Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Dems abandon paid leave program, Denver Post reports

Posted By on Wed, Apr 24, 2019 at 5:47 PM

click image SB188 would have allowed moms to stay home, with pay, to care for newborns. - ROBERT R GIGLIOTTI
  • Robert R Gigliotti
  • SB188 would have allowed moms to stay home, with pay, to care for newborns.

A contentious bill to create a paid family and medical leave program has been abandoned by state Democrats, the Denver Post reported April 24.

Senate Bill 188 was due for a vote of the full Senate this week, but never got that far. Instead, the Post reports, state Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Angela Williams, D-Denver, will introduce a new proposal to establish a series of studies into how the state should develop an insurance fund for paid leave.


The latest version of the bill would have required employers and employees to pay a total of 0.64 percent of an employee’s annual wages into a state-run insurance program, which would provide partial wages for employees who take up to 12 weeks of family-related or medical leave. Employers would pay 40 percent of that premium, while employees would pay 60 percent.

The premium amount could change year-to-year, but would not exceed 0.99 percent of annual wages.

Republicans and business groups largely opposed the bill, labeling it as a tax increase that should be subject to the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which requires that any tax increase be put to a vote of the people.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC were both among the bill's vocal opponents.

This was Winter's fifth attempt to pass a bill creating a paid family and medical leave program. Despite the trifecta of Democratic control in the House, Senate and governor's office, the Colorado Sun reports she feared the bill would not draw enough support without major amendments. However, it represents the closest the state ever got to implementing mandatory paid leave.
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NRA files suit against PR firm after 38-year relationship

Posted By on Wed, Apr 24, 2019 at 11:15 AM

Ackerman McQueen's office is located in this building on South Cascade Avenue. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Ackerman McQueen's office is located in this building on South Cascade Avenue.
The National Rifle Association filed suit on April 12 against its long-standing marketing/public relations firm, Ackerman McQueen.

Based in Oklahoma City, Ackerman McQueen also has offices in Washington, D.C., Dallas and at 517 South Cascade Ave. in Colorado Springs. The firm's website describes the local office like this: "Situated at the base of the Rocky Mountains, this office is a creative center for all of our publishing efforts."

A lengthy analysis of the NRA's relationship with Ackerman McQueen was published in The New Yorker on April 17.

From the story:
The suit alleges that Ackerman has denied the N.R.A. access to basic business records, including the terms of Oliver North’s contract, and blames the firm for throwing it into an existential crisis. Ackerman’s general lack of transparency, the complaint says, “threatens to imminently and irreparably harm” the N.R.A.’s status as a nonprofit organization. (In response, the marketing firm issued a statement saying it “has served the NRA and its members with great pride and dedication for the last 38 years. The NRA’s action is frivolous, inaccurate and intended to cause harm to the reputation of our company and the future of that 38-year relationship.”)
The magazine reports delves into the long-standing association of the NRA and Ackerman, noting they're so close "that it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins."

The NRA has poured lavish amounts of money into Ackerman. From 2014 to 2016, it paid the firm $52 million, according to IRS filings available on Guidestar. The New Yorker also reported it paid another $40 million to Ackerman in 2017.

A dash of local flavor from the article:
In 2014, [Ackerman CEO] Angus McQueen’s son, Revan, got married, in Colorado Springs, in an opulent affair that brought together the most prominent beneficiaries of Ackerman’s work with the N.R.A. Revan had graduated from New York University only five years earlier, but he was being trained to work as the co-C.E.O. of Ackerman McQueen. During the wedding weekend, Revan and his guests, who included Colion Noir and several college classmates, went to a shooting range to practice tactical movements and fire semi-automatic rifles. The ceremony was held at a resort called the Broadmoor, a cluster of Italian Renaissance buildings set on five thousand acres at the foot of Cheyenne Mountain.... The groomsmen, in black tie, toasted one another with twenty-three-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, which can sell for three thousand dollars a bottle. During the ceremony, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic played on the terrace.
Given the apparent falling out between the NRA and Ackerman, we wondered what that means for its Colorado Springs operation. We telephoned the firm and were told to submit questions in writing, which we did.

We'll update when we hear something.

As a footnote, Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that works toward "commonsense gun policies," issued a news release on April 23, saying, "In light of the revelations from the New Yorker investigative piece, Everytown has filed a complaint about the NRA's tax-exempt status with the IRS, and is calling for federal and state investigations into the NRA's operation as a tax-exempt organization."
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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Suthers comes out against paid family and medical leave bill

Posted By on Tue, Apr 23, 2019 at 5:05 PM

FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
Mayor John Suthers came out in opposition to a state bill that would create a paid family and medical leave program, ahead of the Senate vote scheduled for April 23.

In a statement, the mayor said, “I’ve spoken with businesses of all sizes and they’ve made it loud and clear that State Bill 19-188 will be an imposing detriment on the vitality of their operations. Though well-intentioned, the FAMLI [Family Medical Leave Insurance] proposal is the largest and most expensive program of its kind in the nation. The cost imposed upon every employee and employer in the state, as well as state government, will significantly harm our economy.”

