Politics

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Police internal affairs transparency bill headed for governor's desk

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2019 at 12:58 PM

Alexis Acker after being thrown to the floor face first. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Alexis Acker after being thrown to the floor face first.
In 2015, the Independent asked for the internal affairs file for Tyler Walker, a police officer accused of smashing 18-year-old Alexis Acker, handcuffed behind her back, to the floor in Memorial Hospital's emergency room.

The city paid $100,000 to settle a lawsuit with Acker.

But the Colorado Springs Police Department refused to release the IA file for Walker, who later left the department, saying disclosure would be contrary to the public interest.

Likewise, with one exception, the CSPD has denied the Indy's requests for IA files using that same reason.

Soon, that argument won't wash, if Gov. Jared Polis signs House Bill 1119, which will require law enforcement agencies to disclosure internal affairs files after the investigation is complete.

According to The Denver Post, the bill cleared its final legislative hurdle on March 27 and is on its way to Polis' desk. It's unclear whether Polis will sign the bill.

As reported by the Post, current law allows police agencies to disclose IA files only if the release would be in the public interest. If the requester disagrees, he or she must file a lawsuit.

From the Post:
Most agencies in the state deny the release of those records — other than the Denver Police Department, which has been releasing most internal affairs records for about 12 years — often citing their release as being “contrary to the public interest.”

According to the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, the bill, if passed into law, will bring Colorado in line with 14 other states.

The CFOIC, the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, the Colorado Press Association, the Colorado Broadcasters Association, Common Cause of Colorado and the Independence Institute support the bill.

CFOIC reports that opponents of the bill include the Fraternal Order of Police of Colorado and the county sheriffs’ association, but taking a neutral position were the police chiefs’ association, district attorneys’ council and the Colorado Municipal League.

In an interview in February, Mayor John Suthers told the Indy, "Whatever the law is, I assure you, as long as I'm mayor of Colorado Springs, we will comply with it."

Sen. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, sponsored the bill with Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver. Foote, a former prosecutor, noted that "transparency should be the default position," the CFOIC reported, and said the bill would help build trust between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.

The only internal affairs report released by the CSPD in recent memory dealt with Ryan and Jeremy Brown, brothers stopped by officers for no apparent reason. Ryan Brown made a video of the stop and, with the ACLU of Colorado, alleged he was stopped and held at gunpoint because he's black. The city later settled a lawsuit with Brown by paying $212,000

But the bill doesn't require agencies to release files of incidents that occurred before the effective date of the bill. So the Tyler Walker file and others that predate the bill will remain under wraps forever.
 
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Gov. Polis signs hospital transparency bill

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2019 at 12:21 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill March 28 requiring greater financial transparency from hospitals, which the bill's sponsors say will increase competition to keep health care costs down.

Titled "Hospital Transparency Measures To Analyze Efficacy," and sponsored by Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, along with Sens. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, House Bill 1001 will require hospitals to disclose costs and expenditures to the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF), which will create an annual hospital expenditure report to be posted online. The report must include uncompensated care costs by payer group and a breakdown of different categories of expenses.

Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, sponsored House Bill 1001. - COLORADO HOUSE DEMOCRATS
  • Colorado House Democrats
  • Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, sponsored House Bill 1001.
The new responsibilities for HCPF outlined in the bill entail a minimal workload increase for the department, but won't require any additional funding, legislative staff found.

Hospitals will have to provide the following information to HCPF:

• the cost report submitted to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,
• an annual audited financial statement,
• the total number of available and licensed beds,
• inpatient and outpatient statistics,
• charges by payer group,
• contractual allowances (the difference between what hospitals bill carriers and what they are paid),
• bad debt write-offs,
• charity write-offs,
• a breakdown of operating expenses,
• a balance sheet,
• staffing information,
• and information on acquisitions and sales.

The bill passed the House on January 31 with a vote of 39-22, and the Senate (with several amendments) on March 14 with a vote of 34-1. The House voted to approve the Senate's amendments on March 18. The governor signed it on March 28.

“The high cost of health care is harming both Colorado consumers and businesses. Hardworking people are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of health care, particularly in rural Colorado where we’re seeing some of the highest premiums in the country,” Rep. Kennedy said in a March 18 statement. “By requiring hospitals to be transparent about their spending, we can increase competition in a way that will reduce costs for all.”

Rep. Tony Exum, the Democrat who represents House District 17 in Colorado Springs, is among the bill's cosponsors.

All state senators from El Paso County, including Republican Sens. Dennis Hisey, Paul Lundeen, Owen Hill, and Bob Gardner, as well as Democratic Sen. Pete Lee, voted in favor of the bill.

Republican House Reps. Shane Sandridge, Dave Williams, Larry Liston, Tim Geitner, Terri Carver and Lois Landgraf were opposed in the final House vote. Democratic Reps. Exum and Marc Snyder were in favor.
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Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Gov. Polis unveils new state logo

Posted By on Tue, Mar 26, 2019 at 11:44 AM

Gov. Jared Polis unveiled a new state logo to replace the one implemented by his predecessor, John Hickenlooper, at a press conference March 26.

The new logo features a green pine tree to the left of a blue and red letter "C" with blue mountains and a yellow background in the center.


The former state logo, which features the white letters "CO" overlaying a green, snow-capped mountain, was implemented in 2013 following a campaign by Hickenlooper's office. A team of designers created three possible logos, which were displayed on a public website.

The redesign ultimately cost $1.1 million in private donations and $1.5 million in pro-bono work, the Associated Press reported at the time.

The winning logo proved to be a tough sell.

Critics complained that it looked like the warning sign for carbon monoxide, and mourned the loss of the former accepted logo — the ubiquitous red and yellow "C" on Colorado's state flag. Republicans even lodged an effort in the state Assembly to refer the logo to voters, but a Democrat-led committee defeated it.

Despite protests, the logo soon adorned the state government's department websites and official messaging.

