Local News

Friday, December 15, 2017

UPDATE: Sheriff's Office blocks reporter, Indy responds via attorney

Posted By on Fri, Dec 15, 2017 at 4:43 PM

Sheriff Bill Elder - FILE
  • FILE
  • Sheriff Bill Elder
UPDATE: In a Dec. 15 letter to Steve Zansberg, the attorney representing the Indy, Senior Assistant County Attorney Elizabeth Kirkman says the sheriff has agreed to add my name (Pam Zubeck) to answers to questions I pose.

Specifically, Kirkman writes, "Sheriff Elder asserts that he has not denied the public information by providing answers to the requests via her editor. He is willing to add her name to the answers, but will continue to provide the editor's name, as a safeguard in dissemination of information."

Kirkman also says she disagrees that my rights were violated by the sheriff's refusal to respond directly to me in response to my questions and open-records requests.

—————-ORIGINAL POST 4:55 P.M. WEDNESDAY, DEC. 13, 2017———————-

After El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder conducted a bizarre news conference on Nov. 8 to hammer the Independent and its senior reporter, yours truly, his office cut off communications with me. Any requests I made, including for open public records made according to law, have since been answered to the Indy's editor, Matthew Schniper.

What triggered Elder's ire was this story.

But First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg of Denver says the Sheriff's Office's response doesn't square with the law. Zansberg, on the Indy's behalf, wrote a letter delivered today, Dec. 13, to Elder saying his office "has denied Ms. Zubeck's rights, available to any other member of the public, in retaliation for her exercising her rights as a journalist."

Zansberg cites various authorities in making his point, and closes with:

I trust that upon review of the above authorities, and after consulting the County Attorney, you will immediately discontinue the practice of discriminating against Ms. Zubeck in retaliation for her editorial news coverage of your office, and will provide her equal access to your office's records as you provide to any other member of the public.
Read the letter in full here:
I have asked Elder's office for a comment and will update if and when I hear something.

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Thursday, December 14, 2017

Colorado Springs news: County pension checks a go; PERA head passes away; PPACG names leader; Memorial Hospital adds board members

Posted By on Thu, Dec 14, 2017 at 1:31 PM

County Treasurer Mark Lowderman: Voted to help retirees. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • County Treasurer Mark Lowderman: Voted to help retirees.
County pension checks a go

Beneficiaries of the El Paso County Retirement Plan can look forward to an extra check for 2017 following a vote by the board of directors on Dec. 11.

"The board approved the additional check unanimously," reports Board Chair and County Treasurer Mark Lowderman. "It will be a full check, paid in January 2018 to all retirees, including those that have retired through December 1, 2017."

We reported on the request from several retirees earlier this month.

The bonus will cost about $2.4 million — a small amount for a large fund, but nevertheless a hit considering that the pension fund is only about 70.2 percent funded. From the story:
Lowderman says the plan used to give COLAs of 10 percent per year in the mid 1980s, but those were cut to 3 to 5 percent from 1986 to 2001. The last COLA — just 2 percent — was given in 2005. One-time bonus checks have been given in 1995, 2004, 2006 and 2007.

Since then, retirees haven’t received either a COLA or a bonus payment. That’s why they’re struggling to make ends meet, they told plan board members.

PERA head passes away

Speaking of pension funds, Greg Smith, a long time official with the Colorado Public Employees Retirement Association, died while vacationing in Hawaii with his family. The news release:
  • Courtesy PERA
It is with great sadness and grief that we announce the passing of Gregory W. Smith, PERA Executive Director, on Tuesday, December 12, 2017. Greg was vacationing in Hawaii with his family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Laura, his two sons, William and Austin, and his family.

Greg served for five years as PERA’s sixth Executive Director after being named to the position by the Board of Trustees in November 2012. He joined PERA as General Counsel in February 2002 and in 2009, was promoted to Chief Operating Officer in addition to his role as General Counsel. He worked at PERA for more than 15 years and for several years prior to that he served as PERA’s external private sector legal counsel.

Greg was renowned for his extensive knowledge of the public pension industry and his passion for ensuring the retirement security of hundreds of thousands of Colorado’s public employees. Throughout his career, Greg served on national industry boards, including the National Institute on Retirement Security, the Council of Institutional Investors, the National Council on Teacher Retirement, and the National Association of Public Pension Attorneys.

“Colorado PERA and its membership have lost a true leader and dedicated servant to the public workforce,” said Timothy M. O’Brien, Chairman, PERA Board of Trustees. “Those who knew Greg knew he loved his family, was a proud fourth-generation Coloradan, and was fully dedicated to PERA and its members.”

Six Chief Officers and the PERA executive team will continue to run daily operations and the membership will not experience a disruption in service. The PERA Board of Trustees is working closely with the PERA executive team and will be announcing an acting executive director soon.

PPACG names leader

Meanwhile, the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments has finally selected a new executive director.

Andy Gunning, the acting director of planning and development services for Rockville, Maryland, which is near Washington, D.C., and has a population of about 67,000, was chosen by the PPACG board on Dec. 13. An offer is to be made today. Gunning also worked as director of planning for a planning agency in Tucson, Ariz, from 2004 to 2010.

The hire comes nearly a year after the board didn't renew the contract of Rob MacDonald following allegations of mismanagement. You can background yourself here.

The job was advertised with a salary range of $130,000 to $196,200 a year, but PPACG hasn't release how much Gunning is being offered. Here's his resume:

In other news, the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department won approval of its 2018 budget from Colorado Springs City Council on Dec. 12, but faced additional questions about its donation program.

Approval of the $14.5 million budget follows a discussion by City Council on Nov. 27 in which some councilors weren't happy about the give-away.

One gift went to Children's Hospital for its new project in Colorado Springs.

Read all the details in the Colorado Springs Business Journal in its Dec. 15 edition, or go to csbj.com.

