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Why do we need two?

To the Editor:

Well, it's that time of year once again, and I am not referring to the holiday season. Yesterday marked the annual event of what I regard as a terrible waste of natural resources -- the arrival of the first of two phone books. When we remodeled our home some time ago, we built what we thought was an adequate storage bin for the local phone book, and it served us well for many years. Now we find that we must cut the current directory into workable portions and store it in a drawer and recycle the surplus.

The first volume to arrive this year was the McLeod USA Directory, and it weighed in at a little over five pounds. The U.S. West Directory will be next, and I guarantee it will exceed the weight of its rival. Their combined mass now exceeds that of my Random House Dictionary. Given our current population, it would be interesting to compute the number of trees consumed and tonnage of paper pulp and ink used in this annual event.

Since a person can use only one directory, I find it hard to justify the distribution of two. Can one company say that their phone numbers are better than those of the competitor? This waste is further compounded by the problem of disposal. I can't recycle the book along with my newspapers but instead must drive to the nearest phone-book recycling bin to get rid of last year's plus the extra book from this year.

There just has to be a better way.

-- William A. Fischer
Colorado Springs


Citizens of the world unite

To the Editor:

The 20th century has been the most violent in human history. More people have died in wars and genocides than ever before. As the century draws to a close, many of us will be out celebrating a new millennium, making our resolutions and looking forward to a new start. We now live in an increasingly global world, and as technologies such as the Internet bring us closer and closer together, it is time for each of us to make a resolution in regard to our global community.

After World War II, the Allied powers created the United Nations to "save future generations from the scourge of war." At the time, the power of the United Nations was restricted for reasons related to the Cold War, which was beginning at that time. As a result, the United Nations has only been marginally effective in fulfilling its purpose.

A recent Harris poll (#67, Nov. 12) demonstrates that American citizens want the United States to play a leading role in preventing and responding to humanitarian crises through a cooperative international effort. Furthermore, another recent poll by the University of Maryland (www.pipa.org) found that 73 percent agreed (44 percent strongly) with the statement "I regard myself as a citizen of the world as well as a citizen of the United States."

However, our representatives do not recognize this public opinion. Our Congress owes more than a billion dollars to the United Nations, it has rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, it refuses to even consider the Women's Rights Treaty, and it has slashed aid to other countries.

As the millennium draws closer, we must exercise our democratic power and let our representatives know we want a strengthened United Nations. It is time to make a New Year's resolution by pledging our allegiance with our brothers and sisters on earth and working toward real global stability for the good of all humanity.

-- Laura McGaughey
Denver


How do I know? Mullen told me so

To the Editor:

The last three Independent's have featured several articles and editorials concerning the city's new "Release of Public Information policy." (See Nov. 11, "City Tries to Bar the Press" Nov. 18, "Misdirected policy must go," and "City Government 101;" and Nov. 25, "Eugenia's List" at www.csindy.com.)

The Independent has claimed that the new policy has "severely restricted" media access to information by implementing "rigid requirements" for public documents, making "follow-up questions nearly impossible" and "controlling" public information through its public-relation personnel to give it a "positive spin." Although as a Council member it isn't my job to set administrative policy, upon first hearing about the policy, I, too, was concerned. The last thing we want to do in a city government is restrict public access to information or only release information with a positive spin. But after talking with several news reporters in town, I no longer share the Independent's concerns about the policy itself.

First, let me describe the policy as it was explained to me. There are now over 80 staff members in the general city government who have the responsibility of speaking to the media about the specific city services and policies they manage. This list does not include Memorial Hospital, Colorado Springs Utilities, the police department and Council appointees (city attorney, city clerk and city auditor) -- who have always had their own media spokespeople. If someone in the media wants information on TOPS, for example, they should talk to Terry Putnam -- manager of the TOPS program. If information is needed on the bus system, Sherre Ritenour, manager of Springs Transit, is the designated spokesperson.

The new "spokesperson" policy was enacted to help the media obtain more accurate and timely information by designating the staff member in charge of a department or city service as the appropriate person to be contacted. I was assured that if a designated spokesperson wasn't able to answer a question, that spokesperson was encouraged to refer to a non-designated staff member who could.