The latest version of the bill would require employers and employees to pay a total of 0.64 percent of an employee’s annual wages into a state-run insurance program, which would provide partial wages for employees who take up to 12 weeks of family-related or medical leave. Employers would pay 40 percent of that premium, while employees would pay 60 percent.

The premium amount could change year-to-year, but would not exceed 0.99 percent of annual wages.

Other states that have already implemented similar programs include California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York. None of those programs require employers to contribute.

Supporters of Senate Bill 188 accuse the "corporate lobby" of confusing the public about the bill.

“Despite misinformation spread by lobbyists seeking to sow doubt and confusion, economic experts have proven the program will be fiscally sound and completely solvent," said Judith Marquez, the co-director of 9-to-5 Colorado, an advocacy organization backing the bill. "We all agree that working families need to be able to care for newborns and seriously ill parents, children and spouses without risking their homes and financial security, and passing FAMLI now is the way to do it."

The Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC also released a statement opposing the bill, on April 17.

"Senate Bill 188 is a $1 billion or more tax increase that sets one-size-fits-all rules for paid time off of work, by law, and imposes them on all employers and employees regardless of an employer’s size, location, industry or the specific needs of a given workplace," the statement reads.

A recent amendment does allow local governments to opt out of the program, but Suthers pointed out in his statement that "local government employees could opt in, leaving private sector and nonprofit employees and employers to subsidize their coverage."

You could be eligible for partial wage benefits under the bill if you: have a serious health condition; are caring for a new child during the first year after birth, adoption or foster care placement; are caring for a family member with a serious health condition; have a need arising from a family member's active duty service or notice of an impending call to active duty; or if you or a family member has a serious health condition related to domestic abuse, sexual assault or abuse, or stalking.

Under the bill, an individual would be eligible to receive 90 percent of their wages below the average weekly wage (currently $1,295) and 50 percent of wages equal or above AWW. So, a person making $1,000 a week would receive $758.90 a week while on paid leave, and someone making $1,500 a week would get $1,000 a week on paid leave.

The person making $1,000 would pay about $200 a year into the paid leave program. Their employer would pay $133 a year.

The person making $1,500 would pay about $300 a year. Their employer would pay $200.
Opponents of the bill argue that the bill amounts to a tax increase, and therefore is subject to the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which requires that tax increases be approved by a vote of the people. However, the paid leave program would be created as a state enterprise, not as a payroll tax — which would mean, according to a legislative analysis, that it wouldn't be subject to TABOR.

Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, who sponsored the bill, has argued in the past that the premium amounts to about the same cost as a cup of coffee a week, and is a needed protection for Coloradans.

“Many workers simply can’t afford to choose between a paycheck and caring for a recovering spouse without the risk of being evicted or getting behind on utility bills,” she said in an October statement.
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Friday, April 19, 2019

Airman at local Air Force Base is accused of ties to white nationalist groups

Posted By on Fri, Apr 19, 2019 at 12:22 PM

[image-2]
Schriever Air Force Base is investigating allegations that a master sergeant serving there is part of a white supremacist group, as first reported by The Denver Post.

Master Sgt. Cory Reeves is accused of being affiliated with Identity Evropa, which has rebranded as the American Identity Movement. The former pasted its symbols around Colorado Springs and on the Independent's newspaper boxes in January.

The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies Identity Evropa as a hate group and outlines the rebranding to the new name here.

The Indy unsuccessfully tried to reach Reeves for comment, both through Schriever and by knocking on the door of a home listed under his name by the El Paso County Assessor's Office. The Post was able to reach Reeves and he declined to comment. He then hung up when asked if he was a member of Identity Evropa.
Unicorn Riot notes on DiscordLeaks that it does not endorse any material in the chats and that its publication "is part of an effort to document violent far-right political movements." The material and photos were compiled by "A team of anonymous developers ...  with help from Unicorn Riot collective members." "Discord" and the "Discord app" are trademarks of Discord, Inc. - FROM THE DISCORDLEAKS WEBSITE
  • From the DiscordLeaks website
  • Unicorn Riot notes on DiscordLeaks that it does not endorse any material in the chats and that its publication "is part of an effort to document violent far-right political movements." The material and photos were compiled by "A team of anonymous developers ... with help from Unicorn Riot collective members." "Discord" and the "Discord app" are trademarks of Discord, Inc.
Evidence of Reeves' involvement is found on a website created by the Colorado Springs Anti-fascists group.

Asked about the accusations, Cheri Dragos-Pritchard, chief of Media Operations and Community Engagement for the 50th Space Wing Public Affairs Office at Schriever, issued this statement:
The Air Force is aware of this allegation and Air Force officials are looking into this information at this time. No further information or details of this allegation can be released until the facts involving this allegation are fully reviewed. Racism, bigotry, hatred, and discrimination have no place in the Air Force. We are committed to maintaining a culture where all Airmen feel welcome and can thrive.
Dragos-Pritchard referred the media to the Pentagon for more information. The Indy was unable to reach anyone to address the Reeves case.