Memorial Hospital adds board members

UCHealth Memorial Hospital has announced two additional board members: Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey and Dr. Patrick Faricy. Here's the release:
  • Courtesy UCHMemorial
  • Pete Carey
UCHealth Memorial Hospital is pleased to announce the appointments of Colorado Springs Police Chief Pete Carey and Dr. Patrick Faricy to the Memorial Hospital Board of Directors.

“As we continue to move forward in advancing health care in the community, UCHealth Memorial is certain to benefit from the contributions of these outstanding community leaders,” said Victor "Gene" Renuart Jr., a retired Air Force general and chairman of Memorial's board. “I welcome them – and their wealth of experience and leadership – to our board. Both have a passion for enhancing the quality of life for residents of the Pikes Peak region.”

Carey, who holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, began his career in law enforcement in 1982, when he joined the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. He moved to the Colorado Springs Police Department in 1984 as an officer in patrol before being promoted numerous times in the ensuing years. He has served as chief of police since January 2012.

  • Courtesy UCHealth Memorial
  • Patrick Faricy
“It’s an honor to be selected to serve on the Memorial Hospital Board of Directors,” Carey said. “I believe that my experience in public safety will contribute to helping the hospital make our community safer and healthier.”

Faricy, who most recently served as Memorial’s chief medical officer before retiring in early 2016, attended University of Colorado School of Medicine. Faricy has been the recipient of many honors, including being named “Volunteer Physician of the Year” by both the El Paso County Medical Society and Peak Vista. He has also has served on multiple boards, including the Colorado State Board of Medical Examiners, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and the Colorado Physician Health Program.

“I believe in UCHealth’s mission, which is to improve lives,” Faricy said. “I am very happy and honored to serve on the board and to help improve the health of the community.”

Both will join the board at its Dec. 18 meeting and will serve two-year terms.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Strawberry Fields appraisal needs fresh look, citizens say

Posted By on Tue, Dec 12, 2017 at 3:41 PM

Opponents of the city's land exchange with The Broadmoor gathered outside City Hall today, Dec. 12, prior to a City Council meeting at which they asked Council to revisit the appraisal of Strawberry Fields, a 186-acre open space the city traded away. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Opponents of the city's land exchange with The Broadmoor gathered outside City Hall today, Dec. 12, prior to a City Council meeting at which they asked Council to revisit the appraisal of Strawberry Fields, a 186-acre open space the city traded away.

So many questions pervade the appraisal of Strawberry Fields open space, also called Strawberry Hill, that Colorado Springs City Council should revisit the land exchange that ceded the city's 186 acres to The Broadmoor, about a dozen people told Council at its meeting today, Dec. 12.

The exchange, approved by Council on a 6-3 vote on May 24, 2016, has come into question due to the Colorado Board of Real Estate Appraisers' action against the Strawberry Fields appraiser, Kyle Wigington, who was hired by the city.

The Independent reported the BOREA action in a story that also reported The Broadmoor's attorneys prepared amicus briefs for a Colorado Court of Appeals action involving the land and asked two nonprofits to submit them to the court. Neither agency — the Trails and Open Space Coalition, which backed the exchange, and the Palmer Land Trust, which holds the conservation easement on most of the property — agreed to do so. A legal expert consulted by the Indy said that asking the nonprofits to falsely claim authorship of the brief runs contrary to the spirit of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct.

The lawsuit that The Broadmoor is fighting was filed by the nonprofit Save Cheyenne, which formed amid the land exchange discussion in 2016 for the express purpose of opposing the swap. The case is on appeal from a District Court decision in the city's and Broadmoor's favor.

Douglas Greenberg was among the citizens who spoke. He called the trade "corrupt," "inappropriate" and "appalling," and added, citing the Indy story, "Now it's even more evident." Greenberg also said the idea that the city needed the seven scattered parcels given to the city by The Broadmoor in the land swap is "just crazy."

"This community is not going to just roll over," he said. "The community is going to continue to protest this thing."

Council President Richard Skorman, who was the leader of Save Cheyenne until he was elected to Council last April, said he wants Council to discuss the matter. He also said he wants another legal opinion besides that of City Attorney Wynetta Massey, who told Council at the Dec. 12 meeting that BOREA's action to fine Wigington and order him to complete 41 hours of education in various areas of appraisal work, including highest and best use, was not of concern.

She said there had been no "formal filing of violation or wrongdoing" and that BOREA only took issue with documentation, not the value, $1,581,000, Wigington assigned to the property. BOREA imposed the penalties at a Nov. 2 meeting. Wigington is entitled to appeal the action.

Regardless, she said, this Council, which contains three new members installed in April, can't reverse the action taken by the previous Council. The land transaction closed in December 2016.

Like Skorman, Councilor Bill Murray was game to revisit the matter, noting the City Attorney's Office was wrong initially when it said the property wasn't acquired as the result of a vote of the people in 1885 when, in fact, it had been.

Skorman said it defies logic that an 8.5-acre "building envelop" amid the 186-acre property, on which The Broadmoor will build a horse stable and picnic pavilion for its guests, is worth only $8,300 per acre. It's common sense that a large commercial space next door to The Broadmoor-owned Seven Falls would be worth more, he said.

Skorman also called for a fresh appraisal.

Councilor David Geislinger disagreed, saying if Council revisited past Council decisions, it would be deemed ineffective and unreliable. "We can't constantly be subjected to second-guessing," he said.

Save Cheyenne supporters spent an hour pleading for Council to take another look.

"My request to you is to examine it," Save Cheyenne's leader Kent Obee said. "The highest and best use certainly was not applied to the Strawberry Fields property. There were many problems with that appraisal."