The policy was also implemented to help ensure that city employees do not prematurely release draft reports, confidential information or work documents to the media as has happened in the past. When I asked for examples of such incidents, five examples were given to me that occurred in the last year.

The responses to inquiries will not be censored by the public communications office or the city manager. The only written inquiries that have to go through the public communications office are requests for written documents and those requests should be submitted in writing, as suggested by the Colorado Open Records Act. Factual verifications from written documents are not required to be submitted in writing.

This "request in writing" policy was enacted to stave off wild goose chases and to, again, ensure a more timely response to written requests. Reporters in the past have requested written documents from the wrong department or have made unclear requests for information that take a good deal of staff time to track down. For example, a certain freelance journalist recently requested copies of all of Council's or the city manager's e-mail for the last six months. Not only does the staff have to spend a lot of time tracking down and copying those e-mails (many of them have to be retrieved from archives), but the city attorney's office has to review every single one of those messages to make sure that nothing confidential is inappropriately released.

If requests for specific written information are made in writing to the public communications department, no requests will be denied except legally confidential information, draft reports or work documents not ready for release. Requests for written information will be retrieved in a timely fashion so reporters can meet their deadlines. No written documents will be tampered with before release "to give them a positive spin."

All in all, the new policy, as it has been explained to me, seems reasonable. It appears to be common for other local municipalities to have similar public communications policies. The main problem with this policy has been its implementation. At first, some details of the policy were poorly communicated to the media. In certain cases, major media sources weren't contacted at all. There's also been some initial confusion from city staff regarding the guidelines in this policy. And, finally, even with 80 designated spokespeople, the list is incomplete.

I understand that all major media sources have now been contacted, the appropriate staff members have been briefed on the policy, and the list of designated spokespeople is in the process of being expanded. Hopefully, most of the implementation problems in the policy will be worked out soon. In addition, the city's public communications department has stated that they will closely monitor the effectiveness of the policy.

-- Richard Skorman
Colorado Springs City Council member

We are not surprised that Councilman Skorman has been assured by City Manager Jim Mullen that the newly instituted public-information policy is completely aboveboard and was instituted for legitimate reasons. And imagine our relief that the city's public communications department will closely monitor the effectiveness of the process -- whew! What we are wondering is, when did the people's elected representative become a conciliatory cog in the wheels of bureaucracy and a fan of closed government? -- Ed.


Back to the good old days

To the Editor:

As Republican presidential candidates speak of their desires to follow in the footsteps of George Washington, Abe Lincoln and Ronald Reagan -- as if they were all equal -- perhaps we should stir those coals of illusion before all light and warmth fades to darkness. Before revisionism overwhelms and obliterates all memory of Mr. Reagan and the 1980s, perhaps a few facts should be put on the table? After all, the 1980s were dominated by the presidency of Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party.

First of all, many Republicans were very depressed following the Watergate scandal and were looking for someone to help with their depression. Mr. Reagan was that man. Indeed, he did restore their faith in America. He led them to believe that all the problems of America were the fault of the liberals. However, everyone was not that fond of the man and did not believe he restored anything to this nation. Quite the contrary, many folks thought he was one of the most divisive leaders of our lifetimes.

They remember military budgets so large that they couldn't spend it all. They recall the cuts in health care, children's lunches, food stamps for the poor, and taxes on the weekly payments for the unemployed.

As our deficits went up, taxes went down for the wealthiest in our nation. At the same time, they went up for the poor. In 1987, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the bottom 10 percent would pay 20 percent more of their earnings in taxes than they did in 1977. The top 10 percent were paying 20 percent less in taxes. At the same time, a report for the House Ways and Means Committee showed that from 1979 to 1987, the average family income for the poorest one-fifth of our citizens dropped by approximately 6 percent while the richest one-fifth saw their family income rise by about 11 percent.

Meanwhile, our national debt quadrupled. Interest rates were excessively high for the entire decade. The inflation nightmare was never defeated. By 1992, businesses were very insecure. Republican voters were wary of another Hoover-type economy. They refused to vote for George Bush. In effect, they conceded that Reaganomics had failed. It is only now -- in the bright light of a good economy -- that they can rewrite their thoughts and emotions. Indeed, he was such an affable guy ... and he did win the Cold War ... Not really, but why disillusion them with facts? History will record the truth of the matter.

-- Kenneth Alford
Colorado Springs

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