The goal of the Antifa group is to identify white supremacists and extremists and expose them, a process called "doxxing," one member of the group tells the Independent. Exposing extremists, the member says, can destroy careers and ruin friendships and family relationships, which is the point.

"If you let Identity Evropa control the narrative," the source says, "they're going to organize, recruit and hold big rallies. They're going to eventually gain office and use their power in office to target minorities, the LGBT community, the Jewish community."

The Antifa member isn't being identified due to that person's fear that their family members could be physically harmed. (See our anonymity policy below.)
From the Antifa website:
As a Master Sergeant, Cory Reeves is a bit far into his military career. As a senior non-commissioned officer, he should know better than to organize with these extremist groups. He bet his retirement, his GI Bill benefits, his security clearance (and with it, post-military employment) on the hope that he would never be identified. He was incredibly careful, but in the end he was caught. Antifascists will continue to disrupt racist and fascist organizing.
The military bars its members from extremist activities. Specifically, an Air Force instruction states, "Military personnel must reject participation in organizations that advocate or espouse supremacist, extremist, or criminal gang doctrine, ideology, or causes, including those that advance, encourage, or advocate illegal causes; attempt to create illegal discrimination based on race, color, gender, religion, national origin, or ethnic group; advocate the use of force or violence; or otherwise engage in the effort to deprive individuals of their civil rights."

Violation of that instruction could lead to disciplinary action or charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Reeves, the website says, allegedly used the username “Argument of Perigee” — a term used to describe the angle within a satellite's orbit plane — on the Identity Evropa Discord server, recently leaked by a nonprofit called Unicorn Riot.

The use of the name can be found here.

The website says Reeves used his real name in a podcast with Patrick Casey, the Evropa leader who later rebranded the group as American Identity Movement. Reeves, the website claims, appeared in Evropa activities in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Florida, New York, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

Groups that seek to preserve "white rights" have gained traction in recent years and grabbed headlines, such as the August 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Va., where white supremacists held a rally and clashed with counter-protesters, triggering violence that left one dead and 30 injured. Identity Evropa participated in that rally.

One expert, Carter Smith, told the Post the military can be a place of recruitment for white supremacists and far-right nationalist groups, due to training in communications and firearms and the fact that many soldiers and airmen are young and still forming opinions and beliefs. Smith is a former Army criminal investigator who's a professor at Middle Tennessee State University who studies gangs and criminal activity in the military.

Earlier this year, a Coast Guard lieutenant who's a self-described white nationalist was arrested  in connection with a plot to kill journalists and Democratic politicians. He's pleaded not guilty, according to news reports.

Former Gazette reporter Dave Philipps, who now works for The New York Times, wrote about extremists in the military in February. The story notes that the Pentagon's "posture has generally been that the number of troops involved in extremist activity is tiny, that there are strict regulations against discrimination and extremist activity, and that military commanders are empowered to discipline and discharge troops who break them."

The Indy's policy on granting anonymity is as follows:

The Independent may choose to grant anonymity:
• to protect sources or their families' safety, freedom, livelihood or major assets (such as a lease);
• to protect the privacy of victims of certain crimes (such as sexual assault);
• the guard the privacy of vulnerable individuals such as children;
• because vital information provided by an anonymous source cannot be obtained any other way.
In rare cases, editorial leadership may grant anonymity under other circumstances, however, the story will always explain why a source was not named.
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Thursday, April 18, 2019

Air Force Academy hosts talk of Shroud of Turin's alleged authenticity

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at 3:52 PM

A poster advertising the talk at the Air Force Academy.
  • A poster advertising the talk at the Air Force Academy.
UPDATE:
We received this statement from the Air Force Academy via email:
As an institution of higher learning, the United States Air Force Academy engages with a diverse set of topics and viewpoints. This talk was advertised and held under the same conditions as all other talks — without any endorsement or requirement of attendance. We are always vigilant of religious respect and freedom, and will continue to review our processes to ensure that all talks and events comply with these tenets.

————-ORIGINAL POST 3:52 P.M. THURSDAY, APRIL 18, 2019————————-

The Air Force Academy allowed former physics professor Rolf Enger to present a talk espousing the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, the discredited "burial cloth" of Jesus Christ. The lecture happened this week, during the school day, in an academic classroom during a "special Easter presentation."

Some say the talk, which took place four days before Easter, violated the military's prohibition against favoring one religion over another. That's especially bothersome, they say, given the history of allegations that the Academy promotes fundamental Christianity as a ticket to promotions and favored treatment.