Linda Hodges also questioned whether The Broadmoor's tax break in the form of a donation based on the difference between the value of the city's land and The Broadmoor's land (The Broadmoor's parcels were assigned a higher value in appraisals) might need a second look if Strawberry Fields is actually worth more.

Arguments in the case on appeal will be held Jan. 9.

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

UPDATE: Venetucci farmers laid off as contaminated water spoils finances

Posted By on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 4:51 PM

  • Nat Stein

UPDATE: We received official statements from both the Pikes Peak Community Foundation and the Gordon/Hamilton family regarding the latter's termination as managers of Venetucci Farm. Since they're written as public letters, we'll post them in their entirety below.

Here's the statement from the foundation:

Dear Friends of Venetucci Farm,

This past year has been an uncertain period for Venetucci Farm, but it is not without its successes. The PFC contamination that affects the Widefield Aquifer continues to challenge the farm’s operations. In 2017, we focused our efforts on the pumpkin giveaway and the farm’s education programs. Thanks to Susan, Patrick, and David, the farm hosted hundreds of school children and provided more than 10,000 pumpkins to the community.

As many of you know, the farm’s principle revenue source is a water rights lease with the Security and Widefield water districts. The administrators at these districts face a herculean task to provide safe drinking water for their communities. The Venetucci wells are part of the Widefield Aquifer, and it’s not clear that the water districts can use our water without treating it for consumption. For this reason, Security and Widefield asked to suspend payment of the water rights until a sufficient filtration system can be implemented for the wells.

Learning recently of this new information, we concluded that there are two options: We can challenge the suspended payment and consume resources that would otherwise be deployed to solve the community’s water problem, or we can join forces with the water districts. We recognize that the community’s priority is safe drinking water. We chose to be good and responsible neighbors by opting to come together with the districts.

We’ve agreed to an abeyance agreement that essentially suspends any payment or challenge until we have clarity on how to remediate the water contamination crisis.

There are consequences to this decision. Without our main revenue source, we must scale back our operations on the farm. We had to eliminate Susan, Patrick and David’s positions, and reduce our operations to a caretaking role. We are working on a management plan for the farm for this year, and beyond. We offered the opportunity to Susan and Patrick to stay on the farm as caretakers until the end of June to allow for a smooth transition.

One uncertainty we face is how long it will take for the wells to become operational. This reality has pushed us to work with community leaders to find other revenue sources for the farm. Our belief is that there are opportunities for a vibrant Venetucci in the future. We are pursuing them.

Once we have a better understanding of our options, I will be in communication with you all.

In the meantime, I want to recognize the diligent work of Susan, Patrick and David. They have been shepherds of the Venetucci legacy; they have fed, educated, and cared for our community. We also have great respect for Roy Heald and Steve Wilson, the managers of the Security and Widefield water districts. They are faced with a complex task to provide safe drinking water in a true crisis.

If you have questions about the farm’s future, please feel free to contact Sam Clark at PPCF: sclark@ppcf.org or 719.445.0605.


Gary Butterworth

Chief Executive Officer

And here's the statement from Susan Gordon:

Public Statement re: the Termination of my employment with PPCF

Patrick, Sarah, Clare, and I were disappointed and saddened to abruptly receive the news that we would be forced to leave Venetucci Farm, which has been our home, work, and community for the past eleven years. Honored to be tasked with preserving the Venetucci legacy, we worked tirelessly to restore the farm to health and increase its financial, ecological, and social resiliency. Produce and pumpkin sales, educational programs, and events provided diverse revenue sources and opportunities for the community to engage with the farm. Using the farm as a classroom, our educational coordinator, David Rudin, engaged thousands of school children in the natural world. We couldn’t have done any of this without the many hands and hearts that helped us along the way.

It is unfortunate that the recent water contamination by the Air Force and the subsequent decisions have resulted in an uncertain future for the farm. Losing a productive farm that provides opportunity for people to connect with the land and each other is not something our community or our world can afford. While the loss of the water lease money presents a formidable challenge, it does not preclude the farm from operating as it historically did, supporting itself through diverse income streams.

Eleven years ago as we walked the farm with Bambi Venetucci, we were acutely aware of the responsibility we faced to care for the land and preserve it as a working farm. Nick and Bambi Venetucci provided an incredible gift to this community and we were honored to have been the farmers here for the past decade. We hope that our affection for and care of Venetucci Farm has honored that gift, and that those now responsible for the future of the farm will make decisions that continue to do so.

Susan Gordon

—— ORIGINAL POST: 4:51 P.M. DEC, 7, 2017 ——

It’s been bad news after bad news for Venetucci Farm over the past two years. Now there's another blow to the 200-acre working farm — farm managers Susan Gordon and Patrick Hamilton have been laid off. Production is on indefinite hold. 

Venetucci's problems began in May 2016, when the Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory lowering the level of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) considered safe for human consumption. Soon after, the groundwater under Venetucci tested above that level, prompting the farm’s longtime trustee, the Pikes Peak Community Foundation (PPCF), to suspend produce sales mid-season.

Quite new in his role at the time, PPCF CEO Gary Butterworth tried to exercise an abundance of caution in the decision to stop all sales, though many loyal customers felt denied the chance to make their own judgement. (Colorado’s Chief Epidemiologist Mike Van Dyke has since found that eating Venetucci's produce, even with the highest possible PFC uptake levels, likely isn’t dangerous.)

Meanwhile, the foundation underwent some reorganization: staff were laid off; headquarters relocated; and the fiscal sponsorship program ended. Butterworth also indicated a desire to move away from land ownership. He ordered an advisory committee to seek potential plans for offloading Venetucci in a way that honored the intent of its donors, Nick and Bambi Venetucci.

Production was kept on hold through the 2017 growing season. There were murmurings that Colorado College would take ownership of the land. Those negotiations have since stalled, a CC official confirms.

