Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Nor'wood business district withdraws Scheels request

Posted By on Tue, Jun 25, 2019 at 11:26 AM

Scheels All Sports store will remain within a business improvement district, at least for now. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • Scheels All Sports store will remain within a business improvement district, at least for now.

Interquest Marketplace LLC, an entity controlled by the region's biggest developer, Nor'wood Development Group, has backed out of its request to exclude Scheels All Sports store from the business improvement district Nor'wood also controls.

Russell Dykstra, an attorney in Denver who represents the district, sent an email notification to city officials at 4:15 p.m. June 24, saying the petition for exclusion from the Interquest North Business Improvement District (BID) submitted March 26 was withdrawn.

"The intent of withdrawing the petition at this time is to allow additional opportunity for the petitioners and the Interquest North Business Improvement District to further evaluate the overall financial structure of the project and the public improvements yet to be built and financed by the District and the impact of the exclusion," Dykstra wrote.

The last-minute withdrawal came less than 24 hours before City Council was to take up the exclusion on June 25, and after several stories by the Independent raised questions about the accuracy of the financial data submitted to the city on the BID's behalf. After those stories appeared, Dykstra wrote to the city saying a key figure presented in support of the exclusion was wrong.
Scheels, which plans to build a megastore in north Colorado Springs, was given a $16.2 million sales tax incentive spanning 25 years in February. The BID followed up in March asking that the retailer be excluded from the BID, thereby giving it a pass on the BID's 51-mill property tax levy. The BID also collects a 1.25 percent Public Improvement Fee on sales, and it's unclear whether Scheels will collect that PIF on behalf of the district. However, the city's $16.2 million incentive deal also allowed Scheels to collect its own PIF.

The Scheels store will be built on property now owned by entities controlled by Nor'wood, which is owned by long time developer David Jenkins.

Councilor Bill Murray: Let's take a closer look at that. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Councilor Bill Murray: Let's take a closer look at that.
Although the exclusion petition has been withdrawn, the issue regarding developer control of some taxing districts might get further scrutiny.

Councilor Bill Murray, who's out of town attending the National League of Cities, tells the Indy by phone he wants to know more about the Interquest BID and others.

"I'm calling for a review of all the BIDS," he says. "We want to see exactly what they [developers] have been doing with this money and the taxing authority we've given to them. The whole idea is this money is for public improvements. It's now being used as a financial mechanism to wheel and deal."

Tim Leonard owns Deepwater Point Co., a development management company that represents the two business in the BID that opposed the Scheels exclusion — BWR Investors LLC, owner and operator of the Burger King, and Riverside Restaurant Group LLC, owner of the Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen.

He's glad to see the item withdrawn.

"Withdrawal is prudent for the developer and Scheels, because an analysis has finally been done that shows it's more beneficial for Scheels to be included and have taxes reduced for everyone than it is to give corporate welfare to the largest retailer [Scheels] in the district," he says. "The property owners in the district are adamantly opposed to using district taxpayer money for the special benefit of a single retailer."

That analysis to which he refers, by the way, was conducted by Leonard, not the city.

Leonard also notes that the district now has a fund balance of $4 million. Should a project arise that the BID wants to fund — such as Scheels' parking lot — it has adequate funds to undertake the project without issuing new debt, which would require the City Council's permission. Spending the money on such a parking lot, however, does not require Council approval.

It's unclear if all district members support spending the district's money in that way.

We've left a message for Chris Jenkins, president of Nor'wood, seeking a comment and will update if and when we hear back.
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Monday, June 24, 2019

City Councilor: It's not honest to say Air Force Academy area is "blighted"

Posted By on Mon, Jun 24, 2019 at 5:36 PM

A rendering of the visitor center project and accompanying buildings. - COURTESY AIR FORCE ACADEMY
  • Courtesy Air Force Academy
  • A rendering of the visitor center project and accompanying buildings.
True North Commons Urban Renewal Area, some 88 acres surrounding the entrance to the Air Force Academy, promises to trigger billions of dollars in economic development as well as millions in tax dollars.

But one City Councilor asserted the area is far from blighted as required by the state's urban renewal statute.

The economic predictions came from city economic development officer Bob Cope during his pitch at City Council's June 24 work session where he outlined why the city should allow the developer to use city tax money to develop the project under urban renewal status.

The plan, by Blue and Silver Development Partners, calls for building a new visitors center, hotel, retail and office space as part of the city's City for Champions tourism venture being partially funded with state sales tax rebates. Other projects include a sports medicine venue at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, a downtown soccer stadium, a hockey arena on the Colorado College Campus and the Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame under construction in the downtown area.

