Thursday, October 18, 2018

Election Day jitters? It's OK if you don't have your ballot yet

Posted By on Thu, Oct 18, 2018 at 4:49 PM

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We made a cool Instagram post recently to remind people to vote in the midterm election, and got a couple of comments from some proactive voters. They were wondering why only half of their household's ballots had arrived in the mail.

It sounded worrisome, because the only thing worse than not being able to vote, is not being able to vote while watching a family member vote for the people you don't like. Right?

Turns out, it's too early to worry. Kristi Ridlen, spokesperson for the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office, calls this "a very common issue."

"That happens to a lot of households and to a lot of people, where you’ll get some ballots one day, you’ll get some the next day and then you could get the remaining two days later," Ridlen says. "It’s a mass mailing, pretty much, is what it is, so depending on if it gets shuffled around when they’re processing that mail at the U.S. Postal Service, that tends to happen."

If you don't have your ballot by the end of the day Friday, Oct. 19, and have ensured that your current address is on file by visiting govotecolorado.com, Ridlen says to give her office a call at 719/575-VOTE (8683). The office can look up your ballot in the U.S. Postal Service system to figure out what happened.
Ballots aren't forward-able, Ridlen notes, so it's important to make sure that your address is updated. The deadline for doing so is Oct. 29.

All ballots must be returned to the Clerk’s Office by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 6, to be counted. (Postmarked ballots received after that won't be counted.)

You can vote in one of three ways:

1) Mail your ballot back with extra postage. Don't just slap a stamp on it — that won't be enough to mail your ballot. Total postage of $0.71 is needed because the ballot is two sheets.

2) Drop it off. A complete list of ballot drop boxes, open 24/7 and under video surveillance, is located here.

3) Vote in person. Voter Service and Polling Centers in El Paso County are listed here. (You can also visit these centers to register to vote, update your address, drop off a ballot or replace a soiled ballot.)

Visit epcvotes.com for more information on the upcoming election.

And if you need a ride, Lyft and Uber are both offering free and discount transportation to polling places on Election Day.

Lyft is distributing promo codes for 50 percent off rides to voting locations, through nonprofits including Vote.org, Nonprofit Vote and TurboVote. The company will offer free rides to underserved communities in partnership with Voto Latino, local Urban League affiliates, the National Federation of the Blind and more. The app will also include a tool to help passengers find a polling location.

Uber will add a "Get to the Polls" button to its app Nov. 6 to help voters find their nearest polling places and quickly book a ride. The company is also working with nonprofits #VoteTogether and Democracy Works to provide free rides to the polls. Those nonprofits will select certain areas, probably those that have a high need from a transportation perspective, and distribute codes that way, Elite Daily reports.
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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

UPDATE: Tom Clements' life was in danger but authorities did nothing, lawsuit says

Posted By on Wed, Oct 17, 2018 at 2:05 PM

San Agustin: A victim of malicious prosecution, lawsuit says. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • San Agustin: A victim of malicious prosecution, lawsuit says.
UPDATE:

So far, we've heard from three defendants named in the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for Sheriff Bill Elder says via email, "The Tom Clements Homicide is still an active investigation. The Sheriff’s Office will not be commenting on pending litigation."

The El Paso County Attorney’s Office said in an email it's reviewing the lawsuit and "may have comments in the future.”

The other comment came from 18th Judicial District DA George Brauchler. He, too, issued a statement via email, saying:
It’s a sad fact of life that prosecutors are often sued for doing their jobs by persons who don’t like the fact that they were prosecuted. Such lawsuits are almost always legally frivolous and quickly dismissed by the courts. Anyone can file a lawsuit alleging anything they want. This lawsuit has no basis in fact or law. Once we are served with it, we will file a motion to dismiss, which we anticipate will be granted quickly by the court.

I think that the public should be skeptical of a lawsuit when it was obviously sent to the media before the plaintiff's lawyer saw fit to give us a copy. The first we heard of this was from a reporter.
To be clear, the Independent did not receive the lawsuit from the plaintiff or anyone associated with him.