Now, the municipal well on the land, located off US-85 in Security, will no longer support Venetucci’s operations as it has for over a decade. The water isn’t used to irrigate crops. (There are other wells for that, drilled back when no one else was pulling from the Widefield aquifer.) Rather, the water from this particular well is leased to nearby Security Water and Sanitation District (SWSD), Widefield Water and Sanitation District and Fountain Water District, fetching about $250,000 a year. That revenue accounts for most of the farm’s annual operating budget.

Or, it used to.

This week, the water districts entered into an abeyance, meaning they’ve moved to suspend the lease since they can’t serve contaminated water to their customers. 

Butterworth confirmed the news, emphasizing it’s for the “greater good” of the wider Security, Widefield and Fountain communities, of which Venetucci Farm is a part.

Gordon, having just been notified that the foundation is terminating her employment, is distraught. The farm is more than her work — it’s her home and her passion. She was hoping her daughter, who just completed her first season farming her own land down in Pueblo, might one day take over for her at Venetucci.

“That kind of familial continuity, I think it’s integral to good farming,” she told the Indy Thursday. “Under this vision [Venetucci] isn’t a home, it isn’t a family, it isn’t a diverse ecological community. It’s just a spreadsheet. … Yeah, I’m worried about the future.”

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

UPDATE: Dobson endorses Roy Moore for Senate

Posted By on Thu, Nov 30, 2017 at 11:36 AM

Dr. James Dobson - WIKIMEDIA
  • WikiMedia
  • Dr. James Dobson
UPDATE: This blog has been updated to reflect a correction about the timing of Dobson's endorsement ad. It was, in fact, released prior to the allegations of sexual misconduct against the Senate candidate.

—— ORIGINAL POST: 11:36 A.M., THURSDAY, NOV. 30 ——

There's an important election coming up in Alabama. Voters in the predominantly Republican state will choose a successor to U.S. Sen. Luther Strange, who was appointed to fill the seat vacated by former Sen. Jeff Sessions upon his confirmation as Attorney General.

The Republican candidate, endorsed by President Donald Trump, is Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court who was twice removed from that post for defying court orders. (Once for refusing to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from the judicial building and once for continuing to enforce the state's ban on same-sex marriage that had been deemed unconstitutional.)

  • WikiMedia
  • Roy Moore
Moore is a staunch evangelical who believes Christianity should be enmeshed with public policy. That includes, according to the website of his nonprofit, Foundation for Moral Law, opposition to: women's right to choose abortion, any civil rights or protections for LGBTQ people, and science curricula including evolution in public schools.

That's probably what endears him to Dr. James Dobson, founder of the socially conservative church, Focus on the Family. Dobson is apparently so fond of Moore that he released an ad for television and radio endorsing him for Senate. Dobson told listeners in Alabama that Moore is a "man of proven character and integrity."

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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Manitou Incline reopens after repairs

Posted By on Wed, Nov 22, 2017 at 5:21 PM

  • Bob Falcone
After a round of heavy-duty repairs, the beloved Manitou Incline is open ahead of schedule, the city announced today, Nov. 22.

The city will mark the reopening with a ceremony at 8 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 1, at the base of the incline.

It's been closed for past three months for a third phase of repairs that began at the false summit and continued to the top.

From the city's news release:
The Incline project had four major goals: improve safety, enhance the user experience, improve the trail’s long-term sustainability and increase accessibility. Work included removing and replacing damaged retaining walls, cleaning up the exposed rebar and loose debris, anchoring the existing ties, stabilizing the surrounding slopes, and replacing failed drainage structures and adding more drainage structures. The new drainage structures will greatly help to reduce the velocity of runoff water, which is a critical factor in reducing erosion and ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Incline.

The project was completed at a final cost of approximately $2 million. Funding was made possible by a $2 million Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Program. The City of Colorado Springs is responsible for the general oversight, trail enhancements, general maintenance of the Incline and to apply for grants to fund improvements, per the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) with Manitou Springs. For more information on the construction project,www.coloradosprings.gov/incline" target="_blank"> www.coloradosprings.gov/incline

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Uber hit with $8.9 million civil penalty

Posted By on Mon, Nov 20, 2017 at 5:22 PM

Uber is slapped with a civil penalty for drivers' violations. - DANIEL R. BLUME
  • Daniel R. Blume
  • Uber is slapped with a civil penalty for drivers' violations.

Colorado authorities hit Uber's parent company with an $8.9 million civil penalty for allowing drivers with motor vehicle offenses or without valid licenses to drive for the company.

Uber issued this statement to The Denver Post, which produced this extensive story about Uber's record in other states:
We recently discovered a process error that was inconsistent with Colorado’s ridesharing regulations and proactively notified the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). This error affected a small number of drivers and we immediately took corrective action. Per Uber safety policies and Colorado state regulations, drivers with access to the Uber app must undergo a nationally accredited third-party background screening. We will continue to work closely with the CPUC to enable access to safe, reliable transportation options for all Coloradans.

Here's the state Public Utilities Commission's Nov. 20 news release:
DENVER - Criminal investigators with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC) today issued a Civil Penalty Assessment Notice (CPAN) totaling $8.9 million to Rasier, LLC, the parent company of Uber, for allowing individuals with disqualifying criminal or motor vehicle offenses, or without valid licenses, to drive for the company.

The CPAN listed violations involving 57 Uber drivers over the last year and a half who should not have been permitted to drive for the company. The company was cited $2,500 a day for each day a disqualified driver was found to have worked.

PUC transportation enforcement staff launched an investigation earlier this year after a referral from the Vail Police Department about an Uber driver accused of assaulting a passenger. In cross-checking driver records produced by the company with information obtained from the Colorado Crime Information Center (CCIC) and court databases, PUC staff found that Uber allowed individuals to drive with previous felony convictions, major moving violations (DUI, DWI, reckless driving, driving under restraint), and numerous instances of individuals driving with suspended, revoked or cancelled driver’s licenses.

