2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • County Commissioner Glenn rebukes Colorado Springs

    Wed, July 30, 2014 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    El Paso County Commissioner Darryl Glenn publicly scolded Colorado Springs Chief of Staff and City Council members Tuesday telling them they needed to “get their act together.”

    Glenn became visible frustrated Tuesday during a joint meeting of the commissioners and city council members, who met to hammer out the details of an intergovernmental agreement that defines a proposed regional stormwater authority.

    Cox, representing Mayor Steve Bach, proposed changes to the intergovernmental agreement that the City Council had not agreed to, including the mayor’s proposal to appoint three of the city’s six voting members to the board that will oversee the drainage authority, should voters approve it in November. The group rejected the mayor’s proposal to change the composition of the board.

    Cox said if the group didn’t give the mayor more control over the board he would not support the regional authority.

    Glenn said he did not want to hear the mayor’s position or the City Council’s position. His expectation this close to the deadline to put the issue to the voters is to have one unified voice for a city position, he said.

    Raising his voice, Glenn said he was disappointed that the city’s executive and legislative branches were displaying their friction in a public meeting with County Commissioners.

    “I personally don’t want to hear this debate,” he said. “I don’t have the time.

    “The city needs to get its act together.” 

  • Colorado Springs City Council endorses regional stormwater plan

    Wed, July 23, 2014 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    Colorado Springs City Council endorses the creation of a regional stormwater authority – which if voters approve in November would collect $48 million a year in fees to pay for regional flood control projects.

    The council voted Tuesday on a resolution, which was merely a public statement of endorsement. It now is up to the El Paso County Commissioners to put the stormwater issue on the November ballot. Commissioners will be asked by the stormwater task force to finalize the ballot language by Aug. 28.

    The City Council still must consider, and will vote on, an intergovernmental agreement, which spells out the details of how an authority would operate. The proposed authority is modeled after the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority and the Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority.

    PPRTA, which was created in 2004 by voters in Colorado Springs, El Paso County, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls. PPRTA collects 1 percent sales tax for transportation and transit improvements. Voters approved a list of projects when they approved the creation of the PPRTA.

    The Southeast Metro Stormwater Authority includes Centennial, Arapahoe County, and three water districts. The authority sets and collects fees, has a staff and oversees the projects for the region.

    Under the Pikes Peak stormwater task force proposal, voters will be asked to approve a stormwater fee based on their property’s impervious surface. The fee could be collected for 20 years. Organizers of the proposal say a typical Colorado Springs residential property owner would pay $9.14 a month, based on the average lot size with about 2,000 to 3,000 impervious surface.

    Voters also would see a list of proposed flood control projects as part of the ballot question and a breakdown of what percentage of the collected funds would go toward new construction, maintenance and operations.

    Task force leaders are hopeful that El Paso County, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls and Fountain will join the authority and work on regional flood control projects together.

  • Council and Mayor at odds — again — over city’s charter

    Tue, July 22, 2014 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    City Councilors and Mayor Steve Bach are engaged in another power struggle – this time over the city budget.

    The council wanted to move $250,000 out of a fund reserved to cover a special election to the city’s general fund to help cover the loss of business license fees, which the council voted to eliminate. The council discussed making an amendment to the city’s 2014 budget at its July 8 meeting.

    But Bach called foul and said the council does not have authority to make budget amendments. He asked City Attorney Wynetta Massey for a legal opinion.

    Massey told the council Monday that the city’s charter gives all budget authority to the executive branch.

    “The question is whether the City Council can initiate an appropriations ordinance?” Massey said.

    The answer is no, she said.

    Council President Keith King called for a second opinion. He said he wants the City Council to hire an outside attorney to review the issue.

    King and other council members, including Don Knight and Joel Miller, said Massey is interpreting the charter to say that council cannot make budget amendments. But the charter does not specifically say it cannot, they said.

    King said that if the City Council cannot make budget amendments it “seriously erodes the ability for the council to do its job,” he said.

    Massey said it could be a waste of taxpayer money for the City Council to hire an outside attorney.

    “I cannot in good faith recommend that you use taxpayer money to seek an outside opinion,” Massey told the council. “I’m confident it will come out the exact same way we have it.”

     Bach said that if the City Council moves forward with a budget amendment, he would veto it.

    “It’s a political power play,” he said Monday. “It’s disappointing and it is not helpful. Council should drop it and move on.”

     

  • The city did not violate the Open Records Act

    Tue, July 22, 2014 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    The City of Colorado Springs did not violate the Colorado Open Records Act in a January request for records by The Gazette for email correspondence.

    In January, The Gazette asked for email correspondence related to George Culpepper and Alaska Airlines. Culpepper was a City Council legislative assistant that had been fired by Mayor Steve Bach.

    The city, on Jan. 24, responded to the request, which was filed under the Colorado Open Records Act.

    The confusion arose when the city released a set of email correspondence Jan 14. to all media which included email to and from Culpepper.

    The Jan. 14 and Jan. 24 documents contained different emails related to Culpepper. However, there was no missing emails from the city’s Jan. 24 response to The Gazette’s CORA request.  

