Public Eye 

This week, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office is asking the Board of County Commissioners for a nearly $300,000 increase to pay for medical services for jail inmates. Commander Teri Johnson said the bulk of the additional money -- $203,313 -- is to offset the cost of inflation, as well as for salary increases for the nursing staff at the jail. The remaining $87,738 will be used to hire the equivalent of 1.25 full-time employees.

You probably know that the jail has been under scrutiny for the past several years, most recently after reports that nine inmates, several of whom were mentally ill, have died there in the past three years. Yet the Sheriff's Office has consistently maintained that its jail is fully staffed and bears no culpability.

So, if the jail has not been understaffed, does that mean that hiring an extra 1.25 full-time person(s) mean that the jail is padding the jail with unnecessary help? Absolutely not, says Johnson.

Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Jim Groth explained that many of the jail's current medical employees have been forced to work extra hours, come in early and stay late at night. The extra help, he said, will ensure that people don't have to work as much overtime.

So, if everyone has been working such long hours, does that mean some employees at the jail are currently working in exhaustive conditions?

"No, I've never seen any data or anything indicating anything like that," Groth insisted. "These are dedicated people."


Last week's firing of State Parole Board member and former state legislator Larry Schwarz over allegations of child pornography had to be embarrassing for Colorado Gov. Bill Owens. After all, Schwarz was the second Republican in three months to seriously shame the gov.

In September, Owens was forced to deal with the fallout of Colorado Springs lawyer and rising GOP star Randy Ankeney, whom the governor had appointed to a cush job as regional representative of the his economic growth office. (Ankeney was also co-chair of Owens' 2004 reelection campaign in El Paso County, until he was arrested for picking up a 13-year-old girl off the Internet, getting her drunk and stoned on pot, taking topless photos of her, fondling her and trying to coerce her into having sex. Bye, bye, Ankeney.

And now we have Schwarz. Last week, Custer County Sheriff's deputies secured a search warrant to search Schwarz' Wetmore home southwest of Pueblo for materials related to child pornographic, including computer files, journals, videotapes, magazines, photographs and so on.

Neither the sheriff's nor the governor's offices detailed what exactly they suspect Schwarz has done (as of press time he has not been arrested or officially charged with any crime). But, in a news release, the governor was clear that Schwarz, being paid $77,928 a year, was guilty of at least one thing: He failed to disclose something in his background that would be an "embarrassment" if it became public. Published news reports indicate that several adult female Schwarz family members have recently come forward with claims that they had, as children, been sexually assaulted by him.

Now, the six remaining state parole board members are scrambling to review the inmate parole cases involving sexual offenders that were conducted by Schwarz, who was first appointed to the spot by Gov. Roy Romer in 1997 and reappointed by Owens in 2000.

But, if Owens is embarrassed by the secret lives of his appointees, just imagine how it feels right now to be the political candidates who lost the election to them.

"If these allegations are true, it really sucks that I lost to this guy," said Vic Meyers, a correctional officer and a Democrat who challenged Schwarz in 1996 for a House of Representatives seat that includes parts of Custer, Fremont, Pueblo and Teller counties. Without party connections, little money and facing terrible voter apathy, Meyers didn't have a chance. He was defeated by the incumbent by a 2-1 margin. The following year, Schwarz quit the legislature and has overseen parolees ever since.

Meyers thought he had a couple of pretty good ideas -- affordable health care, auto insurance reform, more power for classroom teachers -- and says that, one day, he'll run for public office again. Hopefully, he said, the type of incidents involving party players like Schwarz (and Ankeney before him) will invigorate voters to pay attention to just who they are electing to represent them in public office.

"People don't look at their candidates; they go by party or name recognition, and that's how you get kiddie porn guys -- if he's guilty -- elected to the Legislature."

-- degette@csindy.com


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