Will Polis' new logo pass muster? That remains to be seen.

Here's some thoughts from Twitter so far:




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Monday, March 25, 2019

Affordable housing bill gains momentum in State Assembly

Posted By on Mon, Mar 25, 2019 at 10:39 AM

The Commons, a permanent supportive housing development proposed by Homeward Pikes Peak, will need tax credit funding. - COURTESY OF EBERSOLDT AND ASSOCIATES
  • Courtesy of Ebersoldt and Associates
  • The Commons, a permanent supportive housing development proposed by Homeward Pikes Peak, will need tax credit funding.
A Democrat-led bill that would double the amount of state funding for affordable housing is gaining momentum in the state Assembly.

House Bill 1228, sponsored by Reps. Shannon Bird, D-Westminster, and Brianna Titone, D-Arvada, was approved by the House Finance Committee on March 22 and now heads to the Appropriations Committee. It would increase the amount of available Affordable Housing Tax Credits from $5 million to $10 million annually for the next five years.

“We need to help ease the housing crunch. This bill will help seniors and hardworking people across our state,” Titone said in a March 22 statement. “Access to affordable housing can help grow the middle class and our economy.”

Colorado's Affordable Housing Tax Credit program was originally established in 2001. It's modeled after the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, created in 1986 under President Ronald Reagan's administration. In return for providing capital for affordable housing developments, investors who purchase the credits receive a dollar-for-dollar break on their taxes.

The state's program was later renewed in 2014 and 2016, and most recently 2018, with legislation that extends it through 2024.

Since 2015, the state Affordable Housing Tax Credit program has created more than 4,700 affordable units and generated $1.9 billion in economic impact, according to the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA), which supports the bill.

CHFA awards both state and federal tax credits to affordable housing developers that meet stringent application requirements and respond to a demonstrated need.

Combining state tax credits with 4-percent federal tax credits in the same application cycle has made the state credits about as competitive as the 9-percent federal tax credits, which are allocated in a separate application cycle, says Steve Johnson, CHFA's community development director. Traditionally, the 9-percent federal credits have been more competitive because they provide a deeper subsidy.

Currently, only about one in three projects that apply for tax credits through CHFA end up getting them, Johnson told the Indy in early March.

The investment necessary just to apply can be staggering for developers, especially nonprofits. Beth Roalstad, the executive director of housing nonprofit Homeward Pikes Peak, said pre-development costs for the nonprofit's permanent supportive housing project had already amounted to about $50,000 before the application was submitted to CHFA. She learned in March that the project would not be awarded tax credits due to a technical error in the application.

Roalstad plans to reapply in June, this time for the 9-percent federal tax credits.
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Friday, March 22, 2019

PAC tied to Republicans enters Colorado Springs' city election

Posted By on Fri, Mar 22, 2019 at 2:45 PM

2019cityelectionbug-01.png
There are a couple new players in the April 2 city election:

Community Leaders of America, a political action committee, filed with the Colorado Springs City Clerk's Office March 21, listing a Republican operative as its representative.
Staci Goede has served as CFO at Republican State Leadership Committee, Washington, D.C., for 17 years, according to LinkedIn.
Goede declined to speak to the Indy, saying she would have another person get in touch to answer questions about the purpose of the committee. It's worth noting Community Leaders of America registered as a political committee, and not an issue committee.
We'll update if and when we hear back from the PAC.

Together for Colorado Springs Political Action Committee also registered with the City Clerk's Office. The organization was active in the city's 2017 election supporting candidates. The PAC placed an ad in the March 20-26 Indy supporting Bill Murray and Terry Martinez for Council.

The last campaign finance filing prior to the election is due March 29, four days before the election.

The April 2 ballot has one question: Issue 1, which would give firefighters authority to collective bargain but not to strike. Voters also will elected three at-large City Council members and a mayor.

In other election news:

• The NAACP Colorado Springs Branch will host a candidates forum at 3 p.m. Sunday, March 24, at Sand Creek Library, 1821 S. Academy Blvd. The forum will entertain candidates for mayor and at-large Council seats.

• As of March 19, voters had returned about 18,000 ballots and ballot counting has begun.

If you have an item of interest for our campaign roundup blogs, contact zubeck@csindy.com
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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Former Starbucks CEO to visit Olympic Training Center as he mulls independent presidential run

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2019 at 3:58 PM

Howard Schultz oversaw a company that grew from six stores to nearly 30,000 worldwide. - GAGE SKIDMORE, FLICKR
  • Gage Skidmore, Flickr
  • Howard Schultz oversaw a company that grew from six stores to nearly 30,000 worldwide.
Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, will visit Colorado Springs on March 22 as he considers an independent run for president.

After headlining a town hall hosted by the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce and touring a startup incubator in Boulder on March 21, Schultz will tour the Olympic Training Center the following day and hold a town hall event with Olympic athletes.

The U.S. Olympic Committee confirmed the visit and says it's normal for politicians and dignitaries to tour its facilities — though the organization is not allowed to promote a political candidate. Past guests have included former President Barack Obama and one of President Donald Trump's cabinet members.

"If a public figure requests an opportunity to tour our facility, we're happy to provide it," says Mark Jones, the Olympic Committee's vice president of communications.

Schultz has not officially declared his candidacy for president, but has toured the country promoting his recent memoir and appeared in a live town hall hosted by CNN in February. Fox News invited him to participate in another town hall in April.

While Schultz has not made public any detailed policies, he promotes himself as a "centrist independent." On his website, he outlines six priorities that "only centrist leadership could make happen":

1) Only sign major legislation into law that has the support of both parties.

2) Assemble a cabinet that represents America in every way" — "including Republicans, Democrats and Independents.

3) Only put forward Supreme Court nominees that could be confirmed by 2/3 of the Senate.

4) Limit influence of lobbyists and special interests in Washington D.C.

5) Work to end the gerrymandering that is rigging the system.

6) Get the federal budget under control and reduce the national debt.

