Friday, November 17, 2017

CASA moves to new location on Weber Street

Posted By on Fri, Nov 17, 2017 at 12:49 PM

CASA has moved a brick building on  418 S. Weber St. - ZAHRIA ROGERS
  • Zahria Rogers
  • CASA has moved a brick building on 418 S. Weber St.
CASA of the Pikes Peak Region now has all five of its programs under one roof after having three separate locations.

The organization relocated to a larger renovated spot on 418 S. Weber
St. Nov. 11, propelling it closer to its goal, of serving all children in need of an advocate, by 2020.

Currently, there are only enough CASA volunteers to serve 70 percent of foster children in El Paso and Teller Counties, but the new facility holds a vast amount of space for training future advocates. Prior to the move, the nonprofit rented offsite space for volunteer training, which proved costly, according the communications manager Keri Kahn.

“Before we could only maybe train 20 people at a time. Well, in this training room we actually train between 50 and 60,” says Mittie Pedraza, interim director.

The new location also has enough room to house The Hanger, a donation-based boutique where teenagers in the foster system can pick out clothes for free, and an area for parents to have supervised visits with their children as part of the Supervised Exchange and Parenting Time (SPET) program.

Pedraza says CASA received several donations during the move, but the organization is still in need of volunteers.

To become a CASA volunteer, visit or call 447-9898.

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Transgender Day of Remembrance to be observed Nov. 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Help Nate Feola get a service dog named Chunk

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Drake Power Plant meetings slated to talk about sidelining

Posted By on Wed, Nov 15, 2017 at 10:37 AM

Drake Power Plant's lifetime could be shortened. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Drake Power Plant's lifetime could be shortened.
Want to have your voice heard about the future of the downtown Drake Power Plant?

Colorado Springs Utilities is hosting a telephone town hall meeting and an actual town hall meeting in the weeks ahead.

City Council, which acts as the Utilities Board, has decided to decommission the plant by 2035, but there's reportedly interest in speeding up that time table. Drake is one of the city's pivotal sources of power, so it will be no small task and expense to find another way to generate power.

Here is the information about the meetings:
Telephone Town Hall Meeting
· Wednesday, Nov. 29 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
· By registering you will receive a phone call that will connect you to the conversation.
· Or participate in this event online.

In-person Town Hall Meeting
· Tuesday, Dec. 5 at 6:00 p.m.
· City Hall, 107 N Nevada Ave #300

Nov. 14, 2017 — The Colorado Springs Utilities (Springs Utilities) Board voted in 2015 to decommission the Martin Drake Power Plant no later than 2035. As community perspectives on this topic have evolved, Springs Utilities is now studying earlier decommissioning alternatives, including replacement generation scenarios.

There are a range of items being considered in each of these scenarios, including rate impacts, utility uses for the Drake location and downtown revitalization plans. In addition, each scenario comes with its advantages such as potential site redevelopment and greater flexibility to meet the community’s electric needs in the future.

These scenarios can be broken down into three categories:

· Replacement generation inside the service territory (at Drake or at our Birdsall location on North Nevada).
· Replacement generation outside the service territory.
· A combination of generation inside and outside the service territory.

Renderings available at depict possible futures for the Drake location to include a new natural gas power plant and the addition of solar energy to assist with Springs Utilities’ renewable energy goals.

Attend one of the town hall meetings listed above for an important community conversation about the Drake Power Plant.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Housing and Building Association stormwater measure's biggest donor

Posted By on Tue, Nov 14, 2017 at 11:17 AM

Final campaign finance reports for the Nov. 7 election's city issue on stormwater fees aren't due until Dec. 7, but reports filed just before the election show the "vote yes" committee raised nearly 13 times as much as the "vote no" committee received.

Invest COS, run by the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC's Rachel Beck, brought in $447,645, while raised only $35,635, a big chunk of which came from Americans for Prosperity.