     

  • City spending $2 million to patch up roads

    Tue, July 15, 2014 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    Colorado Springs-based Trax Construction was the lone contractor to bid on the city’s $2 million pothole project.

    The company recently was awarded $1.5 million of the $2 million in emergency money that the City Council approved from the city’s rainy-day fund.

    The city’s street manager Corey Farkas, during Mayor Steve Bach’s monthly media briefing Tuesday, said the city expects to award the remaining $500,000 to Trax within the next two weeks.

    The company was hired this summer to work on the city’s pothole riddled streets. The city’s street crews repair nearly 30,000 potholes a year. But last winter beat up the roads so badly that Mayor Steve Bach asked the City Council to take money from the city’s rainy-day fund to repair the streets.

    Farkas said the contracted crews are doing more than filling up the holes. The crews are cutting out square patches of road and repairing the road down to the core. He did not have an estimate on how many potholes would be repaired or how many lane miles of road would receive work.

    But he said he sent the contracted crews to the areas where the city received the most calls, “you could say they are the worst of the worst areas,” he said.

    The road work should continue through the summer and be complete in October.

  • Mayor won’t comment on Xcel’s interest in CSU’s electric division

    Mon, July 14, 2014 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    Mayor Steve Bach issued a statement today saying he would not comment on whether Colorado Springs Utilities should consider Xcel Energy‘s interest in buying CSU’s electric division. 

     

    Bach said Utilities is controlled by the Colorado Springs City Council, which doubles as the Utility board. Bach respects the council’s unilateral authority over all matters regarding Utilities,  he said, and he believes it would “be inappropriate for him to engage in a debate on the best long-term solution for the electrical generating division.”

    He added,  “As mayor and as an ex officio member of the Utility board, I’m counting on council to diligently protect the long-term best interests of the CSU ratepayers and city taxpayers by assuring electric service reliability and the lowest possible rates, while thoughtfully and responsibly leading the enterprise regarding safety, operating costs, debt load, guaranteed pensions liability, EPA mandates and other risks.”

    Xcel Energy has expressed interest in buying the city-owned Utilities’ electric division, which includes the controversial Martin Drake Power Plant.

    The Minneapolis-based company, which has Colorado operations, asked Colorado Springs Utilities if it would entertain the idea of selling its electric generation fleet, including Ray Nixon coal-fired plant, the city’s natural gas-fired plant, its hydroelectric facilities and its backup generators.

    In a June 27, letter the company offered to have closed-door discussions with Utilities about a possible sale. The Utilities board will discuss Excel’s letter in open at its meeting Wednesday.

     

  • Council president won’t consider sale of CSU electric division

    Fri, July 11, 2014 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    Colorado Springs City Council president Keith King opposes selling any part of the Colorado Springs Utilities. Here is his statement:

     

    “The number one issue that I heard about when I was running for City Council was Colorado Springs Utilities.  I usually heard two things.  First, customers want low rates and they believe that by the city owning and running the utilities that can be accomplished.  I did not encounter one person who believed a sale of utilities would be of benefit to the rate payers of Colorado Springs.  I was against creating a dollar value for the sale of utilities when  I first came on the board and  we saved $500,000 in doing so.  I openly opposed selling utilities during my campaign and will continue to keep it locally owned and governed.  I also have promised that I will try and maintain not just competitive rates but low rates.  I will continue to honor that commitment also.  I believe that low rates can be a strong economic boost for Colorado Springs.  That is why I will work to moderate rate increases and try to keep the expenses of utilities rising slower than inflation.  I believe we have a lot of opportunity to continue to improve honoring the desire of our rate payers to have low utility rates.” 

  • Two Colorado Springs residents question state officials over CFC contract

    Wed, July 9, 2014 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    This news coming from Gazette state reporter Megan Schrader.

    Denver — Two Colorado Springs residents asked the Economic Development Commission on Wednesday whether the draft City for Champions agreement was a contract that should first be considered by the full City Council.

    Dick Monfort, chair of the Economic Development Commission, responded that the question sounded like something that needs to be resolved in Colorado Springs, not before the state-wide body that handles various state incentive programs including the Regional Tourism Act.

    “I think your issue is more with your City Council,” Monfort said. “I don’t know how to intervene and get you all together on it . . .  I don’t know what this board can do. We OK’d the project. It qualifies.”

    Jeff Kraft, director of business funding and incentives for the Office of Economic Development and International Trade, said he has been in long 5 hour meetings with the city trying to hash out a final agreement with the city.

    That agreement will be brought before the economic development commission in August, he said.

    Colorado Springs applied for and received $120.5 million in state sales tax revenue over 30 years to fund four projects in the city. The projects are a downtown Olympic museum, a downtown sports and event center,  a sports medicine complex at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and a visitors center at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

    Board Member J.J. Ament asked Kraft about headlines he’d seen in Colorado Springs saying the draft agreement allowed some of the projects to go forward with funding even if others never got off the ground.

    Kraft said there haven’t been any philosophical changes.