After graduating from Northern Michigan University in 1975, Schultz worked for a company that sold housewares to Starbucks — then a small company in Seattle, Schultz' website says. He met the founders of Starbucks in 1982, and within a year was heading up marketing for the company.

Schultz left Starbucks a few years later to open his own specialty coffee company, Il Giornale, which bought Starbucks in 1987 and took the latter company's name. He stepped down as CEO in 2000 to become chief global strategist, helping Starbucks expand internationally. In 2008, he reprised his role as CEO, and later became executive chairman of the company before stepping down in June of 2018, saying that he would consider a presidential run.

During his time at Starbucks, Schultz' bio points out, he saw it grow from six stores to nearly 30,000, employing more than 3 million people over the company's history. 
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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Firefighters' Issue 1 pros and cons outlined at public forum

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2019 at 11:31 AM

Union representative John Roy and Mayor John Suthers faced off on March 18 to debate the pros and cons of Issue 1 to a nearly full room at Penrose Library. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Union representative John Roy and Mayor John Suthers faced off on March 18 to debate the pros and cons of Issue 1 to a nearly full room at Penrose Library.
About 150 people showed up at Penrose Library on March 18 to hear the pros and cons of Issue 1 at a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Citizens Project.

The ballot measure to be decided by voters in the April 2 city election would give firefighters collective bargaining powers, absent the ability to strike.

Speaking in favor of the issue was John Roy, deputy campaign manager with the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5.

Mayor John Suthers spoke against the measure.

"When you call 911, you expect a fire truck will arrive there quickly," Roy said. "And that's exactly what this is about."

He said under the current system, firefighters don't have much say in allocation of resources to protect their own and the public's safety. He noted that one fire engine over 20 years old developed a leak that poisoned firefighters with exhaust fumes. All recovered.

The incident underscores that city leadership who call the shots lacks continuity. The mayor, the city's chief executive, is elected every four years, and City Council potentially changes membership every two years, he said.

"We don't know who our next mayor or City Council will be," Roy said. "The problem is, we cannot guarantee our next mayor will offer us an opportunity to sit down with him."

The people who use the equipment, Roy said, should have a say in funding that equipment, as well as staffing and training. Compensation also would come into play in collective bargaining, but Roy acknowledged that a series of recent raises has placed firefighters at parity with similar departments — $80,000 a year for most line firefighters.

Still, the Fire Department today has fewer firefighters than it did in 2008, Roy said.

As for arguments against the measure based on the need for a city election should firefighters and the city stalemate, Roy noted a fact-finder would come into play amid such an impasse and of at least 15 cities in Colorado with similar collective bargaining arrangements, none has led to a vote of the people over a contract. [Whichever side refuses to accept the fact-finder's conclusion pays for a special election.]

"If Issue 1 doesn't pass, it could be a detriment to public safety," he said, and noted the city's response time goal of arriving at a scene within 8 minutes 90 percent of the time is twice the recommended standard by the National Fire Protection Association of four minutes.
Mayor Suthers, right, has become the spokesperson for opposition to the firefighter measure.
  • Mayor Suthers, right, has become the spokesperson for opposition to the firefighter measure.
Suthers argued that if firefighters receive collective bargaining powers, other city employees will also seek such authority, throwing the city's finances into chaos.

Besides, he added, firefighters already have a seat at the table. "Our city has been good to firefighters," he said, noting pay scales have reached competitive market levels and firefighters are given a pension for life.

He also noted when he met with Local 5 officials four years ago, they told him collective bargaining "is not our thing." Since then, the city has purchased several new fire apparatus, raised salaries and funded additional positions.

"If you think this doesn't have a downside, look around the country," Suthers said, pointing to departments who face layoffs in order to fund union demands.

Firefighters could seek a multi-year contract, which would put the city in a dicey spot, he said. Since the city relies so heavily on sales tax revenue, an economic downturn can have significant impact on the city budget in short order.

"If we're locked in [on a firefighter contract] and the economy does tank, everybody else is going to pay out the wazoo on that," Suthers said, meaning money to fulfill the contract would shortchange other departments' needs.

Suthers said he also fears that collective bargaining will translate into a battle between lawyers for the city and for the union, rather than "face time" between himself and firefighters, who he said are now "very well represented" on compensation and benefit committees within the city.

Suthers defended the Fire Department's response time record, saying the insurance rating for the city, which dictates how much people pay for property insurance, indicates response times are "quite good." [The Indy recently reported that through October 2018, the most recent data available at the time of our report, the department fell short of its response time goals in eight of nine zones.]

The city election, where voters also will elect a mayor and three at-large City Council members, is being conducted entirely by mail. For information, go to this link
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Friday, March 15, 2019

ADU ordinance: What to know

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2019 at 6:00 PM

City Council will vote on whether to allow accessory dwelling units in single-family zones. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • City Council will vote on whether to allow accessory dwelling units in single-family zones.

Colorado Springs city staff is pushing an ordinance that would expand the use of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, across the city.  The city held a series of open houses on the proposed ordinance in February, and City Council first formally discussed it at its March 11 work session.

ADUs, also known as in-law units, are secondary apartments on a residential lot or within the main home. They might be above a detached garage, in a converted attic or basement, or in a separate unit, and must include a sleeping area, bathroom and kitchen. Currently, city code allows the units within two-family zones, multi-family zones and some commercial areas, but the ordinance would expand their use to single-family zones — thus increasing the number of parcels eligible for ADUs from 9,400 to 68,000.
Such units could theoretically provide affordable housing for aging parents, disabled or dependent adult children, or low-income renters.

But at Council's last work session, Councilors Don Knight and Andy Pico voiced concerns about pushing through the ordinance, worrying that it would essentially eliminate single-family housing zone districts by allowing homeowners to build additional units. They said neighborhoods are worried about preserving their architectural integrity.

Councilors Jill Gaebler and Richard Skorman argued the ordinance was necessary for adding affordable and attainable housing across the city.