—————ORIGINAL POST 2:05 P.M. WEDNESDAY, OCT. 17, 2018—————————

A new lawsuit contains explosive allegations that 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder and others improperly abandoned the investigation of the March 19, 2013, murder of Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements on his doorstep in Monument.

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 16 in federal court, also claims a collection of government officials, ranging from prosecutors to sheriff's deputies, including Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler, who's the Republican candidate for Colorado Attorney General, conspired to lie to a grand jury and manipulate evidence in order to persuade jurors to indict Juan San Agustin, Jr. in May 2016.

San Agustin seeks $10 million in damages and other compensation stemming from his alleged "malicious prosecution" on charges arising out of a woman's alleged 2013 false arrest under former Sheriff Terry Maketa, former Undersheriff Paula Presley and San Agustin, although none of those people were present at the arrest, the lawsuit says. (Maketa, Presley and San Agustin submitted notices of claim in November 2016 alleging malicious prosecution.)

Tom Clements - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Tom Clements
Maketa and Presley were indicted on charges from that incident and others. Maketa was tried twice — in 2017 and 2018 — without a conviction, leading Brauchler's office to abandon the case earlier this year. Brauchler had taken over the case when Dan May recused himself. Charges against Presley and San Agustin were dropped in October 2017.

The indictment was built on a lie, the 45-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver says, noting that electronic card-reader information conclusively disproves that San Agustin was even in the sheriff's building when the woman was interviewed and later arrested.
Named as defendants in San Agustin's case are: El Paso County, District Attorney May, Deputy District Attorney Shannon Gerhart, Sheriff Elder, Undersheriff Joe Breister, County legal advisor Lisa Kirkman, former El Paso County Deputy Robert Jaworski, the Colorado Bureau of Investigations, CBI agent Ralph Gagliardi, Arapahoe County, Arapahoe County DA Brauchler, Arapahoe County Assistant DA Mark Hurlbert, Arapahoe County Deputy DA Grant Fevurly, and 11 "officers John Doe."
But perhaps most fascinating are the allegations regarding the Clements case. Evan Ebel, a member of white supremacist group 211 Crew, shot Clements and was killed days later in a shootout with law enforcement officers in Texas. When San Agustin and others who were investigating the case pressed forward with the Clements' murder investigation, May and Elder closed the case, the lawsuit says.

"In the Summer of 2016, Defendant Elder contacted all agencies that had been involved
with the investigation of the Tom Clements murder and informed them that the investigation was closed," the lawsuit says. "When Governor [John] Hickenlooper found out about this, he called Defendant Elder in for a meeting and ordered the investigation re-opened. Although Defendant Elder complied with Governor Hickenlooper’s demand, the investigation is open in name only, virtually no El Paso County Sheriff’s Office resources are being put towards the investigation."

Former Sheriff Terry Maketa and his wife, Vicki, in the El Paso County courthouse for trial in February 2018. The charges were later dropped. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Former Sheriff Terry Maketa and his wife, Vicki, in the El Paso County courthouse for trial in February 2018. The charges were later dropped.
May and Elder's decision — despite San Agustin's insistence before leaving the Sheriff's Office in 2014 after Elder was elected that there were co-conspirators involved — stemmed from a mistaken assassination, the lawsuit says.

When May served as a deputy DA in the 18th Judicial District from 2004 to 2008 before being elected as the 4th Judicial District DA in El Paso County, he prosecuted cases against members of the Sureños gang that resulted in lengthening their sentences, the lawsuit says.

