Monday, February 18, 2019

Colorado to join multi-state lawsuit to fight national emergency declaration

Posted By on Mon, Feb 18, 2019 at 3:33 PM

A border wall might look like this. - HILLEBRAND STEVE, U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE
  • Hillebrand Steve, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • A border wall might look like this.
Colorado will join a group of other states to challenge President Donald Trump's declaration of an emergency in order to redirect money toward his border wall along the U.S./Mexican boundary.

In a news release, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and Governor Jared Polis issued a statement:

Colorado will join at least 12 other states in a multistate lawsuit challenging President Trump’s unconstitutional emergency declaration to build a border wall. After reviewing the specifics of this action over the weekend, we concluded that Colorado could lose tens of millions in military construction dollars that would be diverted to build the wall. Our military bases play a critical role in our nation’s readiness and are economic drivers in several communities.

In this action, we are fighting for Colorado’s interests and defending the rule of law.

Meantime, the American Civil Liberties Union staged a protest of Trump's action at the Capitol Building in Denver. In a news release, it says the protest was "part of a national mobilization effort with protests to be held throughout the country."

Colorado's U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, issued a release on Feb. 14 calling Trump's plan to declare an emergency an "attempt to bypass the U.S. Congress by inventing a national emergency." Bennet also said in the statement that neither Congress nor a majority of the American people support Trump's wall and added, "This is a dangerous precedent that should concern everyone who cares about the health of our democracy and our institutions.”

Colorado's U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican, was quoted by KRDO TV on Feb. 15 saying this about the president's emergency action: "I think the President is right to pursue additional border security dollars. I think Congress ought to do their job and make this border security a reality."

But one of Trump's most ardent supporters in Colorado, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, a Republican, wasn't crazy about Trump's action. Although he chastised Democrats for not going along with Trump's border security measures, Lamborn discouraged Trump from taking money for the wall from military construction.

"... pulling from those accounts will have serious consequences for our military readiness," Lamborn said in the statement, adding, " I hope the president will pursue other options." Lamborn is the ranking member of the Readiness Subcommittee and serves on the House Armed Services Committee.
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Friday, February 15, 2019

City election campaign roundup: endorsements, money

Posted By on Fri, Feb 15, 2019 at 5:41 PM

At the April 2 city election in Colorado Springs, voters will elect a third of the nine-member City Council and a mayor. They'll also decide whether to allow firefighters to collectively bargain with the city administration.

From the campaign trail:

Colorado Springs Forward, a group of local business and local leaders who want to influence public policy, is urging voters to oppose Issue 1, the firefighter measure. This organization has a distinguished board of directors but apparently no full-time chief executive officer (at least that we could find) since former El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen left almost two years ago. Also, the phone number on its website doesn't work. It's worth noting that much of the language in CSF's explanation comes verbatim from a fundraising letter sent out by the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC and Mayor John Suthers on Jan. 15. And the group apparently knows how to raise campaign money. (See the Greenback report below.)

• The influential Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs has endorsed four candidates for the three at-large Council posts up for grabs. They are incumbent Tom Strand, former Councilor Val Snider (2011-15), and challengers Tony Gioia and former Colorado Secretary of State and El Paso County Commissioner Wayne Williams. The council jobs pay $6,250 a year.

A new web presence:
Strand, seeking his second term, has a website now. Listed among his endorsements, which clearly show he's the movers' and shakers' choice, are the HBA as mentioned above, Suthers, County Commissioners Mark Waller and Stan VanderWerf, El Pomar President and CEO Bill Hybl, The Broadmoor executives Steve Bartolin and Jack Damioli, and Nor'wood Development Group executive Chris Jenkins.

Greenback report:
The big money for this election is flowing into the mayor's race and for committees promoting and opposing Issue 1, the firefighter measure.
Terry Martinez has raised the most so far in the at-large Council race. - COURTESY OF THE CANDIDATE
  • Courtesy of the candidate
  • Terry Martinez has raised the most so far in the at-large Council race.
As of 5 p.m. on Feb. 15, the latest filing deadline, Mayor John Suthers has raised $175,886 so far in his bid for re-election. One challenger, John Pitchford, a retired dentist who served a career in the Army, has donated $104,163 to his own campaign.

The mayor's job pays $103,370, and is periodically adjusted for inflation.

Firefighters for a Safer Colorado Springs has raised $246,025, but most of that was spent on polling and petition circulating.

The Chamber's effort, Citizens Against Public Employee Unions, has gathered $168,315. It used to be that $1,000 or $5,000 was a pretty hefty donation, but for this committee, the cash is flowing in in chunks of $10,000. Those who gave that amount in the latest round include Classic Homes, Colorado Springs Auto Dealers Association, the Chamber itself and the Issues Mobilization Committee of Iverness, Colorado. Oh, and Colorado Springs Forward gave $70,000.

Looking at the Council race, those who have filed include: Terry Martinez, who has raised $14,485; Williams has brought in $12,757; Strand has accumulated $10,706; and Gordon Klingenschmitt, $9,142.
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Conversion therapy ban and birth certificate bill make progress in Colorado Legislature this week

Posted By on Fri, Feb 15, 2019 at 5:02 PM

Jude testifying in committee in favor of House Bill 1039. - COURTESY ONE COLORADO
  • Courtesy One Colorado
  • Jude testifying in committee in favor of House Bill 1039.