One compromise floated by Councilor David Geislinger would be to allow only attached ADUs in single-family zone districts.

Here's a rundown of what the ordinance currently includes:
  • Allow both detached ADUs and "integral" (attached) ADUs in all residential zones. Integral ADUs would require an interior connection in single-family zones. (Individual homeowners associations could choose to prohibit ADUs altogether.)
  • The current parking requirement for ADUs (one off-street space per ADU) would remain the same across all zone districts.
  • Depending on the zone district, roof pitch and whether the property is adjacent to an alley, maximum height could be 20, 25 or 28 feet. (The current maximum is 25 feet for all ADUs.)
  • Increase the maximum ADU size from 750 square feet to 1,250 square feet, or up to 50 percent of the main home's finished floor area.
  • The 20 feet of required separation from a primary home would no longer be required, and distance would depend on Regional Building Department requirements. Principal Planner Mike Schultz says most ADUs would require about 10 feet of separation.
  • In single-family zones, the property owner would be required to occupy either the principal home or the ADU as their primary residence.
If you're interested in knowing where the ordinance stands and when you can comment, here's some dates to know:

March 21, 8:30 a.m.:

The planning commission will vote on whether to recommend the ordinance to City Council at its regular meeting. It could also recommend that city staff make changes to the ordinance. (No opportunity for public comment)
Location: City Council Chambers, 107 N. Nevada Ave.

6 to 7:30 p.m.: District 1 Councilor Don Knight will hold a town hall for constituents to ask questions about the proposed ordinance and provide feedback.
Location: Chipeta Elementary Gymnasium, 2340 Ramsgate Terrace

March 26, 1 p.m.:

First City Council reading. (Public comment allowed)
Location: City Council Chambers, 107 N. Nevada Ave.

April 9, 1 p.m.:

Second City Council reading. (Public comment allowed)
Location, City Council Chambers, 107 N. Nevada Ave.

Here's a draft of the full ordinance:

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

What's true and what's false about claims on firefighters' Issue 1?

Posted By on Wed, Mar 13, 2019 at 10:17 AM

The only issue on the April 2 city ballot asks voters to decide whether to give firefighters collective bargaining rights. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • The only issue on the April 2 city ballot asks voters to decide whether to give firefighters collective bargaining rights.
What's true? What's false? And what lies somewhere in between?

When it comes to political ads, it's hard to discern fact from fiction, so we'll try to help voters by dissecting campaign literature from time to time.

Today, we'll look at the claims made by the Citizens Against Public Employee Unions (CAPEU), a political committee formed by Mayor John Suthers and the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC, to oppose Issue 1 on the April 2 city election ballot. The measure would provide firefighters with collective bargaining rights.

(Note to our readers: We also looked at statements made by the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5 and Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs in their campaign ads, but found that their campaign literature is less specific and, therefore, trickier to fact check. For example, one flier says, "It's time to give our trusted public safety professionals a stronger voice to keep our families, businesses and community safe." Another says, "How many firefighters should respond when you call 911? ... Is our equipment up to date and will it protect firefighters and save lives?" And then the flier states, "...vote #YESon1 to make Colorado Springs Firefighters your voice on public safety.")

Here's a look at the vote "no" literature:

• Claim: If the firefighters' bargaining agent and city leadership can't agree on labor terms, a special election would be required, at a cost of $500,000 to Colorado Springs taxpayers. (It's worth noting that some fliers have a little blue arrow next to the $500,000 figure, indicating "up to" $500,000.)

Actually: A dispute over any number of issues wouldn't automatically trigger an election. Rather, if a stand-off emerges, "the issues are to be submitted to a fact-finder," the ballot measure states. That fact-finder would be mutually agreed to by the parties.

The ballot measure goes on to say, if the city or Local 5 refuses to accept the fact-finder's decision, the issue in dispute "shall be presented to and decided by the voters" at a special election "with the cost of the special election to be paid by the party not accepting the fact-finder's decision."  (Emphasis added.) If both parties reject the fact-finder's finding, then the cost of the election is shared by the city and Local 5.

As for the election's cost, City Clerk Sarah Johnson reports that the April 2 election will cost the city $350,000, though "postage increases, labor costs for election judges, and so on might make the final cost higher."

Incidentally, Local 5 tells the Indy that voters in Colorado have never had to foot the bill for a special election to decide terms of a firefighters' contract.

* CAPEU response via email: Almost all impasse special elections around the country result from the city contesting the arbitration result. According to [El Paso County Clerk and Recorder] Chuck Broerman, the cost of postage alone for a special election is $450,000, plus the labor costs for clerk and recorder staff and election judges. [The county does not conduct city elections; the city conducts its own elections.]

• Claim: More than 50 percent of the city budget is devoted to public safety, which is more than most cities our size.


Actually: There are some cities in Colorado that spend less than half their general fund budgets on public safety. See the CAPEU statement below. But there also are many cities who, like Colorado Springs, spend more than half the general fund budget on public safety. Those include Kansas City, Mo., 76 percent; Dallas, 60 percent; Austin, 67 percent; Phoenix, 76 percent; Fresno, California, 58 percent, and Omaha, Nebraska, about 69 percent.

* CAPEU: Some examples in Colorado: Aurora, Boulder, Ft. Collins.
[CAPEU didn't provide the percentages, but the
Indy looked them up: Aurora, 47.6 percent; Boulder, 37 percent, and Fort Collins, 44 percent. Fort Collins doesn't have its own fire department but rather provides at least 70 percent of the funding for Poudre Fire Authority.]

• Claim: From 2016-2021, the city is adding another 52 people in the fire department, including 44 line firefighters.

Actually: While this statement is true, it suggests the staffing needs for the Fire Department have been dealt with. Local 5 notes, "At the end of 2019, we will have 451 assigned firefighters, 2 less positions than in 2008. We will add 12 more to that total bringing us to 463, but that is due to the addition of the Cimarron Hills fire protection district and their 12 spots. We [are] fundamentally still short of where we were 12 years ago."