The biggest single donor to Invest COS appears to be the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, a group of builders, developers and other businesses involved in development.

The HBA gave $37,500 to the stormwater "vote yes" group. In 2015, when voters approved the 2C road tax, the HBA gave $10,000 to Springs Citizens Building the Future, the "vote yes" group.

Some observers have argued that had the city not given developers a pass on stormwater infrastructure over the years, we wouldn't be in the predicament we're in — facing a backlog of some $400-plus million in drainage needs. The counterpoint argument notes that several decades ago, drainage strategies were dramatically different than best practices today.

Back then, the idea was to get rid of runoff ASAP, which meant building concrete channels to funnel water to streams and creeks. Today, urban designers says it's a better practice to hold the water back in drainage ponds and wetlands, which reduces the sediment that washes into creeks and, ultimately, rivers.

Regardless, we asked the HBA's CEO Renee Zentz why the HBA pumped so much money into the stormwater measure, which, starting July 1, 2018, will charge every household $5 a month, and owners of nonresidential property $30 per acre per month.

She says via email:
The Colorado Springs Housing and Building Association supports many community initiatives that will improve our City. Not only did CSHBA support 2A, our Board of Directors also voted to support other ballots issues such as:
- Issue 1A and the RTA Override to improve Interstate 25
- School District 11, 3, and 12

CSHBA has always been an active supporter of ballot items that will benefit the community. Specifically related to storm water, a significant number of the 71 projects listed are for locations within existing neighbors that were developed decades ago without the current City standards. These improvements benefit the City as a whole. This was a widely endorsed initiative from diverse groups/organizations, I would hope that is story worthy. 

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El Paso County GOP names new executive director

Posted By on Tue, Nov 14, 2017 at 11:08 AM

Sebastian takes the reins at county GOP. - COURTESY OF CASSANDRA SEBASTIAN
  • Courtesy of Cassandra Sebastian
  • Sebastian takes the reins at county GOP.
The El Paso County Republican Party has a new executive director, Cassandra Sebastian, after a period of months without a director.

The announcement was made by party chair Josh Hosler:
It is with great excitement that I introduce the new Executive Director of the El Paso County Republican Party, Cassandra Sebastian.

Cassandra has been involved with the Party since 2011, when she helped to found the College Republicans at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

Cassandra graduated with a B.A. from UCCS in 2014, where she focused on the American founding and, more specifically, The Federalist Papers. She then applied and was accepted into the Leadership Program of the Rockies, which she graduated from in 2015.

After completing LPR, Cassandra founded and served for two years as the president of Springs Liberty Toastmasters. She has served on several candidate campaigns and worked for several political nonprofits (I Am Created Equal & The Program for Preserving a Free and Prosperous Society), doing research, social media, communications, events, and fundraising.

Please join Vice Chair Mary Bradfield, Secretary Kit Roupe, Treasurer Linda Potter, and myself in welcoming Cassandra to the El Paso County Republican Party leadership. We are excited for her to bring her ideas and experience to our team and our county.

Feel free to contact Cassandra at

As always, thank you for your continued support. We are working hard to build an infrastructure that will deliver a big victory and grow freedom in 2018!
The previous executive director was Daniel Cole, who's been working with the state party since earlier this year when Jeff Hays was elected state chairman.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Monument woman sues city for defamation over Drake Power Plant

Posted By on Mon, Nov 13, 2017 at 5:22 PM

Drake Power Plant south of downtown is at the center of a lawsuit. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Drake Power Plant south of downtown is at the center of a lawsuit.
Leslie Weise, a Monument resident whose son attends school in Colorado Springs, filed a federal lawsuit today, Nov. 13, against the city of Colorado Springs and others accusing them of going after her for contempt of court after she gave an interview with the daily newspaper about an air quality study.

The issue involves the downtown Drake Power Plant, which Weise contends has violated air quality regulations.