Two major updates have come out of the Colorado Legislature this week, with potential impact to the state's LGBTQ community. Both the bill to ban conversion therapy and the bill to ease the path toward changing gender on birth certificates have been cycling through the Legislature for years with little progress in Republican-controlled committees. Now with Democrats running both the House and the Senate, these bills are poised to make history.

On Feb. 13, the bill to ban conversion therapy — a dangerous and ineffective process meant to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity — passed out of the Colorado House Public Health Care & Human Services committee, where it has been dead on arrival for the past four years. Now, with bi-partisan support, it will soon reach the House floor for a vote.

“What this practice does is harm children and falsely make them believe that something is wrong with them through the use of shame, rejection and psychological abuse,” reads a statement by Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, one of the bill’s sponsors. “We need to put an end to a practice that makes these youths six times more likely to have depression and eight times more likely to attempt suicide.”

In other Legislative news, another long-contested bill that would make it easier for transgender and nonbinary people to change the gender on their birth certificates (without court order, surgery or doctor recommendation) has been given a new name on its third reading. Now called “Jude’s Law,” this bill — currently on its way to the Colorado Senate — was named for a 12-year-old transgender girl, who has given testimony in support of similar legislation for four years running.

About the bill’s re-naming, Jude provided the following statement through LGBTQ advocacy organization One Colorado: “I’m so happy that I can be a part of such a phenomenal bill and the fact that it has now been named after me is a true honor! I feel very grateful and fortunate that we are one step closer to achieving basic rights for transgender people.”
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Thursday, February 14, 2019

EPA will look at regulating PFAS chemicals

Posted By on Thu, Feb 14, 2019 at 12:36 PM

Doug Benevento, left, and Peter Wright, right, discuss EPA's plans to address PFAS problem.
  • Doug Benevento, left, and Peter Wright, right, discuss EPA's plans to address PFAS problem.

On Feb. 14, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a conference in the city of Fountain to announce plans to address toxic chemicals that have been found in the area’s drinking water, and in the water of communities across the nation.

The chemicals at issue: PFASs, man-made contaminants found to have originated primarily, in the Fountain area, from firefighting foam used by the Air Force Academy for training purposes.

The EPA’s plan outlines steps to develop new analytical tools for four key areas: human health and ecological effects, significant sources of these chemicals, cost and effectiveness of treatment methods, and how best to support stakeholders. However, this plan does not include a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for drinking water, though citizens have been calling for an MCL since the EPA first toured affected areas in 2018.

Representatives from the EPA, regional administrator Doug Benevento and senior counsel to the administrator Peter Wright, said they were bound by the processes put in place by the Safe Drinking Water Act, and had to undergo certain legal steps to declare an MCL and recommend treatment, such as gathering data and undergoing a period of public comment.

The EPA has started this process to set an MCL for two types of PFASs (PFOA and PFOS). By the end of 2019, they hope to propose a regulatory determination for establishing an MCL for both — it may take longer to actually establish that MCL, but they do not have a solid timeframe.

They also announced that the EPA has already issued direct enforcement orders in eight instances of contamination, and have begun steps toward regulating PFASs as dangerous chemicals. They plan to issue groundwater cleanup recommendations soon, but offered no solid timeline.

(You can watch the full presentation on the EPA for Region 8’s Facebook page. Dough Benevento takes the podium for opening remarks at 39 minutes in.)

If all of this strikes you as less than a firm plan, you're not alone. The Environmental Working Group released a statement that read in part:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s so-called PFAS management plan would only make the nationwide crisis of pervasive pollution from fluorinated compounds worse, EWG said.

The plan from the Trump EPA, released today, would not stop the introduction of new PFAS chemicals, end the use of PFAS chemicals in everyday products, alert Americans to the risk of PFAS pollution or clean up contaminated drinking water supplies for an estimated 110 million Americans.

Instead, it perpetuates the agency’s record of foot-dragging on establishing meaningful protections against a class of chemicals linked to cancer, thyroid disease and weakened childhood immunity, among other serious health harms. 

The release goes on to lay out what the EWG believes the EPA ought to do to address PFASs and protect the public. Read the full release here.
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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Independence Center celebrates accessible health care

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 12:53 PM

Betty Jo Sjoberg, center, nominated Matthews-Vu Medical Group to receive an accessible table and lift from the Independence Center. RMA Manager Brandy James, left, and Director of Operations Paul Novotny represented Matthews-Vu at a luncheon celebrating the equipment giveaways. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Betty Jo Sjoberg, center, nominated Matthews-Vu Medical Group to receive an accessible table and lift from the Independence Center. RMA Manager Brandy James, left, and Director of Operations Paul Novotny represented Matthews-Vu at a luncheon celebrating the equipment giveaways.

It's a widespread problem: The majority of medical providers lack the proper equipment and training to give patients who use wheelchairs a complete check-up.

The Independence Center sought to change that this fall by using $75,000 from its board-run IC fund to buy accessible medical equipment for providers serving Medicaid and Medicare recipients in Southern Colorado.

Available items included the UpScale accessible exam table, which has an adjustable height and built-in scale; Hoyer-type lifts, devices used to transfer patients from wheelchair to table; and the portable loop system, a listening device that feeds audio directly into hearing aids.

Back in June, we reported that the Independence Center planned to donate accessible tables and lifts to at least seven medical clinics in El Paso County, and use the remaining money for loop systems.

The nonprofit ended up donating tables and lifts to nine medical practices, and gave portable hearing loop systems to three, CEO Patricia Yeager announced at a luncheon Feb. 8 celebrating the donations.