“We have determined that Uber had background check information that should have disqualified these drivers under the law, but they were allowed to drive anyway,” PUC Director Doug Dean said. “These actions put the safety of passengers in extreme jeopardy.”

Under Colorado law, a Transportation Network Company (TNC) must perform a criminal history record check prior to allowing a person to act as a driver for the company. The company must also obtain and review a driving history report for individuals before they are allowed to drive. Drivers must have a valid driver’s license.

TNCs are required to disqualify drivers who have been convicted of specific offenses listed in statute – such as felony convictions, alcohol or drug-related driving offenses, unlawful sexual offenses, and major moving vehicle violations.

“PUC staff was able to find felony convictions hat the company’s background checks failed to find, demonstrating that the company’s background checks are inadequate,” Dean said. “In other cases, we could not confirm criminal background checks were even conducted by Uber.”

Among the findings of the investigation were 12 drivers with felony convictions; 17 drivers with major moving vehicle violations; three drivers with interlock driver’s licenses, which are required after recent drunk driving convictions; and 63 drivers with driver’s license issues.

Uber’s background checks also failed to identify a number of aliases used by their drivers, including one driver who was a convicted felon, habitual offender, and at one point in his past had escaped from the Colorado Department of Corrections. Nevertheless, after he was released from prison, he became a driver for Uber.

Under PUC rules, Uber can pay 50 percent of the CPAN amount within 10 days to resolve the case. Or the company can request a hearing before an administrative law judge to contest the CPAN.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Transgender Day of Remembrance to be observed Nov. 20

Posted By on Thu, Nov 16, 2017 at 5:12 PM

  • Shutterstock.com
This week we observe Transgender Awareness Week, culminating on Mon., Nov. 20 with the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Transgender Awareness Week encourages the LGBTQ community and its allies to celebrate the incredible accomplishments of transgender individuals, while recognizing the discrimination and harassment they still face and discussing long-term solutions. Ideally these conversations will last longer than seven days, providing sustainable support to transgender people in our community.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, advocates tracked at least 23 deaths of transgender people due to violence in the U.S. in 2016. This year, we have already seen at least 25. Since many transgender individuals remain closeted, it is impossible to say for certain how high these already disturbing numbers might truly be.

On Nov. 20, locals will honor these lives lost, and come together in support of our transgender friends and family. See below for a list of local vigils, to be updated when/if we learn of any more, and check out One Colorado's list of TDOR events throughout the state.

Local events:
https://events.uccs.edu/event/transgender_day_of_remembrance_observance_4423" target="_blank">Hosted by UCCS' LGBT Resource Center: 7 p.m., Kraemer Family Library, 1420 Austin Bluffs Pkwy. Contact: 255-3319

Hosted by Trans-Generations of Pueblo, and Christ Congregational Church: 6 p.m., Christ Congregational Church, 1003 Liberty Lane, Pueblo. Contact: 544-0746.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Help Nate Feola get a service dog named Chunk

Posted By on Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 1:19 PM


Nate Feola has lived 9 years, and the odds, it seems have never been in his favor.

Born four months early, weighing only 1 pound, 8 ounces, he spent his first five and a half months in the NICU, fighting for his life. When he was finally released to go home, his biological parents beat baby Nate so severely that they almost killed him. Nate survived. But the trauma to his tiny body left him permanently disabled.

Nate went into foster care. Thankfully, a new mom and dad fell in love with him and adopted him, even though they knew he'd need constant care and probably never be able to leave home. They've given Nate a happy childhood in Colorado Springs, against all the odds.
But Nate is getting older, and it's hard for him to rely on his mom, who sometimes carries around the heavy oxygen tank he needs to breathe. Nate's parents are hoping to add a new member to their family: A service dog that can help Nate carry his oxygen. Nate has already named the dog "Chunk" (even though the trainer hasn't even found the puppy yet) and his mom, Lisa, says her other two adopted kids, both of whom have special needs, are already jealous that Nate is getting a dog.

The only problem is, the Feolas can't afford the dog. They need $14,000, and so far their YouCaring account has only brought in a little under $4,000.

Are you crying yet? Yeah, I know you are. Let me tell you more. Lisa and her husband have four biological kids between the ages of 17 and 25. None of them have disabilities. But about a decade ago, they decided to become foster parents, and when little Nate, a baby with multiple broken bones, needed a place to go, they took him. Lisa is a nurse, so she knew she could help Nate in a way other foster parents couldn't.

Nate was just nine months old. After that, the Feolas were often asked to take in foster kids with special needs. And they ended up adopting two more kids. Nate's siblings are an 11-year-old girl, who uses a wheelchair and functions on the level of a small baby, and a four-year-old boy, who is likely the highest functioning of the three kids. All the kids need extra love and care, including taking meals through a tube in their tummies.

Nate still bears a lot of the scars of abuse, his YouCaring page notes:

Due to prematurity and physical abuse Nate now has chronic lung disease, poor vision, right side weakness, poor balance, sensory issues, severe ADHD, and reactive attachment disorder. Nate requires constant medical supervision and is developmentally disabled and he will never be able to live on his own. Although Nate's very small compared to his peers, he is a very active and social 9 year old who loves to meet and talk to people. Due to Nate's chronic lung disease he is required to wear oxygen all the time. 

Nate or his mom carry his oxygen in a backpack that weighs 10-15 pounds. It's a lot for Nate, who only weighs about 50 pounds himself.

“My shoulders and back get sore so I can’t imagine how he feels,” Lisa says.

Despite all the challenges he's faced, Nate is a happy little boy who likes playing baseball and practicing Taekwondo. With the help of Chunk, Nate should be able to do all of those things a little easier.

If you want to help Nate and Chunk with their little holiday miracle, you can give here.