* CAPEU: Asked to comment on Local 5's comment, the "vote no" committee provided this:
12 firefighters (1 Captain, 2 Lieutenants, 3 Driver Engineers, 3 Paramedics, and 3 Firefighters) were added in 2017 to permanently staff Fire Station #22
1 Wildfire Mitigation Maintenance Technician added in 2017
3 Fire Inspectors, one in each year, 2016, 2017, and 2018
8 Firefighters added in 2018
1 Full time Recruiter added in 2018
1 Senior Office Specialist added in 2018
8 Firefighters will be added in 2019, 2020 and 2021
• Claim: Line firefighter pay has increased 16% in the last four years, from $68,000 to $80,000, plus overtime, far exceeding the average salary in Colorado Springs of $47,000.

Actually: These numbers are accurate, Local 5 says, but states the collective bargaining measure is not about pay but rather having a say in various funding and safety issues.

Want to learn more about Issue 1?

The League of Women Voters will host a forum on Issue 1 at 6 p.m. Monday, March 18, at Penrose Library's Columbine Room, 20 N. Cascade Ave.

John Roy, deputy campaign manager for the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters will speak for the measure. Suthers will speak against the measure. Both also will answer questions from the audience.
If you have an item of interest about the April 2 city election, let us know at zubeck@csindy.com
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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Bill would give "Dreamers" a path to citizenship

Posted By on Tue, Mar 12, 2019 at 5:50 PM

"Dreamer" Oscar Guerrero-Olivares (right) was arrested by ICE agents in January. - COURTESY OF THE GUERRERO-OLIVARES FAMILY
  • Courtesy of the Guerrero-Olivares family
  • "Dreamer" Oscar Guerrero-Olivares (right) was arrested by ICE agents in January.
Colorado has more than 17,000 "Dreamers" — people who entered the country illegally as children — who've received temporary protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program since it was implemented in 2012 through an executive order by President Barack Obama.

They account for about 1.9 percent of the country's Dreamers with DACA status, all of whom have been left in limbo since then.

While several court injunctions remain in place to require the federal government to keep processing DACA renewals — necessary every two years — the administration of President Donald Trump halted new applications in September of 2017, and sought to terminate the program altogether.

A piece of legislation championed by House Democrats would provide Dreamers with a pathway to citizenship, though it has almost zero possibility of passing in the Republican-controlled Senate or of being signed into law by Trump.


The Dream and Promise Act of 2019, introduced March 12, would provide up to 10 years of conditional permanent residence status for Dreamers who met certain criteria. It would also grant lawful permanent residence to people with Temporary Protected Status (2,900 in Colorado alone, according to the Immigration Hub) and Deferred Enforced Departure designations, meaning they cannot return to their countries due to unsafe conditions.


Among the bill's other objectives, according to a fact sheet from the Immigration Hub, an advocacy organization:

• Cancel deportation proceedings for Dreamers who meet certain requirements and background checks.
• Grant lawful permanent residence to Dreamers who pursue higher education, join the military or meet employment requirements.
• Allow Dreamers to receive federal financial aid, as well as professional, commercial and business licenses.
• Allow certain Dreamers deported under the Trump administration to apply for relief from abroad.
• Cancel deportation proceedings for people with TPS and DED status who have been in the U.S. at least three years, for people who had TPS or were eligible on Sept. 25, 2016, and for people who had DED status on Sept. 28, 2016.

If this bill has no chance of becoming law, why is it important? Vox argues "it’s a statement of the Democratic consensus on immigration" that will be important if Republicans try to pass their own immigration bill, and as presidential candidates set their priorities for 2020.
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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Former Fountain resident testifies on PFASs in D.C.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 6, 2019 at 5:43 PM

Mark Favors, second from left, submitted written testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment. He spoke with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-New York, center, about the effects of PFAS contamination on his family. Also pictured, from left: Chet Whye, Hope Grosse and Loreen Hackett. - COURTESY OF MARK FAVORS
  • Courtesy of Mark Favors
  • Mark Favors, second from left, submitted written testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment. He spoke with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-New York, center, about the effects of PFAS contamination on his family. Also pictured, from left: Chet Whye, Hope Grosse and Loreen Hackett.
An Army veteran who grew up near Peterson Air Force Base was among those in attendance at a House subcommittee hearing March 6 on Capitol Hill. The subject: PFASs, a toxic group of chemicals found in household products and military firefighting foam, and their effects on health and the environment.

Lawmakers questioned representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Defense while holding up the stories of those — including former Fountain resident Mark Favors — who have been personally affected by the military's decades-long use of the chemicals. PFASs, which researchers have linked to low birth weights, liver and kidney cancer, and thyroid problems, leached into the drinking water supply in areas surrounding hundreds of military installations around the world.
"Mark Favors is a U.S. Army veteran who had 16 family members, 16 family members, diagnosed with cancer, all of whom lived next to the Peterson Air Force Base in Fountain, Colorado," Rep. Harley Rouda, D-California, chair of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment, said in his opening remarks. "Several of those family members are also veterans."
The Department of Defense has taken some actions to address PFASs, including implementing a new type of firefighting foam that it says is safer for public health and the environment. And on Feb. 14, the Environmental Protection Agency revealed its long-awaited PFAS action plan, announcing it would start the process for setting a maximum contaminant level (MCL) under the Safe Drinking Water Act for two chemicals in the PFAS group, PFOA and PFOS.
But for many lawmakers and advocates, the steps outlined in the plan weren't enough to address the problem, and to hold the Department of Defense accountable for contamination of communities. (Read more on the plan here.)

And Congress is bringing on the pressure.

The same day as the subcommittee hearing, a group of senators signed a letter demanding copies of communications between the EPA, Department of Defense, Office of Management and Budget, and Department of Health and Human Services regarding the PFAS Action Plan and groundwater cleanup guidelines.