She's been cross-wise with Colorado Springs Utilities over that contention. The city claims the air quality report she's tried to obtain, and did obtain accidentally, is based on modeling rather than actual scientific data.

In any event, she claims the following in the lawsuit:
48. In conjunction with its filing of the “Cross Motion for Order to Show Cause,” which sought punitive sanctions against Ms. Weise, multiple Colorado Springs officials made numerous false and defamatory statements about Ms. Weise and her speech regarding the Air Quality Study to members of the public, including statements made to the Colorado Springs Gazette, to concerned citizens, and during public meetings. These false and defamatory statements were intentionally made with malice or, at the very least, made negligently. The statements were part of a campaign by Colorado Springs officials to publicly discredit Ms. Weise, and vilify her within the Colorado Springs community, in the hopes that the alarming results of the Air Quality Study Colorado Springs Utilities had commissioned using public funds could be swept under the rug.

49. In furtherance of these goals, Andres Pico, a member of the Colorado Springs City Council and former Colorado Springs Utilities Board Chair, stated intentionally and with malice, or at the very least negligently, in an email communication dated November 30, 2016, to a Colorado Springs resident and concerned citizen Nicole Rosa that Ms. Weise’s statements about the Air Quality Study that were reported in the Colorado Springs Gazette were “not true.”
Weise alleges she was defamed, among other things, and is seeking, according to the lawsuit, damages for emotional distress, loss of reputation, humiliation, loss of enjoyment of life, and other pain and suffering on all claims allowed by law in an amount to be determined at trial, as well as punitive damages and attorney fees.

Also named as defendants are the nine City Council members who served prior to the April election, a Utilities employee, Amy Trinidad, and City Attorney Wynetta Massey.

Here's the lawsuit.

We've asked Utilities for a comment and will circle back if and when we hear something. A spokesperson for City Council says members can't comment on a pending case.

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Sheriff Bill Elder calls Indy story "crap"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To clarify, the Indy opened the question of whether sheriff's office employees could face legal consequences, should our source's claims be found to be true. We did not accuse anyone of a felony crime, nor did we insist anyone would be indicted. Nor do we cite in every article about Sheriff Elder. is a website created months ago that posts allegations against Elder without identifying those making the allegations, but has posted documents to support its claims in some blog posts. The Indy has included links to the website in some blog posts. The website has also been covered by other media outlets, including the Gazette.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Election results start pouring in, voters friendly to gov asks

Posted By , and on Tue, Nov 7, 2017 at 7:32 PM

Election Day has rolled around again, and the results are pouring in. (See all the results here.) Let's look first at turnout. Odd year elections tend to attract a lot fewer voters to the polls, despite the relative ease of voting in Colorado, where all registered voters receive a mail ballot, and voters can register and vote any time they want at a voting center of their choice during the lead up the election. Despite that, in 2015, the last off-year election, turn out in El Paso County was a dismal 41.69 percent of registered voters.

This year was worse, with a 38.7percent turnout. Those that chose to vote were generally friendly to the asks of local government. Voters approved stormwater fees in Colorado Springs, allowed El Paso County to keep money over the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights cap, and finally gave Colorado Springs School District 11 the funding it says it desperately needs. Voters also allowed funding for the I-25 gap to be added to projects list for the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. Manitou Springs voters, meanwhile, were extremely unfriendly to an ask for tax dollars to fund an emergency operations center and firefighter/police training site. Manitou voters also rejected the reelection bid of their mayor, Nicole Nicoletta, decisively choosing challenger Ken Jaray. Let's take a closer look at some of the big issues, with the vast majority of ballots now counted.

City Council President Richard Skorman announces 2A is winning at an election party at Phantom Canyon, crediting Mayor John Suthers for bringing in the win. Skorman told the crowd, "I can't believe we're here tonight and we're celebrating." - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • City Council President Richard Skorman announces 2A is winning at an election party at Phantom Canyon, crediting Mayor John Suthers for bringing in the win. Skorman told the crowd, "I can't believe we're here tonight and we're celebrating."

