2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • BOYS, LET ME TELL YOU ALL ABOUT COLORADO

    Sun, March 31, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    John-Michael List

    John-Michael List

    A handwritten letter came to The Gazette newsroom recently from a fifth-grade student in California. He very politely asked for information about “your magnificent state, Colorado.”

    Diego Lopez, at the Napa Valley Language Academy, wanted pamphlets, postcards, souvenirs or anything that would help him write a report about our history, economy, famous residents and parks.

    How could I resist?

    Rarely do I turn down an opportunity to pontificate, especially on something I love as much as Colorado. I can talk for hours about its virtues, history and trivia. (Just ask my poor wife.)

    In his note, Diego asked if we might publish his request in our letter section.

    He was so nice I figured I’d publish it myself.

    Then an email arrived from John-Michael List in Carson City, Nev. He’s in fourth grade at Fritsch Elementary School and he had a similar request. Besides written materials, he was asking for “small rocks from the Rocky Mountains, pines from the Colorado Blue Spruce or anything else that would be useful.”

    Both boys said they’ll be writing about Colorado landforms, climate, resources, history, attractions and things such as our pro sports teams, indigenous wild animals and unusual facts.

    Gold miners combed the Rocky Mountains, including the slopes of Pikes Peak, during the first gold rush of 1859.

    Gold miners combed the Rocky Mountains, including the slopes of Pikes Peak, during the first gold rush of 1859. Courtesy Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum.

    Hmmm. I wondered if this was a setup.

    “It’s no hoax,” said Irene Waltz, assistant principal at Fritsch Elementary.

    Actually, the boys are learning a pretty standard lesson in most every grade school curriculum.

    “It’s one of our state standards,” Waltz said. “We try to teach students about where they live, other states and the nation.”

    I was unable to reach the Napa Valley school due to spring break. But I confirmed the existence of Diego’s teacher, and I’m confident his request is legitimate.

    So, if anyone wants to help Diego and John-Michael with their reports, you are invited to write them.

    Diego would like information sent to his teacher, Mrs. Dearborn, at 2700 Kilburn Ave., Napa, Calif., 94558.

    John-Michael hoped for responses via his mother, Mary-Margaret Madden, 930 W. Robinson St., Carson City, Nev., 89703.

    I figure Side Streets readers will have no trouble helping the boys.

    This lithograph from a wood etching was captioned: "Pike's Peak - party of miners going on a prospecting tour. " It appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, Aug. 20, 1859. It shows men, most with bedrolls, rifles and shovels, standing in front of covered wagon. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District Special Collections.

    This lithograph from a wood etching was captioned: “Pike’s Peak – party of miners going on a prospecting tour. ” It appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Aug. 20, 1859. It shows men, most with bedrolls, rifles and shovels, standing in front of covered wagon. Courtesy Pikes Peak Library District Special Collections.

    So, I’ll save my own spiel about how our region was explored by the Spanish in the 16th century and they named its major river Colorado for the color of its water, tinted red by silt. Or that it was part of the Kansas Territory and became the 38th state in 1876.

    I won’t mention our diverse geography. Or that black bears, mountain lions, bobcat, coyote, fox and more are common sights in cities and vast public lands.

    Or that Pikes Peak, known as America’s Mountain, became the symbol of the 19th century gold rush.

    I have no doubt you folks will cover it all

    Pikes Peak towers over Colorado Springs. In the 1859, it beckoned miners seeking gold and silver in the Rocky Mountains.

    Pikes Peak towers over Colorado Springs. In the 1859, it beckoned miners seeking gold and silver in the Rocky Mountains.

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  • AFTER LONG WAIT, BURNED VAN CONTENTS A DISAPPOINTMENT

    Thu, March 28, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with 1 comment

    Ethelyn Bauer's 1998 van burned outside her home on Jan. 11, 2013. She struggled nearly 11 weeks to get access to it in the city impound lot where it was towed while fire officials investigated it for possible arson.