The providers who received the equipment were selected from a list of 23 nominees, Yeager says. Patients submitted the nominations to the Independence Center.
"To come into a setting that is already accessible says that somebody thought ahead of time and made arrangements for everyone to be cared for," says Sharon King, who nominated her doctor at Sunrise Health Care to receive a table and lift. "[My doctor] has always been wonderful to me and unflinchingly creative in making ways to care for me, but I'm really grateful to have been able to be a part of giving her something back as kind of a thank-you for the level of care and concern that she provides."

Paul Novotny, director of operations for Matthews-Vu Medical Group, said that in addition to helping patients who used wheelchairs — such as Betty Jo Sjoberg, who nominated the office — the accessible table's built-in scale had also come in handy for patients who used walkers.

"Before we had the table, they would bring the walker and they would stand on our scales," Novotny says. "And it wasn't always the safest, most accurate measurement for their weight."

The Independence Center's website now has a map of providers in the region with accessible exam tables and hearing loops.

Yeager says the nonprofit plans to focus on dental offices this year.

"We'd really like to see if we can create a few accessible dental offices," she says. "I have no idea what that looks like. So that'll be some research we'll be doing, and putting a call out for nominations."
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Campaign roundup: A town hall, endorsements, a new voter is born

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 11:29 AM

Late yesterday, we heard from Tom Strand and share his comments:
I have checked and met with three staff attorneys of the City Law Office. Their opinion is that as long as we ( Bill and me) do not talk about the upcoming election and ballot issues, or any campaign matters , this Town Hall is an appropriate opportunity to reach out to constituents on matters of concern to them and that we, as current elected officials, can and should address. There is no violation of the Code of Ethics or the Election Campaign Regulations. As such, I plan to be there tomorrow evening.
———————ORIGINAL POST 11:29 A.M. WEDNESDAY, FEB. 13, 2019———————-

The April 2 city election is just around the corner. Here are some tidbits from the campaign trail:

City councilor town hall:
Incumbent City Councilors Tom Strand and Bill Murray will host a town hall meeting on Feb. 14 —  as nine other candidates are vying for one of three at-large seats. The meeting will take place at City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave., and deal with some issues that can be seen as talking points in the campaign. From the notice: "Topics could include - but are not limited to - City for Champions (C4C) projects, bike lanes, Homelessness Action Plan, and issues impacting Colorado Springs Utilities."

We asked the city if either Strand or Murray hosted a town hall in the first four months of 2018 and found out they did not, although they did convene town halls in September 2018, and in June and September 2017.

Campaign rules bar the use of public money for election campaigns, so we asked Strand and Murray about the timing of this event.

"Both Tom and I have been briefed on what we can and cannot say and do during this town hall," Murray said via email on Feb. 12.

Strand had more to say. "I am asking for legal advice from our City Attorney and Staff before we proceed with this Feb 14 Town Hall," Strand tells the Indy via email. "We generally have been conducting 'At Large' City Council Town Halls every 3 to 4 months during our tenure. This one will just solicit concerns from the constituents for our response and action. It in no way is intended to be a campaign speech or event."

We haven't heard back from Strand since that Feb. 12 message, but there's been no notice issued that there have been any changes in the planned town hall.

Council candidate Tony Gioia has his hands full with this bundle of joy. - COURTESY TONY GIOIA
  • Courtesy Tony Gioia
  • Council candidate Tony Gioia has his hands full with this bundle of joy.
Val Snider, who served on Council from 2011 to 2015, is taking another run at the office after sitting out a term. He's snagged support from former Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace, former Council President Scott Hente and former Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin.

New in town:
Council candidate Tony Gioia and his wife, Sara, are the proud parents of Gabriella Marie, who was born Feb. 7. She's their first child. She's expected to go home on Feb. 14, Valentine's Day.
(Disclosure: Gioia is a former Indy's distribution employee.)

Let us know:
If you have an item of interest about the city election, which will elect three at-large Council members and a mayor, send them to The Indy is interested in learning about endorsements and campaign events, as well as fact-checking campaign materials. 
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Transgender man files discrimination charge against local company

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 11:27 AM

Dashir Moore hopes sharing his story will help other transgender people get the care they need. - COURTESY OF THE ACLU OF COLORADO
  • Courtesy of the ACLU of Colorado
  • Dashir Moore hopes sharing his story will help other transgender people get the care they need.

At 31, Dashir Moore left his family and friends behind in Atlanta for a new life in Colorado Springs. His dream? "To unapologetically be myself."

Moore had heard Colorado's health care system was more inclusive of transgender people than Georgia's, so he got a job at Innosource, an employment agency in Colorado Springs, and scheduled a gender transition surgery that he believed was covered by his employer-provided insurance policy.

On May 21 of last year, Moore went through the surgery. But two days later, he says, he got the news that turned his world upside down: The insurance company had refused to pay for his operation, and he would be obligated to cover nearly $30,000 in hospital bills himself.
"I was just heartbroken," Moore says. "My worst fear basically happened."

Since then, Moore has left Innosource for a different job in Colorado Springs, which pays $5 to $6 less an hour, he says, adding up to an annual salary less than the cost of his surgery. He paid some of the surgery's cost on a payment plan, but as larger bills started rolling in, he could no longer afford them — and has been hit with collections and notices, while the state of his credit means he "can't get approved for anything."

