Friday, January 18, 2019

"Small house" community coming to Woodland Park

Posted By on Fri, Jan 18, 2019 at 4:10 PM

Woodland Park developers think a planned “small house” community called the Village at Tamarac is the answer to many people's tiny-home dreams. But think "dreams" in terms of lifestyle, not cost — affordable housing experts say developments like these aren't for those looking for a deal.

The Village at Tamarac will offer 53 models, says Pete LaBarre, one of the developers behind the project, which was first reported about in the Gazette. The homes, in case you're wondering, are a little too big to be considered "tiny homes," which normally top out at 400 square feet.

Manufactured by Champion Home Builders, each small house — 500 square feet with a 500-square-foot crawl space — will cost about $115,000. While that may seem like a bargain, homebuyers won’t own the lots their homes sit on, and each site will cost an additional $600 to $700 a month to lease. In other words, it’s a similar setup to buying a mobile home — except the home can’t be moved elsewhere.

That could be a problem for some. Residents in mobile home parks that are on fixed or low incomes can struggle with rent increases. And not all trailers can be moved to another lot if rents become unaffordable, which can lead to foreclosure. Of course, homes that sit on foundations, like the ones to be built at the Village, can't be moved.

But LaBarre says his tenants are better protected than many trailer owners. He's offering all buyers an 99-year lease, and while there will be rent escalation provisions, LaBarre says they're being included to “protect ourselves in the event of really high inflation.” It's also worth noting that the developers won't have an interest in the mortgages because they are not lending to tenants, which sometimes happens in mobile home parks.

“Our passion is to try to bring more affordable, more obtainable housing, in this kind of price range where there just isn’t any,” LaBarre says.

But Jamie Pemberton, the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Teller County, says developments like these won’t solve the area’s affordable housing problem. (A 2016 assessment identified the need for at least 741 rental, workforce, senior and other housing units in Woodland Park.)

Let’s assume that you can make a 20-percent down payment of $23,000 on one of the small houses. If you have good credit, you could get a 30-year fixed loan and pay about $522 a month. But when you add the $600 monthly lot fee to that, you’re paying $1,122 a month to live in your small house for 30 years.

And theoretically, you’d have to keep paying $600 a month to lease the lot (though LaBarre says developers hope to sell the Village at Tamarac back to the community in five to seven years).
If you purchased a $230,000 house, on the other hand, and made the same down payment of $23,000, you could get a 30-year fixed loan of about $1,079 a month. (To be fair, it's difficult to find a home in Woodland Park for $230,000 or less.)

“For homebuyers, [leasing land] is not what we recommend,” Pemberton says. “...We actually counsel our families that they can get caught up in this thinking.”

Susan Cummings, Habitat for Humanity’s homebuyer services coordinator, adds that tiny houses aren’t very family-friendly: “Where do you change the diapers? When somebody gets sick, how do you handle that?” But LaBarre says the choice to purchase a tiny home “typically isn’t about affordability. It’s about lifestyle.” He expects many of the Village at Tamarac’s residents to pay cash for the homes, like many of those living in Peak View Park, a Woodland Park RV and tiny house location.

“The people who are living in Peak View Park, they like living in a smaller space,” LaBarre says. “...There’s less time spent cleaning the house, less time spent maintaining the house. So that translates to, in their view, and in my view, a better quality of life.”

LaBarre says overwhelming demand for spaces in Peak View Park led him and a few other developers, as the group M3XP2 LLC, to propose the small house development.

They couldn't expand the tiny house community at Peak View Park, LaBarre says, because Teller County’s building code no longer allows long-term residence in towable homes. Because the Village at Tamarac’s small houses will be secured by foundations, the development can follow the same building code as typical subdivisions.

The developers received preliminary approval from Woodland Park, LaBarre says, and plan to close on the property in February or March in time to have homes available in August.

Interest is growing — as of Jan. 17, there were already 34 people on the waitlist. LaBarre says their demographics parallel those of residents of Peak View Park, which is most popular with single women between the ages of 45 and 65. When eliminating short-term rental properties, LaBarre says 54 percent of that park’s lots are occupied by single women, with and without children. The women he’s spoken with say they’re drawn by the sense of independence, the community’s safety and a simpler lifestyle.

Wendy Hartshorn, vice president of marketing for the Village at Tamarac, is moving to Peak View Park to start "a new chapter."

“I started researching tiny homes years ago, and so this was kind of the dream,” she says. “I’m starting over fresh, and I’m able to simplify and cut costs. And I’m really excited.”
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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Parks protection ballot measure has lots of problems says city attorney

Posted By on Thu, Jan 17, 2019 at 5:39 PM

Kent Obee and dozens of other citizens opposed the Strawberry Fields land swap and now propose a ballot measure to stave off a similar action. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Kent Obee and dozens of other citizens opposed the Strawberry Fields land swap and now propose a ballot measure to stave off a similar action.

City Attorney Wynetta Massey has a lot of reasons why City Council shouldn't refer a measure to the April 2 ballot that would propose requiring a vote of the people before the city disposes of park land and open space.

The measure, Protect Our Parks, or POPs, is slated to be discussed by Council at its Jan. 22 work session.

But Massey clearly outlines why the measure is a bad idea from the mayor's and Council's perspective of wanting to maintain control over the ability to trade, sell or otherwise get rid of parks property. "The transfer of parkland is an administrative function of the Mayor, Parks Department, and City Council," she writes.

The POPs measure grew from Mayor John Suthers' and Council's controversial decision to trade the 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor in 2016. Most of the property, adjacent to North Cheyenne Cañon, has been placed in a conservation easement, which is designed to allow public access to all of the land except an 8-acre riding stable and picnic pavilion area reserved for Broadmoor guests.

Opponents of the swap, who formed the nonprofit Save Cheyenne, took the measure all the way to the Colorado Court of Appeals and lost. The state Supreme Court refused their plea to hear the case. They also raised questions about how the property was appraised.

(Notably, now-City Council President Richard Skorman was an original leader of Save Cheyenne, before being elected to Council in 2017.)

Now, POPs advocates want to be sure another Strawberry Fields swap or give-away doesn't recur, and want voters to approve a Charter change to prevent it.

But Massey's five-page legal opinion obtained by the Indy outlines myriad reasons why Council should not refer such a measure. She takes issue with the word "transferred," saying its an "undefined term." She notes the ballot language would ask for protection of "city parks" but isn't clear what that includes. (Read her entire opinion on the next page.)