    Ethelyn Bauer’s 1998 van burned outside her home on Jan. 11, 2013. She struggled nearly 11 weeks to get access to it in the city impound lot where it was towed while fire officials investigated it for possible arson.

    .

    After nearly 11 weeks of waiting, Ethelyn Bauer finally got to see what remained of her van, which burned in the street outside her Mountain Shadows home in the early hours of Jan. 11.

    Unfortunately, the tools she had hoped to salvage Wednesday were mostly ruined. The interior of the 1998 van was a charred mess of grotesquely melted plastic after the predawn inferno.

    Still, Ethelyn, 87, was satisfied she’d finally been able to see it for herself. And she was more than a little amazed Mayor Steve Bach had personally intervened to get it accomplished.

    Burned Van 039.

    Faithful Side Streets readers will recall I introduced you to Ethelyn in last Saturday’s column. She was frustrated because she felt blown off by Fire Department employees in her efforts to get access to the van after the fire. It had been towed to the city impound lot while arson investigators determined whether the fire was a crime.

    Almost immediately, Ethelyn began calling the investigator seeking access to retrieve the tools for her son, who is a cabinet maker and handy man. Before long, she said, the arson investigator stopped returning her calls.

    “The least they could do was return my calls,” she said. “But they couldn’t be bothered.”

    Burned Van 040.

    Eventually Ethelyn said she got a message to contact the district attorney’s office to get the vehicle released from impound. But the DA’s office couldn’t find the case and sent her back to the fire department.

    Even more frustrating for Ethelyn was the refusal of the staff at the city impound lot to let her near her van.

    “I just wanted my tools,” she said.

    I began making calls on her behalf on Wednesday and by the next morning Ethelyn received a call from the city telling her the van had been released and was available for pickup.

    Happy ending, right?

    Not quite. Ethelyn arrived at the impound lot early Friday to collect her tools. But she was told she needed registration papers before she could get in.

    Impound Lot 002 X.

    “They burned up in the van,” she said. “And I sent registration papers to the insurance company when I filed my claim.”

    Turned away, she tried again Monday, taking photocopies of her registration papers. But, again, she was turned away.

    “They said they wouldn’t accept copies,” Ethelyn said. “I had to get originals back from the insurance company.”

    She couldn’t understand why no one at the city would help her.

    Turns out Bach wanted to help.

    In fact, the mayor sprang into action Saturday morning after reading of her plight.

    “I called Ms. Bauer this morning and apologized for her experience with our Fire Department,” Bach told me in an email Saturday.

    Then he asked Fire Chief Rich Brown to look into the issue of the van.

    “We want to be the most business- and citizen-friendly city in the country and are pursuing initiatives on many fronts to get there,” Bach said. “We’re working hard to change the culture in our city government from a regulatory-agency mindset to a customer service-driven approach.  Incidents like this are very frustrating and are not acceptable.”

    That was Saturday. When I told the mayor that Ethelyn was denied access again Monday, his own frustration was reflected in his response.

    Next thing I knew, Police Chief Pete Carey was on the phone with me.

    The chief was investigating how his impound lot crew was dealing with Ethelyn and promised to reunite her with the contents of her van. The city secured permission from Ethelyn’s insurance company and at 8 a.m. she finally got to see what was left of the van.

    Fire investigators Tim Spear and Nancy Gosch remove roof racks from Evelyn Bauer's burned up van.

    Fire investigators Tim Spear and Nancy Gosch remove roof racks from Evelyn Bauer’s burned up van.

    .

    Mostly, the visit was anti-climactic. Fire Capt. Ray Johnson and fire investigators Tim Spears and Nancy Gosch pried open a side door and helped sort through the mess. They salvaged a few things: a broom, a mop, plungers, a hand saw, a steel ruler, tape measures and other odds and ends. They even climbed atop the van and removed roof racks for Ethelyn.

    And they explained in great detail how they believed the fire started in the engine, which had recently been rebuilt, and spread through the wiring harness inside the van, through the roof and even burning out the tail lights.