Barry Fagin, a computer science professor nearing his 25th year at the Academy, argues the school's seeming endorsement of the talk, sponsored by the Christian Faculty Fellowship, is embarrassing in light of scientific evidence that the shroud is merely a 14th century forgery that's been proven time and again through carbon dating not to date to the crucifixion.

Academy officials did not immediately respond to our request for comment. But, in the past, the Academy has denied that it favors one religion over another, but rather has asserted it must, in accord with Air Force Instruction 1-1, balance free exercise of religion with the constitutional prohibition against governmental establishment of religion. That instruction also states that military leaders "must ensure their words and actions cannot reasonably be construed to be officially endorsing or disapproving of, or extending preferential treatment for any faith, belief, or absence of belief."

Military Religious Freedom Foundation founder Mikey Weinstein says that 23 people — cadets, faculty and staff — complained to him about the lecture. A vocal critic of what he views as the Academy's religious bias, Weinstein, a 1977 Academy grad, started his foundation in 2004.

Mikey Weinstein - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • Mikey Weinstein
Weinstein says he was told by the complainants that they were disappointed, and that many noted that this incident came on the heels of "that Chick-fil-A fiasco." (The Academy hosted an executive from the fast-food company, which supports anti-LGBTQ efforts, to speak at the Character and Leadership Development Symposium earlier this term.)

"The command climate is so toxic there, they have to come to us," Weinstein says. "It’s the utter hypocrisy from a school that prides itself on honor code, character and leadership, honesty, integrity — all of these great things, but viciously violating the Constitution, its case law and directions and instructions."

Retired Brig Gen. Marty France, a former permanent professor and department head of the astronautics department who now serves on MRFF's advisory board, wrote to Vice Superintendent Houston Cantwell and Superintendent Jay Silveria expressing concern over the lecture.

"My colleagues were shocked that this sort of briefing, not even hiding its relationship to a specific religious belief (but proclaiming it) would be held during the duty day," France wrote in the letter, obtained by the Indy.

"Sure, it's voluntary, but when many of the attendees are in uniform, wearing rank, and in supervisory roles, we know that judgments are made," the letter said. "Moreover, just posting these flyers requires DF [dean of faculty] approval, so it's fair to assume that this is the endorsed position of the Dean... Dr Enger is free to present his 'research' based on some legend that the Academy has endorsed since the Frank J Seiler Research Lab misused taxpayer money back in the 70s and 80s in an attempt to prove the authenticity of this found piece of cloth (spoiler alert—it didn't really come from the presumed era or region of Jesus). I'm old enough to have been subjected to some of these briefings as a cadet and junior officer. It was wrong for the government to do it then, and it's wrong to provide a platform during the duty day to present it now."

France suggested such presentations should be held in the Cadet Chapel or Community Center Chapel, not in an academic building during the academic day.

As Weinstein tells the Indy, "It would be one thing to do it from a religious perspective, but it’s an embarrassing lack of science at a technically science school."

Which is the beef coming from Fagin, who attended the talk and observed 40 to 50 people there.
The Academy's football team kneeling in prayer before a football game several years ago. - COURTESY MRFF
  • Courtesy MRFF
  • The Academy's football team kneeling in prayer before a football game several years ago.
"I found this to be very embarrassing," Fagin tells the Indy by phone. "The best evidence we have, the overwhelming evidence is that the shroud was a 14th century forgery."

Fagin clicked through that evidence, which includes three independent carbon dating tests, all of which concluded it dates to the 14th century.

Believers, he says, argue that a fire in the cathedral where the shroud was kept skewed the carbon dating results. "The amount of carbon needed to throw it off would be more than the entire weight of the shroud itself," Fagin says, adding that the substance of the talk comprised "recycled arguments that have been refuted a long, long time ago."

Fagin cited numerous studies of the fabric's weave, stains that believers purport to be blood  and other features of the shroud that have found it to be a hoax.
"These claims are no better than UFOs or Big Foot or astrology," he says. "The science has shown that all those things are not true. The same process that tells us all those things aren’t real tells us the Shroud of Turin is a painting."

He adds, "My views are my own and do not reflect those of the Air Force Academy, the Air Force or the Department of Defense. I only wish they did."

The The Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP) was housed at the Academy, due to efforts promoted by a former Academy physics professor, John Jackson.
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University of Colorado faces backlash over presumed pick for president

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at 2:16 PM

For nearly three years, Mark Kennedy has served as president of the University of North Dakota, but he made a name for himself as a Congressman in Minnesota. - PUBLIC DOMAIN
  • Public domain
  • For nearly three years, Mark Kennedy has served as president of the University of North Dakota, but he made a name for himself as a Congressman in Minnesota.

Since the University of Colorado Board of Regents named Mark Kennedy as the only finalist for the position of president of CU’s four-campus system (which includes local UCCS), blowback has been monumental. On April 14, a group of CU stakeholders including professors, students, community members and more — more than 4,500 people total — released an open letter to the Board of Regents condemning their choice.