Because of that, the Sureños gang put out an assassination request or "hit" on Dan May, the lawsuit claims. The 211 Crew carried out the hit, but got the wrong man. Sean May was shot in an alley in Denver on Aug. 27, 2008, the lawsuit says. The case remains unsolved.
Then there's this shocking revelation, "In or about 2013, law enforcement received a letter from a Department of Corrections inmate, who had heard of the 211 Crew’s plot. The letter warned that Tom Clements’ life was in danger. Law enforcement did not act on the letter at the time it was received."
District Attorney Dan May, at a briefing in August on the shooting of Deputy Micah Flick. He's accused of  refusing to allow charges to be brought against suspected conspirators in the Tom Clements murder in 2013 after learning he could be targeted by gang members behind the murder. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • District Attorney Dan May, at a briefing in August on the shooting of Deputy Micah Flick. He's accused of refusing to allow charges to be brought against suspected conspirators in the Tom Clements murder in 2013 after learning he could be targeted by gang members behind the murder.
The lawsuit doesn't identify which law enforcement agency received the warning, nor is there a clear accusation, but the insinuation appears to be that law enforcement, including May, fearful for their own lives, declined to prosecute Ebel's co-conspirators.

Regarding the grand jury issue, the lawsuit alleges the defendants "presented false evidence to the Grand Jury, purposely withheld exculpatory evidence, and purposely failed to present complete evidence to the Grand Jury to usurp the independence of the Grand Jury."

From the lawsuit:
Defendants together reached an understanding, engaged in a course of conduct and otherwise conspired among and between themselves to deprive Plaintiff of his due process rights by maliciously prosecuting him, fabricating evidence, manipulating witness testimony,
suppressing exculpatory evidence, and falsify[ing] charges in order to indict, arrest, and prosecute Plaintiff on without probable cause. Defendants’ misconduct was malicious, willful, and committed with reckless indifference to the rights of others. 
Moreover, Hurlbert, the lawsuit says, "negligently or maliciously published false, defamatory statements" about San Agustin by stating that despite the dismissal of the charges, San Agustin was guilty. "This statement was false," the suit says.

After leaving the Sheriff's Office, San Agustin taught at local universities and worked as a private investigator at $100 per hour and as a digital forensics expert at up to $250 per hour.

The indictment "tainted" the former sheriff's commander's reputation, the lawsuit says, and "affected his business and personal relationships, and has caused him embarrassment and humiliation." Besides that, several of the defendants conspired to place San Agustin's name on the Brady list, a list of officers disclosed to defense attorneys due to instances of departing from the truth or being accused of other wrongdoing.

This further dried up his career prospects, the lawsuit says, further defaming his reputation.

"Defendants’ intentionally and willfully interfered with Plaintiff’s economic relationships
in order to cause damage to Plaintiff’s lawful business," the lawsuit says. "Defendants’ interference was perpetuated with actual malice and ill will toward Plaintiff, and with intentional and improper purpose of causing damages. There was no justifiable cause for Defendants’ actions."

Sheriff Bill Elder: Named in a lawsuit alleging malicious prosecution. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Bill Elder: Named in a lawsuit alleging malicious prosecution.
San Agustin seeks $10 million in damages, along with economic losses, special damages for "mental anguish" and attorney fees and costs.

It's worth noting that San Agustin's lawyers include the firm of Fisher & Byrialsen, which filed a malicious prosecution case against New York City on behalf of one of the five young men erroneously accused in the infamous 1989 Central Park jogger case who were later exonerated. The firm's client was paid in a $12.25-million settlement.

The day the indictment against San Agustin and others was issued, Elder issued a statement, saying, "No one is above the law, including me. For this reason I thank the CBI, the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the Grand Jury for their diligent work regarding this matter."

We've asked the named defendants to respond to the lawsuit but so far haven't heard back. If and when we hear something, we'll update this blog.

Here's the lawsuit:
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FDA smokes out 1,000 pages of documents from Juul in e-cig crackdown

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E-cigarette maker, Juul, might be in hot water. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seized thousands of pages in documentation from the company during a surprise inspection.

The FDA has been investigating the company for the past year as a growing number of teens have begun to use the e-cigarette. Claims that Juul and other e-cigarettes are marketing to children might make the industry blow up in smoke.

Currently, Juul controls around 70% of the e-cigarette market, making them a priority among retailers. In the recent surprise inspection, the FDA took thousands of pages regarding their marketing strategy.

This comes after the FDA ordered e-cig manufacturers to make plans that steer away from youth marketing.

The commissioner for the FDA, Scott Gottlieb, is calling e-cig use among teens an "epidemic."