It is perhaps notable that while some Councilors (Skorman included) favor the legal change, the mayor, who opposes it, has the power to hire and fire Massey. Past City Councilors have unsuccessfully sought to change city law to allow them to hire a separate attorney in cases where the mayor and Council have opposing viewpoints.

Kent Obee, who led the Strawberry Fields swap opponents, says he interprets Massey's opinion as a roadblock.
"They're just trying to throw every legal roadblock they can at what is basically a pretty simple issue," he says. "It is just nitpicking to try to block us or slow us down."

He notes that over 30 cities in Colorado, including Denver, Boulder and Aurora, have such protection for city parks.

Obee says if the measure isn't referred, proponents likely will try to petition the measure onto the November ballot, which also is likely to contain a five-year extension of Suthers' 2C road improvement tax.

For more detail, see the next page.

Here's the research upon which POPs is based:
Massey's opinion:
The ballot language:
Section 1: City owned parks and open space may not be sold, traded, exchanged, transferred, disposed, abandoned, conveyed, or otherwise alienated unless said transaction is approved by the voters in a City regular or special election.
Section 2: City parks shall be defined as: Any city owned land intended for use as public parkland or open space.
Examples of parks and open space include, but are not limited to: (a) city owned land that is in operation as a park or that is in a condition or state of readiness and availability for use as a park or open space; (b) land that is zoned or platted for the intended use as a park; (c) parks or open spaces identified in the Colorado Springs Parks System Master Plan dated September 23, 2014, Appendix A, and identified as parks classified as: regional, community, neighborhood, open space including special resource areas, sports, and special purpose parks; (d) future approved additions to the inventory of parks and open space as identified in future Colorado Springs Parks System Master Plans or similar documents; or (e) any part or portion of an existing park or open space.
Section 3: Exclusions: no vote is required for certain “specific transfers”, or “proposed parks”:
(a) Easements for utilities, right of ways or emergency services;
(b) Any court ordered transfers of title, possession or similar matters;
(c) Creation of a conservation easement or other similar actions intended for park protection;
(d) Survey, boundary or encroachment adjustments;
(e) Short term leasing or permitting in a manner consistent with parks use;
(f) Any land deemed unsuitable for park use due to safety or environmental issues;
(g) Proposed parks, in the planning and development process, under the Park Land Dedication Ordinance (PLDO) or similar ordinances;
(h) Transfers of trails, rather than parks or open spaces, for the purpose of development of trails, access to parks, improvement of a park or realignment of a trail;
Section 4: Nothing in this amendment shall lessen any existing park or open space protections.
Examples of existing protections that will not be lessened include, but are not limited to: (a) deed restrictions; (b) conservation easements; (c) protections under the Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) Ordinance; or (d) parks with historical designations.
Section 5: The purpose and intent of this amendment is to protect parks by recognizing the value that parks add to the community, users and property holders. Sale or transfer of parkland affects individuals that relied on representations of continuing park usage.
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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Crossroads detox facility to shut down temporarily

Posted By on Tue, Jan 15, 2019 at 9:21 PM


Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional reporting

The county's detox program, which monitors intoxicated people, allowing them to safely sober up, has had a wild ride over the past decade. Now, it's about to go offline (again), which will lead to overflowing emergency rooms.

Problems with detox date to 2009, when local mental health care provider AspenPointe abruptly shut down their detox program, slamming hospital ERs. Then-El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa swooped in to help, replacing detox (often referred to informally as "the drunk tank") with a county program.

Maketa built a $1.76 million facility next to the county jail to house about 40 people who needed to sober up. The program — which was subsequently managed by various branches of county government — was funded money from local hospitals and the state. Then, in late 2017 detox management was handed over to Crossroads' Turning Points, Inc., a Pueblo-based nonprofit. The county said the move would allow for more extensive detox services.

Another benefit: Crossroads planned to move to a new location, freeing up the county facility to potentially help alleviate overcrowding at the jail. Sheriff spokesperson Jackie Kirby says the old detox facility could be used for “lower-classification inmates who aren’t a high risk.” But as of Jan. 15, officials hadn’t finalized plans.

The facility was supposed to be available to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office at the end of June, when Crossroads was expected to have finished renovating its new building at Interstate 25 and B Street. When Crossroads repeatedly ran into construction issues and administrative delays, the Board of County Commissioners voted to extend the deadline to Sept. 30, then Dec. 31, and finally Jan. 15.

Now, according to Leroy Lucero, Crossroads’ president and CEO, the organization has encountered additional issues that won’t allow it to begin operating in the new facility until early February. But the county didn’t offer another extension — so detox patients will have to go elsewhere for now.

“There will be a gap in services,” Lucero told the Independent Jan. 9.

Lucero says Crossroads notified UCHealth Memorial Hospital and Penrose-St. Francis Health Services that it couldn’t accept detox patients after Jan. 15. He expects most patients to end up at those hospitals’ emergency rooms or other community facilities, and El Paso County patients may be transported to Crossroads’ Pueblo facility on an “emergency, case-by-case basis.”
Sharon Cerrone, clinical nurse manager of emergency departments at Penrose Hospital and St. Francis Medical Center, says she was informed of the development on Jan. 9, and was preparing to call in extra nurses to deal with an expected influx of detox patients.

Crossroads did not tell Cerrone when it planned to resume operations in the new building, she says, just “that they’re having some complications with the renovation and they’ll let us know.”

“Once we increase our nursing staff, I think we’ll be fine,” Cerrone says.

UCHealth, on the other hand, expressed displeasure with the delay.

“Many of these patients do not require the high level of medical care provided in our Emergency Departments, but will be brought to us as the only other place to turn, placing additional strain on critical resources,” Mark Mayes, associate chief nursing officer for UCHealth Memorial Hospital, said in an emailed statement.

Local hospitals formerly shouldered more of the detox program’s costs (about a third of the $2 million budget in 2015), but Lucero says they now provide only a small fraction of funding. The program currently costs about $1 million, Lucero says. Most of that is covered by $792,000 in state detox funds.

Penrose-St. Francis told the Indy that it made monthly payments to the detox program, but could not disclose the current amount. UCHealth says it no longer provides funding for detox at all.

