• Council member Martin to reflect on her last year on council on social media

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

    At-large council member Jan Martin “woke up to find a note on my calendar that my one year countdown to being in office begins today,” she wrote on Facebook Monday. 

    Martin said she wrote a blog in 2007 about what it was like to run for office. Now, she plans to write daily Facebook posts about what she’s learned and what it is like to serve in office. 

     ”I’ll have to work on my Facebook skills but I hope you’ll join me as I do some reflecting and hopefully encourage others to serve. It’s an honor and privilege to serve, but as I’ve learned, you can go from being a hero to a villain in a matter of hours. I look forward to sharing my final year in office with you.”

     

     

  • More trouble in city’s IT department, director put on paid leave

    Wed, April 16, 2014 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    Colorado Springs Information Technology director Joe Palmer has been placed on paid leave by the city, the city’s Chief of Staff Steve Cox said Wednesday.

    It leaves the department without a director and without a deputy director.

    Cox would not say why the director was “asked to take a few days off.” Palmer, who has been on the job for one year and four months, reports directly to Cox.

     Mayor Steve Bach said Wednesday that it was a personnel issue and he could not discuss the details.

    The IT department has been in turmoil for months. In October during the budget season, Palmer announced that nine positions in the department would be outsourced.

    Then in January, 10 IT employees were placed on paid administrative leave and eventually asked to take “reduction in force packages.” The city’s former chief of staff Laura Neaumann said at the time that the  city was investigating a potential security incident.

    An internal investigation was launched into the IT department Jan. 27. In mid-February, the investigation showed there was no breach of city data, Neumann said.

    Shortly after the investigation, the city’s deputy chief of information officer Jesse James was put on paid leave and then asked to take a reduction in force package.

    Cox said all the packages for the 10 IT employees have been signed and completed. A job posting for James former job has been posted on the city’s website.

    Cox said Palmer’s leave is not related to that January incident or investigation. He said he hopes to have the issue with Palmer resolved by Friday.

  • Council president King defends long meetings, says name calling goes both ways

    Wed, April 16, 2014 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    When it comes to public name calling among city officials, the snipes go both ways, said Colorado Springs City Council president Keith King.

    King faced a room full of City for Champions supporters Tuesday when organizers of the project held the third monthly meeting.

    When the questions rolled in for King, they came by text message to the moderator.

    None of the questions were related to City for Champions.

    “What is the City Council doing to attract young professionals?”

    “Are your twelve-hour meetings keeping citizens from participating?”

    “Is there a chilling effect on name-calling in the press?”

    King said after the meeting he was not bothered by the questions.

    He outlined the city’s new tax free zone at the Colorado Springs Airport, which already is showing the promise of new businesses relocating to the Springs with high-paying jobs, he said.

    The long April 8 City Council meeting included a five-hour public hearing on an appeal of a gun club. King said there is no limit on the number of people who can speak during an appeal hearing.

    And the name-calling goes both ways.

    “We try to be professional, yet open,” King said. “That process is at times blunt. I don’t take it personally. I hope the mayor doesn’t either.”

  • Sports and event center could take two years to plan

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

    It may be two years before the finance details of the proposed downtown sports and events center are finalized, according to a supplement milestone report sent by the city to the state regarding the City for Champions.

    “Discussions are currently taking place with a leading national and international design, development and operating consultants of sports stadiums and arenas. The milestone will be further clarified with the progression of these discussions,” says a March 28 letter from Bob Cope, the City for Champions Project Manager, to the Colorado Economic Development Commission.

    The city turned in a milestone report in mid March that updates the timelines of the four planned tourism projects — a downtown sports and events center, a downtown Olympic museum, a university sports medicine and performance center and an Air Force Academy visitors center.

     State officials asked the city for more information, which was sent as a supplement to the state March 28.

    The downtown Olympic museum board is seeking a design architect for the $60 million facility and could begin construction in summer 2015, and officials at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs have their eye on two ossible sites on North Nevada Avenue for the sports medicine center. Organizers of the Air Force Academy visitors center are working on a feasibility assessment to help predict how much time it will take to identify and obtain private funds to build the center.

    And “the Colorado Sports and Event Center is actively pursing a more enhanced plan of finance, which will clarify details about each funding source, including the addition of provate investments,” the milestone report says.

    This month, the city also turned in to the state a resolution, or a contract, which provides more details about project oversite, tax increment financing and how $120 million in state sales tax rebates will be distributed to the four projects.

     That contract is being reviewed, said Jeff Kraft, director of business funding and incentives at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade – the office that oversees the states Regional Tourism Act program.