"I think people should interpret the fact that I and others have made such a dramatic shift from our prior position with respect to these products as representing the fact that we have seen information that is deeply disturbing and startling in terms of the rapid rise of youth use over a short period of time," claimed Gottlieb in an interview back in September.

Many believe that the growing use among teens and adolescents is due to the appealing flavors offered by e-cigs.

Google receives an average of 100 billion searches each month, and many of those search results feature prominent advertisements. Currently, Google will not allow any cigarette or tobacco companies, including JUUL, to advertise on its powerful search engine. On top of that, the FDA is considering banning the online sale of popular e-cigarettes as use among children grows.

The sales of Juul grew by around 14 million between 2016 and 2017 alone. In 2016, Juul sold 2.2 million devices. In 2017? 16.2 million.

"The new and highly disturbing data we have on youth use demonstrates plainly that e-cigarettes are creating an epidemic of regular nicotine use among teens. It is vital that we take action to understand and address the particular appeal of, and ease of access to, these products among kids," claimed the FDA.

E-cigarettes have become a popular smoking alternative for adults, and it's plainly grown in popularity among teens. The carcinogens in tobacco and cigarette filters can cause cancer for smokers and those around them. It's also known to contribute to heart disease, lung damage, yellow teeth, and respiratory problems, and it can worsen asthma and allergy symptoms. An estimated 6.1 children and 20 million adults suffer from seasonal allergies in the U.S. alone, and even second-hand smoke can increase the risk of these health problems.

E-cigarettes became attractive for smokers who wanted to avoid the hazards associated with smoking. In addition to the widely known health hazards, 32% of people have concern for the appearance of their teeth, and smoking only exacerbates the issue.

E-cigarettes are popular in part because they are seen as less deadly and harmful than traditional tobacco products. However, e-cigarettes and vapes pose health risks as well.

Nicotine is known to hinder brain development in adolescents and cause addiction. One Juul pod can contain as much nicotine as twenty cigarettes.

Additionally, the flavored liquids used to deliver the nicotine use propylene glycol, an ingredient that can cause irritation when inhaled. Additionally, the long-term effects of vaping are unknown since the product is so new.

The problem is that these vapes and e-cigs aren't federally regulated, meaning any number of ingredients can be used in the final product. Recent studies show vaping is also a gateway drug for teens to try cigarettes as well.

The number of teens who vape has grown tenfold between 2011 and 2017, and those are just the ones who have reported vaping use to researchers.

The FDA will search Juul's documents to ensure the company is in compliance.

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Tony Wolusky wants to be on University of Colorado's Board of Regents

Posted By on Mon, Oct 15, 2018 at 8:17 AM

Dr. Tony Wolusky - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Dr. Tony Wolusky
After the Indy endorsements were released this week, we received a lot of email and phone calls.
There were a few thank yous in there, along with some complaints, and a few candidates disappointed that we hadn't made an endorsement in their race.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: It was a very long ballot this year, and we just couldn't  examine every race.

Still, one call stood out. Dr. Tony Wolusky, the Democrat running for University of Colorado Board of Regents in District 5 (that's us) said he had been frustrated by the lack of attention on the race — especially since it was such a key role when it comes to controlling student debt.

OK, you got us Wolusky. We're pretty sympathetic to that issue. It's hard not to be considering how the heavy burden of debt steers a young person's life and opportunities. Plus the nine-member regent board, long dominated by Republicans, does a lot of important things like pick the next president of the CU system, for instance, and approve the budget, set policies, determine degree programs and (important to Wolusky's point) decide whether to raise, lower or freeze tuition.

While we still aren't endorsing in the race, we agreed to meet and talk with Wolusky about his race against Republican Chance Hill, and we encourage you to learn more about your regent candidates.