“We haven’t gotten enough financial support from the hospitals,” Lucero says. “... We’re hoping that by being able to have our own permanent location along with more beds, that maybe the hospitals will step up their financial support of these kind of services, because we take a lot of patients from the hospitals.”
Detox offered a place — other than the ER — for people to sober up. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Detox offered a place — other than the ER — for people to sober up.
The new facility will have 20 beds initially, Lucero says — the same number Crossroads operated before Jan. 15 — and will add another 15 beds soon after. The goal, he says, is to eventually get back to 40 beds, the county’s former total.

Julie Krow, the executive director of El Paso County’s Department of Human Services, which ran detox for a while, called Crossroads “a very good partner” despite the delays.

Transferring management of the detox facility to Crossroads was beneficial in part, she says, because it can bill Medicaid for services, which the county could not. Crossroads also has an outpatient facility in Colorado Springs and several residential treatment programs in Pueblo, allowing it to refer patients elsewhere after a short-term stay at the detox facility.

“As a longer-term strategy, having detox with a private provider that has that full continuum of care is much better for the citizens of El Paso County,” Krow says.
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Monday, January 14, 2019

41 percent of Suthers campaign fundraising comes from Broadmoor zip code

Posted By on Mon, Jan 14, 2019 at 5:00 PM

Suthers: Wealthy people always give more to causes. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • Suthers: Wealthy people always give more to causes.

Mayor John Suthers is off to a smashing good start in fundraising for his re-election campaign in the April 2 city election.

According to four reports filed since October, the most recent submitted on Jan. 2, Suthers has raised $95,797 from 247 donations. He had $45,160 on hand to begin with and has spent $18,639, which means he has $122,318 in the bank.

(So far, no candidates have qualified for the ballot, though the City Clerk's Office is in the process of verifying petition signatures.)

Of Suthers' total raised in this race, 41.5 percent — $39,730 — came from donors in the 80906 zip code. Of his 247 donors, 101 gave 80906 as their address.

The zip code is known for including wealthier residents, as it encompasses The Broadmoor, and it's also Suthers' home zip code, though he doesn't live in the Broadmoor area itself.  According to this website, the 80906 zip code has an average household income of $97,557 a year, compared to $77,814 for the city as a whole and $81,528 for El Paso County.

The site also shows that 10.1 percent of households in the 80906 zip code make more than $200,000 a year, compared to 4.7 percent in Colorado Springs and 5.2 percent of the county.

Those figures for 80906 would be higher, except that it also includes an area to the east, including Stratmoor Hills where incomes are more modest.
We asked Suthers, who's also served as district attorney and Colorado Attorney General, to comment on such a large portion of his campaign contributions coming from the southwest segment of the city. He responded via email, saying:
To clarify, while I have lived in the 80906 zip code all my life, I do not live in the Broadmoor and never have. I have lived in the Cheyenne Canyon [sic] area and in Skyway. But I spent most of my summers as a kid mowing lawns in the Broadmoor. Some of my customers have been lifelong political supporters.

My experience is that people with higher amounts of discretionary income are more likely to contribute to charitable and political causes and that as a result a disproportionate amount of our community's philanthropic and political giving comes from the 80906 zip code. You might check statewide and national political campaign giving from Colorado Springs and citywide charitable giving to analyze this.

The bottom line is that throughout my career my political support in Colorado Springs has been wide and deep and I believe it still is.
Two candidates have expressed interested in trying to unseat Suthers. They are Lawrence Martinez, a home care specialist, and Juliette Parker, who runs a nonprofit.

Voters will also elect three at-large City Council members on April 2 and decide whether to give firefighters collective bargaining powers.
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El Paso County needs SNAP paperwork early due to shutdown

Posted By on Mon, Jan 14, 2019 at 12:15 PM

Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado will hold a food distribution event Jan. 18. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado will hold a food distribution event Jan. 18.

Due to a federal government directive, state and local agencies around the country are sounding an urgent message to those in need of food benefits: Get your paperwork in before funding runs out.

Those in El Paso County whose food assistance cases are due for redetermination must submit documents by 3 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15, in order to be eligible for February benefits, according to a Jan. 11 statement from the county's Department of Human Services titled "Urgent Update to Food Assistance Program in Government Shutdown."

Normally that paperwork wouldn't be due until February, says El Paso County DHS spokesperson Kristina Iodice. But the federal government shutdown has left agencies around the country scrambling to let SNAP recipients know about deadline changes.

This shutdown, which has left nine federal departments and dozens of agencies without funding, and hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed or working without pay (including thousands in Colorado), is the longest in history. It began Dec. 21 when a stopgap funding measure expired, and President Donald Trump refused to sign new legislation to fund the government that did not include $5 billion for a border wall — a demand that Democrats have firmly opposed.

As of the morning of Jan. 14, there were about 2,000 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipient households in El Paso County that needed to submit redetermination paperwork, Iodice says. The documents may be submitted online at, by fax at 719-444-5139 or 719-444-8353, or in person at El Paso County DHS locations.

El Paso County DHS' main location at 1675 Garden of the Gods Road will stay open until 8.p.m. — three hours later than usual — on Jan. 14 to accommodate an increased demand for services.

SNAP funds for February will be distributed by Jan. 20, weeks earlier than normal, to those who have complete files. However, the statement notes that the county "cannot guarantee assistance" even if documents are received by the appropriate deadlines.

"At this time, there is no information available about March food assistance," the statement continues.

The directive to distribute funds early came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which announced Jan. 8 that it would utilize a provision in the last stopgap funding measure allowing certain payments within 30 days of the measure's Dec. 21 expiration date. It expects February SNAP benefits to cost around $4.8 billion.

The USDA also announced it will continue funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) through February, using some unspent funding from prior years.

Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado hoped to address another need created by the government shutdown — food for federal workers who haven't received pay since December. The food bank will host a free food distribution Jan. 18 from 3 to 6 p.m. at its Colorado Springs facility, located near the intersection of Powers Boulevard and Constitution Avenue, at 2506 Preamble Point.

"Please help us spread the word to families and individuals affected by the government shutdown, or anyone who is in need," Care and Share posted on Facebook. "It is drive-thru style. Volunteers and staff will load fresh produce, frozen and staple food items into vehicles. Everyone is welcome and will receive food!"

Lynne Telford, the southern Colorado food bank’s president and CEO, says Care and Share is looking at options to address an anticipated need from federal workers and SNAP recipients who didn’t turn in paperwork on time.

That could include using reserve funds to buy food, she says, “but it’s important that we maintain enough reserves for our ongoing operations.”

“We really are hoping that the community will once again rise when we have a community emergency, much like they did for Waldo Canyon Fire or Black Forest Fire,” Telford adds. “The community made sure we were able to take care of the people who were impacted.”