"If I wanted to leave my apartment, I'm stuck," Moore says.

Moore's best hope right now rests with two powerful allies — The American Civil Liberties Union and American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, who have filed a discrimination charge against Innosource on his behalf.

The ACLU is alleging that insurance carve-outs for transition-related care are illegal, based on state and federal law that prohibit discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation.

"Our state anti-discrimination in employment statutes ... prohibit discrimination against employees in the provision of benefits," says Sara Neel, Moore's attorney. "Your health insurance is a benefit associated with your employment, and therefore the employers, we would argue, cannot discriminate against transgender individuals in the provision of health care."

While President Donald Trump's administration has reportedly proposed defining "sex" in a way that excludes transgender people from federal anti-discrimination laws, Colorado law passed in 2008 strengthened protections by explicitly including transgender status under sexual orientation, a protected class. And most transition-related health care, including surgical procedures, is covered by Colorado's Medicaid program.

According to a statement from the ACLU, Moore's employer-provided plan "categorically excluded coverage for anything related to gender transition including 'treatment, drugs, medicines, services, and supplies for, or leading to, gender transition surgery.' The exclusion applied to all transition-related care, including care that is medically necessary and otherwise would be covered under the plan."

What's more: "Prior to his surgery, Mr. Moore completed the necessary pre-op consultation at Denver Health as well as the insurance verification process. He contacted his claims administrator to confirm the surgery would be covered and was assured that it would be."

Neel says she doesn't know of a case like Moore's in which a private employer was successfully charged with discrimination related to health coverage (though a 2016 case challenged Wisconsin's ban on transition-related coverage for state employees). Depending on the outcome of the case, it could make waves nationally.
"The goal in this case is really, obviously, to get Mr. Moore compensated for what he's been required to pay or is being required to pay, and then also to get the employer to change their policy," Neel says."...And to continue to set precedent, because we do believe the law is on our side."

The first step in the process was to file a discrimination charge with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which will investigate the charge. If a resolution is not reached between Moore and Innosource as a result of the investigation, he could then choose to file a lawsuit, Neel says.

In the meantime, Moore's taking it day by day. Since the denial, he's been prescribed antidepressants and wonders what someone with less mental strength would do in the same situation, in a society where suicide rates for transgender people dwarf those of the general population.

While Moore is open about his transgender status with those close to him, he's not used to talking about it with his employers, much less strangers. He decided to go public with his story in hopes of saving others from the emotional pain and economic uncertainty he's endured for the past year, hundreds of miles from the friends and family he left in Atlanta.

"All the things that I hoped to accomplish by having surgery were kind of erased by the denial," Moore says. "Any moments of joy that I was supposed to have, I didn’t have that."

"...I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else."
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Senate votes to reauthorize Land and Water Conservation Fund

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 10:22 AM

The Land and Water Conservation Fund paid for more than $8 million in projects in Rocky Mountain National Park, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition. - NATIONAL PARK SERVICE PHOTO/ WALKER HALL
  • National Park Service Photo/ Walker Hall
  • The Land and Water Conservation Fund paid for more than $8 million in projects in Rocky Mountain National Park, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition.

The U.S. Senate has passed a massive public lands package that includes legislation to permanently reauthorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The package, Senate Bill 47 — which encompasses more than 100 bills addressing land exchanges, national parks, wildlife conservation, recreation and more nationwide — soared through on a vote of 92 to 8. It now goes to the House for consideration.

Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner issued a statement championing the legislation's passage. Gardner, like his counterpart, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, has been a vocal supporter of reauthorizing the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The fund, which expired in September after legislators failed to reauthorize it, had been used since 1965 to buy and preserve land, water and recreation areas with royalty payments from offshore oil and gas money.

"The [Land and Water Conservation Fund] has a direct impact on public lands in Colorado and will be used to protect our state’s natural beauty for future generations," Gardner said in the statement. "I’m thrilled we were able to finally permanently reauthorize this commonsense program supported by Coloradans across the political spectrum."

Gardner sponsored or cosponsored several Colorado-related bills that were included in the package.

Bennet also issued a statement praising the public lands package. He led or co-led several of the bills, including some that were collaborations with Gardner.

“It’s rare that a bipartisan lands package moves in Congress, so this bill is a significant accomplishment for communities across Colorado,” Bennet said.

Bennet tried to get his Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act, which combined four previously introduced bills to protect 400,000 acres of public land in Colorado, included in the package, but that amendment did not pass.

Conservation groups in Colorado and beyond applauded the public lands package, especially the fund's reauthorization.

“Today’s vote is a big step toward ending the cycle of uncertainty that has plagued this amazing and incredibly important conservation program," Carlos Fernandez, state director for the Nature Conservancy, said in a statement. “Thank you, Senators Bennet and Gardner, for championing this effort. Your leadership and stalwart support has helped get this legislation to where it is today."

Since 1965, Colorado has received more than $268 million from the fund, according to the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition, a group advocating for its reauthorization. The money has paid for projects in Mesa Verde National Park, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, Arapaho National Forest, Two Ponds National Wildlife Refuge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Cross Mountain Canyon Ranch and more.
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Chick-fil-A executive's planned speech at AFA draws criticism

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 10:20 AM

The Falcon football team kneels in the end zone to pray in a past season, a show of religion opposed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • The Falcon football team kneels in the end zone to pray in a past season, a show of religion opposed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
A speaker at the Air Force Academy's Character and Leadership Development Symposium on Feb. 21-22 has drawn the attention of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

Rodney Bullard, vice president of Chick-fil-A's vice president of corporate social responsibility, is an Academy grad, but the MRFF says Chick-fil-A has a record of funding anti-LGBT groups.