Why? Because Mark Kennedy, former Republican member of Congress, has a voting record that seemingly goes against values CU ostensibly supports. This open letter reads, in part:

Colorado’s reputation as an open and inclusive place to live, work, and study would be damaged by the choice of Mr. Kennedy as President of the University of Colorado. As a member of Congress, Mr. Kennedy voted against stem cell research and against grants for colleges serving Black and Latinx students, and he voted twice against marriage equality. This record runs contrary to the Regents’ commitment to cutting-edge research and to “building a community of students, faculty, and staff in which diversity is a fundamental value.”

A protest was held on the CU-Boulder campus on April 15, and demonstrations will likely continue as Kennedy plans visits to CU campuses throughout the week of April 22. United Mexican American Students y Movimiento Estudiantil Chincanx de Azlán and CU Young Democratic Socialists of America have begun planning a major demonstration on April 26, when Kennedy is slated to appear at CU-Boulder. A comprehensive Facebook page has even been created: CU Against Kennedy, encouraging use of the hashtags #studentsagainstkennedy and #CUagainstkennedy.

Kennedy’s seemingly imminent appointment has even gotten the attention of a major nonprofit organization. On April 18, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains released a statement from its CEO Vicki Cowart, in opposition to Kennedy. “I am alarmed by a litany of his congressional votes on civil rights,” Cowart’s statement says. “Congressman Kennedy voted yes on increasing federal funding for health care providers that refuse to provide or even refer patients for abortion care, voted yes on banning family planning funding for providers abroad who counsel patients on abortion options, and has been a full-throated supporter of the extremist anti-choice movement.”

The statement also mentions his record on same-sex marriage, pointing out that he cosponsored a “Marriage Protection Amendment” during his time in office.

"His background does not rise to the level of president of Colorado’s flagship university that values diversity, human rights, academic research, science, and educational freedom of thought,” Cowart says. “The regents should vote no."
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Regional Building looks to spread its wings to the north

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at 11:13 AM

Cash from the sale of this building at 101 W. Costilla St. will be used for expansion of the Regional Building Department into north Colorado Springs. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Cash from the sale of this building at 101 W. Costilla St. will be used for expansion of the Regional Building Department into north Colorado Springs.
The cash-rich Pikes Peak Regional Building Department has found a use for some of the millions of dollars it's amassed over the last several years: It plans to build a new facility amid the super-heated area of development in northern Colorado Springs.

In a news release issued April 16, RBD announced it's negotiating to buy 12.7 acres of land but didn't say where.

RBD spokesperson Greg Dingrando tells the Indy via email the Regional Building Commission has authorized staff to negotiate a purchase on the "north side" of the city and that, "As the purchase is subject to negotiations, the exact location cannot be released."

Nor would Dingrando give a rough estimate of what the project will cost, also citing ongoing negotiations.

"The Pikes Peak region has experienced significant growth on the north side, which is expected to continue," RBD's release said. "The addition of a satellite office will help meet community needs while ensuring Regional Building remains sustainable."

Regional Building Official Roger Lovell noted in the release the satellite office will be located "in the middle of the action."

It's expected to provide core services, including issuing permits, plan review, inspections and, possibly, contractor licensing for its members, which include Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Fountain, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Monument and Palmer Lake. Details have not yet been finalized. The public can comment on the new site during the April 25 RBD meeting at 2 p.m. at RBD headquarters, 2880 International Circle.

The project will not lead to higher fees, Lovell said in the release.
That's probably because RBD has amassed more than $13 million in its reserve funds since mid-2016 from the thousands of building permits issued due to damage caused by hail storms, as well as the 2017 sale of land RBD owned in the downtown area.

Dingrando says the source of the money for the new project comes from the land sale.

RBD sold the properties — at 101 W. Costilla St., RBD's former headquarters building which also has been used as a sheriff's office, and its neighboring parking lot, and a vacant lot at 435 Sahwatch St. — to Nor'wood Development Group, master developer of the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area. (In August 2016, RBD struck a deal with Nor'wood to partner in developing the two properties, but later backed away after the Indy reported state statutes specify what types of investments are allowed for a public agency, and private land speculation and development aren't permitted.) Nor'wood paid RBD $3,069,100, or 6 percent less than the appraised value, but significantly more than the $2.1 million the Assessor's Office said the land was worth.

Both parcels are a short distance from the Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame, which is under construction at Vermijo Avenue and Sierra Madre Street and forms the anchor for an ambitious overhaul of the lower downtown area by Nor'wood.

RBD gave away nearly $1 million in 2016 and 2017 to charitable causes or community projects, despite having no formal policy for such giving. Those activities were suspended, however, until a donation policy was adopted in December 2018.

RBD's headquarters on International Circle is a two-story, 74,202-square-foot building on 18.6 acres owned by the El Paso County Facilities Corp., which the Assessor's Office values at $16.4 million.