    “We do plan to have incentives built into the resolution to make sure all four projects go forward,” Kraft said.

    The final agreement will spell out what those financial incentives are, Kraft said.

    That agreement, he said, is considered by the commission a resolution, and he said an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office upheld that definition.

    Bill Murray, a vocal critic of the project in Colorado Springs, told the commissioners he thought the agreement was a contract and that it wouldn’t be enough just to have the mayor sign it.

    Anita Miller, wife of Colorado Springs Council member Joel Miller, asked if the board would consider asking the attorney general whether the document was an intergovernmental agreement, something that also would require full approval of the City Council.

    After a noncommittal answer Miller said she would formally request the board take that step.

    The meeting Wednesday was held at Coors Field where Rockies owner Dick Monfort hosts one commission meeting a year. After the meeting commissioners attended the Rockies game.

     

  • Proposed City Attorney ethics policy does not answer key questions, City Council says

    Tue, July 8, 2014 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    Several Colorado Springs city attorneys could not answer City Council president Keith King’s question Monday:

     If the City Council asks a city attorney to work on potential legislation, does the executive branch – meaning the Mayor – have access to the work product before it’s complete?

     Attorneys at the City Council work session Monday went around and around on the point that the City Attorney’s Office represents the entire city and that includes both the legislative and executive branches. There naturally would be a sharing of information, they said.

     But there has been three years of growing distrust and several incidents where City Council members asked the City Attorney for legal advice and then found that the legal advice was presented to the mayor before it was presented to the council.

     Is there any privacy for the “client?” King asked.

     The question was raised as the City Council reviewed a proposed City Attorney Legal Ethics Policy, which outlines the functions of the city attorney’s office.

     City Attorney Wynetta Massey took on the project after three years of major thrashing between the former City Attorney Chris Melcher and former and current City Council members over legal advice.

     In September, City Council members told former City Attorney Chris Melcher they would fire him if they could because they didn’t trust him to give them an unbiased opinion – one that did not side with Mayor Steve Bach’s point of view.

     It had been an ongoing theme from the previous council after the city changed from a council-manager form of government to a council-mayor form of government.

     King had said council members would not receive legal opinions from Melcher. Instead they would get pages of policy pushing the mayor’s agenda that did not answer their questions.

     It has become such a hot button issue for the council that it could lead to a ballot question in April, where City Council asks voters to approve a charter change that allows the council to hire its own outside attorney.

     Council told Massey the document was a “good start” but some were not satisfied.

     “Where this still falls short is concerning the issues we have had over the last three years — a clear separation between advocacy and advice. I don’t’ see this document doing this,” said council member Don Knight. “The opinions we have had so far, that are supposedly legal advice, and they advocated one side or the other. I’m looking for how to address that.”

     

     

  • Air Force Academy visitors’ center not part of state’s plan for CFC funding

    Tue, July 8, 2014 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    Is the Air Force Academy visitors’ center still part of the City for Champions proposal?

    It’s unclear.

    In the state’s version of a draft contract between the city and the state, dated June 20, the Air Force Academy visitors’ center is not listed as one of the projects that will receive a portion of the state sales tax money.

    In December the Colorado Economic Development Commission awarded the city an estimated $120.5 million over 30 years to help finance City for Champions. Under the plan, the city will collect 13 percent of the increased revenue generated in a tax-increment finance zone that covers most of the city.

    Under the plan, each of the four projects – a U.S. Olympic museum, a downtown sports and event center, a UCCS sports medicine complex and a U.S. Air Force Academy visitors’ center — would get a percentage of the state revenue.

    But in the draft contract, the state Office of Economic Development and International Trade, detailed that the U.S. Olympic museum would receive 42 percent of the state sales tax money; the downtown sports and event center would receive 23 percent; and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs sports and performance center would receive 14 percent.

    “The remaining 21 percent of the dedicated revenue may be allocated by the [insert correct entity here to be defined by Colorado Springs] among all the project elements, including but not limited to any needed infrastructure improvements defined in this resolution as eligible  improvements,” the draft contract says.

    In the draft contract the city sent to the state for review, the Air Force Academy visitors’ center was to receive 11 percent of the state revenue.

    Bob Cope, the city’s CFC project manager, described the omission of the Academy’s visitor center from the state’s version of the contract as a glitch that needed to be worked out with the state. He said the Air Force Academy center is mentioned throughout the rest of the document.

    Council member Don Knight said that the Academy officials he spoke to were surprised to find that their project was not getting a dedicated percentage of the state money, as outlined in the city’s application and state approval of the CFC projects.

    “Is the city going to fight to get the Air Force Academy back in?” Knight asked Cope at the City Council work session Monday.

    Cope said the omission could be viewed as positive because it gives the city more flexibility with the remaining 21 percent of state sales tax money. But Knight said it could be viewed as negative by those trying to raise private money to pay for the rest of the visitors’ center, which has an estimated price tag of $20 million.

    The state Economic Development Commission, which has final say over the contract, is expected to take up the CFC contract at its August meeting.