Here are a few things Wolusky wanted to point out:
• Big student debt loads (the average in Colorado in 2017 was estimated to be $26,095 by the Congress & Student Debt report) take young people years to pay off and create a lot of emotional pressure in their lives. Wolusky, who teaches at several colleges, has had students at Pikes Peak Community College who couldn't afford textbooks and says about half his students at Metropolitan State University of Denver are single moms. Food insecurity is incredibly common among his students. The CU system, he says, doesn't need to cost students so much. Perhaps it could cut back on salaries, some of which are near $1 million (and that isn't including the multimillion dollar contract given to CU's head coach).
He adds that the system spends too much on "prestige projects," such as huge figures expended on marketing, when it could use that money to help students. CU ranks 48th nationally in state funding for higher education. "They do a lot of things," he says, "that I think are a way to pat yourself on the back."
If the system could cut back on such expenses, he says, perhaps it could at least freeze tuition for a year instead of raising it. The system might also be able to offer students with heavy course loads some free classes each semester.

• Wolusky is a big proponent of diversity in the system. He notes that many young minority students are priced out of the system. That's a particular shame, he says, because one of the most enriching part of college should be learning about, and befriending people, who are different than you.

• Stopping sex assault on campus has to be a major priority, Wolusky says. He thinks we should educate students within the first month, focusing particularly on men. Wolusky says that in his time as an attorney he saw how deeply scarred victims of sexual assault are and wants to do whatever he can to prevent it.

• Wolusky says the current regents spend too much time on political issues, saying he's witnessed them discussing the need to classify conservative students as "minorities" and offer them the same support as, say, students of color. Another time, he says, the regents spent a long time talking about how to take the word " liberal" out of liberal arts.
The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs - THE UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO AT COLORADO SPRINGS
  • The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
  • The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Here are a few things you should know about Wolusky's background:
• He went to the Air Force Academy and served in the Air Force for 28 years, even teaching at the AFA as an Associate Professor of Law and serving as the Deputy Staff Judge Advocate for the Superintendent before retiring from active duty in Colorado Springs in 2004.

• He has five degrees: A bachelor's in public administration and international relations, a master's in education, a master's in international relations, a juris doctorate and a Ph.D. in education. (In contrast, Sue Sharkey, the current chair of the Board of Regents, which oversees the entire CU system, doesn't have any degree.)

• He teaches and has taught at many colleges including current stints at Pikes Peak Community College and Metropolitan State University of Denver.

• He's an attorney with 30 years experience who has served both as a deputy district attorney and a public defender.

• He has four daughters and a grandson.
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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

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  • 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

Crowdfunding for small businesses just got a little easier

Posted By on Thu, Oct 4, 2018 at 11:12 AM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
Think GoFundMe, but for amateur investors: Colorado's small businesses could get a leg up thanks to new rules governing crowdfunding.

In 2015, Colorado lawmakers approved a bill to help startups use crowdfunding for investment, essentially by selling stocks through an online marketplace. At the time, says Rep. Pete Lee, a Democrat from Colorado Springs who sponsored the bill, "the biggest complaint we were hearing from businesses was the difficulty of raising capital."

The intent behind the Colorado Crowdfunding Act was to help small businesses get investors without having to go through the complex state securities registration process. However, the state Division of Securities' first rules on crowdfunding, issued a few months after the legislation was passed, were cumbersome, says securities lawyer Herrick Lidstone.

"Everything that the securities division did in its rulemaking was afforded by the legislation, but the difficulties that were created bore no relationship to economic reality for small businesses seeking to raise capital," Lidstone says.

Those difficulties included a requirement that businesses use a broker or online intermediary, that the minimum offering be no less than half of the maximum offering, and that the minimum offering be held in an escrow account.

"Anything where you’re raising capital is subject to possible abuse, and that’s something that the legislature and the securities division are properly concerned about," Lidstone says. "But my experience with many regulators is that they assume abuse. I would like them to assume that people are really intending to be honest, which is my experience as a lawyer."
Pete Lee: "I think this could be a real shot in the arm for small businesses." - FILE PHOTO
  • file photo
  • Pete Lee: "I think this could be a real shot in the arm for small businesses."

Lidstone and other experts on securities law recommended changes to the Division of Securities, and on July 31 — more than three years after the original legislation was passed — new rules were put in place that Lidstone, as well as Securities Commissioner Gerald Rome, feel will make crowdfunding a more appetizing solution for small businesses looking to raise capital.