Chick-fil-A has been working on changing its image, as we report in the Feb. 13 issue.

In a letter to Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, MRFF demands the school withdraw its invitation to Bullard and calls the decision to invite Bullard "another wretched example, in a long line of such despicable instances, of fundamentalist Christian-based homophobic oppression by USAFA."

Rodney Bullard, former U.S. Attorney who worked at NASA. - COURTESY AIR FORCE ACADEMY
  • Courtesy Air Force Academy
  • Rodney Bullard, former U.S. Attorney who worked at NASA.
The MRFF likened the invitation to asking "Harvey Weinstein to speak at a USAFA forum on women’s civil rights." Weinstein is a Hollywood producer facing charges of sexual assault.

MRFF also notes the Academy has invited other speakers in the past which MRFF deemed inappropriate, thus leading MRFF to accuse the school of "pushing a sectarian, fundamentalist Christian, religious extremist agenda."

MRFF represents 12 LGBT clients among the Academy's cadet wing, staff and faculty, the letter says.

We asked the Academy to respond to MRFF's protest of Bullard's appearance but didn't hear back before the Independent's press time. But we did hear after that, so are posting the response from an Academy spokesperson in full:
We selected speakers whose stories will highlight this year's theme of
Leadership, Teamwork, and Organizational Management. Each speaker will focus on the value, successes, and challenges at the personal,
interpersonal, team, and/or organizational levels. Their wide-ranging
backgrounds, diversity of thought, and comprehensive leadership experiences will enable their listeners to appreciate the many opportunities life offers in fashioning pathways to success. That each speaker has an individual viewpoint on different aspects of our culture enhances the NCLS mission to present a rich variety of outlooks and perspectives to our audiences, which we feel is in keeping with the tenets of a liberal education.

NCLS participants are free to choose which presentations they attend, and we're confident that each speaker's presentation will prove invaluable to our cadets to aid in their character development and in honing their leadership skills in their pursuit as Air Force officers. 
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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Manitou maintains limit on marijuana dispensaries

Posted By on Tue, Feb 12, 2019 at 3:34 PM

Emerald Fields is one of two recreational dispensaries licensed to operate in Manitou Springs. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Emerald Fields is one of two recreational dispensaries licensed to operate in Manitou Springs.

UPDATE: Manitou Springs City Council voted 6-1 in favor of the resolution affirming the city's two-dispensary limit. Councilor Becky Elder was opposed.

———————————ORIGINAL POST 3:34 P.M. TUES., FEB. 13, 2019———————————

After months of negotiations between a nonprofit advocacy group and city officials over the possibility of adding more recreational marijuana dispensaries, Manitou Springs City Council will consider a resolution that would effectively cut off the discussion — and reaffirm the city’s two-store limit on pot shops.

The possibility of raising the limit to three or four dispensaries was first brought by the Southern Colorado Cannabis Council, which approached the mayor in October. Jason Warf, the Cannabis Council’s executive director, says he began the months-long discussion process after someone approached him about wanting to open a marijuana business in Manitou Springs. Currently, Manitou allows just two recreational licenses in city limits, held by Maggie's Farm and Emerald Fields.

Warf says that discussions with the mayor and City Council had looked like they could lead to a compromise between the city and the cannabis industry stakeholders he represented. Possibilities had included an equity program that could benefit women and minorities who applied for licenses.

However, at the Feb. 5 regular meeting, Councilors Susan Wolbrueck and Bob Todd expressed a desire for a special meeting to reaffirm the city's support of a two-store limit, the Pikes Peak Bulletin reported. Manitou Springs Mayor Ken Jaray scheduled the meeting for Feb. 12 — and based on what appears to be widespread opposition to raising the limit among City Councilors, Warf says he'd be surprised if the resolution doesn't pass.

Warf found the city's decision to cut off the discussion "mind-boggling."

"They’re looking at an ordinance to say that they don’t want to pass an ordinance," Warf says. "...That seems like a huge waste of time and rather redundant. And not a great use of taxpayer money."

Jaray concedes that he "was not in favor of the timing of the resolution," but says he supports keeping the two-store limit based on feedback from residents who opposed adding more dispensaries.

"I probably would not have taken up the resolution at this point," he says, "but if a majority of the Council wants to do that then I'm more than willing to have the conversation."

Jaray says community responses to posts on Facebook and NextDoor, a neighborhood social network, about the possibility of raising the limit were overwhelmingly negative: "I haven’t heard [positive feedback] from anybody other than the Cannabis Council and one woman who's wanted to have a license."

Warf argues that he's received emails and phone calls expressing support for a higher limit.

"City Council is claiming ... the proponents haven't provided that input, and the reason there is because we hadn’t gotten to that point in the timeline," Warf says. "I see some disingenuousness from the city saying that, but then sort of rushing through this process without any public input to determine from their constituents that they don't want to move forward on a compromise."

Warf says a group of cannabis business owners plan to seek a special election to have voters decide whether the city needs more dispensaries. The Cannabis Council will not be involved in the signature gathering, but he says it will likely support such a ballot initiative, depending on the exact language.

The group plans to start polling voters and collecting signatures in the near future, Warf says.