Issue 2A - Popular Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers asked voters to approve these fees to fund stormwater infrastructure in Colorado Springs, on the heels of the successful passage of 2015's 2C, a sales tax to fund road work. 2A will raise about $17 million a year for stormwater by charging all households $5 per month and commercial properties $30 per acre per month. Properties larger than 5 acres will be assessed a fee based on impermeable surface. The money coming from fees will free up general fund dollars for pressing needs, such as hiring more police officer, Suthers says. Ignoring stormwater wasn't a possibility, regardless of the outcome of the vote: The city has promised Pueblo that it will spend $23 million a year for 20 years on stormwater and its still battling a lawsuit from the EPA alleging that the city violated the Clean Water Act.
Indy endorsement: YES
Vote breakdown: 53.69 percent YES, 46.31 percent NO

Mayor John Suthers spoke to the crowd at the 2A party, saying: "I can't express how proud I am of the citizens of Colorado Springs. This is really a watershed moment for our city. Colorado Springs is taking its place in the great cities of America. Over the last 25 years, our city dug a pretty big hole for itself: a $1 billion infrastructure deficit. We're now building a city that matches our scenery." - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Mayor John Suthers spoke to the crowd at the 2A party, saying: "I can't express how proud I am of the citizens of Colorado Springs. This is really a watershed moment for our city. Colorado Springs is taking its place in the great cities of America. Over the last 25 years, our city dug a pretty big hole for itself: a $1 billion infrastructure deficit. We're now building a city that matches our scenery."

Issue 1A - El Paso County asked voters to keep $14.5 million in revenue collected over the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights limit in 2016 and for permission to use that extra money to reset its base, starting with the 2017 budget. In other words, 1A will let the county collect and keep more tax revenue this year and in all future years. (Confused? Trying reading the explanation in our endorsements.)
The county asked property owners to forgo a refund (about $40 for a typical home worth $250,000) this year, and forgo future refunds or reductions in taxes that might have resulted from TABOR's so-called ratchet-down effect on local budgets.
The county promised that if 1A passed it would spend up to $12 million for a local match for the Interstate 25 gap project and other road projects, with the rest of the 2016 money going to disaster recovery projects and parks, trails and open space.
Indy endorsement: YES
Vote breakdown: 67.2 percent YES, 32.8 percent NO

County Commissioners  Stan VanderWerf (left) and Mark Waller celebrate. VanderWerf  said he is very grateful to the citizens of the county for  approving 1A. "I think it demonstrates a growing trust of government," he said. "And I pledge these funds will be consumed in a way expressed on the ballot." VanderWerf said the county can now repair roads and bridges deferred since the recession. He thinks voters' friendliness to taxes and fees this year is due to an improving economy. - Waller said that he thought everyone put good campaigns together, but also that local government has built trust by doing what it says it will and spending money wisely. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • County Commissioners Stan VanderWerf (left) and Mark Waller celebrate. VanderWerf said he is very grateful to the citizens of the county for approving 1A. "I think it demonstrates a growing trust of government," he said. "And I pledge these funds will be consumed in a way expressed on the ballot." VanderWerf said the county can now repair roads and bridges deferred since the recession. He thinks voters' friendliness to taxes and fees this year is due to an improving economy.Waller said that he thought everyone put good campaigns together, but also that local government has built trust by doing what it says it will and spending money wisely.