    Kraft expects that the OEDIT staff will have questions about the proposed resolution. Nothing, he said, has been sent in writing to the city yet. Once all questions have been answered the resolution will go the Economic Development Commission for approval. Kraft said he had no predictions on when that might be.

    “It’s a fairly complex process,” Kraft said.

  • Firefighters won’t weigh in on City for Champions project

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

    Colorado Springs firefighters will not weigh in on the City for Champions project.

    Saying they decided to stay out of fray, the Colorado Springs Professional Firefighers, Local 5, will remain silent.

    Board members of the association heard presentations from the city’s economic vitality analyst Bob Cope and from council member Joel Miller, who has been a critic of the project, at a recent board meeting.

    Organizers of the City for Champions, a project sponsored by the city, have been collecting endorsements.  Among the groups that have publicly supported the project are the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, the El Paso County Commission, Colorado Thirty Group, the towns of Monument, PalmerLake, Fountain and Manitou Springs and  the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region.

    Mayor Steve Bach said he did not ask the firefighters to endorse the project but offered to send Cope to speak to them.

    “I certainly did not say I expect city employees to endorse City for Champions,” he said.

    City for Champions won state sales tax funds through the state’s Regional Tourism Act program to pay for part of the construction costs of four tourism projects –  a downtown Olympic museum, a downtown sports and events center, a university sports medicine and performance complex and an AirForceAcademy visitors center.

    The project has been controversial, particularly the proposed downtown sports and events center which might require a local tax increment finance district. A TIF district would allow the city to set aside a portion of sales tax generated in the district to help pay for the $90 million center. Five council members have vowed to put the issue on the ballot before approving such a district.

    Council president Keith King said he believed it would be a conflict of interest for city’s leadership to ask city employees to endorse a project that could end up on a local ballot.

    “The firefighters have the right to be involved,” King said. “They also should not be coerced for their support.”

    Jeremy Kuntz, vice president of the association, said the board did not feel pressured to support the project. The board wanted to collect information from opponents and proponents, he said.

    “We’ve been active in the political arena,” he said. “We never put aside our principles for fear of retribution.”

     Bach said he meets monthly with the association’s leadership and City for Champions came up in conversation.

    “I talked with the president (of Local 5) and he was interested in learning more about it,” Bach said. “I would not be asking city employees to get involved in any endorsement,” Bach said.

    Kroto said the association is approached for its support on many issues. The association, which represents about 75 percent of the city’s firefighters, typically only weighs in on issues that directly affect firefighters. For example, the group has endorsed city council candidates and supported the Public Safety Sale Tax initiative.

    “Almost exclusively, we pass on getting involved,” Kroto said. “That is what is happening with the City for Champions.”

     

  • Olympic museum organizers expect land donation settled by July

    Thu, April 10, 2014 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    Organizers of the U.S. Olympic museum – part of the Colorado Springs City for Champions project – expect to have all major charitable solicitations confirmed by January 2015, according to a supplement to the city’s milestone report sent to the state on the City for Champions.

    The city sent a milestone report to the state on March 13. The state asked for more details and the city updated its report March 28.

     The supplemental report says that the site for the museum has been identified for donation by the owner and the land acquisition is expected to be complete by July. Organizers of the museum are receiving requests for proposals now for a design architect, architect of record, construction manager, exhibit designer and exhibit fabricator. They expect to make selections by June.

    Construction on the museum could be completed by April 2017.

  • Douglas Bruce confronts council woman with her ‘jackass’ comment

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

    It all started with a late-night tweet.

    Gazette Video Editor John Schroyer tweeted his favorite quote from a gathering of friends the night of March 28: “You shut your mouth when you’re talking to me.”

    Colorado Springs City Council member Jill Gaebler responded on Twitter: “Sounds like that jackass Doug Bruce.”

    Bruce, a long-time political activist, former county commissioner and former state lawmaker, was not happy. He brought a screen shot of the Gaebler’s Twitter page with the tweet to City Council on Tuesday and confronted Gaebler in front of a crowded room during the public comment portion of the meeting.

    “She said that about somebody who comes to city government and criticizes the government,” Bruce said. “It was laughable in that she said she takes time to be kind.”

    Gaebler describes herself in her Twitter bio as: “wife, mom, runner, councilwoman, book geek. Taking the time to be kind.”

    But Gaebler made no apology – not to Bruce and not after the meeting.