Cope said the city would contribute $23.5 million in tax money to the project but would reap $49.7 million in taxes over a 25-year period. Calling it a "legacy anchor tourism project," Cope said it would add $2.6 billion in economic activity locally over 25 years, and bring more than 1,000 construction jobs and a like number of permanent jobs.
 
But Councilor Don Knight shot down the idea, saying the land fails to meet the definition of blighted, as required by statute. He added it's not honest to pretend that it does.

Noting his 26 years in the Air Force, Knight said the service follows three core values: "Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do."
Noting the first tenet, he said, "I just don’t see how with any integrity we can stand up and say this is a menace. I just can’t do that. This does not constitute the definition of a blighted area."

Moreover, Knight noted that "new revenue" for the city has appeared as a "tagline" in Cope's presentations for "at least a half dozen projects" in the last year. He also said the city's gaining an average of $1 million a year from the project doesn't warrant allowing it to be called an urban renewal area so developers can seize tax money to fund development costs.

"The loss of this doesn't mean the city is going to be going hungry," he said. "We have a lot of other projects. There's so many things about this that bother me."
A concept development plan for the project. - COURTESY BLUE AND SILVER DEVELOPMENT PARTNERS
  • Courtesy Blue and Silver Development Partners
  • A concept development plan for the project.
The state statute at issue says this in defining what constitutes a candidate property for urban renewal:
(1) "Agricultural land" means any one parcel of land or any two or more contiguous parcels of land that, regardless of the uses for which the land has been zoned, has been classified by the county assessor as agricultural land for purposes of the levying and collection of property tax pursuant to sections 39-1-102 (1.6) (a) and 39-1-103 (5) (a), C.R.S., at any time during the five-year period prior to the date of adoption of an urban renewal plan or any modification of such a plan.

(2) "Blighted area" means an area that, in its present condition and use and, by reason of the presence of at least four of the following factors, substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the municipality, retards the provision of housing accommodations, or constitutes an economic or social liability, and is a menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare:

(a) Slum, deteriorated, or deteriorating structures;

(b) Predominance of defective or inadequate street layout;

(c) Faulty lot layout in relation to size, adequacy, accessibility, or usefulness;

(d) Unsanitary or unsafe conditions;

(e) Deterioration of site or other improvements;

(f) Unusual topography or inadequate public improvements or utilities;

(g) Defective or unusual conditions of title rendering the title nonmarketable;

(h) The existence of conditions that endanger life or property by fire or other causes;

(i) Buildings that are unsafe or unhealthy for persons to live or work in because of building code violations, dilapidation, deterioration, defective design, physical construction, or faulty or inadequate facilities;

(j) Environmental contamination of buildings or property.
The mayor's Chief of Staff Jeff Greene asked Knight if he would oppose the urban renewal designation based on whether the land is a menace or not, and Knight said, "yes," noting if that's allowed, "You can take the most pristine forest anywhere in the state and declare it an urban renewal area."

Council President Richard Skorman backed the developer, saying the land may not fit the normal description of blight, "But I feel like we need to do everything we can to make this happen, because the value is potentially tremendous."

Not only will the visitors center attract more tourists, Skorman said, but the hotels will draw meetings and conferences. "We’re talking about trying to make this the space capital of the United States. I think this is a piece of it, and I can tell you the people I’ve talked to, the professors at the Academy are excited to have their conferences next to the Academy."

He added, "I don’t want to be too negative. Let’s find out if urban renewal is possible.
I think we have to go into this with an open mind."

The developer Dan Schnepf, himself an Academy grad, took umbrage at Knight's remarks.

"I am modestly offended if you think this is not an honorable development," Schnepf said. "If this was a project by which we were going to define the statute, I’d be right there with you. I’m responding to a statute put in place in 1958 and used hundreds of times. I’ve looked at those blighted elements, and we meet at least four, maybe more. But I do respect your opinion. That’s an argument to have at the statute level, not here on this project."
Councilor Wayne Williams, who's a lawyer, also backed the developer. "Do I wish the Legislature had used a word other than blight? Sure. Within the wording of the law, this fits the requirement."

Greene then reminded Council of Mayor John Suthers' stance on the proposal. "The administration is very proud of this project," Greene said. "The mayor is very proud of this project. He has advocated for this project. The city needs all the revenue it can generate."

Councilor David Geislinger said he, too, struggles with the definition of urban renewal area, and asked Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Area director Jariah Walker, "Assuming we’re saying this is urban renewal to bulldoze these 88 acres, how is that going to change, if at all, the understanding of Colorado Springs of your group, as to what urban renewal is, going forward?
There are areas that would qualify for blight. I would be concerned if the URA said we’re now going to be focusing on these projects rather than those areas of town that are truly blighted."