• Issue 5B -
 In 2004, voters in Colorado Springs, Manitou Springs, El Paso County and the town of Green Mountain Falls voted to establish the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, funded by a 1 cent sales tax. Of the money collected, 44 percent was a permanent tax, with 35 percent going to road maintenance and 10 percent going to the bus system. The other 55 percent of the tax, which cut off at the end of 2014, was to complete a list of road and bridge projects, with the highest-priority projects coming first.
Voters liked the system enough that in 2012, nearly 80 percent chose to renew the capital portion of the tax through 2024, with a new set of projects. That tax has collected more than was projected, leading to a "surplus." Supporters of 5B asked voters to permit the PPRTA to spend up to $10 million of that "surplus," split over the next two years, to chip in the largest share of a local match to the state government for the widening of the 18-mile stretch of Interstate 25 from Monument to Castle Rock, which could cost up to $600 million.
Indy endorsement: YES
Vote breakdown: 66.1 percent YES, 33.9 percent NO

OK, so let's look at a few other biggies:
Shawn Gullixson (center), who was just elected to the D-11 school board, says he's most excited that 3E passed. The step he's most eager to take now: "Take care of our teachers. As a parent, I want to put the best teachers in front of our students."  Gullixson says the campaign for 2E engaged families and voters and started healthy conversations in D-11. - NAT STEIN
  • Nat Stein
  • Shawn Gullixson (center), who was just elected to the D-11 school board, says he's most excited that 3E passed. The step he's most eager to take now: "Take care of our teachers. As a parent, I want to put the best teachers in front of our students." Gullixson says the campaign for 2E engaged families and voters and started healthy conversations in D-11.

Colorado Springs School District 11 Board of Education: Four of seven seats on the board of the city's largest school district were up for grabs. One seat was decided early. Mary Coleman, the manager of government affairs for Centura Health and a mover and shaker in the community, was running to complete the last two years of her predecessor's term. She had no challengers.
There were four candidates for three seats with four-year terms: incumbent Jim Mason, appointed incumbent Shawn Gullixson, community activist Julie Ott, and Morgan Chavez, who works at Progressive Insurance.
Indy endorsement: MASON, GULLIXSON, OTT
Vote brakdown: MASON (28.26 percent), GULLIXSON (23.91 percent), OTT (32.27 percent), CHAVEZ (15.56 percent)
D-11 school board winners (from left to right): Jim Mason, Julie Ott and Mary Coleman. Ott, who is new to the board, said she's been attending school board meetings and is  "ready to hit the ground running." - NAT STEIN
  • Nat Stein
  • D-11 school board winners (from left to right): Jim Mason, Julie Ott and Mary Coleman. Ott, who is new to the board, said she's been attending school board meetings and is "ready to hit the ground running."
Sarah Jack and Lauren Hug. Jack, a Mitchell High grad who worked to pass the last D-11 funding increase in 2000, cried as she said, "Everyone worked together, it was really a team effort." - NAT STEIN
  • Nat Stein
  • Sarah Jack and Lauren Hug. Jack, a Mitchell High grad who worked to pass the last D-11 funding increase in 2000, cried as she said, "Everyone worked together, it was really a team effort."

D-11 3E- D-11 asked voters for a hike in property taxes that will generate $42 million a year, and include no debt. The district says it will pay off existing debt by around 2023, meaning 3E will go from costing the owner of a $200,000 house in D-11 approximately an extra $14 a month in 2018 to around an extra $6 a month in 2023.
D-11 says the money will be used for capital repairs and upgrades to schools, increased teacher pay, and upgraded technology, among other needs.
Indy endorsement: YES
Vote breakdown: 57.31 percent YES, 42.69 percent NO

Manitou Springs Mayor - Incumbent Nicole Nicoletta, who has served two years in office, faced challenger Ken Jaray, an attorney and long-time community activist and volunteer.
Indy endorsement: NICOLETTA
Vote breakdown: NICOLETTA (35.38 percent), JARAY (64.62 percent)

Manitou Springs 2B - 2B asked to increase property taxes by up to $400,000 annually to pay $3.9 million (but with repayment costs up to $7 million) to build an emergency operations center for city government/training center for police and fire departments.
Indy endorsement: YES
Vote breakdown: 24.16 percent YES, 75.84 percent NO

