Balink denies diverting calls 

County clerk says report was wrong

El Paso County Clerk and Recorder Bob Balink got a bit of unwanted attention this week after the Gazette reported that his staff stopped answering phones last month because of budget cuts, thus flooding other county offices with extra calls.

In an Associated Press story posted Tuesday by the Washington Post, Balink flatly denied that staff were not taking calls.

Chief deputy clerk Terry Sholdt says there has been no change in policy about answering phones, though there are 26 fewer people in the office after budget cuts in the past year. On Wednesday morning, it was possible to get through to employees at various numbers for the county clerk.

County Assessor Mark Lowderman says the problem may have developed when some recorded messages at the clerk's office were changed, directing some callers to his office or those of other county officials. Some callers, Lowderman says, could not get through to a person at the clerk's office, and became frustrated after calling the assessor's office to find his staff didn't have the information they needed. AL

Lamborn skips stimulus signing

Though he was out touring Pacific military bases while President Barack Obama was in Denver signing federal stimulus legislation, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn did take the time to have his staff send a press release making the case for fossil-fuel producers.

"I am troubled by the contradictory message the administration is sending on energy production and job creation," Lamborn says in a release about the "so-called" stimulus.

Obama has talked about encouraging development of alternative energy resources. Lamborn blasts the administration for halting controversial plans from his predecessor to lease thousand of acres in Utah for oil and gas development. AL

A little local disharmony

It was a busy week for Rosemary Harris Lytle, president of the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

First came an outcry about the removal of signs bearing the image of President Barack Obama that were put up to announce the Presidents Day closure of the Peterson Air Force Base commissary.

Despite reports that commissary management decided to remove the signs to keep the holiday's focus on George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Lytle says complaints the NAACP received from three commissary employees suggest it has been the practice in previous years for the signs to bear the picture of the sitting president.

Some customers, Lytle says, raised the issue of race in objecting to the signs this year.

"People started complaining in ways that weren't nice," she says, noting the matter is set to be reviewed by Air Force officials. "The military must send a message."

Next came a Tuesday story in the Gazette about Black History Month events that contained an unfortunate typographical error about the appearance of Carlotta Walls LaNier, a member of the Little Rock Nine, at the Centennial Freedom Fund Gala Saturday night. A missing "o" in a usage of the word "of" suggested a vulgarity.

Lytle says she's puzzled by the carelessness, which showed up in a story that was already pushed deep into the paper. "This one was just egregious," she says. AL

Andrews misses ballot

In launching his City Council campaign, Rob Andrews had connections from growing up in Colorado Springs and working as a paid member of Barack Obama's local campaign staff. Andrews also had received a key endorsement from the local firefighters union as the top candidate in District 4, which covers the city's eastern and southeastern sections.

But Andrews' chances of helping lead the city abruptly vanished when his nomination petition came up short of the required 50 confirmed signatures from registered voters living in his district.

"We just kind of dropped the ball," Andrews said, explaining that he and volunteers collected more than the required number of signatures, but came up about 15 short after many were judged ineligible or illegible.

That leaves former appointed City Councilor Bernie Herpin running against Tony Carpenter for the District 4 seat, replacing term-limited Councilor Margaret Radford, in the April 7 mail-ballot election. The only other seat with a race is District 3, which will have Councilor Jerry Heimlicher facing Dave Gardner, a local slow-growth advocate. Scott Hente from District 1 and Darryl Glenn from District 2 are unopposed. AL

Dangerous driving to the east

Anyone who drives on and around Powers Boulevard would attest to how dangerous it can be. This week, the city has confirmed what those people already know.

In its annual ranking of Colorado Springs' Top 25 accident-prone intersections, eight of the top 14, and 11 out of the 25, are located along the Powers corridor. Topping the list for the second consecutive year is North Powers Boulevard and Briargate Parkway, followed by Palmer Park Boulevard and Space Center Drive (just west of Powers).

Interestingly, none of the most dangerous intersections is west of Interstate 25 on the city's north and west sides. And for those who remember the 1990s, when Academy Boulevard would have a handful of hot spots dotting, if not topping, the list, Academy's only appearances on this year's Top 25 are the intersections of South Academy and Airport Road (10th) and North Academy and East Platte Avenue (25th).

For the full list, check an expanded version of this story at csindy.com. RR

Baca drilling pushed back

Opponents of drilling on the Baca National Wildlife Refuge in the San Luis Valley scored a victory this week, with all construction activity on the preserve pushed back until at least August.

The refuge, which sprawls next to Great Sand Dunes National Park about 90 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, was purchased by the government in 2004 for about $31 million, but Canadian energy company Lexam Explorations retained rights to the minerals underneath.

The agreement to halt activities on the refuge until August came out of legal proceedings. Local environmental groups are pressing a lawsuit claiming the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge, didn't follow the National Environment Policy Act when it conducted the assessment that authorized Lexam to drill two test wells to look for natural gas.

"It looks like we're heading in the right direction," says Christine Canaly, director of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council.

Opponents of the drilling fear it could damage sensitive wildlife habitat and contaminate San Luis Valley aquifers that provide water to residents and farmers in the area. AL

Compiled by Anthony Lane and Ralph Routon.


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