Walker vowed the URA would "absolutely focus on those areas," and is "not just interested in pushing north or northeast."

Greene promised to obtain a legal analysis of the statute for Council, although Knight said he based his remarks on City Attorney Wynetta Massey's briefing to Council at a previous recent work session.
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Bike to Work Day is June 26

Posted By on Mon, Jun 24, 2019 at 5:30 PM

Mayor John Suthers and police officers were among those to participate in the 2018 Bike to Work Day. - ALLEN BEAUCHAMP
  • Allen Beauchamp
  • Mayor John Suthers and police officers were among those to participate in the 2018 Bike to Work Day.

Colorado Springs' Bike to Work Day is June 26, and there are plenty of reason to press your feet the pedals — starting with your stomach. The event, for which the Independent is a sponsor, features over 30 locations for cyclists to get a free breakfast including local businesses with yummy offerings. (Find yours on the map!)

You don't have to register to get breakfast, but you are encouraged to: It's a way for the city to judge how many people are getting out on their bikes and that factors into a lot of decision-making on how best to accommodate cyclists. You can register as late as the morning of Bike to Work Day!

Feeling nervous about your route? Check the city's bike map to figure out the safest way from home to work.

By the way, Bike to Work Day is just one of many events for Bike Month. So be sure to check out the other happenings.

Here are some tips to keep you safe on the road:

Under state law bicyclists are considered vehicles, however, they are much more vulnerable on the road. Please consider the following safety suggestions to help make for a pleasant ride to work that morning.
• People get around our city on foot, in car, by bus, on bikes and wheelchairs. Let’s be mindful so that we all arrive safely.
• Always wear a helmet.
• Always signal when riding on the road and obey all Colorado traffic laws.
• Be visible and alert to surroundings.
• Respect and be considerate of others on the roads and trails.


Want to hit a Happy Hour on the ride home and get a special deal? Here's the list:

Stop at any one of the local breweries listed below for a special deal as you bike home from work:
• Brass Brewing Co. (318 E. Colorado Ave), $1 off beer all day, $2 off beer during Happiest Hour (4-7 p.m.)
• Brewer’s Republic (112 N. Nevada Ave), $1 off beer all day, $2 off beer during Happiest Hour (4-7 p.m.)
• Cerberus Brewing Co. (702 W. Colorado Ave), $1 off beer all day, $2 off beer during Happiest Hour (4-7 p.m.)
• FH Beer Works Downtown (521 S. Tejon St), $1 off pints for riders
• FH Beer Works East (2490 Victor Pl/ Rock Island Trail & Powers), $1 off pints for riders
• Goat Patch Brewing Co. (2727 N Cascade Ave, #123/ Lincoln Center), BOGO for riders
• Local Relic (320 S. Weber St), ½ off first flight or full pour, plus BOGO select bottles
• Peaks N Pines Brewery (4005 Tutt Boulevard 80922), BOGO for riders
• Phantom Canyon Brewing Co. (2 East Pikes Peak Avenue 80903), free pint with purchase of an appetizer ($10 minimum)
• Storybook Brewing Co. (3121A, N El Paso St), BOGO for riders on BTWD, 10% off for riders all year
• Tap Traders (3104 N Nevada Ave #100), BOGO for riders on BTWD
• Trails End Taproom (3103 W. Colorado Ave), 15% off beer pours for riders
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AG strikes health care anti-trust pact

Posted By on Mon, Jun 24, 2019 at 5:08 PM

Attorney Phil Weiser reached agreement to continue certain health benefits for people in Colorado Springs. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Attorney Phil Weiser reached agreement to continue certain health benefits for people in Colorado Springs.
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser reached agreement in an anti-trust challenge involving UnitedHealth Group and DaVita Inc. to make sure those in Colorado Springs who have health care through Medicare Advantage aren’t subject to anticompetitive effects of a merger of the two companies.

At issue is UnitedHealth Group’s $4.3 billion bid to acquire the physician practice group of DaVita Inc.

DaVita Medical Group owns two large physicians groups here, while UnitedHealth is the largest provider of Medicare Advantage plans in the region .

In December 2017, UnitedHealth Group announced its subsidiary, Optum, would acquire DaVita Medical Group. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigated the merger but declined to seek any remedies to protect Colorado consumers.

Weiser then sought to enforce the antitrust laws and address foreseen anticompetitive outcomes in Colorado.

