courtesy UCHealth-Memorial Hospital
  • Memorial Hospital's emergency department got a new designation: Level 1 Trauma. It's the first outside of the Denver metro area.

City-owned Memorial Hospital Central, operated under a 40-year lease by UCHealth, has achieved Level 1 Trauma Center status, the first such designation given by state health regulators outside the Denver metro area.

We wrote about the application here and here.

Memorial Central is home to Colorado's busiest emergency department. The designation was finalized on April 16 following a survey and review.

We've asked Penrose-St. Francis Health Services for an update on its application for Level 1 Trauma Center designation and will circle back when we hear something.

Here's the news release from Memorial, including comments from Mayor John Suthers:

The State of Colorado has designated UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central as a Level I Trauma Center, making it one of only four hospitals in the state with the highest classification for trauma care. A Level I distinction recognizes the hospital has the ability to treat severe and complex injuries, giving southern Colorado residents rapid access to top-level emergency and trauma care without having to go to Denver.

The state finalized the designation on April 16 after a survey and review process, and the hospital is the first in southern Colorado to receive the classification.

“Earning this Level I designation has taken years of planning and advancements,” said Joel Yuhas, Memorial’s president and CEO. “Memorial has recruited some of the nation’s best trauma surgeons, upgraded our facilities, led important research, and hired excellent subspecialty surgeons to support the trauma program. This preparation, and the Level I designation, will result in more lives being saved.”

Hospital trauma designations are determined according to varying criteria, including medical resources and patient volumes. Key elements required to be a Level 1 trauma center include around-the-clock coverage by trauma surgeons and prompt availability of specialists in orthopedics, neurosurgery and anesthesiology, among others. Such facilities also must be leaders in trauma prevention and education, conduct research and meet volume requirements for treating severely injured patients.

Memorial Central, which houses the state’s busiest emergency department, provided care in 2017 to more than 2,100 trauma patients who met trauma registry inclusion criteria. The majority of trauma cases involve blunt injuries that are often the result of incidents such as motor vehicle crashes, pedestrians or bicyclists hit by vehicles, falls and penetrating trauma.

“Achieving a Level 1 designation is the fulfillment of a promise made to the community when Memorial became part of UCHealth in 2012,” said Dr. Thomas Schroeppel, the hospital’s trauma medical director. “Because of the investments made in the hospital – both in technology and medical expertise – and the expansion of physician training programs through a strong collaboration with the University of Colorado School of Medicine, we are able to ensure southern Coloradans have access to top trauma and surgical critical care services. This is not just an honor for the hospital, but a time of celebration for Colorado Springs and beyond.”

Until now, Colorado’s only Level I trauma centers were located in the metro Denver region, and southern Colorado patients with the most severe injuries might have to fly to Denver for care.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said, “We congratulate UCHealth and Memorial Hospital on this designation. Colorado Springs residents are fortunate to receive care by the high caliber of medical professions serving our community. We appreciate UCHealth’s commitment to the Pikes Peak region and to providing its residents with access to excellent medical care.”

It is the third elite designation Memorial Central’s trauma center has received in 2018. The hospital also was verified as a Level I adult and Level II pediatric trauma center by the American College of Surgeons (ACS). The ACS reviewers highlighted the strong collaboration that has been built with Children’s Hospital Colorado that has led UCHealth Memorial to provide exceptional care to children.

“This highest level of trauma care means critically-injured patients stay closer to home, that families can more easily stay or visit them, and that the long process of healing and rehabilitation occurs not miles away, but across the street,” said Dr. David Steinbruner, Memorial Hospital’s chief of staff and an emergency medicine physician.

In January, Memorial Central become the first hospital in southern Colorado to be named a Comprehensive Stroke Center, a classification given to programs that offer the highest and most advanced level of stroke care. As the only hospital in the region with multiple teams of neurosurgeons and neuro-interventional physicians on-call 24/7, Memorial has the unique capabilities to quickly and expertly treat every kind of stroke or brain aneurysm. These advanced capabilities are saving lives and improving outcomes for patients because time is crucial in the treatment of stroke. Getting the best care rapidly can lead to a better recovery.

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Final Banning Lewis Ranch public meeting attracts scores

Posted By on Thu, Apr 12, 2018 at 10:44 AM

About 40 people attended a meeting Wednesday, April 11, about Banning Lewis Ranch. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • About 40 people attended a meeting Wednesday, April 11, about Banning Lewis Ranch.