Care and Share is asking the community for financial donations in particular, says Joanna Wise, the food bank’s marketing and communications director.

“We’re always in need of food donations year-round, but when it comes to something that we have to react to quickly, monetary donations are more effective for us,” Wise says. “It saves us a lot of time, because with food donations we have to inspect it and sort it and repack it. When we purchase it, we’re able to eliminate that step so we can get it to our partners a lot faster.”
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Friday, January 11, 2019

Independence Center to host watch party for Disability Integration Act

Posted By on Fri, Jan 11, 2019 at 12:33 PM

People with disabilities who need longterm services are often forced to leave their homes for assisted living facilities because Medicaid won't pay for at-home care. Disability rights activists say that legislators in Congress can change that by passing the Disability Integration Act, set to be introduced in both the House and Senate on Jan. 15.

Disability rights supporters will be watching across the country — including at the Independence Center, a local nonprofit for people with disabilities.

The bill, introduced last spring in the Senate by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and in the House by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, would require states, local governments and insurance providers to provide community-based services for people with disabilities as an alternative to institutionalization.

States and local governments would be required to work with housing authorities to ensure sufficient quantities of affordable, accessible, integrated housing where people can receive services while remaining in the community.

The list of Senate cosponsors includes Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner. Gardner, the latest cosponsor to sign on, was the only Republican to do so as of Jan. 8.

It's possible that pressure from disability rights organization ADAPT, the legislation's main backer, led to his decision. ADAPT supporters were arrested multiple times in Gardner's offices where they were pressuring him to cosponsor the legislation, according to a statement from the organization. And in November, the statement says, ADAPT had an airplane bearing the message “GARDNER SUPPORT S910 DIA FREE OUR PEOPLE!” fly around Gardner's Washington, D.C., office building. That evening, ADAPT projected the same message "shining like a bat-signal" on the front of the building. Gardner added his name a month later.

Last legislative session, all of Colorado's House representatives also signed on as cosponsors.

Neither the House nor Senate bill made it out of committee last session, but advocates are hopeful that this year, things will be different.

“The Disability Integration Act (DIA) is the next step in building a fulfilling and sustainable world for persons with disabilities," Becca Michael, advocacy manager at the Independence Center, said in an emailed statement. "...The Independence Center is excited about this legislation, as our mission is to work with people with disabilities, their families, and the community, to create independence so all may thrive."

The Independence Center, located at 729 S. Tejon St. will host a watch party Jan. 15 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. to livestream the bill's introduction and discussion. The event is open to the public, and snacks will be provided.

"The Independence Center is hosting this watch party, not only because it is important for our consumers and employees, but because it is gaining momentum, and we want to make sure it makes it over the finish line," Michael said. "For now, we want to raise awareness of the legislation, and celebrate the effort!”

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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

El Paso County adds two new dog parks

Posted By on Wed, Jan 9, 2019 at 3:08 PM

  • elbud /

Pups will have 13 new acres on which to frolic on opposite ends of El Paso County, thanks to the addition of dog parks in Falcon Regional Park and Fountain Creek Regional Park.

Falcon Regional Park, about 20 miles northeast of Colorado Springs, will open an 8-acre park for large dogs and a 2-acre park for small dogs along Eastonville Road in March, the Trails and Open Space Coalition announced. The parks will include more than half a mile of trail, with benches and parking for 40 cars.

And 30 miles southwest, Fountain Creek Regional Park is constructing a 3-acre dog park, to include a new 1,600-foot trail and 22 parking spaces.

There's currently no dog park in the Falcon area, says Aaron Rogers, program and event coordinator for the Trails and Open Space Coalition.

"The closest one would be in Fox Run Regional Park," Rogers says. "So allowing people to have a place in Falcon will open up the eastern plains to those families and also give northeast Colorado Springs a spot, too, to take their dogs."

And Fountain Creek Regional park's new addition will be the southernmost in the region, Rogers adds, enhancing outdoor opportunities for families in Fountain, Widefield and Security.

Visitors should "be considerate and respectful of all the people who are using the parks and to pick up after their pets," Rogers says. "Dog waste is a big issue in all the parks across Colorado, and we need to all do our part to make sure we leave our parks cleaner."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional reporting and to reflect a change in the parks' opening month.
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Wayne Williams: Council might be a warm-up lap for mayor's race in 2023

Posted By on Wed, Jan 9, 2019 at 12:28 PM

Williams: Playing the long game? - COURTESY OF WAYNE WILLIAMS
  • Courtesy of Wayne Williams
  • Williams: Playing the long game?
Long-time local Republican politician Wayne Williams turned in a candidate petition on Jan. 8 to run for an at-large seat on the Colorado Springs City Council in the April 2 election.

OK. That's not news. But Williams tells the Independent the rumors are true that he's eyeing a run for mayor four years from now.

"The reason I'm running for Council is because I want to do a good job for Colorado Springs. If I'm successful and do a good job, that's something I would likely look at," he says, referring to a mayoral run.

If he ran and won, Williams, who served a term as Colorado Secretary of State before being defeated by Democrat Jena Griswold in his re-election bid in November, would be the second mayor of Colorado Springs in a row who had previously been elected to a statewide office.

Mayor John Suthers served as Colorado Attorney General before becoming mayor in 2015.

Suthers could make history of his own if re-elected this year by becoming the first two-term mayor under the mayor-council form of government approved by voters in 2010.

Williams, 55, who's lived in the Briargate area for 26 years, would be well-positioned to seek the mayor's seat. The at-large seat is a citywide race, and Williams has the name recognition needed to appeal to voters across the city. He was elected twice to serve the northern district as an El Paso County commissioner; he won the county-wide election in 2010 for clerk and recorder, and he captured a term as Colorado Secretary of State in 2014. (The Indy endorsed Williams in his 2018 re-election bid.)

Williams says he's not concerned about the abysmal Council salary of $6,250 a year, because he plans to keep his law practice going and also enter the consulting world in the field of elections. (Williams was recognized for excellence in managing elections while Secretary of State, although he was also criticized for turning over voter information to President Trump's voter fraud commission.)

In addition, Williams' wife, Holly, was sworn in on Jan. 8 as an El Paso County commissioner, a post that pays $120,485 a year.