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Friday, November 10, 2017

Sheriff Bill Elder calls Indy story "crap"

Posted By on Fri, Nov 10, 2017 at 2:42 PM

Sheriff Bill Elder, who took office on Dec. 31, 2014, says no one ordered two employees to notarize deputy oaths of office affidavits without witnessing their signatures. The oaths were filed with the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office 15 months after they were administered. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Bill Elder, who took office on Dec. 31, 2014, says no one ordered two employees to notarize deputy oaths of office affidavits without witnessing their signatures. The oaths were filed with the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office 15 months after they were administered.
In a bizarre rant during a hastily called news conference on Wednesday, Nov. 8, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder lashed out at the Independent and its senior reporter, yours truly, after publication of our cover story this week about a misstep in his office.

In addition to personal attacks and repeated complaints about a blog that we altered at his request (though it contained no error), Elder also took issue with the claims made by one of his past employees in our cover story. Elder and his senior staff were all given a chance to comment for our story, but chose only to provide a written statement, which we published in full. But at the conference, Elder — who insisted he never wanted to speak to me again — had far more to say about the report.

Elder called media together at 3:45 p.m. in the 5th floor conference room at the Sheriff's Office, 27 E. Vermijo Ave., and proceeded to attack the Indy and me for the story, which he called "crap."

He also spent quite a bit of time complaining about a blog post I wrote in August about his use of a Sheriff's Office phone number as the contact number on his candidate affidavit for the 2019 election. I included a copy of the affidavit in the post, as proof that Elder was using a government phone number for his campaign business. The affidavit contained his home address, a field that many candidates instead choose to list a P.O. Box in for privacy reasons. The affidavit was and is available on a public website as a matter of public record. The Indy, however, removed the document from our blog within a day at Elder's request after he expressed concern for his and his wife's safety.

Elder said in the press conference that he bought a new personal cell phone the night our blog posted — and seemed angry that we had not noted that step, though he had never notified us of the change.

He said, "When you posted my personal home address, without regard to my safety, my wife’s safety and my grandchildren’s safety, that was absolutely the most irresponsible thing I could ever imagine."
He brought up the address issue at least three times during the 47 minutes that I and Indy editor Matthew Schniper spent at the news conference. "That’s my home address," he said. "I know you don’t get it. You don’t care. That’s why everybody in government wants nothing to do with answering your questions."

He also said that "every elected official, every department head, every business head, nobody wants anything to do with you."

When I asserted that wasn't true, he said:
It is true. It is true. And I can tell you from my perspective, I’m done dealing with you, Pam. I’m done inviting you into my office and giving you free rein to sit and ask me questions. You stepped over the line in the last six months. You stepped over the line. You accused my staff and my employees of felony crimes and insisted in your article that they could be indicted and that’s crap.

I am beyond, beyond done with you, Pam. How would you feel if your home address was published in some newspaper read by the public? I’m the chief law enforcement officer of the county. Don’t you think 1,700 inmates a day want my address? Do you think for a second that my wife feels that her life is in danger? Do you think for a second that every drug dealer, every bandit in this community wants my home address? What responsibility do you have to my safety, to my wife’s safety, to my family? Every article you write about me says 'and the website that dogs the sheriff dirtyelder.com.' My grandkids read that, my children read that. There’s not a single name on that website that gives any verification at all. But you feel free to publish it, because it’s out there. That’s irresponsible. You are irresponsible.

And I am upset that you included these people [his staffers] in your article in any way shape or form, that you are maybe the worst writer I’ve ever met, to include them in your article, to put their pictures in your article.

To clarify, the Indy opened the question of whether sheriff's office employees could face legal consequences, should our source's claims be found to be true. We did not accuse anyone of a felony crime, nor did we insist anyone would be indicted. Nor do we cite dirtyelder.com in every article about Sheriff Elder.

Dirtyelder.com is a website created months ago that posts allegations against Elder without identifying those making the allegations, but has posted documents to support its claims in some blog posts. The Indy has included links to the website in some blog posts. The website has also been covered by other media outlets, including the Gazette.

Elder also expressed concern that Mike Angley, a Republican running against Elder for sheriff, is citing the story. Angley's website provides a link to the Indy story with this headline: "You Are Entitled to Outrage."

Prior to the printing of our Nov. 8 story, the Indy  asked for interviews with Elder, Administrator Larry Borland, Communications Director Jackie Kirby and Chief of Staff Janet Huffor, but they "kindly declined," Kirby said in a Nov. 1 email.

On Nov. 8 at the news conference, Elder cited the home-address issue as the reason he refused to grant the Indy an interview prior to publication. He noted that after he provided a written statement to other news outlets who asked about the notary problem, they didn't do a story. But the Indy produced a 3,000-word article "indicting my staff," Elder alleged.

Elder refuted the story that ex-employee Rick Dietz, who worked in the Human Resources Department, told the Indy. Dietz said that in April 2016, the Elder administration discovered that none of the deputies' oaths-of-office affidavits had been notarized and filed with the Clerk and Recorder's Office in accord with past practice. The oaths had been administered in January 2015 to sheriff's deputies and later that year to police officers from cities and towns in the region.

Dietz said Borland ordered him and co-worker Dave Mejia to notarize deputies' oaths of office in April 2016, even though those deputies weren't standing before the notaries at that time, a requirement of notarizing a document. Moreover, the oaths weren't filed with the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office for more than a year, he said. (The documents confirmed this.)

Dietz told the Indy he and Mejia interpreted Borland's directive as a direct order to notarize the documents or risk retaliation. (Mejia, who works for another county department now, hasn't responded to multiple phone calls from the Indy seeking an interview.)
Elder contended that Dietz and Mejia attended the swearing in ceremonies at Pikes Peak Center and elsewhere and, therefore, witnessed the signatures. He said they took it upon themselves to notarize the documents all in one day in April 2016. "Nobody has ordered anybody to do anything," he said, asserting that notarizing the oaths isn't required by any law or policy or rule.