About 40 people showed up on April 11 for the final public comment session for the revised Banning Lewis Ranch annexation agreement, which will ease the way for homes and commercial development on about 20,000 acres on the city's east side.

City Council is due to take action on April 24.

At issue is a 1988 annexation agreement that was designed to force development to pay for itself, but is viewed as too demanding by developers. The new agreement changes many of the requirements, including narrowing the city's right of way required for dedication by developers for a proposed Banning Lewis Ranch Parkway, among other changes.

Here's some background.

At the public meeting, about a dozen people spoke, many urging City Council to make arrangements for reservation of open space, parks and trails before the city loses its leverage by approving the agreement, which doesn't contain those specifications.

Susan Davies, executive director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, asked Council "one more time" to honor the city's master plan for the property, which contains designation for large swaths of open space.

The point, she said, was to secure far-reaching public spaces so that residents on the east side of the city will have the same amenity afforded those living on the west side, which abuts Pike National Forest, Stratton Open Space, North Cheyenne Canyon and Garden of the Gods.

Lee Milner, long-time open space and parks advocate, pointed out a "fatal flaw" in the revised agreement. "It's based on current standards of service," he said, "and the current standard of service isn't good enough." He noted that police response times, for example, are substandard, and asked why Council is willing to base development of roughly 20 percent of the city on substandard service.

He also asked why the city was willing to give up right of way for Banning Lewis Ranch Parkway when it might, someday, have to purchase the property to widen the road. Keep the right of way, he said, and if it's not needed in 50 years, it could be sold.

Dave Gardner, who's been accused of opposing growth but says he supports sustainable growth, offered his two cents in this letter, which is followed by an outline for the ranch from former city planner Larry Larsen.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

CBI clears El Paso County Sheriff's Office in notary case

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2018 at 9:59 AM

Borland: He's sure he didn't order the notaries to notarized signatures they didn't witness because he "would never do that.” - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • Borland: He's sure he didn't order the notaries to notarized signatures they didn't witness because he "would never do that.”
In this week's issue, we report the Colorado Bureau of Investigation has concluded its investigation into the saga of notarizing El Paso County sheriff deputy oaths without the deputies present. It found no basis for criminal charges, despite three people saying they felt the order to notarize the documents without the deputies present for their signatures to be properly witnessed forced the two notaries to violate state notary laws or face retaliation.

After the Independent went to press on April 10, the CBI produced a Feb. 21 letter to District Attorney Dan May sought by the Indy a couple of weeks ago.

In it, CBI director John Camper says agent Jodi Wright interviewed a retired sheriff's lieutenant who witnessed the order, given by sheriff's administrator Larry Borland, and saw it as a threat that "both would be fired, or there would be other repercussions if they did not notarize the commission cards," the letter quotes the lieutenant as saying to Wright.

We use [blank] to indicate redactions in the letter, as follows:

"While it was certainly [blank] opinion that the two men would be fired, or would incur other repercussions, the conversation as related by [blank] does not, in our view, constitute such a threat," Camper wrote.

Borland had earlier told Wright he didn't order the affidavits notarized all in one day in April 2016, and Sheriff Bill Elder said in a Nov. 8, 2017, news conference that the notaries, Rick Dietz and David Mejia, took it upon themselves to do so.

The CBI letter goes on to note that violation of notary laws are "non-criminal in nature" that should be handled by the Colorado Secretary of State's Office.

Which wasn't really the point of this issue. No one is arguing that notary laws were not violated; the issue is why they were violated and who's responsible for those violations and whether some other law could be at play due to the coercion that Dietz, Mejia and the retired lieutenant say they witnessed.

In any event, Camper ends his letter saying, "Additionally, the actions of [blank] do not, in our view, meet the elements of 18-8-404, First degree official misconduct, and 18-8-405, Second degree official misconduct, although we certainly leave that determination to your judgment."

May apparently agrees with Camper; no charges have been filed.

Here are the definitions of the crimes cited by Camper:
(1) A public servant commits first degree official misconduct if, with intent to obtain a benefit for the public servant or another or maliciously to cause harm to another, he or she knowingly:

(a) Commits an act relating to his office but constituting an unauthorized exercise of his official function; or

(b) Refrains from performing a duty imposed upon him by law; or

(c) Violates any statute or lawfully adopted rule or regulation relating to his office.