    Ethelyn Bauer and her burned up van.

    Ethelyn Bauer and her burned up van.

    .

    Ethelyn seemed slightly confused that more tools were not found inside. Again, the investigators detailed how the van was photographed when it was impounded and its contents inventoried.

    “I’m sorry it was such a disappointment,” Ethelyn said. “We didn’t really get anything out.

    “If I’d known this weeks ago, I never would have bothered.”

    And I think that is the point the mayor was making when he called Ethelyn and apologized for what he viewed as poor customer service by the city.

    Ethelyn certainly is impressed.

    “I was shocked,” she said. “I still can’t believe I got a call from the mayor. And then from the fire chief. I could hardly think straight.”

     

    The interior of Ethelyn Bauer's burned out fan was a charred mess of grotesquely melted plastic.

    The interior of Ethelyn Bauer’s burned out fan was a charred mess of grotesquely melted plastic.

    ========================

  • HOA BOSS TALKS REGULATIONS AT TOWN HALL

    Mon, March 25, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    . UPDATE . NEW. VIDEO .

    We have achieved video from HOA boss Gary Kujawski‘s town hall meeting on Saturday.

    Follow this link to a YouTube video of the first 90 minutes or so.

    To see the second portion of the meeting, click here.

    Finally, the third portion is visible here.

    I don’t expect the video to go viral or anything. But don’t look for it to viral like some “Gangnam Style” clip.

    HOA MEETING 009

    .

    The new state HOA boss wants Colorado Springs residents to know he’ll help them any way he can in their dealings with their homeowners associations.

    But he won’t give them legal advice or investigate allegations of rogue boards, illegal elections, secret meetings, unfair covenant enforcement or discrimination because the  Colorado General Assembly hasn’t given him that authority.

    Yet.

    That could change depending on what lawmakers do with several pending bills. And about 75 people ignored the snow Saturday morning to spend three hours talking about the possibilities with Gary Kujawski, the HOA Information Officer.

    Kujawski outlined the duties of his  HOA Information Office and Resource Center — mainly registering HOAs, dispensing information about the laws governing HOA boards and managers, and fielding complaints.

    And he tried to gauge audience interest in proposals before the Legislature, such as House Bill 1134, a major bill that would expand his office and grant him investigative and enforcement powers.

    For example, a large majority of those in attendance agreed there is a need for mandatory licensing and bonding of professional HOA managers and their companies.

    But no real consensus emerged over the idea to require mediation in HOA disputes or to create a referee system for dispute resolution.

    Other ideas included creating an online rating system of HOAs and management companies, and allowing for monitoring of elections and term limits for board members.

    Colorado HOA Information Officer Gary Kujawski discussed possible regulation of homeowners association during a three-hour town hall meeting Saturday.

    Colorado HOA Information Officer Gary Kujawski discussed possible regulation of homeowners association during a three-hour town hall meeting Saturday.

    The session was a wide-ranging conversation that at times was a how-to-govern workshop and other times a question-and-answer session.

    Many in the crowd were experienced HOA board members who were defensive of complaints and challenged the need for state regulation of their activities. Others were residents who complained of the need to punish rogue boards.

    Early in the meeting, one man in the crowd demanded to know: “What’s prompting all this talk that HOAs are such demons?”

    Another attendee said she “takes exception” to the notion all HOAs are run by control freaks who simply want to punish people and steal from residents.

    Many seemed surprised when Kujawski told them his background as a longtime HOA resident and board member. In fact, he was president of a large HOA because: “I was afraid to get off the board, afraid of what would happen in the community.”

    In his new role, however, Kujawski said he is neutral on HOA issues.

    “I am not a member of a consumer advocacy group or a trade group,” he said, insisting that no one in state government wants to regulate HOAs “just for the sake of regulation.”

    But he gets 25 calls a day, on average, from folks with questions and complaints. Some are frivolous and can be resolved by simple conversations, he said.