And Colorado Sens. Cory Gardner (R) and Michael Bennet (D) were among a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce a bill on March 1 that would require the EPA to designate PFASs as hazardous substances, making polluters responsible for funding cleanup. (An identical bill was introduced in the House in January.)


At the subcommittee hearing, Rep. Katie Hill, D-California, began her question for Dave Ross, the EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Water, by saying she had been born on an Air Force base where high concentrations of PFAS chemicals had been detected. She asked Ross whether he, like embattled former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, would call PFAS contamination a "national emergency."

"We do believe it is a major national issue for EPA and our federal partners to address," Ross said, citing the agency's successful effort to get manufacturers to voluntarily pull products containing PFOA and PFOS off the market.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, told the story of a woman who grew up in Warminster, Pennsylvania near the Naval Air Warfare Center.

"[Hope] Grosse was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer at the age of 25 years old," Ocasio-Cortez said. "Ms. Grosse's father died of cancer at 52 years of age, and her sister suffered from ovarian cysts, lupus, fibromyalgia and abdominal aneurysms. She worries that she has unwittingly exposed her own children to [PFAS] chemicals as well... Mr. Ross, do you believe that the EPA should further regulate these chemicals?"

"Yes, and that’s what we’ve stated in our action plan," Ross replied. "We have a robust plan to regulate these chemicals across a wide variety of our programs."

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, asked whether the Department of Defense knew how many active service members, veterans and their families had had been exposed to the chemicals.

"Our health affairs staff is going to be conducting a health study and creating an inventory of those service members that have been exposed through drinking water or occupational exposure and work in coordination with the Veterans Administration to share that information," replied Maureen Sullivan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment.

The hearing was held the same day that Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization, released an updated map with information on 106 military sites where drinking water or groundwater is contaminated with PFASs. (The Department of the Defense has said that there are 401 sites in the U.S. alone with known or suspected contamination.)

The group also released a report with several recommendations for Congress and President Donald Trump's administration.

While the problem of PFAS contamination has persisted for decades without major enforcement actions by the federal government, Congress's renewed interest could move the needle on the issue, says Melanie Benesh, Environmental Working Group's legislative attorney.
"I think Congress will continue to push the [EPA] and do everything that they’re doing now —introducing bills, holding oversight hearings — and I think the states have an important role to play," Benesh says. "State policy tends to move federal policy and tends to move marketplace actions... And then there’s a whole grassroots network of people who have been affected by these chemicals, particularly veterans and military families, and those voices really matter."

Peterson Air Force Base replaced the old firefighting foam in all of its emergency response vehicles in 2016, a spokesperson said. The new, supposedly safer formula is only used in emergencies, and not during training.

Water districts surrounding the base have changed water sources or filtration systems since evidence of contamination began to emerge in 2015.

But the spread of PFASs in drinking water left lasting effects that should have been addressed by the state, Favors argues.

"Despite having a budget surplus in 2018 of over $1.1 billion, the state of Colorado still has not
conducted a formal investigation on the scope of the PFAS contamination, conducted PFAS
blood level tests of our affected children, nor passed legally enforceable MCLs of PFAS in
drinking water," Favors, now a New York resident, wrote in his testimony to Congress.

Favors goes on to list the 10 blood relatives and in-laws he has lost to cancer, all of whom lived for years near Peterson Air Force Base.
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City campaign roundup: What do the candidates say about recreational pot?

Posted By on Wed, Mar 6, 2019 at 7:01 AM

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What do the candidates seeking a City Council seat or the mayor's post in the April 2 Colorado Springs election have to say about recreational marijuana?

We asked them this question in our candidate questionnaire: What’s your stance on allowing recreational marijuana shops within the city limits, or referring a measure to the ballot to allow voters to decide?

Here's what each said:

Council contenders
Athena Roe: "I have spoken with emergency room physicians at our local hospitals and it is clear that the potent strains have caused overdoses, and more patients in the ER’s.... I am against allowing recreational marijuana shops in our community."

Bill Murray (incumbent): "Four years ago, I ran on referring a measure to the ballot to allow voters to decide! My position has not changed."

Gordon Klingenschmitt: "Addiction and substance abuse cause a slavery-dependency relationship between pusher and abuser, who trade their money and even bodies for their next fix. Government’s role is not to profit from enablement of slavery or trafficking, but to free the slaves through treatment."

Regina English: "My stance on this is to keep our city dollars within our city and if the shops are within the city limits, then this will be accomplished which will enable the city to use the dollars for the up keep of the city. (parks, infrastructures, amenities, etc.)"

Regina English says recreational pot could help fund city needs. - COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATE
  • Courtesy of the candidate
  • Regina English says recreational pot could help fund city needs.
Dennis Spiker: "I believe that this issue is one that city residents must have the ability to vote on themselves and should have been done years ago. Manitou Springs has started to bring in an estimated $3 million per year with their marijuana tax. We could use this money to fix our parks, create sports leagues, or even offer grants to local small businesses, and nonprofits. Though I would like to see this passed it must be voted upon by the city’s residents."

Terry Martinez: "I would support referring a measure to the ballot to allow voters to decide whether to allow recreational marijuana shops within the city limits, as long as the vote coincided with the regular election cycle. The people of Colorado Springs deserve to vote on the issue."

Tom Strand (incumbent): "I agree with this decision [by previous council's to not refer a measure to voters] because of the adverse impact more marijuana facilities will have on our children, middle school and high school students... Currently, Colorado Springs has over 120 medical marijuana facilities within our 200 square mile city. I support the marijuana industry obtaining the necessary citizen signatures on a petition to place this important and sensitive issue on the ballot for voters to assess and determine."