(2) First degree official misconduct is a class 2 misdemeanor.
(1) A public servant commits second degree official misconduct if he knowingly, arbitrarily, and capriciously:

(a) Refrains from performing a duty imposed upon him by law; or

(b) Violates any statute or lawfully adopted rule or regulation relating to his office.

(2) Second degree official misconduct is a class 1 petty offense.
Here's Camper's letter, followed by the CBI investigation report.

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Monday, April 2, 2018

Age discrimination alleged in lawsuit aginst El Paso County Sheriff's Office

Posted By on Mon, Apr 2, 2018 at 5:05 PM

Sheriff Bill Elder is accused of age discrimination. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Bill Elder is accused of age discrimination.
A lawsuit filed against Sheriff Bill Elder and the El Paso County Sheriff's Office gives a glimpse into the atmosphere there, and some pretty rough language is used on employees, it would seem.

Former Lt. Timothy Williams filed the lawsuit on March 27 in El Paso County District Court, alleging discrimination based on age and his involvement in an investigation.

According to the lawsuit, Williams, a 14-year employee, says Elder, who took office on Dec. 31, 2014, required a mandatory survey in March 2016 of personnel requesting retirement eligibility dates. Williams’ date was June 1, 2018. Thereafter, Williams, as part of his job and as a member of the Disciplinary Action Board, looked into a report of inappropriate conduct involving underage drinking and fraternization. In the course of that, he discovered other sheriff’s deputies conspired to cover up certain events. Williams reported this to a county attorney.

The board later recommended reassignment of an employee and demotion by one pay grade.

Elder and his administrator Larry Borland met with Williams on Oct. 28, 2016 and berated him for the board decision, the lawsuit says. Elder also criticized Williams’ job performance.

Borland “yelled at Williams” over the board’s finding and said, “The CEO should be able to fucking fire anybody he wants to,” the lawsuit says.

On Nov. 2, 2016, Elder met with lieutenants and looked at Williams when he said, “If you can’t cut it then check out.” The next day, he said to Williams, “Are you done? So if you’re fucking done then just get out,” according to Williams' lawsuit.

On Nov. 7, Borland gave Williams a letter from Elder demoting him to senior deputy assigned to the jail, a significant cut in rank, pay and duties. Williams retired the next day, wanting to preserve his retirement benefits at his current pay.

According to the lawsuit:

Sheriff Elder's unilateral demotion violated EPSO, Standard ACA: 7E-01, Disciplinary/Corrective Action Policy, Section II, which states:
'A demotion must be decided by the Disciplinary Action Board. A demotion reduces the classification and salary grade of an employee due to the employee's failure to maintain satisfactory job performance or for other disciplinary reasons. This action is not subject to appeal. This disciplinary decision will be made by the Disciplinary Action Baord, after procedures are followed with respect to the DAB.'
"Demoting Williams in this manner without referring the matter to the Disciplinary Action Board violated Defendant Sheriff Elder's own Policy and" state law, the lawsuit says.

(Elder later abolished the board in December but subsequently resurrected it.)

Then, on Oct. 30, 2017, the Sheriff's Office retaliated against Williams by "publicly and specifically naming him in a response to an Open Records Request, accusing Williams of taking Commission on Accreditation of Law Enforcement (CALEA) documents."

The letter stated that Williams "removed items from his office" and that the CALEA documents couldn't be found. This publicly humiliated Williams, the lawsuit says.

Williams contends Elder and the Sheriff's Office targeted him because of his age, 58 at the time, by "making ageist comments about Williams and his plans for retirement" and refusing him due process.

The lawsuit seeks more than $100,000 in damages.

Sheriff’s spokesperson Jackie Kirby said the department won’t comment on pending litigation.

County spokesperson Dave Rose said via email, "El Paso County has received no notice of claim and maintains that any disciplinary action taken in connection with Mr. Williams was lawful and warranted. El Paso County denies that Mr. Williams was either discriminated against or retaliated against."

Here's the complaint.
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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Water restrictions unlikely in Colorado Springs

Posted By on Tue, Mar 27, 2018 at 12:29 PM

Homestake Reservoir in Eagle County, as seen last fall, is one source of Springs Utilities water. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Homestake Reservoir in Eagle County, as seen last fall, is one source of Springs Utilities water.