"It’s important that we enable small companies to access capital through the capital markets, and it’s difficult for them to do that simply because usually they don’t have a track record," Rome says. "It’s just a difficult stage in the growth of their company to go out and get institutional investors to invest in their company. So [crowdfunding] is a means of allowing a large number of people to invest in a local, small business here."

Now, businesses looking to raise less than $500,000 in a year don't have to go through an online intermediary, which Lidstone says can be expensive. They also don't have to comply with the minimum-offering requirement.

Also, the new rules allow a person helping a small company to have an ownership — something that was previously prohibited. "As you may know in the equity world, one of the things that might reduce the cost to the small business issuer is to say, you help me with these things, and I’ll give you a piece of my pie," Lidstone says.

There are still disclosure requirements in place for businesses looking to start crowdfunding, and the rules require the investor and issuer to reside in Colorado. While there are federal rules that accommodate crowdfunding, Lidstone says they aren't particularly friendly to small businesses.

Rome says he doesn't believe anyone has taken advantage of the changes yet, and advises interested businesses to contact the Division of Securities. (You can reach them at  DORA_SecuritiesWebsite@state.co.us.)

The businesses best suited to crowdfunding are those that already have community backing in place, Rome says: "If you’re running, say, a small brewery and you want to expand, or maybe a small restaurant you want to expand, then the people that are going to invest in your company through crowdfunding are the people that go and show up at your brewery or show up at your restaurant."

"I think this could be a real shot in the arm for small businesses," Lee says. "And as we know, small businesses drive the economy."
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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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Land and Water Conservation Fund faces uncertain future

Posted By on Tue, Oct 2, 2018 at 9:53 AM

The Land and Water Conservation Fund paid for more than $8 million in projects in Rocky Mountain National Park, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition. - NATIONAL PARK SERVICE PHOTO/ WALKER HALL
  • National Park Service Photo/ Walker Hall
  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund paid for more than $8 million in projects in Rocky Mountain National Park, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition.

Without action by Congress, a fund that's helped to pay for the conservation of public lands since 1965 is on hold.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which expired Sept. 30, bought and preserved land, water and recreation areas with royalty payments from offshore oil and gas money.

Since 1965, Colorado has received more than $268 million from the fund, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition, a group advocating for its reauthorization. The money has paid for projects in Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Arapaho National Forest, Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Cross Mountain Canyon Ranch and more.

As of Oct. 2, U.S. parks had lost more than $3.6 million in funding as a result of Congress' failure to reauthorize it, according to the LWCF Coalition. (The organization has an automatically updating online counter that tracks funds "lost," based on the $900 million deposited annually.)

A total of $40 billion was deposited in the fund over its 54-year lifespan, though less than half of that was appropriated by Congress. Of the $18.4 billion spent, 61 percent went to federal land acquisition, 25 percent went to the state grant program and 14 percent was spent on other purposes, according to the Congressional Research Service. The other funds were diverted elsewhere.

A measure to permanently restore the Land and Water Conservation Fund passed in the House Natural Resources Committee in September, but the measure has not yet reached the chamber floor. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was expected to consider similar legislation Oct. 2.

Both bills would dedicate a minimum of $10 million from the fund each year to "projects that secure recreational public access to existing Federal public land for hunting, fishing, and other recreational purposes."

A coalition of more than 70 Colorado business owners and leaders in August signed a letter addressed to the state's representatives in Congress, urging them to reauthorize the fund.

"LWCF funding has leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars of state, local, and private
matching funds to contribute to the betterment of Colorado and well-being of its citizens,
and its reauthorization is critical to our future," they wrote. "Now more than ever, with the rapid
expansion of Colorado’s population and ever more common water shortages throughout
the Colorado River basin, Coloradans need the tool of LWCF to protect public land access,
critical drinking water supplies, and community resources."