Councilor Ward pointed out in a file:///Users/nat/Downloads/Agenda_2019_2_12_Meeting(223)%20(1).pdf" target="_blank">memorandum addressed to City Council that a special election would cost taxpayers between $15,000 and $20,000.

The special meeting is scheduled for Feb. 12 at 9 p.m. in City Hall, 606 Manitou Avenue. Also on the agenda: An update on the relocation of three Pikes Peak Cog Railway cars.

Read the full resolution here:

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Monday, February 11, 2019

New CSPD police chief says traffic deaths, adding officers, homeless are top challenges

Posted By on Mon, Feb 11, 2019 at 5:50 PM

  • Courtesy CSPD
  • Vince Niski
Deputy Chief Vince Niski is expected to succeed Pete Carey as chief of the Colorado Springs Police Department (assuming if City Council approves). He says his biggest challenges in his new role will be curbing traffic fatalities, efficiently adding 120 police officers in the next four years and dealing with the growing homeless population.

Niski, chosen by Mayor John Suthers on Feb. 11, spent half of that day hosting 15-minute one-on-one interviews with the media in Suthers' office, with the mayor at his elbow.

Niski calls the city's 48 traffic fatalities  last year "unacceptable." He's considering options of education and enforcement "to get people to follow the rules of the road." He's assigned a group of officers and employees to look at traffic safety "to see how we can improve."

As for adding 120 officers, Niski, a 30-year veteran of the CSPD, says he has to figure out where the best place will be for those officers to serve. "Patrol is our main priority," he says, adding that there were other needs as well. The mayor noted that some specialized units that were shut down a couple of years ago in order to boost patrol forces could be reestablished, but he didn't elaborate.

Suthers and Niski both acknowledge the hiring process could take longer than four years, considering the department faces a high attrition rate. Just filling vacant positions over the next four years is expected to take more than 120 hires, let alone the 120 additional officers Niski aims to hire.

The communications center is another priority for Niski, who says the city's center fields 22,000 calls to 911 per month. He couldn't say how many of those calls go to hold, but plans to hire an outside consultant to review the center from top to bottom and pose solutions. Improvements in the call center, he says, will improve the department's response times. In the last few years, the department's response times to top-priority, life-threatening calls has been in the 11 to 13 minute range.

As for the homeless, Niski says he'll add an officer to the Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) to better enforce city regulations about camping. The Sheriff's Office will add an officer as well.

"They will  help us actually resolve problems rather than moving the problem between the county and the city," Niski says.

Suthers notes that since the city now has ample low barrier shelter beds, when those are not full, police will write summonses to homeless people who are illegally camping. Under an initiative he expects to roll out within weeks, Suthers says people who wind up in the courts on such summonses will be assigned a "navigator" from one of the nonprofit homeless groups to make sure they're made aware of programs for drug and alcohol abuse, mental health, employment and housing.

Pete Carey is switching uniforms to undersheriff. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Pete Carey is switching uniforms to undersheriff.
Niski plans no change to the department's practice of shielding internal affairs reports (disciplinary files) about officers from the public. "It's important to keep that information confidential for the officers involved, for the witnesses and the complainants coming forward," Niski says. He adds such a policy encourages complaints and citizens who do file complaints are kept in the loop as to the outcome of the internal investigations.

A bill is currently pending in the Colorado Legislature that would loosen the grip on IA files. Suthers noted, "Whatever the law is, I assure you, as long as I'm mayor of Colorado Springs, we will comply with it."

Niski will add an employee to his public information office within two or three months to assist in responding to media and public questions.

Carey retired from the CSPD and began his job as undersheriff with El Paso County on Feb. 11.
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Deputy Chief Vince Niski selected as new police chief

Posted By on Mon, Feb 11, 2019 at 11:18 AM

Vince Niski will be Colorado Springs police chief, Mayor John Suthers announced on Feb. 11. - COURTESY CSPD
  • Courtesy CSPD
  • Vince Niski will be Colorado Springs police chief, Mayor John Suthers announced on Feb. 11.

Mayor John Suthers addresses why finalists for police chief were not introduced to the public:

We did not hold community meet and greets with the police chief finalists prior to the final selection for a number of reasons. First, the selection process focused on some very technical public safety issues and particular factors specific to the Colorado Springs Police Department. The general public assessment would not have been particularly helpful to that process. Second, in the case where there are internal candidates well known to the community, a “meet and greet” exercise can be seen as unfair to outside candidates. Finally, once we ultimately chose an internal candidate well-known to the community, particularly the police force, the need for introductory public meetings was deemed unnecessary. That said, we look forward to getting Vince out into the community more with this new position, and are certain that the residents of Colorado Springs will find him to be an extremely capable, personable and effective Chief.

——————-ORIGINAL POST 11:18 A.M. MONDAY, FEB. 11, 2019—————————-

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers has chosen a long-time officer, Deputy Chief Vince Niski, as his new police chief.

Suthers' office announced the choice in a news release on Feb. 11. Niski is a 30-year veteran of the Colorado Springs Police Department and served as outgoing Chief Pete Carey's right-hand man for years.

“Vince Niski is a man with great integrity, and who has proven his leadership abilities as Deputy Chief over the last seven years,” Suthers stated in a news release. “He is highly regarded both within the department and across the law enforcement community."

Carey is retiring this month (though he could have retired in 2016) and moving to the El Paso County Sheriff's Office where he'll serve as undersheriff to Sheriff Bill Elder.