Tony Gioia wouldn't oppose a citizen petition fo place a measure on the ballot. - COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATE
  • Courtesy of the candidate
  • Tony Gioia wouldn't oppose a citizen petition fo place a measure on the ballot.
Tony Gioia: "If a citizen-led initiative came forward to put such a question on the ballot, I would not oppose it. Currently, a large segment of our economy comes from industries that cannot have employees who use marijuana, and these businesses are having a harder and harder time finding employees who can pass a drug screening. For this reason, I would not proactively support bringing such shops to the city at this time."

Val Snider: "I am currently against allowing recreational marijuana sales within the city limits... With my military police background I saw the effects of marijuana on my troops and how it affected their performance... Until there is more science on how the higher THC level affects the minds of youth, I am against increasing accessibility of recreational marijuana within city limits."

Wayne Williams: I support the citizens’ right to petition on this issue... Absent a citizen petition, I would not support referral to change the present mix of medicinal marijuana in the city limits and recreational nearby."

Randy Tuck: "I believe this should have been done 4 years ago. I am for recreational marijuana being approved for Colorado Springs. I believe that it should be referred as a measure to be put on the ballot and let the voters decide. However, we are [wasting] valuable time and revenue's [sic] and this is such an important issue, it should be put to a vote of the council members and get it done! We can no longer watch as we see the profits of our small business people going to 3 other cities as well as the revenue’s attached to the profits."

Mayoral candidates
Juliette Parker says recreational pot should be decided by the people. - COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATE
  • Courtesy of the candidate
  • Juliette Parker says recreational pot should be decided by the people.

Juliette Parker: "I personally feel that as mayor it will be my duty to put the matter of legalization on the ballot so that the residents can decide for themselves what happens in their city. Giving you the opportunity to vote on it puts the power in your hands, where it should be." [It should be noted that while the mayor can advocate for a ballot issue, City Council, not the mayor, is empowered to refer measures to the ballot.]

Lawrence Martinez: "The City next door collected 1 Million in taxes do you really think they smoked it all? .... So if it is here lets [sic] get whats [sic] due our tax money from the sales to our community."

John Suthers (incumbent): "I personally oppose recreational marijuana sales within the city. Also, reliable polling shows the vast majority of Colorado Springs residents do as well. That's why the marijuana industry did not pursue a ballot initiative in November of 2018."

John Pitchford: "In discussing this issue with people who are rigidly opposed to recreational/retail marijuana, I asked them what we will do about our ALREADY existing recreational marijuana industry. As a result of how we legalized medical marijuana in 2010, we created a homegrown cottage industry of micro marijuana farming... Retail marijuana is for sale throughout Colorado Springs, it is on every street corner, in every apartment complex and in every neighborhood. It is unregulated, untaxed and is controlled by criminals. We currently have 6 members of the city council who favor allowing the people to vote on this issue. I favor allowing the people to vote on this issue."
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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

City campaign roundup: Political ads hit TV airwaves

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2019 at 5:55 PM

Terry Martinez, seeking a City Council seat, wants to reach voters through their televisions. - COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATE
  • Courtesy of the candidate
  • Terry Martinez, seeking a City Council seat, wants to reach voters through their televisions.
Don't you just love campaign season, when political ads flood your TV during your favorite programs? 

Me neither.

But according to filings by two local TV stations, voters can expect to be blasted with ads in the weeks ahead as we approach the April 2 city election.

City Council candidate Terry Martinez made an agreement March 4 for an undetermined number of 15- and 30-second spots for five weeks on KOAA Channel 5. He's the only candidate so far to buy time on that station. He also has a contract with KKTV for $1,865 worth of ads to run the week of March 4 to 10.

Citizens Against Public Safety Unions, a committee formed by the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC which opposes Issue 1, the firefighters' collective bargaining measure, has agreed to pay thousands of dollars.

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While its contract with KOAA doesn't give details, the committee has agreed to pay KKTV $91,930 for 30-second spots from March 5 through April 1. The ads will air during news programs in the morning, during The Price is Right game show in the late morning, during Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy in the evenings, and amid both the evening newscast and late night news report.

Those ads will duel with half-minute spots placed by Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs, a committee that supports Issue 1. But the "vote yes" group is spending only $24,060 with KKTV to run ads during similar time slots as the "vote no" group, and only from March 4 to 24.

Both committees also have placed ads with KOAA, but the agreements aren't detailed as to how much will be spent and how many ads will run.

So far, no candidates or issue committees have bought air time with KRDO TV and Fox21News.
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Monday, March 4, 2019

Firefighters endorse challenger John Pitchford in mayor's race

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2019 at 12:09 PM

John Pitchford wins firefighters' endorsement in mayor's race. - JONATHAN BETZ PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Jonathan Betz Photography
  • John Pitchford wins firefighters' endorsement in mayor's race.
The Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters has endorsed challenger John Pitchford for mayor, a dramatic move in an election in which Mayor John Suthers signed a fundraising letter on behalf of a political action committee that opposes the firefighters' collective bargaining measure, which also is on the ballot.

The April 2 election will decide the bargaining question, known as Issue 1, which bars firefighters from striking, and seat a mayor and three at-large City Council members.

Seeking his second term, Suthers is campaigning against Issue 1, which was submitted to voters after firefighters collected thousands of signatures to force it onto the ballot.

The "vote no" committee, called Citizens Against Public Employee Unions, was co-founded by Suthers and the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC. The PAC has raised $219,215, including $30,500 from the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, and spent $39,699, according to the most recent finance report filed Feb. 27.

Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs has raised $316,025, mostly from firefighters via the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), and spent $234,772, including petitioning costs.

Firefighters have said they want a seat at the table to secure funding for equipment and staffing, which hasn't caught up since the 2008 recession. There are fewer front line firefighters in Colorado Springs today than before the recession. As the Independent has reported, firefighters have seen response times suffer and its fleet of fire apparatus age, including an incident in which firefighters were gassed with exhaust, although Suthers has added several new engines and trucks in the last year and plans to add more.