While some have speculated the Williamses could encounter conflicts of interest if one holds a county seat while the other holds a city seat, Williams dispelled concerns over that. "Sometimes our interests align and sometimes they do not," he says. If a perceived financial conflict of interest arose, he would recuse himself, as would his wife. The city and county cooperate on some projects, but that coordination doesn't necessarily pose a financial conflict for office holders, he noted.

Asked about his obviously partisan background in a city race that is, by City Charter, nonpartisan, the former El Paso County GOP chair says his service in various political offices has been "fair and nonpartisan." He also notes that Irv Halter, who ran for Congress as a Democrat and served in Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper's administration, signed Williams' Council candidate petition, as did Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn.

It's unclear whether Williams will have a leg up in fundraising against his competitors. He says he expects only a few thousand dollars to be left from his Secretary of State campaign, which he could legally transfer into his Council campaign, as did former state legislator Keith King. King transferred $10,459 to his city campaign when he successfully ran in 2013.

Others who've said they'll seek one of three at-large seats up for grabs include incumbents Tom Strand and Bill Murray (Merv Bennett is term-limited), former Councilor Val Snider, Army veteran Tony Gioia, and Terry Martinez, former Will Rogers Elementary School principal and former candidate for House District 18.

Filing deadline is Jan. 22.
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El Paso County officials take oaths of office

Posted By on Wed, Jan 9, 2019 at 12:23 PM

  • Photos courtesy El Paso County
  • Holly and Wayne Williams
Several veteran El Paso County elected officials renewed their oaths of office on Jan. 8 in the county's Centennial Hall, along with a few newcomers. All are Republicans.

Holly Williams and Cami Bremer were both sworn in. (If those last names seem familiar, they are. Holly Williams is the wife of former Secretary of State Wayne Williams who was defeated in the November election in his re-election bid. Cami Bremer is the daughter-in-law of former commissioner Duncan Bremer.)

Williams represents District 1, the county's northern district that includes Black Forest and part of Monument. She was elected to the seat to succeed Darryl Glenn, who held the office for eight years and was barred by term limits from a third term. (Notably, Wayne Williams turned in his petition as a candidate for an at-large Colorado Springs City Council seat on the same day his wife took her oath of office.)

Bremer, elected to replace Peggy Littleton, who also was term limited, represents District 5, which covers most of the city.

They were sworn in by Chief District Court Judge William Bain, who also administered oaths to two other newly elected officials — Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly and Surveyor Richard Mariotti.

Cami Bremer with her husband, Eli, and 4-year-old son, Struthers.
  • Cami Bremer with her husband, Eli, and 4-year-old son, Struthers.
Incumbents also were sworn in, to include: County Assessor Steve Schleiker, Clerk and Recorder Chuck Broerman and Treasurer Mark Lowderman. Sheriff Bill Elder, meanwhile, was sworn in for his second term during a ceremony at New Life Church, along with deputies who work for him.

Judges sworn in for six-year terms were: District Court Judges of the Fourth Judicial District Eric Bentley, Linda Margaret Billings-Vela, Jill M. Brady, Robert L. Lowery, Timothy Schutz, Larry Edward Schwartz and David L. Shakes.

El Paso County courts judges starting four-year terms include Lawrence Martin, Douglas Miles and Ann Rotolo.
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Friday, January 4, 2019

Man who died days after finally getting off the streets is remembered

Posted By on Fri, Jan 4, 2019 at 5:18 PM

Paul Gabrielson in his new apartment. - COURTESY OF RICHARD JOHNSON
  • Courtesy of Richard Johnson
  • Paul Gabrielson in his new apartment.

The day Paul Gabrielson moved into his own apartment, the first address to his name in years, he was glowing.

Within a few hours, the 50-year-old had put on music and decorated the space with a few spare belongings, recalls Richard Johnson, a relative who helped Gabrielson move.

"He was like a little kid," Johnson says. "He was so excited about this brand new home, his new start on life."

But two days after Gabrielson — who had been chronically homeless since at least 2013, couchsurfing and frequenting the Springs Rescue Mission when he wasn't camping outside — gained the keys to his own apartment, tragedy struck.

While the coroner's report isn't finalized, word is that an undiagnosed condition, possibly related to Gabrielson's alcoholism, took his life.

Gabrielson was a frequent patron at Westside Cares, a nonprofit that provides food and services for people experiencing homelessness. At a Dec. 20 memorial service for Gabrielson, the nonprofit's building was packed with those who knew and loved him: family members, friends who had lived with him on the streets, volunteers who'd felt appreciated by his kindness, and others who knew him in passing but felt the impact of his loving personality.

"We’ve had a lot of memorial services, but none as big as this," one volunteer remarked to Gabrielson's sister in passing.

It's not surprising, given the impression Gabrielson clearly left on the homeless outreach community. He received services, but gave what he could himself, too — like the Broncos cap he gave to Pastor Eric Sandras, who led the memorial service, and a beanie sported by Kristy Milligan, CEO of Westside Cares, as she delivered opening remarks. Gabrielson often helped serve meals at Sandras' The Sanctuary Church, Sandras says. And those he met on the streets recalled his habit of lending a helping hand when he could.

"Paul had a really big heart and he inspired a lot of people, whether to become Christian or be thankful for what you have," says Janeice Queen, Gabrielson's sister. "... He didn’t have a lot, but he did have a big heart, and we’re going to miss him."

At Westside Cares, Gabrielson took the VI-SPDAT housing assessment, which looks at a variety of factors to determine level of vulnerability and potential for placement in permanent supportive housing. After a long process involving heaps of paperwork and doctor's appointments, he eventually was selected for an opening in one of Homeward Pikes Peak's permanent supportive housing units — like "striking gold in this town," says Deb Mitguard, Westside Cares' director of volunteer engagement.

"We saw him really working hard this last year to create a different kind of life for himself," Mitguard says, "and of course it took him making up his mind about that, but it also took several people walking beside him and helping him just kind of jump through all of the hoops that had to be jumped through to get from here to there."

Gabrielson was enrolled at Pikes Peak Community College from 2010 to 2014, according to a PPCC spokesperson, but never got a degree. Johnson says he had planned to complete the remaining courses needed for an associate's degree and transfer the credits to Colorado State University at Pueblo in the summer or fall.

  • Courtesy of Westside Cares
He loved dancing and martial arts, Queen says, and had a job interview scheduled the last time she spoke with him.

"I don’t understand why it takes some people and doesn’t take others, the alcohol," she says. 

