Noted: Indy Give! surpasses goals 

Give! distributes $198,698

Trying to start a new holiday-season charity campaign in a tough economy might have seemed daunting to some, ill-advised to others. But the Independent-sponsored inaugural Give! campaign still turned into a goal-obliterating success.

In a wrapup celebration Tuesday night at the Penrose House's Garden Pavilion, the fundraising drive's organizers handed out checks to the 29 nonprofit beneficiaries totaling $198,698.59 — more than 30 percent beyond the initial goal of $150,000. The amounts for each nonprofit ranged from about $1,500 to a high of nearly $34,000 for the Friends of North Cheyenne Cañon. The Club of Arts was next with $13,474, followed by Venetucci Farm with $13,089, the Colorado Springs Diversity Forum with $11,227, and Fort Carson's Children's Literacy Center with $10,987.

"Our purpose for this first year was to build community, connections and capacity," Independent publisher John Weiss told an audience of about 200 people from the various agencies. "We also were looking for community buy-in as well as staff buy-in, and we achieved that." — RR

Bartolin starts committee

Steve Bartolin, president and CEO of The Broadmoor, isn't wasting time now that Mayor Lionel Rivera and City Council have invited him to assemble a committee of business leaders to advise the city on financial matters. Bartolin had suggested the arrangement in late 2009.

Bartolin this week distributed an "open letter to Colorado Springs residents," detailing how he was joining Councilor Sean Paige and local businessman Chuck Fowler to form "The City Committee," which according to the letter "will systematically study the business policies and operations of municipal government and Colorado Springs Utilities." Fowler will chair the group, and Paige will coordinate relations with city government.

"We will ask a selection of local business people to join us as we research, analyze, discuss and hopefully offer up some recommendations to City Council for their deliberation and possible action," Bartolin's letter says, emphasizing no taxpayer money will be involved. Following is the letter in its entirety:

Open Letter to Colorado Springs Residents

Much has been said and written about my November letter to City Council. In that letter, intended for their eyes only (but quickly went “viral”, as they say), I shared my thoughts about looking at the city’s budget situation in a different way. My intention was more to inspire a new way of looking at government, much the way all organizations (private and public) and families must do now given the times, as it was to offer up some specific ideas on operating more efficiently and reducing costs. I will be the first to admit that comparing the operations of the resort hotel business are not the same as running a government – yet there are similarities with the resort business as well as all businesses.

I think the city does a fine job overall with their service delivery -- police and fire, in particular, are exceptional -- while working under some pretty difficult circumstances. How do you maintain or even improve the delivery of city services within a cost structure the taxpayers will support? I advanced some thoughts on this; some that may have footing and some that may not. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but it seems that an honest and sincere look at how the city operates strategically, organizationally and financially can better provide a long term solution versus annual random budget cutting.

So what’s happening? Together with our District 2 Councilman Sean Paige and local businessman Chuck Fowler, we have formed The City Committee, which will systematically study the business policies and operations of municipal government and Colorado Springs Utilities. Chuck will serve as chairman of the group and Sean will coordinate and manage the Committee’s relationship with City Council and city staff. I will serve as a member of the Committee and help and support Sean and Chuck and other members in any way that I can. We will ask a selection of local business people to join us as we research, analyze, discuss and hopefully offer up some recommendations to City Council for their deliberation and possible action. I feel that it is important for citizens and community leaders to understand that participants in this effort will be recruited for their expertise and creativity in their business specialties -- be that finance, personnel, marketing, contracting, public relations, technology, etc. – tasks that also make up the daily routines of our civic administrators. The work of this Committee cannot be successful without the support and conviction of the city administration, and I truly appreciate the Mayor’s and Council’s pledge to cooperate with us.

When the economic climate becomes difficult, some organizations do better than others. By tapping the entrepreneurial survival instincts of those who run these organizations, my thought is we can help our city managers versus hurling criticism from the sidelines. Please know that I have the greatest respect for the people in government and the work that they do. Operating in this climate cannot be much fun for them either.