No finalists were announced to the public, and no public meetings were held so residents could meet the finalists. (Colorado Springs Utilities Board invited the public to meet the three finalists for Utilities CEO last year.) Mayor's spokesperson Jamie Fabos told the Independent on Feb. 8 that five finalists would be disclosed the following week. It's unclear why that didn't happen. Fabos says she was referring to an announcement of Niski, and not the list of five finalists being released to the public.

While some are celebrating Niski's rise, not everyone is happy. Some officers, who spoke to the Indy on condition of anonymity, describe Niski as inflexible and a "micro manager," and say his hiring shows "nothing changes" in the department.

The city didn't immediately release a salary figure for Niski.

Here's the release:
Mayor John Suthers today announced Interim Chief of Police Vince Niski as his selection for the next Police Chief of Colorado Springs. Niski has served as Deputy Chief since 2012 and has been with CSPD for 30 years, beginning in 1989. Niski’s appointment is pending confirmation by the Colorado Springs City Council.

“Vince Niski is a man with great integrity, and who has proven his leadership abilities as Deputy Chief over the last seven years,” said Suthers. “He is highly regarded both within the department and across the law enforcement community. As an integral part of CSPD’s leadership team over the past seven years, Vince brings commitment to the spirit of excellence, a unique understanding of CSPD’s past and present, valuable cross-division experience and the drive and vision to continue to move our police department forward.”

In his lengthy tenure with CSPD, Niski has worked in the Patrol, Traffic, and Metro Vice, Narcotics and Intelligence Divisions. He was promoted to lieutenant in 2007 and was assigned to the Sand Creek Patrol Division and then worked in the Specialized Enforcement Division. Before he was promoted to the rank of commander in 2011, he served as interim commander of the Specialized Enforcement Division for approximately one year. Upon his promotion to Commander, he was assigned to the Stetson Hills Division. He was promoted to the rank of Deputy Chief in 2012.

“Colorado Springs is my hometown, and to be selected as Police Chief is an absolute honor,” said Niski. “I have had the good fortune of spending my entire career with CSPD, and I couldn’t be more proud to lead this dedicated group of professionals. I want to thank Mayor Suthers for the selection and pending the approval of City Council, I look forward to working hard to further CSPD’s commitment to integrity and excellence in serving and protecting my home town.”

Deputy Chief Niski holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Northern Colorado. He is a graduate of the Center for Creative Leadership and Police Executive Research Forum’s Senior Management Institute for Police.
The appointment must be confirmed by City Council, which has never refused to confirm a mayor's appointee since voters approved a change to mayor-Council form of government in 2010.
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El Paso County inmate's death: family files notice of claim

Posted By on Mon, Feb 11, 2019 at 8:38 AM

El Paso County, UCHealth Memorial Hospital and others are being named in a notice of claim that seeks uns
Deramus Lemuel's booking photo. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • Deramus Lemuel's booking photo.
pecified damages in Deramus DeWayne Lemuel's death after he was treated at Memorial Hospital and incarcerated at the Criminal Justice Center from July 31 to Aug. 1, 2018.

The story of Lemuel, 38, has been told several times in local media, most recently by The Gazette, which published a video of his struggle in the jail.

The Jan. 25 notice of claim, submitted by Killmer, Lane & Newman law firm of Denver, also names the Colorado Department of Corrections, the Colorado Attorney General's Office and Colorado Springs Fire Department.

On July 31, Lemuel was arrested outside a liquor store and tried to swallow a baggie containing methamphetamines. He was taken to the hospital where he underwent tests, X-ray exams and treatment and appeared to be responding well, the claim letter says.

But when officials tried to get him ready for transport to the jail, he was "diaphoretic, shaking, talking non-sensical." He was returned to the hospital but just over two hours later he was taken to the jail, the letter says.

There, he struggled with deputies and was subdued but stopped breathing. He was ultimately taken back to Memorial Central where he died on Aug. 14.

The El Paso County Coroner's Office ruled his death a homicide, saying he "died as a result of complications of illicit drug intoxication and physical restraint by law enforcement."

The Sheriff's Office said several months ago when asked about Lemuel's death that he was "brought into our jail by Parole for a violation. While in the intake process he had a medical episode and was transported to the hospital."

From the claim letter:
Counsel may bring a variety of legal claims on behalf of Mr. Lemuel’s estate and members of his family, including excessive force, wrongful death, deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, and other claims relating to defective medical care.

Defendants’ treatment of Mr. Lemuel violated his most sacred legal rights, including his right to be free from excessive force at the hands of the government and to receive adequate medical care. Defendants’ conduct cost Mr. Lemuel his life, leaving his wife without a husband, his children without a father, and his mother without a son. Defendants’ conduct has caused significant injuries and damages to Mr. Lemuel’s estate and family. Cases like this are difficult to precisely value, as much of the damages sustained are not subject to precise calculation, and will be determined by a jury should this case proceed to trial. Damages in this case are extensive due to the nature of Defendants’ conduct and the fact that the physical and emotional damage will continue to affect Mr. Lemuel’s family for the rest of their lives.
In addition to the agencies named above, others that might be named in a lawsuit, according to the claim letter, include the six state corrections officials, Sheriff Bill Elder and 22 jail personnel and four UCHealth personnel, including a doctor and three nurses.

The law firm is representing claimants that include Lemuel's wife, mother and eight children.