Manitou Springs 2C - 2C asked to give the city the right to provide high-speed internet services or contract with a private provider.
Indy endorsement: YES
Vote breakdown: 84.31 percent YES, 15.69 percent NO

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Air Force Academy concludes racism investigation

Posted By on Tue, Nov 7, 2017 at 4:24 PM

The Academy's preparatory school was where the racism comments were found. - COURTESY AIR FORCE ACADEMY
  • Courtesy Air Force Academy
  • The Academy's preparatory school was where the racism comments were found.
Racist remarks found on several Air Force Academy Preparatory School cadet candidate' doors in September were put there by a candidate, who targeted himself as well, the Academy said in a news release.

That candidate, who wasn't identified by the Academy, is not longer at the prep school.

Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria drew national media attention for his remarks to the cadet wing and prep school regarding the school's intolerance of racism.

Here's the news release:
Air Force Academy officials have completed the investigation into the writing of racist remarks on the doors of five African American Air Force Academy Preparatory School cadet candidates and the individual found responsible is no longer at the Preparatory School.

We can confirm that one of the cadet candidates who was allegedly targeted by racist remarks written outside of their dorm room was actually responsible for the act. The individual admitted responsibility and this was validated by the investigation.

We acknowledge that there may be additional information already in the public space, but we will refrain from discussing further details surrounding the investigation due to Privacy Act requirements.

Racism has no place at the Academy, in any shape or form. We will continue to create a climate of dignity and respect for all, encourage ideas that do so, and hold those who fail to uphold these standards accountable.

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Catholic Charities announces Thanksgiving turkey drive

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

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

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

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

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

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Local executive joins Land Trust Alliance conversation

Posted By on Tue, Nov 7, 2017 at 1:30 PM

Rebecca Jewett: Taking on a national role. - COURTESY PALMER LAND TRUST
  • Courtesy Palmer Land Trust
  • Rebecca Jewett: Taking on a national role.
Rebecca Jewett, executive director of the Palmer Land Trust, has been invited to join the Washington, D.C.-based Land Trust Alliance's Leadership Council.

The group comprises 53 top conservation leaders from across the country and is tasked with discussing emerging issues and providing strategic advice to the Land Trust Alliance.

From the news release:
According to the Land Trust Alliance, the leaders that are part of the Land Trust Leadership Council are from “the most innovative land conservation groups in the country, as well as strong state association leaders.”

Jewett’s work in the region includes water conservation and allocation issues, public open space protection, and state level policy work that is paramount to future statewide conservation success, especially in the face of a drastic expected increase in the state’s population.

From Jewett: “It is an honor to join this esteemed group of conservation professionals from across the country. Colorado is a leader in land conservation and I am excited to provide insight informed by the great conservation work that is happening here, and the work that has been happening through Palmer Land Trust for the last forty years.”

Jewett brings more than a decade of conservation and outdoor recreation industry experience. Before joining Palmer Land Trust as executive director, she served as executive director of Rocky Mountain Field Institute. She has a Master of Environmental and Natural Resources Law and Policy from the University of Denver and a Bachelor of Political Science from Colorado College.

About Land Trust Alliance
Founded in 1982, the Land Trust Alliance is a national land conservation organization that works to save the places people need and love by strengthening land conservation across America. The Alliance represents more than 1,000 member land trusts supported by more than five million members nationwide. The Alliance is based in Washington, D.C., and operates several regional offices.

About Palmer Land Trust
In 1977, a group of concerned and passionate Colorado Springs residents banded together to form the William J. Palmer Parks Foundation in order to establish and protect public open spaces and parks in the Front Range. Today, Palmer Land Trust is one of the fifteen largest local land trusts in the country based upon conserved acreage easement holdings (there are approximately 1,700 land trusts in the United States), and it is one of the country’s first 100 nationally accredited land trusts.