We are a private committee and not relying on taxpayer funding. Nonetheless, we believe our work is public in nature and we will organize a website to publish our pursuits and findings. All Colorado Springs citizens are encouraged to share their own ideas and comments at the site. Please look for a press announcement soon for the launch of the website.

My letter was not intended to be a criticism of the Council or city government; it was intended to be constructive and, in that vein, I hope it has opened a window of opportunity and that good can come from it.

Steve Bartolin

City manager loses house

The San Diego County Credit Union has reclaimed Colorado Springs City Manager Penelope Culbreth-Graft's home in Huntington Beach, Calif., where she was city manager before starting her job here in January 2008, the Orange County Register reports. Earlier this week, the lender took it back for $1,048,237.

Records show Culbreth-Graft and her husband, William Graft, bought the house in September 2004. The couple had a first mortgage of $1,141,000, with a second loan from the Huntington Beach City Employees Credit Union for $250,000. The latter is the subject of a pending lawsuit.

In December 2007, the couple bought a home here for $875,000 in Broadmoor Bluffs. — PZ

Freethinkers get a break

It's not officially a club, nor a religious organization, but the Air Force Academy Freethinkers group appears to have moved one step closer to stability after a meeting with AFA administrators.

Carlos Bertha, adviser to the collective that caters to secularly inclined cadets at the Academy, says it appears the Freethinkers will be allowed to affiliate with a national organization, the Secular Student Alliance, without falling under the umbrella of the Academy's extracurricular activities board or its Special Programs in Religious Education (SPIRE).

The group had been part of SPIRE, but members went looking for a new home after they were discouraged last spring from officially inviting for nationally known atheist and writer Christopher Hitchens ("A little like purgatory," Jan. 14). Hitchens met with the cadets off-campus.

Meade Warthen, the AFA's media relations chief, says an official decision about the group's status is forthcoming. — AL

Discontent at Utilities

Workers at Colorado Springs Utilities are unhappy, and City Council wants to know why. Council, which doubles as the Utilities board, ordered an employee survey last month to be done by June after Councilman Randy Purvis raised the issue.

"I hear from employees," he tells the Independent. "Nothing specific, but they're concerned and looking for an opportunity to provide feedback."

Purvis says concerns revolve around leadership and the executive team, led by CEO Jerry Forte. Money also is a concern, he says. Utilities recently changed its pay plan, abolishing a pay-for-performance system that rewarded most of the roughly 1,900 employees with annual bonuses. — PZ

LandCo execs eye dismissal

Local developers Ray Marshall and James Brodie were in court last week for the latest step in challenging a 33-count felony indictment for securities fraud and theft stemming from real estate deals. Judge Barney Iuppa was prepared to rule whether the grand-jury indictment contained probable cause to pursue the criminal case against the officials from LandCo Equity Partners. Attorneys for Marshall and Brodie asked for more time to dig up information to support their motion to dismiss the case. They have until Feb. 19. — PZ

No Baca drilling?

A Canadian company that owns rights to drill for gas under the Baca National Wildlife Refuge in the San Luis Valley may be willing to sell, possibly ending more than two years of legal wrangling about the future of the land adjacent to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

The price tag: a cool $9.7 million. Christine Canaly, director of the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council, is hoping that a combination of private and public sources can produce a deal before a May 17 deadline.

Canadian energy company Lexam Explorations caused an outcry in 2006 when it started moving forward with plans to drill exploratory wells on the refuge. Many locals have complained the drilling would damage sensitive wildlife habitat and possibly contaminate the valley's extensive aquifers, which provide drinking water and support area agriculture. — AL

Midland Trail nears finish

The Midland Trail, nearly six years in the making, should be completed this year, says city parks development manager Chris Lieber. With only one remaining right-of-way dispute, and funding secured through federal and state grants as well as the city's Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) program, construction of the two remaining phases of the trail is set to take place later this spring and summer.

The project will stretch the trail from America the Beautiful Park along Fountain Creek to Manitou Springs, nearly doubling the length of the existing trail. — LE

Compiled by Lora Elliott, Anthony Lane, Ralph Routon, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.

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