Through everything — decades of alcoholism, the deaths of two of his friends last year, and a recent beating that landed him in the hospital — friends, family and acquaintances agree that Gabrielson put others before himself, sometimes to his own detriment. And contrary to one stereotype of chronically homeless people, it was clear he didn't choose the lifestyle he led. That much is evidenced by his 2017 interview with Milligan for a video series promoting Westside Cares.

"I’m a wuss on the streets. I hate the cold," Gabrielson says. "I don’t want to be out there for anything. I just sustained some medical issues and a [traumatic brain injury] and I just had some problems that unfortunately I found myself on the streets, and you know, it can happen to anybody... Sometimes I get in dire straits. I just, I’ve gone through this before and I’ve learned how to survive and take care of myself and what have you, but not everybody knows how to do that. And I’m just trying to do my part to do whatever I can to help anybody that needs the help utilize the resources that are available."

Johnson hopes Gabrielson's journey out of homelessness will inspire other patrons of Westside Cares, even if it did end in tragedy.

"Folks working here can say, 'Remember Paul? How he made changes in his life? There's hope.'"

Francie Crary, a volunteer who helped Gabrielson with his housing assessment, says she remembers a visible change in his appearance the last time she saw him at Westside Cares. It was a few days before he would receive the keys to his apartment.

"He was floating," Crary says. "I mean, he was so full of light anyway, but he was floating. He was absolutely floating."

Milligan takes comfort in one outtake from the interview that she still recalls.

I asked him what gave him hope, and he said God gave him hope," Milligan says. "Which makes me feel better about losing him... He believed that he was wrapped up in God’s arms, and that’s what I would wish for someone at their last moment."

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Anti-immigration group VDARE sues Mayor John Suthers

Posted By on Fri, Jan 4, 2019 at 4:52 PM

A view from Cheyenne Mountain Resort - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
  • A view from Cheyenne Mountain Resort
A white identity group known for anti-immigration views has sued Mayor John Suthers. The move comes after VDARE's conference in Colorado Springs was canceled by the Cheyenne Mountain Resort, following widespread backlash and an announcement by Suthers that the city wouldn't provide resources for the event. The federal lawsuit alleges that Suthers and the city violated VDARE's First Amendment rights.

(Note: VDARE's attorney was also in contact with the Indy to dispute our description of the organization's viewpoints in early 2018.)

Filed by VDARE Foundation on Dec. 21 in U.S. District Court in Denver, the lawsuit seeks $1 million in compensatory damages, unspecified punitive damages, prejudgment interest and an injunction forbidding the city and Suthers from denying services to entities and events based on "their controversial viewpoints and affiliations."

Suthers, a lifetime Republican, former district attorney, U.S. attorney and Colorado Attorney General, was dismissive of VDARE's claims.

"The matter is completely without merit, and I’m confident the city will prevail,” he tells the Independent through a spokesperson.
Suthers: Lawsuit claims are baseless. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Suthers: Lawsuit claims are baseless.

VDARE's attorney, Randy Corporon of Denver, tells the Indy via email:
This is the first lawsuit by VDARE challenging a government official's chilling of its free speech and peaceful assembly rights. Though I have not been a part of any of the negotiation efforts, it is my understanding that VDARE has been unable to secure space for future conferences since Mayor Suthers' proclamation and the subsequent cancellation of VDARE's Colorado Springs event in spite of their efforts to do so.

This is especially troubling for those of us who support the constitutionally protected First Amendment rights of all groups, whether controversial, favored or disfavored in the eyes of governmental authorities, to peacefully assemble and share ideas. Yet we see officials in other jurisdictions, such as Portland, Oregon in Octboer [sic] of 2018, aggressively and at significant taxpayer expense, providing government services to support and protect radical, violent, disruptive groups like Antifa as they literally take over city streets.
The lawsuit comes at a time when the GOP's chief, President Donald Trump, has energized white identity groups across the country with his immigration policies, which have resulted in thousands of children being separated from their parents at the Mexican border and court battles over his executive orders to bar people from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

VDARE supports Trump's policies and states on its website, "Diversity per se is not strength, but a vulnerability."

It was widely reported that Jason Kessler, an organizer for the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia had written posts for But VDARE also has more mainstream contributors — Michelle Malkin, whose syndicated column appears in the Gazette and other publications, has been featured on, as have right-wing Breitbart news personalities. VDARE founder Peter Brimelow says the site also has Democratic contributors.

The local, canceled event was to feature a host of anti-immigration speakers. Media Matters for America reported that they would include: "anti-immigrant writer Peter Brimelow, columnist Tom Tancredo, and writer John Derbyshire, who describes himself as a 'mild and tolerant' 'homophobe' and 'racist.'”
Peter Brimelow with VDARE has a history in journalism. - YOUTUBE
  • YouTube
  • Peter Brimelow with VDARE has a history in journalism.

Brimelow, according to the lawsuit and VDARE's website, has served as a writer/editor for MarketWatch, Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, Barron’s, Financial Post, Maclean’s and National Review. He disputes that VDARE is based on white nationalism, calling the group, instead, "a coalition, agreed only on the need for immigration reduction."

According to the lawsuit, VDARE booked the Cheyenne Mountain Resort on March 31, 2017 for a conference to be held in April 2018. The following August, VDARE grabbed headlines when its plans surfaced.

The resort, the lawsuit says, "was fully aware of VDARE and its mission, as well as the potential for media attention and possible protests arising from the Conference."

But those plans folded after Suthers issued this statement on Aug. 14:

The City of Colorado Springs does not have the authority to restrict freedom of speech, nor to direct private businesses like the Cheyenne Mountain Resort as to which events they may host. That said, I would encourage local businesses to be attentive to the types of events they accept and the groups that they invite to our great city.

The City of Colorado Springs will not provide any support or resources to this event, and does not condone hate speech in any fashion. The City remains steadfast in its commitment to the enforcement of Colorado law, which protects all individuals regardless of race, religion, color, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation to be secure and protected from fear, intimidation, harassment and physical harm.
VDARE alleges the statement "amounted to a refusal to provide city services, including police protection, for the Conference due to, among other things, its controversial subject matter, VDARE’s controversial viewpoints and published content in opposition to current immigration policies, which Defendants termed 'hate speech,' and the negative media attention that the Conference had attracted."

It's worth noting that beyond basic services provided to all citizens, such as responding to emergency calls, the city doesn't provide services for events held on private property as a general rule. Large special events (that block streets, involve more than 10,000 people, serve alcohol on public property, or include high-risk activities like fireworks) or other events held on certain public properties have to apply for special event permits. The event-holder still pays for services associated with the event, like police assigned to the event (and/or private security), unless it is deemed a city-sponsored event.