A consent judgment filed June 19. It requires UnitedHealth to lift its exclusive contract with Centura Health for at least 3.5 years, and DaVita Medical Group to extend its agreement with Humana, a UnitedHealth rival, through at least 2020.
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Transit hub, nearly 20 years in the making, still just a vision

Posted By on Mon, Jun 24, 2019 at 5:06 PM

Looking northwest from the corner of Sahwatch and Cucharras streets, the preferred location for a new transit hub. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Looking northwest from the corner of Sahwatch and Cucharras streets, the preferred location for a new transit hub.

An update from city administration about building a new city transit hub drew strong words from City Council at its June 24 work session, with Councilor Tom Strand noting the Council has been toying with the project for nearly 20 years.

"We've spent enough heartbeats on this," he said. "We need to move forward."

And that very well might mean taking the property by eminent domain, several councilors said. Eminent domain is the process in which private property is taken at market value by a government entity to serve a public purpose.

Studies have concluded the top three choices, in order, are:

• Three quarters of the block bounded by Colorado Avenue, Sahwatch Street, Cucharras Street and Sierra Madre Stree.
• Three quarters of the block bounded by Cucharras, Weber Street, Vermijo Street and Nevada Avenue. (The Independent is located in this city block but is not part of the desired property.)
• Pueblo Avenue right-of-way between Nevada and Wahsatch Street.

The first choice, though, comes with a limiting caveat: The owner, shown on county property records as Supperstein Family Trust, doesn't want to sell but rather wants to pursue "a joint development project and wishes to retain ownership," the staff said in a written report for Council. "Under this approach, the City and the property owner would follow the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTAs) joint development requirements," it said.

As Mountain Metropolitan Transit manager Craig Blewitt told Council, under a normal public/private partnership, the government owns the property and engages a developer to help develop it. "This is the other way around," he said, noting that even if a deal could be reached, it would take two years to complete the hub terminal.

Blewitt said the next step should be for the city to get an appraisal of the property, but if the owner still isn't interested in selling, "Then we're probably looking at renovations to the existing terminal." The transit hub sits on the southwest corner of Nevada Avenue and Kiowa Street.

Several Council members made it clear they want to press forward with the top-ranked site.

"It seems to me the preferred site is the one that will enhance accessibility for those using the transit system," Councilor David Geislinger said. "Is there any thought about taking the next step and doing eminent domain?"

At that, Jeff Greene, Mayor John Suthers' chief of staff, jumped in. "The mayor has been very clear. He does not support [eminent domain]. We would assess the legal options and then look at other options that would provide a stop gap..."

Councilor Jill Gaebler noted the Southwest Chief & Front Range Passenger Rail Commission on which she serves is "really really moving" forward, not only with a local rail line between cities, but also possibly luring the Amtrak's Southwest Chief, which travels from Chicago to Los Angeles, to come to Colorado Springs from Pueblo before heading south.

"I want Colorado Springs to be poised and ready," she said, adding that the preferred site is the only one that makes sense for accommodating Bustang, a commuter shuttle service that runs between Front Range cities, in pulling off and back on Interstate 25.

To which Strand said, "It just seems like we're paralyzed. Constituents don't think the current site is at all appropriate. Actually, it was a previous Council that started this. This is the eighth different time in 20 years [the city has studied a site for a new transit hub]."

Councilor Wayne Williams said although he's "not enamored" of the eminent domain process, it doesn't make sense to locate a transit hub east of Nevada, because it's too far away from a potential rail hub.

For Council President Richard Skorman, the issue is compelling. "This is a really important site that will determine the future of maybe millions of travelers over time," he said, noting several costly projects, including the $100-million Cimarron/I-25 interchange, anticipated a hub in that vicinity.

"It's an issue we've been talking about for decades," he said. "I'm not pleased. We were able to tell the landowner this is where we want to be, and we're sort of being held hostage. I think we need to look at eminent domain as a tool in the tool chest."

Greene subdued further debate by promising a new report in 30 days, but warned Council, "On property negotiations, be careful what you're stating publicly. It's a very sensitive process."

The Indy couldn't reach Supperstein Family Trust for a comment but will update if we hear back.
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Friday, June 21, 2019

Business district now admits Scheels sales figure "was wrong"

Posted By on Fri, Jun 21, 2019 at 3:08 PM

Aquariums are one attraction that appear in some Scheels stores. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • Aquariums are one attraction that appear in some Scheels stores.

A low-ball estimate of annual sales expected from the proposed Scheels All Sports store in north Colorado Springs, "was wrong," says an attorney representing the Interquest North Business Improvement District (BID).

The Independent reported on June 14 that the BID, controlled by Nor'wood Development Group via seats on the board, submitted a document on May 16 that stated Scheels' annual sales would total $20.4 million. That's a third of the $60-million estimate previously provided to the city in support of a $16.2 million sales tax break for Scheels. City Council approved the incentive in February. The city also confirmed June 13 the $60 million is correct.