Earlier this month, on March 19, we reported that Colorado Springs Utilities has the equivalent of three years worth of water stored in its reservoirs, a good thing considering how dry it's been.

That abundance has led Utilities to predict its customers are unlikely to be placed under mandatory water restrictions this summer.

While something of a relief for all you horticulturists out there, the prospect of unlimited sales could mean the biggest year ever in water sales for Utilities. Since 2013, the department has seen water revenues increase by nearly a third. Here's a chart showing how much revenue Utilities collected in each year from water sales:


So feel free to flood your pansies, trees and lawns. But if you want to keep your water bill in check, look into low-water landscaping and methods to have a beautiful yard without guzzling water. Here's a schedule of free classes offered by Utilities. (Some meetings have already taken place.) For more information about each class, check out this link.

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Colorado Springs Utilities CEO announces retirement

Posted By on Thu, Mar 22, 2018 at 9:48 AM

Utilities CEO Jerry Forte will retire in May. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Utilities CEO Jerry Forte will retire in May.
After leading the city's largest enterprise for more than a decade, Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Jerry Forte will retire in May, he told the Utilities Board on March 21.

Forte, 63, has overseen some of the biggest achievements and controversies during his 16.5 years with Utilities — first as chief operating officer for four years followed by more than 12 years as CEO.

The Independent first reported that Forte could be on his way out on January 3.

Board member Andy Pico said via text message, "I thank him for his many years of service and outstanding leadership and wish him all the best for the future."

Among the biggest accomplishments by the multi-billion-dollar Utilities during Forte's tenure was the 50-mile water pipeline project that brings water from Pueblo Reservoir to the Bailey Water Treatment Plant in east Colorado Springs, known as the Southern Delivery System (SDS). The $825 million project went online in April 2016 after 20 years of complicated permitting with more than a dozen agencies and tangles with Pueblo County over permission to construct the pipeline. The later skirmish led to a $460-million, 20-year deal with the city of Colorado Springs to improve the city's stormwater drainage system to prevent flooding and contamination of Fountain Creek.

"Obviously, SDS is huge for the community," he tells the Indy in an interview after giving notice on Wednesday night.

Forte also oversaw the installation of the controversial Neumann Systems Group pollution control equipment at Drake Power Plant. The system, invented by local physicist Dave Neumann, cost roughly $170 million and reportedly achieves the goal of removing sulfur dioxide as required by government regulations, but it's the only system Neumann produced.

Drake itself has drawn headlines as a movement to close the coal-fire plant has forced the Utilities Board to consider an earlier closing date than a previous target of 2035.

Forte also noted that safety programs for workers improved during his tenure, as did customer service and planning for power supply. Perhaps one of the enterprise's biggest challenges came in 2012 during the Waldo Canyon Fire when 347 homes were destroyed, and Utilities faced dealing with restoring utilities services to evacuated area.

Forte also weathered a campaign by local business people and developers several years ago to change the Utilities Board from Council members to either a separately elected board or a combination of elected and appointed members. Their goal was to assure board members possessed expertise in utilities issues, but after study, the Utilities Board kept the status quo.

Forte praised the current board, saying it had led Utilities "very well" and has remained on top of an array of complicated issues.

Through all of that, Forte has been at the helm but now is ready to call it quits.

"We have been working for about a year with the board in creating a transition plan," Forte tells the Indy in an interview after giving notice on March 21. In fact, Forte has had to replace Utilities' chief financial officer Bill Cherrier and chief water officer Dan Higgins in recent months as those officers left to take another job and retire early, respectively.

Forte says he will be available to help with "onboarding" the new CEO, who will be chosen in a national search. Forte's successor on an interim basis will be named in coming days.
Forte, center, speaks to guests on Colorado Springs Utilities' annual water tour of transmountain systems in September 2017. To his left is Utilities Board Vice Chair Andy Pico. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Forte, center, speaks to guests on Colorado Springs Utilities' annual water tour of transmountain systems in September 2017. To his left is Utilities Board Vice Chair Andy Pico.
Forte admitted he doesn't have a plan for retirement as yet, other than enjoying time with his family, but he says he'd like to coach leaders and isn't planning to move elsewhere. Forte lives in Black Forest, so he's not a Utilities customer, a sore point with various Utilities board members over the years. So that might be a requisite for any new hire — to live within Utilities service area.