"There isn’t a single one of these that are forged," Elder said. "There’s not a single one of these that were fraudulently represented. I am absolutely appalled, I’m appalled that a journalist would write that without any independent verification whatsoever, except that from a disgruntled employee who walked off the job."

The Indy did not use the words "fraud" or "forge" to describe the situation.

He also said, "The notary by notarizing something that he didn’t witness, that’s on him. That’s not on me. There’s no way on earth these three [Huffor, Kirby and Borland] or me or anyone else in this agency ordered them, threatened them or otherwise to notarize a thing."

(Dietz resigned in June 2017 after he received a seven-page reprimand for what he considered a minor misstep, the first disciplinary action he received in 13 years at the county. He's trying to get unemployment, but the Sheriff's Office opposes it.)

At the news conference, Borland denied he gave the order to notarize the oaths and get them filed. "I have been in public service in this community 38 years," he said. "I have never ordered anyone to notarize anything. I certainly have never ordered anyone to notarize something they didn’t witness. I would not do that. I did not do that. That did not happen."

The Indy asked for a comment from Dietz about Elder's allegation that it was his fault, to which he responded, via email, "This is classic Elder...point the finger...accept no blame...blame the victim. Either way...if he was aware of the intimidation, he's corrupt. If he didn't, why didn't he and why was it hidden from him?"

The Indy also asked Dietz about a photo produced by Elder at the news conference showing Dietz standing at a cart in what appears to be a Sheriff's Office conference room with a room full of officers. (The Indy requested a copy of the photo but has yet to receive one.) Elder said the photo proved Dietz witnessed all the signatures.
Says Dietz: "False. That was actually the only 'swearing in ceremony' I attended and was there to help set-up and hand out ID cards. [I attended] No Centennial Hall ceremony...no UCCS...No CSPD substations, etc."

He added, "I would like to know exactly what Sheriff Elder's hypothesis is as to why I would come into work on an April '16 morning and suddenly decide to fraudulently notarize hundreds of commission cards without anybody's knowledge...and include Dave [Mejia] in my master plot...then secretly submit them to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder for filing/recording...only to turn around 19 months later and make-up a story about intimidation and coercion at the staff level. Was it truly all part of my master plan?"

Elder confirms that Chief of Staff Janet Huffor delivered the notarized oaths, 1,016 of them, to the clerk and recorder for filing on one day. Here's his version:
In May 2016, we had a deputy dying of cancer, and we wanted to pay a tribute to him and his wife and provide a framed copy of his oath of office, so we went up to the room where he lay dying at Penrose Hospital and I swore him in and I gave him his badge and we left that room with that signed affidavit and took it to the Clerk and Recorder's Office and we had it recorded, and we brought it back down here and then we checked when it got recorded to put it on the document, and we noticed there were only two documents that had been recorded. My swearing in and this one.

But yet on Jan. 13 and 14, we swore in 500 deputies. So we immediately said, where did they go?

So we went down to HR where they [Dietz and Mejia] worked and said, "Where are these documents?" And they started to research and said some here, some here, some here, some here and they pulled them all together and so we had a big stack.

So why aren’t these recorded? "We didn’t have time." We got them all together, and we, Janet emailed the clerk and said, "Can we bring these over?" He [Clerk and Recorder Chuck Broerman] said, 'Bring them all at once." She put them in an envelop and drives to the clerk’s office and gets them recorded and brings them back.

And we sat down and said we can’t allow this to happen and wrote out a process. From now on, they will go this way and this way. They will sit in our office until we pull their commissions and we will file with the clerk and recorder... and that’s how we do it today.
Elder contends former Sheriff Terry Maketa should have, but didn't, renew oaths of office every four years for each of his three terms. Clerk and Recorder records show that the oath affidavits weren't refiled for each of his terms, which Elder contends is required. There is no law the Indy is aware of that requires oaths to be refiled for each term of a sheriff who is reelected to subsequent terms, and Elder didn't cite a specific statute to that effect.

(Elder said at the news conference that none of the oaths administered by Maketa were notarized. A spot check proved otherwise; Kirby notarized many of them. Asked about that, Kirby said on Elder's behalf that Elder's comment was "incorrect." A spot check of the Maketa years shows that oath affidavits were filed several months after the fact at times.)

Elder also insisted repeatedly that the oath affidavits don't require a notary. Yet, affidavits filed by his office since April 15, 2016, have been notarized. We asked the Sheriff's Office about that on Thursday, Nov. 9. Kirby said via email: "There is a section on the Appointment for a Notary. It was filled out as such by a Notary when a Notary was available for the swearing in of law enforcement officers over the last year and a half. When new forms are purchased or drafted, that section will be removed as it is not required by State Statute or regulation."

Before we walked out of the interview, Elder defended his right to "vent" at us during the meeting, saying, "You're a journalist. I'm the Sheriff. I get my opinion, just like you do ... and my opinion is you're irresponsible."
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Thursday, November 9, 2017

DACA: Colorado Springs "Dream Team" rallies Congress to act

Posted By on Thu, Nov 9, 2017 at 6:25 PM

"Most people have kind of forgotten about it," says Nayda Benitez about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the program that gives undocumented youth temporary protection from deportation and permits to work/study in the United States. "But for me and the 17,000 other beneficiaries (in Colorado), we think about it every single day," she told the crowd gathered on a cold Thursday afternoon in front of City Hall.

Benitez is a DACA recipient with a scholarship at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Nearly year after President Donald Trump, an unabashed nativist, took office, Benitez is on a desperate timeline. Trump announced the end of DACA in September, meaning she's got about a year before her protection expires, leaving her vulnerable to enforcement actions, including deportation back to Mexico, a country she barely remembers.