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Pitchford, a retired dentist and career Army officer, said he is "proud" to received the firefighters' endorsement. In a statement, he said:
I have visited with many of our city employees and heard the same story over and over. Mayor Suthers “will not listen to our concerns,” “our voices are not heard” and “Mayor Suthers will not negotiate in good faith.” When it comes to public safety it is absolutely vital that this city be led by a mayor who will listen to the public safety concerns of our firefighters, police officers and be available to work in good faith with all of our employees.

With the strong mayor form of government, the mayor is the CEO of a large business and no business can long endure with a poisonous relationship between management and its employees.
Pitchford also notes that firefighters' concerns don't focus on compensation but rather staffing, equipment and workload.

"Try to imagine your home on fire and the fire truck breaks down on the way to save your home and your life," Pitchford says. "Our firefighters have suffered carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of using firefighting apparatus that is well beyond its replacement age."

Asked about the endorsement, Suthers says via email, "The reality is I’ve worked very hard in the interests of all city employees and that’s reflected in increased compensation. Police and fire in particular have benefited by being brought to market level compensation. But I am steadfastly opposed to unionization of the fire department and that puts me at odds with Local 5."

In a statement, the IAFF Local 5 said:
John Pitchford understands the top priority for government, from federal to local, is guaranteeing the safety of its citizens. His commitment to work with the professionals who provide that safety is non-wavering. He believes that the protection of our community should be immune from political influences. Public safety is not a partisan issue, and impacts each and every one of us equally. Mr. Pitchford supports true collaboration and a team based approach to improving the lives of our citizens. For that reason, the Colorado Springs Professional Fire Fighters proudly endorse the candidacy of John Pitchford for Mayor of Colorado Springs. 
The endorsement, announced March 4, comes without a campaign contribution.

Dave Noblitt, Local 5 spokesman, says via email: "If both sides stand along side each other without exchanging funds, we have not provided anyone any point to make an accusation of donating to expect favors. We both believe that is part of the current problem."

On Feb. 20, Pitchford's campaign gave $2,500 to the Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs campaign, records show, but the PAC refused it, Noblitt says.

Suthers has raised $180,236 for his mayoral run, while Pitchford has brought in $104,314, most of it in a loan from the candidate.

Local 5 also endorsed Terry Martinez and incumbent Bill Murray in the Council race. Those endorsements come with $500 each in campaign money.

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Tony Gioia speaks during a reception March 1. - GIOIA CAMPAIGN
  • Gioia campaign
  • Tony Gioia speaks during a reception March 1.
Tony Gioia was the man of the hour on March 1 at a reception hosted by Walker Schooler District Managers, Steve Schuck, Sen. Bob Gardner, Rep. Larry Liston, political consultants William Mutch and Sarah Jack, and City Councilor Merv Bennett.

Gioia has been endorsed by the HBA and Pikes Peak Association of Realtors. Disclosure: Gioia worked at the Indy for a short time several years ago.

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Forum reminder:

March 7: Council hopefuls discuss environmental issues, hosted by the Independent, Colorado Springs Business Journal, Trails and Open Space Coalition, Colorado College Collaborative for Community Engagement, 6:30 p.m., Packard Hall, Colorado College, 5 W. Cache La Poudre St.

March 9: Candidates forum, hosted by El Pomar Foundation Forum for Civic Advancement, 5:30-7 p.m. followed by a reception, Penrose House Pavilion, 1661 Mesa Ave.

March 21: Council candidates forum, hosted by voters in Precinct 729 (Broadmoor Bluffs), 7-9 p.m., Cheyenne Mountain Elementary School, 5250 Farthing Drive.

March 14: Council Candidate Forum, hosted by the Southeast Express and Citizens Project, 6-7:30 p.m., Sierra High School, 2250 Jet Wing Drive.
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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Suthers poll shows strong support for extending city road tax 2C

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2019 at 12:49 PM

MAGELLAN STRATEGIES
  • Magellan Strategies
A newly released voter poll shows 59 percent of likely voters in the April 2 city election would support renewing the city's 2C road tax at a rate of .57 percent.

That's lower than the first five-year program's tax of .62 percent. Poll respondents were not asked their opinions of renewing the tax at the full .62 percent level, which voters approved in 2015. The 2C measure was expected to raise $50 million a year, but those expectations have been exceeded, leading to the lower tax rate, which would still generate about $55 million annually.

Suthers: Wants the road tax extended. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Suthers: Wants the road tax extended.
The poll, conducted by Magellan Strategies at the expense of Mayor John Suthers' re-election campaign, asked whether respondents supported the tax "with the understanding that the vast majority of the approximately $55 million ... raised per year would be used to improve residential roads."

Suthers tells the Indy a second five-year 2C program would funnel 80 percent of the money into residential roads, some of which haven't been improved in decades.

"If I'm the mayor," Suthers says in an interview, "I'm certainly going to recommend we renew it for five years, with 80 percent going to residential roads. I said early on, I thought it would take 10 years to catch up." The city's road network has suffered from lack of maintenance over many years.

The first 2C program, which began in 2016, focused on arterial and collector streets, with a goal of repaving 1,000 lane miles throughout the city. The city has 5,700 lane miles of roadways, but the majority are residential.

The poll showed that women are warmer to the idea of renewing the tax than men, and that support by Democrats (72 percent) and unaffiliated voters (72 percent) far outweighs Republican support (49 percent).

Looking at results by age group those 65 and older expressed the lowest level of support, at 54 percent, while those 35 to 44 showed the greatest support at 76 percent.

City Council District 2, which covers the city's southwest sector, and District 5, the city's mid section, expressed the most robust support, at 62 percent. The least support was seen in the city's northwest sector, District 1, at 55 percent.

With all that in mind, Suthers says, if re-elected, he hopes to meet with Council in May to hammer out a ballot measure that Council would refer to the November 2019 ballot. The current 2C program, which has spent roughly $150,000 so far, ends Dec. 31, 2020.

If a measure is on El Paso County's November coordinated election, the city would pay about $250,000 of the election's costs.
  
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