The Regional Building Commission is comprised of Green Mountain Falls Treasurer Tyler Stevens, Colorado Springs City Councilor Tom Strand and El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller.
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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Cripple Creek-Victor School District board recall effort will move forward

Posted By on Wed, Apr 17, 2019 at 3:35 PM

STACIE GONZALEZ
  • Stacie Gonzalez
An effort to recall three members of the Cripple Creek-Victor School District RE-1 board has turned in enough valid signatures for a special election, Teller County Chief Deputy Clerk Stephanie Kees confirmed April 17.

The recall effort, led by the group Hear Us (See Cover, Feb. 27), faced a hurdle when the Teller County Clerk and Recorder's office identified a shortfall of more than 200 valid petition signatures. The recall petitions required at least 400 signatures per school board member, but many of those originally submitted in March were rejected for various reasons. The clerk's office gave Hear Us until April 10 to gather the remaining signatures.

The three targeted school board members — Board President Tim Braun, Treasurer Dennis Jones and Secretary Tonya Martin — have until May 2 to protest the election, Kees says. But they can only protest on the grounds that Hear Us does not have enough valid signatures or that the ballot summary language is more than 200 words. (Kees says the clerk's office has confirmed that the signatures are valid and the summary adheres to word limits. However, a hearing would be held in the case that the board members choose to protest anyway.)

Barring a successful protest, the recall election must be held within 60 days after the protest period has passed, Kees says. 
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Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Gov. Polis signs major oil and gas bill

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2019 at 5:51 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
Gov. Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 181 into law on April 16, setting into motion major changes to the way the oil and gas industry is regulated in Colorado.

The new law grants local governments broad powers to regulate oil and gas operations, including to “zone land use for mineral resource development, to site, monitor, and inspect oil and gas facilities, and to impose fees and fines,” according the bill’s fiscal note.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will move from “fostering” the oil and gas industry to “regulating” it, and will add new rules aimed at protecting health and the environment. The law makes that a full-time, seven-member board appointed by the governor with the Senate’s approval. Only one board member can hail from the oil and gas industry.

The bill first passed the Senate on March 13 with a vote of 19-15, and passed the House on March 29 with several amendments, one of which requires that local regulations are “reasonable” in scope. The Senate approved House amendments on April 3, sending the bill to the governor's desk.

The law's opponents — who argue that it could hurt state and local economies supported by the oil and gas industry — are already seeking to recall certain elected officials that supported the bill and to overturn the new law.

Weld County Commission Chair Barbara Kirkmeyer, along with John Brackney, a former Arapahoe County commissioner, have filed ballot initiative language with the Colorado Secretary of State. Once that's approved, they'll need to gather nearly 125,000 petition signatures to refer an initiative to voters.

Their ballot initiative would remake the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission into a board selected by retired judges from a list of nominees. (Senate Bill 181 lets the governor appoint the board with the Senate's approval.)

Under the ballot initiative, the Commission would also have to adopt the rules that were in place on Dec. 31, 2018. SB181 changed those rules to protect public health and the environment.
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Diana May tapped for county attorney post in El Paso County

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2019 at 12:03 PM

Diana May, a 22-year veteran attorney here, has been tapped to become El Paso County attorney, the county said in a news release.
Diana May: stepping into the top job. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY
  • Courtesy El Paso County
  • Diana May: stepping into the top job.
She's currently serving as assistant county attorney and, if appointed on April 18, would succeed Amy Folsom, who was chosen as county administrator last month.

From the news release:
“Diana May is absolutely the right person to take over as County Attorney,” said the Board of County Commissioner Mark Waller. “Diana has an incredible legal mind. Her 22 years as both a Deputy District Attorney and an Assistant County Attorney will serve her well in her new position. I am grateful we have such talented staff within our organization to take on these important positions.”

The El Paso County Attorney’s Office is among the busiest in the state. The County Attorney’s Office serves as the County’s main legal representation in lawsuits, employment issues, and land use matters. The County Attorney is one of two positions the Board of El Paso County Commissioners hire directly. Diana will replace Amy Folsom, who was recently selected as the next County Administrator.

Ms. May has been the First Assistant County Attorney since 2017. She has been with El Paso County for 22 years; eight with the County Attorney’s Office and 14 with the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. During her time with the County, Diana defended the County against lawsuits, advised on employment law matters, and conducted multiple employee and elected official trainings. During her tenure in the District Attorney’s Office, Diana prosecuted felony, sexual assault, and homicide cases, as well as served as a Team Lead and Chief Deputy District Attorney.

Diana serves, or has served, on numerous boards over the years. Those boards include Tessa, Safe Passage, the Ending Violence Against Women (EVAW) Program, and the El Paso County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. In 2005, Diana received the Colorado Springs Business Journal’s “Women of Influence Award”.