But the lawsuit alleges that after Suthers' statement came out, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office told a Denver Channel 7 reporter that deputies wouldn't provide coverage for the conference unless requested by the Colorado Springs Police Department.

Then, on Aug. 15, the resort said publicly it would not host the VDARE conference and canceled the contract, a move for which Suthers expressed approval. "I know I am joined by many Colorado Springs residents when I say I appreciate Cheyenne Mountain Resort’s action to cancel this conference, and its conscientious decision not to bring this group to Colorado Springs," Suthers' statement said.

But Suthers' words and their results constitute a violation of the First Amendment, VDARE alleges. From the lawsuit:
Defendants’ promise that the City would not provide “any support or resources” to the Conference, given the obvious and foreseeable need for municipal police and fire services, had the effect of depriving VDARE of its First Amendment rights, chilling its speech on matters of public concern, and depriving VDARE and potential attendees of the Conference from communicating on important national issues such as immigration control and reform. By refusing to provide basic safeguards for the Conference in order to protect event sponsors and participants, Defendants deprived the Conference’s sponsors and participants of their rights to peaceably assemble and debate issues of importance to themselves, to their community, and to the country as a whole. 
The lawsuit alleges Suthers also violated the 14th Amendment of equal protection of the law in that "Defendants threatened to withhold city services based on Plaintiff's speech and associations."

As a result, the lawsuit claims, VDARE was deprived of its right to free speech, loss of revenue from the conference and negative publicity, and inability to conduct future conferences and events in Colorado Springs.

VDARE also alleges the city and Suthers retaliated against the organization for exercising its First Amendment right, which requires proof of three elements:

• that VDARE was engaged in constitutionally protected speech,
• that the city's and Suthers' actions caused VDARE to suffer injury that would chill a person of ordinary fitness from continuing to engage in that activity,
• that the city's and Suthers' action was substantially motivated as a response to VDARE's exercise of constitutionally protected conduct.

A scheduling and planning conference in the lawsuit has been scheduled for March 11.

This lawsuit comes as the city is defending against another federal case brought by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2016, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act due to alleged lack of stormwater controls. The city has spent more than $3 million on that lawsuit so far.

Read the full VDARE lawsuit here:
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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

CSFD response times slow, firefighter ballot measure found sufficient

Posted By on Wed, Jan 2, 2019 at 11:28 AM

  • Colorado Springs Fire Department map and data
The Colorado Springs Fire Department has seen response times get slower across the city over the last year, meaning it takes firefighters longer to get to the scene of a car crash, house fire or rescue.

While Mayor John Suthers tells us his plan to pump up the payroll at the CSFD over four years will change all that, firefighters aren't convinced and want a seat at the table to negotiate not only pay but spending on apparatus and fire stations.

Voters will get a chance to weigh in on whether to grant firefighters collective bargaining power, a measure opposed by Suthers.

On Dec. 21, the firefighter group issued this news release announcing the ballot measure petitions had been found sufficient by City Clerk Sarah Johnson. It will appear on the April 2 city ballot, on which voters also will elect a mayor and three at-large City Council members:
This week, the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters Association were contacted by the City Clerk and informed that the firefighters officially have a spot on the April 2019 ballot.

Firefighters needed 15,907 valid signatures to secure a spot on the ballot. Due to overwhelming support from the community, firefighters submitted over 33,000 raw signatures in November. According to the validation report received from the City Clerk this week, 17,332 signatures were considered “valid”. This generous submission is a testament to the level of support that firefighters are already receiving with regards to their campaign “Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs”.

Now that the Colorado Springs Firefighters officially have a spot on the ballot, the full campaign begins. Until the election on April 2nd, firefighters will be visible in the community educating the citizens about the need for this public safety initiative. This measure will ensure that firefighters have a guaranteed voice in public safety decisions. In addition, this measure seeks to ensure that the residents can always count on quality service that comes with; highly trained firefighters, proper staffing, and much needed equipment and fire trucks.

Dave Noblitt, President of IAFF Local 5, stated “This proposed ballot measure would solidify the seat at the table that firefighters desperately need to serve the community effectively. We look forward to talking to the citizens about this important public safety measure."
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Saturday, December 29, 2018

Give! to local charities through Dec. 31

Posted By on Sat, Dec 29, 2018 at 6:00 AM


The Indy Give! campaign is in its 10th year and has a lofty goal: raising $1.8 million for 93 local organizations that make the Pikes Peak Region a great place to live.

We know, you've been a little busy. It's easy to get caught up in the holiday rush.  But why not take a few minutes and use our easy platform to give back to your community. Here's the cool part: Give! allows to you donate to multiple organizations at once, ALL your money goes to the charities of your choice, and since many charities have matching grants, your dollars go even further.
Here's a message from  Give! Executive Director Barb Van Hoy:

More Donations Needed to Reach 2018 Give! Campaign Goal
93 local organizations featured in community-wide giving effort ending midnight Dec. 31st

COLORADO SPRINGS, COLORADO — With just four days left in 2018, the Give! Campaign is appealing to the Pikes Peak region with their “Live Here Give Here” message to support 93 worthy nonprofits. Last year Give! raised $1.5 million for local nonprofits. This year’s ambitious goal is $1.8 million. We’re asking our community to step up and help us change lives by supporting these important causes

In its 10th year, Give! is raising awareness and funds for a diverse variety of local causes, from children and families, to the arts, animals, the great outdoors, veterans and more.

It’s really easy to give, and we make it fun, too. Just go to, where you’ll likely find some of your favorite nonprofits, as well as new ones you didn’t know were here. Many nonprofits have matching challenge grants that will double your donation. You can choose how much and to which groups you want to donate, and check out each group’s progress on the leaderboards. Donors help nonprofits compete for cash prizes and receive thank-you rewards from local businesses including Bristol Brewing Company, The Mining Exchange, La’au’s Taco Shop, Axe and the Oak, and many others. This year’s campaign kicked off on November 1 and ends at midnight December 31, 2018.