    “But a lot of people call me in tears,” Kujawski said. “They are dealing with some tough issues. They are frustrated. Some are complicated problems and they need legal counsel.”

    As expected, many in the crowd wanted advice on their personal problems with HOAs, such as a woman who said her HOA president is a dictator who adjourns meetings, sends everyone home, locks the doors then “finishes the meeting in the dark.”

    Kujawski said some of the horror stories are extreme and are examples of the types of cases he might investigate and take enforcement action against if lawmakers decided to grant him the authority.

    Some in the audience were upset they had to register their HOAs every year and pay dues, about $16 this year. Others noted just 309 individuals filed complaints with the office in 2012 and suggested there was no need for regulation given upwards of 2 million Coloradans live in 8,300-plus HOAs statewide.

    But Kujawski noted that few callers bother to file formal complaints since there’s nothing he can do for them.

    And Kujawski promised to return in May or June for another town hall meeting, in perhaps a larger venue with a panel of experts to field more questions.

    Attendees on Saturday gave him warm applause at the end and generally praised his presentation.

    “It was really valuable,” said Eric Fitz. “If nothing else, now we know where to go for help.”

    That opinion was shared by Marylyn Massey, who gave Kujawski a written complaint about her HOA after the meeting.

    “I learned a tremendous amount today,” she said. “It was very helpful. And I’m hoping to talk to him about my concerns with my HOA at the Arbors at Mountain Shadows.”

    Kujawski also urged everyone to stay tuned to action in the final weeks of the General Assembly because he expects several HOA-related bills to come up for debate and action.

    Be sure to read Side Streets for updates on all HOA legislation.

    Colorado HOA Information Officer Gary Kujawski discussed possible regulation of homeowners association during a three-hour town hall meeting Saturday.

    Colorado HOA Information Officer Gary Kujawski discussed possible regulation of homeowners association during a three-hour town hall meeting Saturday.

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  • FIRE DEEMED ACCIDENTAL BUT VAN SITS FOR MONTHS

    Sat, March 23, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Impound Lot 002 X

    In the predawn hours of Jan. 11, a passenger van owned by Ethelyn Bauer rolled into the street outside her Mountain Shadows home and burst into flames.

    Inside the 1998 GMC van were tools used by Ethelyn’s son, Bruce Kaire, in his work as a handyman making cabinets and doing construction.

    “We were awakened at 3 a.m. by the noise of the fire and police and all,” Ethelyn, 87, told me Wednesday. “We were all upset and out there in our pajamas.”

    Colorado Springs Fire Department officials deemed the blaze suspicious and ordered the van towed away for further investigation.

    In all the commotion, she and Bruce, 63, didn’t think to grab the tools from the back.

    Impound Lot 001But they called a couple days later and were denied access.

    She said the arson investigator kept telling her the van was evidence of a possible crime and had to remain the city impound lot.

    Ethelyn said she started calling weekly and most of her calls were not returned.

    After a few weeks, Ethelyn said, the investigator told her the case was being referred to the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s office for consideration of charges. She was told to call the DA to get access to the van. She called and said they didn’t seem to know what she was talking about.

    Frustrated by a lack of cooperation from the city, Ethelyn called The Gazette.

    “I warned them I was going to call you if they didn’t get back to me,” she said.

    So I called the arson investigator, the fire department spokeswoman and the prosecutor’s office.

    Impound Lot 010Lee Richards, DA spokeswoman, quickly returned my call and explained she knew nothing of any arson case involving a van. But she promised to look into it.

    Sunny Smaldino, fire department spokeswoman, also called back and promised to get back to me Thursday morning.

    Richards called me first thing Thursday and said the fire had been ruled accidental. She said the van was not being held by her agency. It was ready for release.

    Then I talked to Ethelyn. She was tickled to report the city impound lot had just called.

    “I’m getting my car back,” she said. “I am in a state of shock. I can’t believe it. It’s been so aggravating. Now, all of a sudden, I’m getting my van back.”

