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News briefs from the Front Range

Benson faces questions, talk of 'back-room deal' for CU post

It's been a tough couple weeks for Bruce Benson, the sole finalist to head the University of Colorado system.

Last week, he faced chilly receptions as he toured CU's three campuses to meet faculty, students and staff. So Benson nixed a long-planned trip to Antarctica with his wife to try warming things up at home. He returned Friday to UCCS and revisited the Denver and Boulder campuses this week.

Jackie Berning, UCCS biology department chair and incoming president of the faculty assembly, says Benson's political connections and fundraising skills could serve him well. But other faculty members are concerned about Benson's lack of experience running a university system, UCCS geography professor John Harner says, and his being named sole finalist smacks of a "back-room deal."

"All I've heard Bruce Benson say is, he's good at raising money," Harner says.

Benson is founder and president of Benson Mineral Group, an oil and gas company. He has a long Republican history and has been involved with higher education as a fundraiser and on various boards.

Progressnow.org, a liberal advocacy group, has started boycottbenson.com. Seven of CU's nine regents voted for Benson to be the sole candidate; one of those seven has since decided to vote against him in the end. A simple majority gets him the post. AL

Good news for Cimarron

Work on the closed Cimarron Street bridge is moving along at an encouraging clip, according to a city progress report.

It's scheduled to open partially on May 15, providing another option for reaching downtown. Toward the end of next week, crews will begin placing the 48 girders that will support the bridge deck. The process is expected to take at least five days.

The report suggests that residents have a look at the project for themselves, mentioning America the Beautiful Park as a good spot to take it all in. JAS

Police could be watchmen
How much policing power does it take to rein in Tejon Street on a Friday or Saturday night? Too much, says Colorado Springs police Cmdr. Kurt Pillard.

"There are occasions where every available unit in the city has been in a two-block area in the downtown," he says, which means there are no cops for anybody else.

For a long time, solving this problem seemed, well, problematic. That's partially because the police department doesn't allow liquor-licensed businesses to play rent-a-cop with its officers.

Downtown bar-owners may have found a way around that: They're looking at paying more money into the downtown Business Improvement District, which would, in turn, fund and manage a nighttime patrol of for-hire cops. Pillard says the department already is running a pilot of the program.

"It worked very well, because the response time for potential problems was literally seconds," he says. Pillard says 21 nightclub owners have told him they want to make the program permanent. He says nothing is final yet, but he's hoping details can be ironed out within a month. JAS

Denver: Exercise your free speech somewhere else
Denver's city/county Theatres and Arenas Division has a message for Dayag Anashiym, Chanan (Scott) Noble and any others who think they have the right to exercise their First Amendment rights on or around Denver's publicly owned arenas: Not so fast.

During a concert night in August, police tried kicking Anashiym and Noble out of Red Rocks Park for handing out pamphlets about their Twelve Tribes spiritual community. Noble and Anashiym said they didn't understand why they'd have to leave the entire park, since the park is considered open to the public even when Red Rocks Amphitheater is rented out.

Noble and Anashiym face trespassing charges, which they plan to fight in court.

But Jenny Schiavone, of Theatres and Arenas, says police were in the right. She says if the two men wanted to practice their free speech, they had to go to one of several designated areas in the park. She cites a document stating:

"While the above facilities are owned by the City and County of Denver, that does not mean they are public forums under the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. The facilities themselves, the areas of the leased space by the tenants, and the parking lots around them ... are not public forums for First Amendment expressive activities."

Tailgating in the parking lots during a concert, however, is allowed. And nobody seems to mind people slapping promotional fliers on windshields. JAS

OHV park might be slowed

Opponents of a proposed dirt-bike park east of Colorado Springs got a small glimmer of hope Monday when a state parks committee recommended a two-step process in approving a requested grant.

The State Trails Committee suggested that $20,000 be provided immediately to help fund planning at the 522-acre site outside the city along Colorado Highway 94, with the remaining $300,000 hinging on a presentation about the planning process scheduled for June. AL

Republican lawmakers speak their minds

Rep. Larry Liston of Colorado Springs took considerable heat a week ago for calling unmarried teenage parents sluts.

A few days later, another Republican lawmaker attracted considerably less attention when he characterized the science behind Gov. Bill Ritters Climate Action Plan as junk science.

The Denver Post reported the statement made by Rep. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud to a group of other Republican lawmakers.

However casual the reference might have been, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists who agree that greenhouse gas emissions are having an effect on earths climate would likely disagree.

The main skeptics of global warming, meanwhile, have been linked to energy companies and interests such as ExxonMobil.

Ritters plan calls for more renewable energy, higher vehicle-emissions standards and increased recycling. AL

Compiled by Anthony Lane and J. Adrian Stanley.

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