New Utilities staffer, South Nevada blight, City for Champions, and more 


Bruce hearing continued

An hours-long hours-long probation revocation hearing on Monday in Denver was continued until Oct. 8 for Douglas Bruce, author of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights.

Bruce is accused of violating terms of his probation from a 2011 tax evasion conviction by failing to report financial transactions, among them the transfer of his late mother's condominium to City Councilor Helen Collins. Collins, Bruce's political ally, in turn sold the property to a third-party buyer.

Judge Sheila Rappaport suggested Bruce and Collins seek legal counsel pending a motion that raised the possibility of a felony charge stemming from the condo transaction, according to the Gazette.

The property transfer might be viewed as Bruce's attempt to avoid paying a city judgment, although no lien had been attached prior to Collins receiving and selling the property. Collins faces allegations of ethics violation related to the transfer.

Bruce and Collins couldn't be reached for comment by the Independent's press time. — PZ

Energy officer hired

Having been unceremoniously bounced by Los Angeles city government, Aram Benyamin has landed on his feet as Colorado Springs Utilities' general manager of energy supply.

Benyamin was ousted from the L.A. Department of Water and Power in early 2014 due to his close association with the electrical workers union, according to media reports.

The move came soon after the election of Eric Garcetti as mayor, notable in part because Benyamin had supported Garcetti's challenger in 2013.

Benyamin was hired by Utilities in May at an annual salary of $214,240. Benyamin reports to Eric Tharp, the chief energy officer with a salary of $270,000.

Utilities spokesman Steve Berry reports via email that Benyamin "has received rave reviews from employees" and "brings a great perspective to our energy operations from his time in California and his 30-plus years of experience."

Utilities has become something of a refuge for ousted public employees. The department hired Steven Kuhr in mid-2014 after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo canned him for sending emergency crews to remove a tree from his own driveway during Hurricane Sandy, the 2012 superstorm that killed 53 in that state and left more than 2 million without power. Kuhr was hired at an annual salary of $130,977 to run Utilities' emergency management and business continuity office. — PZ

Nevada studied for blight

South Nevada Avenue is the latest spot in the city deemed blighted, the result of a $44,200 study authorized and funded by the city Urban Renewal Authority, which could lead to an urban renewal label.

The area at issue lies north of East Cheyenne Road, south of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, east of South Cascade Avenue and west of South Wahsatch Avenue. It contains 150 acres, 76 percent locally owned. Consultant Ricker Cunningham found 10 of 11 blight factors present, including deteriorating buildings and defective street layout.

A proposed development program includes commercial retail and service space, 200 multi-family residential units, 110 hotel rooms and $24 million in public improvements, which could be funded using sales and property tax increment financing, the report said. Those include new traffic signals, streetscaping, sidewalks and trail connections. "Challenges" include state control over South Nevada and many existing curb cuts. Developers include Harder-Diesslin Development, The Equity Group and On the Ivy.

The authority board voted to pursue a URA designation and will meet Sept. 14 to consider recommending City Council approval, says URA spokesman Jim Rees. — PZ

City gets first RTA money

As controversy continues over a proposed downtown stadium, it remains part of the City for Champions tourism venture, so it's been allocated a portion of the first allotment of state sales tax money received by the city since state authorities approved the C4C plan in December 2013.

The city's Urban Renewal Authority received $760,632 in June, based on 13.08 percent of the state sales tax revenue collected within the Regional Tourism Zone in excess of the base year revenue in 2013. The zone covers most of the city. That means sales are increasing in the zone, though none of the tourism projects has been built.

The money was divvied up like this: $298,465 to U.S. Olympic Museum and Hall of Fame (42 percent); $163,445 to downtown stadium (23 percent); $99,488 to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Sports Medicine and Performance Center (14 percent); $35,532 to the U.S. Air Force Academy visitors center (5 percent), and $113,702 for the "flexible sub-account" (16 percent). The remaining $50,000 will be used to administer the program this year. — PZ

Diploma wording at issue

The ever-contentious Mikey Weinstein is again stirring debate by proposing the Air Force Academy remove the words "in the year of our Lord" from diplomas for the class of 2016, at the request of some cadets.

"We all know whose lord that is," he says. "It's a special seal of approval."

Weinstein runs the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which strives to ensure members of the armed forces receive the Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.

The academy declined to comment on the request. The Naval Academy, for one, reports using the phrase on diplomas, but Weinstein hasn't sought removal there because midshipmen haven't requested it, he says. — PZ

Two file for Manitou mayor

Two familiar figures will vie to become Manitou Springs' next mayor in the Nov. 3 election, according to the Pikes Peak Bulletin. They are Coreen Toll, currently mayor pro-tem who represents Ward 2 on Council, and Nicole Nicoletta, who represents Ward 3 on Council.

Current Mayor Marc Snyder, first elected in 2009, is term-limited.

Eight have filed for three at-large Council seats, including at-large incumbents Gary Smith and Donna Ford along with Becky Elder, who was appointed this year to the Ward 1 seat. (Incumbent at-large Councilor Randy Hodges is the only one to file for the Ward 1 seat.)

Other at-large candidates: Jay Rohrer, David Walker, Norman Dawson, Abbey Steger and Daniel Prem. — PZ


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