Three days after the Indy's blog post, Russell Dykstra, with Spencer Fane LLP law firm in Denver, wrote the city an email on behalf of the petitioner, Nor'wood — which is owned by developer David Jenkins — in which it corrected the figure.

"Of note, the prior information as to the impact of the Scheels store in relation to comparable commercial property in the Interquest North Business Improvement District was based on erroneous information (the projected annual sales amount was wrong) and should be disregarded," Dykstra wrote.

He then notes that Scheels stores "can do sales of $60 million a year or more," which would mean the BID would receive "$750,000+ per year from the PIF (public improvement fee, which is collected like a sales tax) alone."

Read the email here:

Two businesses oppose the exclusion, arguing that removing Scheels from the BID means Scheels wouldn't have to pay 51 mills in property taxes and the 1.25 percent PIF. Together, those levies would bring in roughly $1 million a year — an amount that the remaining BID members would have to pay.

Tim Leonard owns Deepwater Point Co., a development management company that represents the two opponents, BWR Investors LLC, owner and operator of the Burger King, and Riverside Restaurant Group LLC, owner of the Cheddar's Scratch Kitchen.

Both lie within the BID and oppose excluding Scheels.

Leonard notes in an outline provided to the Indy that if the BID continues to collect its mill levy and PIF, with Scheels in the district, it would receive $2.8 million a year toward payment of bond debt of $972,000 per year. (The BID has issued debt totaling $11.3 million that's earmarked for public improvements such as sidewalks.) He further notes the BID's fund balance this year would swell to $4.1 million.

But, Leonard also says, if the mill levy and PIF were lowered to 5 mills and 1 percent, respectively, the district still would collect ample funds, $1.25 million a year, to meet its debt payments.

"So the issue is not whether Scheels should be subsidized by all the smaller businesses," Leonard says, "but why does the Board not lower the mill levy as its tax base expands?"

Councilor Bill Murray: Council didn't know about opposition. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Councilor Bill Murray: Council didn't know about opposition.
Leonard has said his clients and other businesses in the BID were not notified of the exclusion request prior to a May 28 briefing by city staff to Council. According to a certificate of mailing recently submitted to the city, Spencer Fane mailed notices to all BID members on June 13.

That's two days after Council was originally slated to consider the exclusion request (June 11) but delayed it after receiving a June 6 letter from Leonard expressing opposition. Councilor Bill Murray has said Council wasn't told of any opposition until it received Leonard's letter.

Now, Council is poised to make a decision on the exclusion on June 25.

The BID is controlled by Nor'wood through seats on the board. Hence, Nor'wood controls issuing debt, which Nor'wood, in turn, has purchased through entities created by Jenkins and his son, Chris, president of Nor'wood. Those entities are Enterprise Fund No. 6 and Enterprise Fund No. 8. The Nor'wood-controlled board also sets the BID's property tax rate.

We reached out to Dykstra, inviting him to explain how the $20.4 million sales figure came to be submitted to the city in error, and asking him to comment on any part of the exclusion request he wishes. We'll circle back when we hear something.

We've invited Nor'wood and Scheels to comment a couple of times in recent days and never heard back.
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Deputy fired for alleged sexual assault is not charged

Posted By on Fri, Jun 21, 2019 at 1:00 PM

An El Paso County Sheriff’s Office deputy won’t be criminally charged in connection with an allegation of sexual assault, the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office announced June 20 on Twitter.

Deputy David Kwiecien was fired on May 21, a week after a May 13 notice of claim was submitted to the county.

According to that letter, from attorney Timothy Bussey who’s representing an unnamed female (her name is redacted from the claim letter), Kwiecien made contact with the woman in the early morning hours of Dec. 25, 2018, initiating an investigation to determine if she was intoxicated.
The deputy then cited her for DUI. After she finished giving a blood sample at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, she was released into the care of her son, the letter says.

Later that night, the claim letter says, Kwiecien contacted the woman via text message and visited her at her residence, the letter says. “Deputy Kwiecien then visited [redacted] a second time at [redacted] residence,” the letter says. “During this second visit Deputy Kwiecien took advantage of his position as a law enforcement officer and his knowledge of [redacted] intoxicated state to sexually assault [redacted].”

There was another deputy on the initial DUI call, but the letter says it’s unknown to what degree, if any, he was involved in or aware of the incident. Kirby says the second deputy is not under investigation.