Read the claim letter:
We've asked several of those named as potential defendants for a comment and will update if we hear back. The county has declined to comment, and like the county, the city routinely declines to comment on pending litigation.
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Friday, February 8, 2019

Backpack Challenge to raise awareness around homelessness

Posted By on Fri, Feb 8, 2019 at 9:55 AM

  • Courtesy of Donna Wintz
In honor of International Random Acts of Kindness Week, local nonprofits are challenging Colorado Springs residents to walk a mile (or any distance, really) in their homeless neighbor's shoes.

But walking around homeless usually means hauling around more than the clothes on your back and shoes on your feet. If you don't have a car, or a safe place for your stuff, you're probably carrying all of your personal belongings with you, too.

That's the premise of the Backpack Challenge, which runs from Feb. 9 to Feb. 15. Participants are encouraged to wear a backpack for a day while they walk around Colorado Springs, then share their experience on social media, with the goal of promoting empathy and raising awareness of the challenges faced by homeless people in our community.

According to the event announcement, the idea was born when Donna Wintz, a volunteer for Westside Cares, was walking in Old Colorado City wearing a backpack. She noticed that some residents looked suspicious or disdainful as she passed.

“I think criminal activity in the city has homeowners on edge,” the announcement quotes Wintz as saying. “I understand the caution, but I don’t like my first interaction with a stranger to be negative, as if I am assumed a criminal simply because I’m wearing a backpack.”

Wintz spoke with Kristy Milligan, the CEO of nonprofit Westside Cares, about launching a campaign around the idea to coincide with International Random Acts of Kindness Week.

“There is tremendous need for caring services and housing in our community,” Milligan says in the announcement. “But the single greatest need is for a collective, community-wide commitment to seeing our neighbors in need as they actually are: our brothers and sisters.”

Other nonprofits promoting the challenge include Ecumenical Social Ministries, Urban Peak Colorado Springs, Homeward Pikes Peak, Catholic Charities of Central Colorado and Community Health Partnership.

Here's some guidelines for Backpack Challenge participants:

  • Backpack Challenge
Wintz, a graphic designer, created a "Try a Little Kindness" emblem in honor of the event, available on T-shirts, posters, mugs and more on RedBubble. She'll donate the proceeds to Westside Cares.

Businesses interested in obtaining the emblem for a fundraiser can contact Wintz at 970/682-0075 or
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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Green New Deal proposes sweeping environmental change

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2019 at 3:52 PM

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, co-author of the Green New Deal, and target for anti-socialist rhetoric. - FACEBOOK
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  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, co-author of the Green New Deal, and target for anti-socialist rhetoric.
A bill rolled out in the U.S. House Thursday, Feb. 7, aims to make the U.S. net-zero, emissions wise, by 2050.

Dubbed the “Green New Deal,” the legislation backed by New York freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey proposes an overhaul of the nation’s infrastructure, energy and transportation sectors. Both lawmakers are Democrats.

The bill echoes some of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ priorities laid out in his January State of the State address, and was released the same date that Democratic Senate hopeful Mike Johnston of Denver announced his own green energy proposal.

Polis in January reiterated a campaign pledge to make the state’s energy supply totally renewable by 2040: “That means modernizing both our grid infrastructure and our regulatory processes to ensure all Coloradans are reaping the full suite of benefits associated with swift adoption of renewable energy,” the governor said. “It means working to electrify our cars and busses and trucks ... And it means taking advantage of modern technology to use energy more efficiently — cleaning our air and saving consumers money in the process.”

The federal legislation taps similar goals, although it offers more concepts than details. Among the Green New Deal’s goals:

• To achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions “through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.”

• To create “millions of good, high-paying jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security” for all Americans.

• To invest in infrastructure and industry

• To promote justice and equity “by stopping current, preventing future and repairing historic oppression of indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustralized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities and youth” — all so-called “frontline and vulnerable communities.” 

It proposes doing so through a massive infrastructure reconstruction effort reminiscent, the bill’s authors said, of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s iconic “The New Deal,” which stabilized a Great Depression economy through jobs and infrastructure construction.

Included in the Green New Deal’s vision:

• Meeting 100 percent of the nation’s power demands through renewable, green energy.

• Building efficient power grids.

• Upgrading the nation’s existing buildings to maximize efficiency.

• Embracing ecologically sound manufacturing processes.

• Encouraging reinvestment and support for family and sustainable farming.

• Overhauling the transportation network to include zero-emission cars and boost high-speed rail.

“Today is a really big day for our economy, the labor movement, the social justice movement, indigenous peoples and people all over the United States of America,” Ocasio-Cortez said during a Thursday press conference. “Today is the day we truly embark on a comprehensive agenda of economic, social and racial justice in the United State of America.”

The proposal offers more breadth than details, and the price tag for the massive overhaul was not immediately known.

Adding to its uphill battle, the response from leaders on both sides of the aisle has been tepid. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, during her Thursday press conference, said “We welcome the enthusiasm that is out there ... The Green New Deal points out the fact that the public is much more aware of the challenge that we face, and that is a good thing.”

But John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican and chair of the Senate Republican Conference, derided the plan: “It’s a socialist manifesto that lays out a laundry list of government giveaways, including guaranteed food, housing, college and economic security even for those who refuse to work,” he said in a statement. “As Democrats take a hard left turn, this radical proposal would take our growing economy off the cliff and our nation into bankruptcy. It’s the first step down a dark path to socialism.”

Read the proposal's full text below:
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