Give! is a year-end philanthropic initiative created to encourage everyone in the Pikes Peak Region to give back and get involved with local nonprofits, with a particular emphasis on catalyzing philanthropy from those 36 and younger. Give! is the nonprofit civic arm of the Colorado Publishing House and receives support from the Colorado Springs Independent, Colorado Springs Business Journal and the Pikes Peak Bulletin. For more information, please visit
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Thursday, December 27, 2018

What the government shutdown means for federal workers in Colorado

Posted By on Thu, Dec 27, 2018 at 1:16 PM

Rocky Mountain National Park will remain open without visitor services. - COURTESY OF NATIONAL PARK SERVICE/JIM ECKLUND
  • Courtesy of National Park Service/Jim Ecklund
  • Rocky Mountain National Park will remain open without visitor services.
December 26 was the first day that many of Colorado's 53,200 civilian federal workers began to feel the effects of a government shutdown, triggered Dec. 22 by President Donald Trump and lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Some workers have been placed on unpaid leave, while others whose services are deemed essential will be required to work without pay until lawmakers agree on legislation to fund the government. Not all federal workers are affected — the Departments of Energy, Defense, Veterans Affairs, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education all received funding appropriations for 2019.

However, nine of 15 federal departments and dozens of agencies are closed, according to a statement from Democratic members of the Senate Appropriations Committee predicting the effects of a shutdown. They projected that more than 420,000 people would work without pay through the shutdown, and that more than 380,000 would be placed on leave.

So what's happening to federal workers in Colorado? Thousands have been affected, though it's difficult to determine exactly how many, and by how much.

There are approximately 53,200 civilian federal workers in Colorado, according to Bill Thoennes, spokesperson for the state's Department of Labor and Employment. While the department couldn't break down that number further, data from Governing Magazine shows most work for the U.S. Postal Service (which is still functioning normally), Department of the Interior, Department of Veterans Affairs, Air Force, Army, and Department of Agriculture.

Colorado is likely to feel the effects of the shutdown most acutely through the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture.

According to that 2017 data, 6,524 Colorado residents work for the Department of the Interior (which includes the National Park Service), and 3,697 residents work for the Department of Agriculture (which includes the National Forest Service). Democratic lawmakers predicted around 80 percent of employees at the Park Service and Forest Service would be furloughed.

One-third of Colorado's 1,390 Department of Transportation workers, 86 percent of its 1,419 Department of Commerce workers, and 95 percent of its 343 Department of Housing and Urban Development workers were projected to be furloughed.

Lawmakers also predicted up to 88 percent of workers at the Department of Homeland Security, including TSA employees and Customs and Border Protection agents, would be forced to work without pay. Colorado has 682 of these workers, according to Governing Magazine.

Thoennes recommends federal workers affected by the shutdown file an unemployment claim with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. You can do that online by visiting and clicking on "File A Claim."

Not a federal worker? If you were planning an outdoor excursion in the next couple of weeks, you may also feel the effects of short-staffed national parks.

Rocky Mountain National Park announced it would remain accessible to pedestrians and bicycles during the shutdown, but would close several gates to vehicular traffic due to snowfall Dec. 22 and did not know whether these roads would reopen before the shutdown ended. The park advises visitors to use "extreme caution," "as park personnel will not be available to provide guidance or assistance" and "emergency services will be limited."

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve will remain open, but "the visitor center and entrance station will remain closed and no visitor services will be available." Parking lots may also be closed and "hazardous or dangerous conditions may exist" due to the lack of snow removal.

The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument will be closed for the duration of the shutdown.

You can view a list of national parks and monuments online here, though the National Park Service cautions that the website may not reflect current information. Click on each park for more information. Some parks have announced closures or limited services.
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Friday, December 21, 2018

Hickenlooper pardons Rev. Promise Lee for murder

Posted By on Fri, Dec 21, 2018 at 8:44 PM

The Rev. Promise Lee has been pardoned for second-degree murder. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • The Rev. Promise Lee has been pardoned for second-degree murder.
In the Dec. 26 issue of the Independent, we tell the story of a man's transformation. Here's the snapshot:

Forty-four years ago, when he was just 16, Promise Lee shot and killed 20-year-old Fort Carson soldier Daniel Hocking in a drug deal gone bad.

Since then, Lee, now 60, has become a pastor and the leader of his own church, Relevant Word Christian Cultural Center. He has led efforts to clean up his neighborhood and improve his world. He has spent countless hours mentoring troubled boys in the hopes of helping them avoid his mistakes.

He has, in other words, sought redemption. And this year, for the second time, he asked a Colorado governor to pardon him for his crime.

Pardons for murder are incredibly rare, and Promise faced a big challenge: Hocking's surviving family has not forgiven him and say he has not tried to contact them. (He claims he has.)
Nevertheless, on Dec. 21, Gov. John Hickenlooper granted Promise his pardon — with the condition that he still cannot possess firearms.  He writes in part:

This is an extremely serious crime, and I have not made this decision lightly. The family affected by your actions has suffered considerably over the years. If it were within my power to remove their pain today I would.

I made this decision because of the work you have done to transform your community. In particular, you have focused on youth growing up in difficult circumstances and helped them avoid the path you took as an adolescent. I believe your work can, and possibly has, saved lives. I grant this pardon in large part to enable you to access more people who can benefit from your work and, hopefully, transform their lives as you have.

You wrote in your letter that after serving your sentence, you became driven to make amends for the harm you had done. You have demonstrated that you made good on that commitment.

I hope this pardon will create additional opportunities for you. It is up to you to make the most of this opportunity. It will require hard work and dedication.

By continuing down this path, you will improve not only your life, but also the loves of your family and community members. Others who have experienced circumstances similar to yours will look to you for guidance and inspiration. Show them how it's done.
The Independent sent a message to the Hockings after the pardon to ensure they knew about it, and to pass along the governor's letter.

We also emailed Promise Lee for his response, and he sent along the following.

As a man of faith, I am, first and foremost, thankful to God for using my journey as a powerful demonstration of grace, mercy, redemption, and forgiveness.

I want to especially thank Governor Hickenlooper for his courage. There were many good people involved in the process, but it took audacious leadership from the top to grant this historic pardon.
I’m not sure the weight on my shoulders feels any lighter. I’m not sure it’s supposed to. More than anything, I feel humbled. This doesn’t erase the foolish decisions of my youth, but it recognizes the better man I’ve become.

I can never bring the life back that I took, which means my work will never be done. I will continue to dedicate my life to improving safety, health, education, and access to opportunity in my community. I will continue to be an agent of positive change.

These are the words I can offer right now to try to convey my gratitude for this Pardon. But, truly, I’ll spend the rest of my life showing appreciation through my work in the community helping others.
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