On Twitter, the DA’s Office said:

Following a thorough review of the events that occurred on Dec. 24-25, 2018 involving former El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Deputy David Kwiecien, the 4th Judicial D.A.’s Office has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to file criminal charges under Colorado law.
“While off-duty, Mr. Kwiecien engaged in inappropriate relations with a citizen he had arrested hours earlier for driving under the influence. An investigation has determined that the conduct occurred when the woman was no longer in custody and had returned to her home, and, while his actions were highly inappropriate and unprofessional, they do not rise to the level of criminal charges under Colorado law.

Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Jackie Kirby says via email, “We cannot comment on pending litigation. He was terminated from the Sheriff’s Office almost a month before the DA made their ruling.”

————ORIGINAL POST, 5:28 PM MAY 28, 2019—————-
sheriff_soffice.pamzubeck_1_copy.jpg
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office fired a deputy on May 21, a week after receiving a claim notice from a woman who states through her attorney that the deputy sexually assaulted her on Christmas Day last year, sheriff's spokesperson Jackie Kirby tells the Independent.

A notice of claim letter is usually the first step toward a lawsuit. The woman is seeking $10 million in damages.

The deputy in question, David Kwiecien, joined the department in 2016, Kirby says.

"I can tell you that the criminal investigation is in the DA's [District Attorney's] office's hands, and we're waiting for them to make a ruling [on whether criminal charges will be filed]," Kirby says.

According to the May 13 claim letter, from attorney Timothy Bussey, Kwiecien made contact with the woman, whose name is redacted from the claim letter, in the early morning hours of Dec. 25, 2018, initiating an investigation to determine if she was intoxicated.

The deputy then cited her for DUI. After she finished giving a blood sample at UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, she was released into the care of her son, the letter says.

Later that night, Kwiecien contacted the woman via text message and visited her at her residence, the letter says. "Deputy Kwiecien then visited [redacted] a second time at [redacted] residence," the letter says. "During this second visit Deputy Kwiecien took advantage of his position as a law enforcement officer and his knowledge of [redacted] intoxicated state to sexually assault [redacted]."

There was another deputy on the initial DUI call, but the  the letter says it's unknown to what degree, if any, he was involved in or aware of the incident. Kirby says the second deputy is not under investigation.

The Indy reached out to the DA's Office to inquire about the investigation and will circle back when and if we hear something.
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Thursday, June 20, 2019

Fort Carson to Muslim soldier: Seek the report through the Freedom of Information Act

Posted By on Thu, Jun 20, 2019 at 3:54 PM

Cesilia Valdovinos filed a complaint that led to a report, but she must seek it through the Freedom of Information Act, the Army says. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Cesilia Valdovinos filed a complaint that led to a report, but she must seek it through the Freedom of Information Act, the Army says.
A Fort Carson soldier who filed a discrimination complaint about being ordered to remove her hijab in public must file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the report from an investigation about the incident.

The post issued the report, which found no wrongdoing on the part of the Army, to the Gazette recently in response to the newspaper's FOIA request, but didn't give a copy to the soldier who was the subject of the investigation, Cesilia Valdovinos. Read about the controversy here.

Asked about that, a Carson spokesperson says via email, "After the investigation is completed the Soldier would need to request a copy through the FOIA process."

This runs contrary to what Valdovinos says she was told by the post's officials. Via email, Valdovinos tells the Independent that when she "repeatedly" requested a copy, Army officials told her it had been "misplaced" and "that it was getting sent to different sections and people in the brigade who 'may' have a copy but no one ever had one."

"No one EVER informed me about having to first file a request through FOIA," she writes. "None of this requirement about having to file a FOIA was ever brought to my attention at ANY time.”

Mikey Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who has intervened in the Valdovinos case, issued this statement:
Fort Carson’s deliberate failure to enable our MRFF client, Spc. Valdovinos, to receive a copy of the EEO investigation SHE initiated is not merely mild misfeasance and happenstance. It is malignant malfeasance and it is blatantly illegal. It is another undeniable example of the anti-Muslim bias, bullying, harassment, oppression, bigotry and prejudice she has been forced to endure at the hands of her Army leadership at Fort Carson. MRFF looks forward to aiding Spc. Valdovinos in her federal civil rights litigation to bring her, and all others similarly situated, justice for this illicit, targeted, retaliatory punishment.

Fort Carson has previously asserted that Army leaders respect soldiers’ right to practice their faith without fear of prejudice or repercussion, but even obtaining an accommodation, which Valdovinos had done in mid-2018, doesn’t mean they’re not subject to inspection for compliance with Army regulations that specify how a hijab should be worn.

Col. David Zinn, who then served at Carson, also issued a statement saying, "I will ensure our unit continues our tradition of placing a high value on the rights of our Soldiers to observe the tenets of their respective religions or to observe no religion at all.”