    “There are a couple of things I could say considering this individual’s personal history of being a tax cheat, a convicted felon, the first legislator to be censured by state legislature, and he kicked a journalist and yet somehow thinks he has moral authority to question my use of a pejorative on his character.”

    Gaebler said she had never sent out an unkind tweet about any other person.

    “And now I’ve made an exception,” she said.

    Bruce said he was not expecting an apology. He said he wanted to let the rest of the Council know that he thought it was inappropriate for a public official to make personal attacks on citizens who question them.

    “I’m not going to burst into tears,” Bruce said. “Keith King should take her aside and ask her to take (the tweet) off a public website.”

     

     

     

  • Colorado Springs Utilities rates tops for reliable service

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

    When it comes to reliable service, Colorado Springs Utilities is a gem.

    The publicaly-owned utility company was presented with the Diamond Level Reliable Public Power Provider designation from the American Public Power Association for providing “the highest degree of reliable and safe electric service.”

    That puts the Springs utilities in a small group — 94 of the nation’s more than 2,000 public power utilities earned the RP3 designation for 2014, and 23 earned the Diamond Level or highest designation.

    To earn the designation, Utilties had to sparkle in four key areas: reliability, safety, workforce development and system improvement.

    “This recognition puts Colorado Springs Utilities among the most reliable power providers in the nation,” said Jerry Forte, Utilities CEO. “It’s an honor to receive the highest designation and a testament to the efforts of our employees who help deliver high-quality, dependable electric services to our customers.”

     The news was announced by Utilites on the same day the City Council will consider a six-figure raise for the Utilites CEO. Council will vote Tuesday on a proposed $100,269 increase to Forte’s base salary to be phased in over three years. If approved, his total compensation would be $447,175.

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  • Mayor Bach will ride city bus to celebrate new route

    Thu, April 3, 2014 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    Sen. John McCain rode the “Straight Talk Express” bus. Franki Smith rode the Double Dutch Bus.

    On Monday, Mayor  Steve Bach will ride the MMT bus.

    Bach will be joined by Colorado Springs Branch NAACP President Henry Allen and his executive committee, City Council members Jill Gaebler and Jan Martin, County Commissioner Amy Lathen and representatives from Pikes Peak Workforce Center for a celebratory ride on Mountain Metropolitan Transit’s new route 23 — which will take passengers up the Powers Boulevard corridor.

    The new bus line was added this year as part of expanded bus service.  Bach said at his recent monthly press conference that the new route will connect riders to job opportunities in the north east part of Colorado Springs. 

  • Council member Miller will propose eminent domain restrictions

    Tue, April 1, 2014 by Monica Mendoza with no comments

    In questioning Mayor Steve Bach’s three nominees to the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority Board on Monday, council member Joel Miller wanted to know where they stand on the use of eminent domain.

    The issue of condemnation has risen to the top of Miller’s radar because of the proposed City for Champions tourism projects. Two of the four projects – a downtown sports and event center and an Olympic museum – would be built in the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area, which the URA board would oversee.

    One candidate, Nolan Schriner – a former city planner and owner of a land planning firm — said as far as he knew only the Colorado Springs Utilities Board had used condemnation to gain property for public use.

    Nominee Valerie Hunter – a former owner of a software development company — said it would be her goal not to displace anyone. She added that she is cautious about giving answers without more information.

    Nominee Peter Scoville – cofounder of Colorado Springs Commercial – said he did not have strong feelings about eminent domain one way or the other.

    Miller handed each of them a copy of a 2008 letter sent by the URA project manager to a downtown property owner titled “Notice of Intent to Acquire.” The letter said the URA was seeking to acquire the person’s property and offered the property owner the option to negotiate a fair market price.

    “What is your threshold on sending out a letter like this?” he asked each of the nominees.

    All three answered that each situation would need to be evaluated case by case.

    Miller said his concern is that the letter goes out without City Council approval. And while the URA says it never has initiated condemnation, it has sent what he views as threatening letters to force property owners to negotiate a sale. Miller said the city’s Southwest Urban Renewal Plan describes the acquisition process including the possible use of condemnation.

    Next week, the City Council is expected to vote on the three nominees to the Urban Renewal Authroity Board.

    Miller also will propose an ordinance to the City Council seeking to limit the city’s ability to take private property for public use. He’s been accused of manufacturing a problem that does not exist because the URA has not used condemnation. But he said some downtown property owners have looked at the City for Champions map and have seen either the projects or a proposed parking garage right over their property.

    His proposal would limit the city’s power to take private property for “traditional public purposes” – like to build streets or highways – and the city could not take property for private economic development or a combination of public and private economic development.