As soon as that announcement came out, Benitez came together with other local Dreamers, as DACA recipients are sometimes called, to form the "Colorado Springs Dream Team." Since then, in between work, school and family obligations, the group's members  have spent time making advocacy posters, dogging their representatives and trying to rally broad support for their cause.

At the rally Thursday, Benitez asked attendees to urge their representatives in Congress, especially Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, to sponsor and support a "clean" Dream Act (meaning, legislation to create a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients without also boosting interior enforcement or funding the southern border wall).

She and two other young woman, all college students, wore graduation gowns to symbolize their aspirations, but emphasized that their value is "much more than that," tearing off their gowns to make the point. "We need to get away from this toxic Dreamer narrative," says Benitez, explaining that her brother, who didn't have the opportunity to go to college and works in construction, is just as valuable as she is, even though she's the higher-achiever by conventional standards. The speakers were adamant, too, that their parents aren't criminals and that passing a "clean" Dream Act is just one of many reforms needed to fix what they describe as a dysfunctional immigration system.


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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Catholic Charities announces Thanksgiving turkey drive

Posted By on Tue, Nov 7, 2017 at 4:01 PM

Volunteer Dawn Marie Cormier, left, and Catholic Charities CEO Andy Barton remind residents that it's turkey time. - COURTESY OF CATHOLIC CHARITIES
  • Courtesy of Catholic Charities
  • Volunteer Dawn Marie Cormier, left, and Catholic Charities CEO Andy Barton remind residents that it's turkey time.
Catholic Charities is gearing up for its 4th Annual Stuff the Bird from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 14. This event kicks off the holiday food campaign.

Bring a turkey and drop it off in a drive-through parking lot at 14 W. Bijou St. Gift cards also are accepted.

From a news release:
Turkeys are used in the Thanksgiving Day meal preparation at Marian House for community members in need; for distribution to families, churchs, schools, and food pantries throughout our 10 county service area in Central Colorado; and for use in meal preparation at the Marian House to help deliver more than 215,000 meals a year.

Catholic Charities' Marian House goal this year is to collect 1,200 turkeys before Thanksgiving Day to meet out client requests, which is part of the overall Turkey Team Collaboration goal. The Turkey Team is comprised of Car & Share Food Bank, Springs Rescue Mission, and Catholic Charities of Central Colorado.
Turkeys can be dropped off at the Marian House dock anytime in November from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

St. Francis Medical Center expansion project sees final steel beam placed

Posted By on Mon, Nov 6, 2017 at 8:11 AM

St. Francis Medical Center was topped with a beam put in place on the expansion project on Nov. 2. - COURTESY GE JOHNSON CONSTRUCTION
  • Courtesy GE Johnson Construction
  • St. Francis Medical Center was topped with a beam put in place on the expansion project on Nov. 2.

GE Johnson Construction, based in Colorado Springs, announced a Nov. 2 "topping out" ceremony was held at the St. Francis Medical Center, which is undergoing a major expansion.

The project is the latest in which Penrose-St. Francis Health Services and GE Johnson have teamed up over the last 30 years. From the news release:
The additions to the hospital include 168,580 square feet of new construction consisting of a four-story expansion and a new garden level that will feature covered parking and an Emergency Medical Services lounge. The first floor will be home to a new emergency department and additional shell space, while the second floor will add three new operating rooms, support space, and additional shell space for future expansion. The third floor will include a wellness garden, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit expansion, and ante partum rooms. The fourth floor will remain an area devoted to mechanical space.

Dating back several hundred years to Scandinavia, the topping out ceremony marks the placement of the final piece of structural steel and is intended to celebrate the good fortune of the project. The event also allows all those involved to look forward to the completion of the building.

“We’ve been working alongside Penrose St. Francis Health Services for many years, so the chance to join them in bringing critical services to Northeast Colorado Springs is incredible,” says Fred Wolfe, construction executive for the project, “We are using the integrated project delivery method, which allows us to work much more closely with all our project partners. It’s truly a special project to be a part of.”

The large-scale expansion broke ground in May of this year and is on track for completion in early 2019. 

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Two drop out of contention for PPACG chief

Posted By on Wed, Nov 1, 2017 at 4:22 PM

Andy Pico chairs the PPACG board. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Andy Pico chairs the PPACG board.
It's back to the drawing board for the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, a regional planning agency in its search for an executive director.

Early this year, the board ended its contract with Rob MacDonald and another top employee, which we reported here.

After a national search, 130 applications were received, reports PPACG board chairman Andy Pico, a Colorado Springs City Council member.

Three finalists were chosen, from which the board was expected to select one this month.

But then, two dropped out. Pico wouldn't name any of the three finalists, but said none of them live here.

Now, Pico says, the board's search committee will review applicants again and select three finalists. It's unclear if that process can be concluded before the December PPACG meeting, he said.

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Local superintendent, teacher and school counselor recognized

Posted By on Wed, Nov 1, 2017 at 4:22 PM

  • Courtesy CMSD
  • Dr. Cooper
Dr. Walt Cooper, superintendent of the Cheyenne Mountain School District, has been named “Colorado Superintendent of the Year for 2018” by a committee of previous award winners and other superintendents. In his 11 years as superintendent, Cooper has made closing the performance gap between special-education and general-population students a priority.

Over in Harrison School District 2, Christina Randle won Colorado Teacher of the Year and Gemile Fleming won Colorado School Counselor of the Year. Randle, a 14-year veteran of the district, teaches first graders at Soaring Eagles Elementary. Fleming has been with the district for six years and currently works at Giberson Elementary.
Randle recognized at school assembly. - COURTESY COLORADO EDUCATION ASSOCIATION
  • Courtesy Colorado Education Association
  • Randle recognized at school assembly.

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