    When I finally heard back from Smaldino Thursday afternoon, she had no explanation for why the van was held so long or why Ethelyn couldn’t get a straight answer.

    “The van has been released,” she told me in a voice message, suggesting it was the end of the story.

    Not quite. It’s true, Ethelyn is very happy to retrieve her property. But she’d still like to know why she was treated so rudely.

    “This isn’t New York City,” she said. “I should know. I grew up there.

    “It shouldn’t be that much trouble to get an answer.”

    Impound Lot 004

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  • BILLS TAKING AIM AT HOAS MOVING THROUGH ASSEMBLY

    Thu, March 21, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

     

    Ryden Carroll X

    While gun control debate has dominated the Colorado General Assembly, work is underway on a few bills dealing with  homeowners associations.

    At the beginning of the 2013 session, legislative leaders talked about plans to rein in rogue HOA boards. A key proposal, by Sen. Morgan Carroll and Rep. Su Ryden, both Aurora Democrats, called for an overhaul of the HOA Information Office and Resource Center.

    Carroll and Ryden want to transform it from a data-collection bureau into a watchdog agency with authority to investigate HOAs and enforce state laws regulating the boards.

    They want to upgrade the role of HOA Information Officer Gary Kujawski to make him into what I call an HOA czar charged with investigating alleged HOA infractions and abuse.

    They introduced their plan as House Bill 1134 but the proposal has not come up for debate. It sits in a House committee as its sponsors work to gather support.

    “Some changes are being considered to figure out how we can get the enforcement we want within a budget we can afford,” Carroll said Tuesday.

    Gary Kujawski

    Colorado HOA Information Officer Gary Kujawski

    While she may be frustrated at the slow pace of the bill, Carroll said she is encouraged that Kujawski is touring the state, holding a series of town hall meetings to hear for himself the problems being reported by many of the 2 million Coloradans living in 8,300-plus HOAs statewide.

    In fact, Kujawski will visit Colorado Springs on Saturday to talk to area HOA residents about their experiences. (There are no remaining seats available for the event but I’ll report on it in Monday’s Side Streets.)

    “He’s doing a listening tour to understand the scope of the problems,” Carroll said. “By going on the road and hearing the problems and seeing they are real, he’ll be able to come back and explain the depth of the need for enforcement power. It’s crazy not to be able to do anything about all these problems.”

    An unexpected HOA reform bill making progress in the Legislature deals with electric cars and the rights of HOA residents to install charging stations in their condominium complexes.

    The proposal, Senate Bill 126, would make it illegal for an HOA board or any landlord to block installation of a charging station at a tenant’s expense. Carroll said the bill was a response to a problem at a Denver condo complex.

    Under SB 183, HOAs would not be able to fine homeowners whose lawns die because they observe watering restrictions, which are anticipated this summer amid the current drought.

    It also overrides any covenants that demand water-guzzling turf lawns and ban xeriscape  landscaping methods featuring drought-tolerant plants.

    The bill has passed the Senate and is awaiting action in the House.

    Colorado Statehouse Photo================

  • SHIVERS PAINTING SHOWS A LOVE STORY

    Mon, March 18, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with 2 comments

    Peggy Shivers

    Peggy Houston Shivers fell in love with “The Man in Prayer” painting when she first met her husband, Clarence Laudric Shivers, in 1966, but the Tuskegee airman and artist sold it shortly after they met. Last year, her granddaughter found the painting for sale online. It’s now on display at the East Branch of the Pikes Peak Library District. Photo by Christian Murdock, The Gazette.

    .

    In 2007, Peggy Shivers’ beloved husband of 38 years, renowned artist Clarence, died after a short illness.

    Last summer, she got a little piece of him back and she’s sharing it with everyone who visits the East Branch of the Pikes Peak Library District.

    In the lobby of the library on North Union Boulevard is a painting of a man holding his hands and looking to the sky.