Valdovinos vows she'll file a federal lawsuit alleging violation of her constitutional rights.
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Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Water sales falter for Colorado Springs Utilities amid wet spring

Posted By on Wed, Jun 19, 2019 at 3:41 PM

Heavy rains have filled gutters across the city this spring, much like this street as shown two years ago. It's since been the site of a storm drainage project to improve drainage. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • Heavy rains have filled gutters across the city this spring, much like this street as shown two years ago. It's since been the site of a storm drainage project to improve drainage.
A damp spring that's pushed Colorado Springs above its normal rainfall total translates to about $3.4 million less in water sales for Colorado Springs Utilities through May this year compared to the same five months last year.

The dip in sales likely is related to customers curtailing irrigation of lawns, golf courses and other vegetation.

Last year, Utilities collected $64.7 million in water sales through May, compared to this year's $61.3 million.

The biggest gap between last year and this year came in May when Utilities' water revenue totaled $18.3 million compared to $23.3 million in May 2018.

Water consumption in May 2018 stood at 2.9 billion gallons, compared to 2 billion gallons in May this year.

Because Utilities forecasted sales through May 2019 at $18 million but brought in $18.3 million, "We were OK," says Utilities spokesperson Natalie Watts.

"In general," she says via email, "when we do forecasting we tend to [err] on the side of conservativeness because we don’t want to get ourselves into a financial hardship. This is especially true during the months of May and October because the weather can be so different during those two months from year to year. We try to build in a little bit of a cushion in case of a bad year."

Watts says Utilities projected $25 million in water revenue for June this year after receiving $29.6 million last year due to hot and dry weather.

However, already this month, about 1.5 inches of rain has fallen through June 18. That's brought the total precipitation so far this year to 6.85 inches, compared to 4.64 inches a year ago, according to the National Weather Service. (The 30-year average is 5.11 inches.)

Meantime, water consumption dropped correspondingly, from 2.1 billion gallons between June 1 through 18, 2018, to 1.4 billion gallons for the same period this year.
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City tries "gutter bins" to keep cigarette butts out of creek

Posted By on Wed, Jun 19, 2019 at 3:38 PM

"Gutter bins" are shaped like giant socks. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • "Gutter bins" are shaped like giant socks.
To keep pollution out of waterways, city staff are thinking outside the box — and have their minds in the gutter.

In May, the city installed "gutter bins" in three downtown locations. The sock-like devices catch cigarette butts, pieces of Styrofoam coffee cups or whatever else people happen to discard that would otherwise flow down the gutter and, eventually, into the creek.

"The other day we pulled about 15 pounds out of one of them," says city stormwater specialist Jerry Cordova. "...We actually found a brand-new softball."

Cordova's team plans to try out the three bins for a while and possibly add them later in other parts of the city. The devices, manufactured by environmental technology company Frog Creek Partners, come with a price tag, but the bin lids are customizable — so companies who want to "sponsor" a gutter bin could have their names etched on the top, Cordova adds.

"This is one opportunity to [improve the water quality] without making a huge investment up front: Try it, see how it works and we can always scale this larger," he says.

Cordova also runs the Adopt-A-Waterway Program, which allows businesses and organizations to "adopt" a stretch of creek by keeping it clean in exchange for getting their name on a sign. And the city's Creek Week event draws hundreds of volunteers to clean up trash along Fountain Creek each fall.

While volunteers in those two programs can see the immediate difference that picking up trash for a day or two makes, Cordova points out that small pieces of litter accumulated over time can also harm the creek ecosystem.

The "gutter bin" lids are customizable. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • The "gutter bin" lids are customizable.
When someone walking downtown sees a cigarette butt discarded on the sidewalk, they may think, "Oh it's just a cigarette butt," Cordova says.

"But think about all the health warnings that you see about cigarettes and the dangers of smoking. ... Well, all those toxins get stuck in that little filter, that cigarette butt — so when that gets into our water, it's been leaching those chemicals into the water."

What's more, he says, fish will often eat cigarette butts floating on the water, and water fowl nibble them up while pecking at the ground for food.

"It seems like something small, but little things can make big differences, positive or negative, and so that's why we wanted these filters to capture those little pieces that many people overlook," Cordova says.
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11 local stories making headlines this week

Posted By on Wed, Jun 19, 2019 at 8:51 AM

Mayor John Suthers and police officers take part in the 2018 Bike to Work Day.
  • Mayor John Suthers and police officers take part in the 2018 Bike to Work Day.

June 26 is the 2019 Bike to Work Day. Participants can receive a free breakfast at 30-plus locations along the trail network. To register and learn more, go to ColoradoSprings.gov/BikeToWork.