Colorado legislators from both parties have jumped aboard the LWCF train. Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet are cosponsors of the Senate reauthorization measure, while Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder), Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Arvada), Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Denver), Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) have signed on in support of the House measure. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colorado Springs), serves on the Natural Resources Committee and voted in favor of advancing the legislation, the Colorado Sun reports.

Gardner and Bennet, original cosponsors of the Senate measure, co-authored a July 24 guest editorial in the Boulder Daily Camera championing the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

"LWCF is a critical tool for fulfilling our basic responsibility to give the next generation the same opportunities our parents and grandparents gave to us. It is time for Congress to stop the serial, short-term extensions of this program and make LWCF permanent with the full dedicated funding it deserves," they wrote.

Jonathan Asher, senior representative for the Wilderness Society, called actions in the House and Senate "really great signs," but predicted that legislation reauthorizing the fund is more likely to pass as part of next year's budget than as a stand-alone bill.
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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.
2018electionbug.jpg

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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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Stephany Rose Spaulding talks gun safety with Moms Demand Action founder

Posted By on Wed, Sep 26, 2018 at 4:19 PM

House District 5 candidate Stephany Rose Spaulding, left, and Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts. - COURTESY OF STEPHANY ROSE FOR CONGRESS
  • Courtesy of Stephany Rose for Congress
  • House District 5 candidate Stephany Rose Spaulding, left, and Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts.
Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and Stephany Rose Spaulding, the Democrat hoping to unseat Rep. Doug Lamborn, say they often cry when they're together.

A Sept. 25 town hall featuring the pair at Colorado College was no exception. The tears flowed more than once during a conversation about gun safety, local politics and the importance of intersectionality in activism.

Spaulding and Watts both addressed the idea that they're fighting respective uphill battles: Spaulding in a Republican district that's easily elected Lamborn six times, and Watts in a legislative landscape that has long been shaped by the powerful gun lobby.

Spaulding, a licensed minister and associate professor of women's and ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, said she decided to run for Congress after attending the Women's March in Washington.

"This is not the easiest district to be an African-American woman who is progressive and a pastor," Spaulding said. "...So what if it's hard? Life is hard!...In life we don't get to back down just because it is hard and there are roadblocks."

Spaulding recalled that some had asked her why she didn't want to enter a local race instead, perhaps for a seat on City Council or the Board of County Commissioners.

"We do not tell white boys who wake up in the morning and scratch themselves not to run for whatever office," she pointed out to laughter.

Watts' involvement in politics was also born of a single defining event: After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, she founded Moms Demand Action to demand "common-sense" gun reforms. The organization now has chapters in all 50 states.

Watts acknowledged that despite polling that shows a shift in American attitudes about the Second Amendment, it's hard to overcome groups such as the National Rifle Association that have for decades donated to politicians' campaigns and given them favorable ratings in exchange for legislation that benefits gun manufacturers.

"Until we get the right president and Congress in place, we'll be playing defense with federal legislation," Watts said, adding that a ban on assault rifles, while an eventual goal, was not currently a priority for her organization. In the meantime, though, Moms Demand Action has defeated "dangerous" bills in many states that would have allowed guns in schools, eliminated background checks, and more, she said. 

Besides pushing for legislation such as "red-flag" laws and bump-stock bans, and opposing efforts by the NRA to make guns easier to get, Moms Demand Action also endorses candidates at the local and national level — including Spaulding.

Spaulding's choice to hold a campaign event on gun violence could be characterized as daring, in a county that in 2013 passed a resolution defying Obama-era gun control orders, in 2014 allowed guns in parks, and whose representative has received NRA ratings that consistently top 90 percent.

But Spaulding, who grew up on the south side of Chicago and saw gun violence affect her own family — both her brother and niece were held at gunpoint — says she doesn't oppose Americans' right to own firearms.

"I'm not against the Second Amendment," Spaulding said. "We have eroded the responsibility around what it means to be owners of firearms." She added that she feels there's been a shift in popular sentiment in Colorado Springs around gun ownership, with more residents here desiring reforms like those championed by Moms Demand Action.

"It's not about being anti-gun, it's really about, 'How do we make things safer?'"
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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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