Though Forte's contract called for him to receive severance pay under certain circumstances, he will not receive any such pay, because he's retiring.

Forte is paid an annual salary of $447,175, and is the highest paid city employee.

In a news release, Utilities Board Chair Tom Strand said of the Palmer High School graduate, "Jerry carried on the terrific legacy of utilities leaders in our community. Under his leadership we have formalized long-term resource plans for electric, natural gas and water services that will serve our great city for generations. His contributions will last for decades and he will be sorely missed.”

Before joining Utilities, Forte served as utilities manager for Johnson Controls at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Forte succeeded Phil Tollefson in 2005.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Douglas Bruce, TABOR Ruined Colorado, says Full Frontal with Samantha Bee

Posted By on Tue, Mar 13, 2018 at 1:29 PM

Full Frontal with Samantha Bee took on the Taxpayers Bill of Rights and its famously cantankerous author Douglas Bruce in this March 7 segment:

While hilarious, it's worth noting that the show doesn't address what many consider to be the most fiscally destructive components of Colorado's famous tax-restricting law, most notably the so-called ratchet-down effect. The show segment blames Colorado's fiscal problems on TABOR's requirement that all taxes be approved by voters. But an arguably larger impact has been the way the law shrinks existing taxes (not just for the state government, but for local governments as well).

Approximately one billion years ago (OK, nine years ago), I wrote about how that ratchet-effect (which interacts with another big penny-pinching law) shrinks government coffers even in good times.

It's worth noting that despite its restrictive nature, TABOR doesn't tend to eliminate government so much as lead to the creation of lots of little, less efficient, and less accountable governmental taxing entities. It also increases the disparity between rich and poor and older and newer parts of town; underfunds schools; and leads to huge burdens of unfunded maintenance on everything from roads to government buildings to stormwater systems. (We pay more to replace this infrastructure down the road because we can't afford to maintain it.)

So while we enjoy Bee's show, this segment plays into a myth: That the main destructive force of TABOR is also it's most popular provision. TABOR does give taxpayers the right to vote on tax increases. But that's not the only thing it does. And it's not the big problem with the law.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Colorado Springs' southwest downtown needs an expensive scrub

Posted By on Wed, Mar 7, 2018 at 4:27 PM

Looking northeast, this 5.6 acres lies southwest of the downtown area and is estimated to carry a $4.4 million cleanup cost associated with coal tar left from a coal gasification plant that operated there more than 100 years ago. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Looking northeast, this 5.6 acres lies southwest of the downtown area and is estimated to carry a $4.4 million cleanup cost associated with coal tar left from a coal gasification plant that operated there more than 100 years ago.

Will a key portion of the southwest downtown area rise again? That's the question we explore in this week's Independent in a story about city-owned contaminated land near America the Beautiful Park on Cimino Drive.

One question that arises is whether tax increment financing (TIF) could be applied toward the mitigation effort, which is estimated to cost $4.4 million.

TIF is a commonly used financing tool for public infrastructure in urban renewal areas whereby the increment in sales and property tax revenues created by development in those areas is set aside for streets, utilities and other public needs to develop a viable commercial district.

So we asked the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority's executive director Jariah Walker that question.

The short answer is, yes, TIF could be used for cleanup.

"The URA board would review any application with specific costs and needs for the expected TIF and then ultimately put it to city council for final approval," Walker says in an email. "The quick answer to your question is that TIF can be used for many different public improvements which can include abatement."

But he also says the URA board has not been presented with a plan detailing any specifics. If such a request arises, he adds, "This would be handled through an application process that would authorize a conditions study and financial analysis on the presented project(s)."

But one problem with seeking a TIF at this stage of the game is that most of the 25-year time limit for urban renewal areas has expired, after the 100-acre area was declared the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area in 2001. That means if a TIF were allowed tomorrow, only 13 years would be left during which TIF money could be used to fund public facilities, or a cleanup. That may not be enough to cover the costs.

Nothing prevents the master developer, Nor'wood Development Group, from seeking a new urban renewal designation, however, Walker acknowledged.

We've contacted Nor'wood President Chris Jenkins and will circle back if and when we hear from him.

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