Ms. May is a graduate of Colorado State University and received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Kansas School of Law. She is married to her husband Tony, who is a retired Colorado State Trooper. Together, she and her husband have one son Anthony (14).
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Mayor Suthers takes oath for second term

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2019 at 11:18 AM

Mayor John Suthers takes his oath of office from Municipal Judge HayDen Kane II with his wife, Janet, at his side. - PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
  • Mayor John Suthers takes his oath of office from Municipal Judge HayDen Kane II with his wife, Janet, at his side.
Under partly cloudy skies, Mayor John Suthers and three at-large city councilors took their oaths of office on April 16 on the south side of Pioneers Museum.

Suthers, starting his second and final four-year term, began by choking up when noting the Bible upon which he swore his oath was a gift from his mother to his father 67 years ago shortly after the couple adopted Suthers in November 1951. He then joked that his wife, Janet, didn't know what she was getting herself into when she said "I do" 43 years ago, which led her to be the wife of a district attorney, U.S. Attorney, State Department of Corrections chief, attorney general of Colorado, and mayor of Colorado Springs. He noted it was his eighth oath of office in 30 years.

The only applause that interrupted his brief remarks came when he vowed to help Colorado Springs become and remain one of the great cities of America. The crowd of 300 to 400 gave the mayor a standing ovation after his address.

Taking the oath for their second terms on Council were Bill Murray and Tom Strand, while former Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams was sworn in to his second term.

The full text of Suthers' speech is below.
Olympic wrestler J'den Cox sang the National Anthem.
  • Olympic wrestler J'den Cox sang the National Anthem.

The Colorado Springs Fire Department and Police Department presented the colors.
  • The Colorado Springs Fire Department and Police Department presented the colors.
From left, John and Janet Suthers, Wayne Williams, Tom Strand and Bill Murray. Jon Karroll, at the podium, served as master of ceremonies.
  • From left, John and Janet Suthers, Wayne Williams, Tom Strand and Bill Murray. Jon Karroll, at the podium, served as master of ceremonies.
Mayor Suthers vowed to make the tough choices to make Colorado Springs the shining city at the foot of a great mountain and challenged citizens to do their part.
  • Mayor Suthers vowed to make the tough choices to make Colorado Springs the shining city at the foot of a great mountain and challenged citizens to do their part.
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State bills aim to increase transparency in campaign fundraising

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2019 at 11:15 AM

This 2014 attack ad was paid for by a 527 ("dark money") political group.
  • This 2014 attack ad was paid for by a 527 ("dark money") political group.

Secretary of State Jena Griswold is championing two bills she developed with state lawmakers to change Colorado's system for enforcing fair campaign practices.

After all, she "ran for office to reform money in politics," notes a release from her office announcing the introduction of both bills.

The first, House Bill 1318 — dubbed "The Clean Campaign Act of 2019" — would prohibit foreign governments and corporations, as well as any person who is not an American citizen, from contributing to state election campaigns. It also requires "Paid for by" disclosures on campaign communications, and tightens rules related to independent expenditure committees, or IECs, that raise money for political candidates before they officially declare an intent to run for office. It's sponsored by Rep. Mike Weissman, D-Aurora, along with Sens. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, and Mike Foote, D-Lafayette.

More than $82 million was donated to IECs — which Griswold calls "Colorado's version of a SuperPAC" — during the 2018 election cycle in Colorado, the release says. Of that $82 million, 75 percent came in donations of $100,000 or more, and over 80 percent came from corporations or sources that are "hard to trace."

“Too often, Coloradans feel that their politicians are beholden to big money special interests, and that the rich and powerful are allowed to side-step the rules,” Griswold is quoted as saying. “Right now in Colorado, a $50 contribution to a candidate is more transparent than a $50,000 contribution to Colorado’s version of a SuperPAC. It’s time to put democracy back in the hands of everyday Coloradans."

The second piece of legislation, Senate Bill 232, is titled "Campaign Finance Enforcement" and is also sponsored by Foote and Weissman. It codifies the rules put in place after a U.S. District Court judge determined in 2018 that Colorado's campaign finance enforcement system was unconstitutional. The rules include procedures for filing, reviewing and investigating complaints of unfair campaign practices.

Interestingly, the system ruled unconstitutional was created through a ballot initiative. It mandated that every complaint of a campaign finance violation get a hearing, and did not include a mechanism for filtering out bad complaints, according to the National Law Review.
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Friday, April 12, 2019

Governor signs bill requiring disclosure of police internal affairs files

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2019 at 5:43 PM

The robot the CSPD used to breach the door of a resident's home in 2012. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • The robot the CSPD used to breach the door of a resident's home in 2012.
Gov. Jared Polis signed into law House Bill 1119, which requires law enforcement agencies to disclose internal affairs reports after an investigation is complete, the Colorado Independent reports.

That means the public can find out which officers are accused of and punished for use of excessive force or other violations.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office and the Colorado Springs Police Department have routinely refused to release internal affairs files, including those involving officers involved in a May 2012 incident in which police set off an explosive device in Ronald Brown's house, which resulted in a $160,000 lawsuit settlement, and a November 2013 incident in which an officer slammed a teenager, Alexis Acker, to the floor, breaking a tooth and causing other injuries, for which the city paid $100,000 to settle a lawsuit.