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Sallie Clark takes job with U.S. Department of Agriculture

Posted By on Mon, Nov 6, 2017 at 11:12 AM

Sallie Clark: Joining the federal payroll. - COUTESY EL PASO COUNTY
  • Coutesy El Paso County
  • Sallie Clark: Joining the federal payroll.
Former three-term El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark has been named the U.S. Department of Agriculture's state director of rural development in Colorado.

Clark, who finished her last term in January, was appointed to the post by President Donald Trump and starts work from her Denver office on Nov. 13. The agency is based in Denver but operates from six officers around the state. She says she'll commute to Denver from her home in Colorado Springs, at least initially.

"Its focus is to help rural communities," Clark, reached by phone, says. "I am the presidential appointment for the state of Colorado."

She notes the USDA provides grants, small business loans, aid with infrastructure, schools and water projects.

"I really have a passion for small communities, and this is a way for me to give back and do something good for Colorado," she says.

Rumors have floated that Clark might be planning to run for Congressional District 5 in 2018, a seat currently held by fellow Republican Doug Lamborn. Clark dismisses that talk, and says she plans to focus on her new job.

Here's a news release about the appointment:

Sallie Clark is a former El Paso County, Colorado commissioner, city councilmember, well known small-business entrepreneur and past President of the National Association of Counties (NACo).

Sallie Clark has extensive background at all levels of government, has a broad understanding of rural issues and federal agencies and has the reputation as a hard-working public servant. Sallie and her husband, Welling, have made Colorado their home since 1985 and own and operate a successful business located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Through her long standing relationships developed through NACo and Colorado Counties, Inc. (CCI), she has represented rural America. Sallie is well-respected by her peers and her community as evidenced by her continued service on many non-profit and government committees.

“It is a honor to be selected by the President to fill the extremely important role of State Director of Rural Development in Colorado", says Clark. "I look forward to working with the President, Secretary of Agriculture, and the Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development to increase rural prosperity and enhance customer service through innovation and partnerships in our state."

More information: Sallie Clark was elected to serve as an El Paso County Commissioner in November of 2004 and re-elected in 2008 and 2012 to represent District 3. She served as Board Chair and Vice Chair. Sallie was the fourth woman to have been elected to serve on the El Paso County Board of Commissioners and is the third woman to have served as Chair of the Board. In 2015 she was elected as President of National Association of Counties (NACo), the first Coloradan to have been elected as NACo president.

Sallie became a military wife in 1980 when she married Welling Clark. She is a long-time resident of Colorado and has family roots in Colorado; her father was born and raised in Pueblo and she spent every summer on her grandmother’s farm there. She loves Colorado, and continues to appreciate our open spaces, mountain scenery and especially the Pikes Peak area. She enjoys hobbies such as cooking, hiking, biking, horseback riding, tennis, golf and reading. Sallie is a small-business entrepreneur and has owned her own business since 1986. Sallie worked in the medical profession and the cancer field, prior to opening her own business.

Awards and recognition:
1998 Tourism Industry Award from the Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau
1999 40 Achievers under 40 Award from Colorado Springs Business Journal
2001 Denver Post’s People to Watch
2002 Woman of Distinction Award from Soroptimist International
2004-2005 Woman of Distinction Award from American Heart Association "Go Red for Women" campaign
2006-2007 United Way Campaign Council Chair
2006 Accolades Award 2006 from the Southern Colorado Women's Chamber
2010 Elected Official of the Year from the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce
2010 Heroes of Mental Health Award from Pikes Peak Behavioral Health/Aspen Pointe
2011 Women of Influence Colorado Springs Business Journal
2012 Woodsum-Daniel Award to protect children from child abuse and neglect
Best Civic Leader, Best Role Model and Best County Commissioner from Colorado Springs Independent Newspaper
Graduate of the 2015 Harvard Kennedy School of Business, Senior Executive Leadership Program Graduate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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