The Air Force has diverted $66.6 million from other projects to efforts aimed at cleaning up and testing for PFAS, a group of toxic, man-made chemicals used in military firefighting foam, according to a letter from the Department of Defense.

Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips of Lakewood is being sued a third time for his refusal to make specialty cakes for LGBTQ clients. 

The number of undocumented immigrants in Colorado decreased by 30,000 between 2007 and 2017, according to a report from Pew Research Center.

El Paso County jail received $150,000 in federal grant funding to provide medication-assisted treatment to inmates with opioid use disorder.

As part of a national settlement, 168 Coloradans who attended now-defunct ITT Technical Institute programs will receive $1.67 million in debt relief.

Tax revenue from medical and retail cannabis sales in Colorado has exceeded a total of $1 billion since retail weed sales began in 2014, according to new data from the state Department of Revenue.

Officials cut the ribbon on June 17 to officially open the Sand Creek Police Substation, 950 Academy Park Loop. 

The Colorado Department of Transportation Division of Aeronautics named the Colorado Springs Municipal Airport 2019’s Colorado Airport of the Year.

Sen. Michael Bennet, R-Colorado, and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper qualified for the Democratic presidential debates to be held in Miami June 26 and 27.

Manitou Springs’ most famous artist, passed away on June 16. Charles Rockey, 87, painted countless whimsical scenes of his beloved town. The city of Manitou Springs is considering naming a street for him: Rockey Road.

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TABOR can be repealed

Posted By on Wed, Jun 19, 2019 at 8:45 AM

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Reversing a state Title Board decision, the Colorado Supreme Court issued a decision on June 17 that the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) could be repealed in its entirety. The Title Board’s ruling was based on the state Constitution’s single-subject rule, adopted in the wake of voters approving TABOR in 1992. TABOR has many parts — from revenue caps to required votes on tax increases — and thus the high court has previously ruled that repealing it by initiative would violate that rule.

“Now they’re saying, ‘never mind,’” TABOR author Douglas Bruce of Colorado Springs tells the Indy. “Somebody got to them.” The conservative Colorado Rising Action opposes the move and claims 71 percent of Coloradans support TABOR.

The ruling allows the TABOR-repealing Initiative 3, brought by the Colorado Fiscal Institute, to continue to seek a place on the November ballot.

Meantime, Republican heavyweights — such as former Gov. Bill Owens and former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown — urged opposition to Proposition CC, a legislatively-referred November ballot measure to allow the state to keep excess funds above TABOR caps for transportation and education needs. 

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Give! campaign grows

Posted By on Wed, Jun 19, 2019 at 8:41 AM

FILE PHOTO
  • File photo

The annual Indy Give! campaign, which raises money for quality local nonprofits,  helped a record 93 organizations last year and raised a record $1.8 million. The 2019 campaign is even bigger, with 103 nonprofits participating.

The Give! campaign, the nonprofit civic arm of the Indy’s parent company, Colorado Publishing House, collects donations every year from Nov.1-Dec. 31. Since 2009 it has raised $11.4 million for 204 local nonprofits. To learn more, visit indygive.com

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DUI report looks at cannabis

Posted By on Wed, Jun 19, 2019 at 8:37 AM

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The state Department of Safety released its annual report on driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The report, which analyzed data from 2017, found about 4,800 defendants were screened for cannabis, and 66 percent of those tested positive for Delta-9 THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. 

But out of the 3,170 people who tested positive, only about half showed THC levels above the “permissible inference” limit of 5 nanograms/milliliter of blood. That still represents a 17.4 percent increase from 2016 in the number of people above the legal THC limit.

More than 90 percent of people with THC levels above 5 ng/mL received DUI convictions.

Since drug testing is more “difficult and time consuming” for law enforcement  than alcohol testing, officers don’t consistently test for THC, the report notes.

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Polis acts on immunization

Posted By on Wed, Jun 19, 2019 at 8:33 AM

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  • Shutterstock

Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, drew ire from members of his own party earlier this year when he opposed a bill that would have made it less convenient for parents to obtain vaccine exemptions.

On June 13 — the same day new state data showed that Colorado’s dismal immunization rates had dropped even further — Polis issued an executive order aimed at increasing awareness of and access to life-saving childhood vaccines.

The executive order directs the state Department of Public Health and Environment to, among other initiatives:

• work with communities to determine the root causes of low immunization rates;

• propose standardized, easy-to-print vaccine exemption forms; and

• implement an annual education and outreach campaign to address “vaccine hesitancy” and access to treatment.

For the 2018-19 school year, just 87.4 percent of kindergartners had received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. That’s well below the 92-94 percent rate needed for “herd immunity.” 

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