The only internal affairs file released locally in recent years involved Ryan Brown, who alleged he and his brother were stopped by police just because they're black. The city settled a lawsuit filed on Brown's behalf by the ACLU of Colorado for $212,000 but denied wrongdoing. The IA investigation cleared the officers involved.

The new law doesn't require the release of past internal affairs files, but rather only those that arise from incidents that occur after the new law became effective.

The law allows identifying or contact information of confidential informants, witnesses and victims to be redacted from the reports, as well as the home address, personal phone number and other personal information of the officer.

Other information is protected as well, spelled out in the bill you can find here.

Sheriff Bill Elder is opposed to the law and issued this statement:
The language in House Bill 19-1119 is too broad. The accessible records should only refer to completed internal investigations that resulted in a sustained finding and/or disciplinary action. My concern would be that defense attorneys could use not sustained or unfounded internal investigations against an officer to undermine a legitimate case. The other concern is the amount of staff time that it will take an agency to comply with the many requests now that this bill has become law.
Mayor John Suthers couldn't be reached for comment but has said the city will follow the law.

The bill became effective upon signing by the governor.
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Gov. Polis signs "red-flag bill" into law

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2019 at 5:33 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
——UPDATE MONDAY, APRIL 15——

Via a spokesperson, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder gave the following comment:

There is a mental health crisis in this country, in this state and our communities. The Red Flag Bill does nothing to address the underlying mental health of an individual, it only violates in my opinion, the right of a citizen to possess firearms. As I previously stated, I am exploring all available legal options and am committed to vigorously challenging the constitutionality of this law.


——ORIGINAL POST 5:33 P.M. FRIDAY, APRIL 12——

With the signature of Gov. Jared Polis, the "red-flag bill" became law on April 12 — making it legal for law enforcement to seize the firearms of those determined to pose a risk to themselves or others after a court issues an "Extreme Risk Protection Order."

"A strong majority of gun owners, non gun owners, Republicans, Independents, and Democrats agree: Extreme Risk Protection Order Laws save lives and are consistent with our 2nd amendment rights," reads an April 12 post on Polis' official Facebook page.

In fact, more than half of the state's counties, including El Paso, issued resolutions opposing the bill, claiming it violates Second Amendment rights and constitutional due process.

The new law allows an individual to petition the court to remove firearms from a family or household member they feel could endanger themselves or others. A judge would have to hold a hearing that day, or the following day, to determine whether to issue the protection order.

A second hearing must be held within 14 days to determine whether the person's weapons should be kept for up to 364 days. During that time, the person could not legally purchase, possess or receive any firearms.

The law's supporters say it's needed to address Colorado's high suicide rate. The state has the 10th highest suicide rate in the U.S., with 20.3 suicides per 100,000 people in 2017. El Paso County's rate is slightly higher, at 22.8 per 100,000. Half of all suicides were by firearm in 2017.

"While we still need to do more to help those in a mental health crisis access the help they urgently need, this bill provides a highly targeted tool to judges, families, and law enforcement to reduce gun violence, prevent suicide, and protect families and first responders," Polis' Facebook post reads.

Republicans attempting to force recall elections of state Democrats cite the red-flag law as a motivating factor.

At a press conference March 26, Polis said counties had the right to exercise discretion over how to enforce the law, The Colorado Sun reported. He dodged questions over whether he agreed with Attorney General Phil Weiser's earlier statement that any sheriff who would disregard a court order to remove someone's firearms should resign.

Lawmakers were mostly split along party lines in voting on the bill, though Senate President Leroy Garcia of Pueblo, a Democrat, opposed it.
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Salvation Army gets new disaster response vehicle from FedEx

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2019 at 11:05 AM

COURTESY SALVATION ARMY
  • Courtesy Salvation Army
When someone loses their home to fire or flooding, they need help.

Now, the Salvation Army has a new vehicle to help in times of disaster, thanks to a $114,000 disaster response vehicle customized and donated by FedEx, the agency announced in a news release.

The new vehicle is more than just a sleeker version of The Salvation Army’s current disaster response fleet, the Salvation Army said. It also will save the agency money because it's more economical to operate and maintain.

From the release:
The vehicle’s smaller size and 4-Wheel drive capabilities allow us to respond in areas we cannot reach with the large mobile feeding units or during severe winter weather.

“With the addition of the new disaster response unit, we will be better prepared to serve than ever before.” says Major Mike Dickinson, The Salvation Army Intermountain Divisional Commander.

FedEx has a long history of supporting disaster relief and recovery efforts including assisting with The Salvation Army’s relief efforts following last year’s wildfires and March’s bomb cyclone.

“FedEx is proud to support The Salvation Army’s emergency response programs through our FedEx Cares Delivering for Good initiative.” said Jenny Robertson, vice president Corporate Communications, FedEx.
 
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