    But not just any old oil and canvas painting. It’s a painting by Clarence. And it was the first painting Peggy saw after she met Clarence in 1966.

    Almost immediately, she fell in love with both.

    But for the next 46 years, she had to be satisfied with just Clarence because shortly after she caught a glimpse of the painting in his officers quarters, he sold it to an Air Force family in Nebraska.

    “I only saw it for a few minutes, actually,” she said.

    But it made a huge impression, just as Clarence did. They met when he was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California. Peggy had driven down from San Francisco to visit her brother and he introduced her to Clarence, who had trained with the famed Tuskegee Airmen black pilot fighter squadron in World War II.

    Clarence Shivers is seen in a June 2004 photo. He posed with a bust of the Tuskegee Airman statue he sculpted in 1988 honoring the black Air Force squadron of World War II. He trained with the squadron. The statue stands outside the Chapel at the Air Force Academy. Photo by Carol Lawrence, The Gazette.

    Clarence Shivers is seen in a June 2004 photo. He posed with a bust of the Tuskegee Airman statue he sculpted in 1988 honoring the black Air Force squadron of World War II. He trained with the squadron. The statue stands outside the Chapel at the Air Force Academy. Photo by Carol Lawrence, The Gazette.

    “From then on, we were a twosome,” she said. “I absolutely adored him.”

    She was fascinated by this pilot who also was a painter.

    “I’d never known a real artist before,” Peggy said. “I went in his studio to see his work.”

    During that brief first visit, she saw the painting.

    “I loved that painting,” she said. “But when I came to visit a couple weeks later, I asked about the painting and he told me he’d sold it. It was gone. I was in tears. I couldn’t believe he would sell it.”

    Of course, after they were married in 1968 and she became his business manager, Peggy learned that’s what artists do: sell their paintings.

    But to her, this was more than a painting. It was all bundled together with her first precious feelings of love for the painter, too. And she was upset.

    She didn’t dwell on it. The coming decades were a flurry of family, pursuing her own singing career in Spain and keeping track of his art business.

    Though Clarence created hundreds of paintings over the years, Peggy always remembered that first piece she loved, even if her memory of it admittedly waned over the decades.

    Frankly, she never dreamed she’d see it again, since she didn’t know who had bought it.

    So imagine her shock last February when her granddaughter called with some startling news.

    “She was all excited,” Peggy said. “She’d been on her computer and found his painting.

    “I asked her to describe it. I knew immediately which painting it was. Boy was I excited. It was the painting.”

    Even better than just seeing the painting again, she learned it was for sale for $4,000. She might be able to buy it back.

    “I couldn’t believe it,” Peggy said.

    The painting was posted for sale by Ron and Chrissy Huyser Costanza of Louisiana. Her parents, Robert and Wanda Huyser, had bought the painting and it had been in her family ever since. Robert Huyser was a Paonia native and a career Air Force officer who reached lieutenant general before his retirement in 1981.

    Wanda Huyser, a native of Telluride, had seen the painting when Clarence was stationed at Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska and sent her husband to fly out to Vandenberg and buy it just a week after Peggy got a glimpse.

    As military families know, travel comes with the territory. And the painting moved around quite a bit over the years. After years hanging over fireplace mantles in places of honor in the Huysers’ homes, it spent 13 years in storage. In 2010, Costanza came across the painting while liquidating her parents’ estate.

    As it turns out, Peggy didn’t have to buy the painting back. It was purchased by the Shivers Fund, a $100,000 endowment created by Clarence and Peggy in 1993 as part of their 25th wedding celebration.

    The fund nurtures the Shivers African-American Historical and Cultural Collection at the library district, which now boasts over 1,600 items, books, DVDs and CDs chronicling the achievements of blacks in history, culture and the arts. It even includes a history of lynchings.

    Besides expanding the library’s collection of works about, by or for blacks, the fund grants scholarships to young people interested in studying the arts.

    The library then took the painting and hung it in the entryway with a photo of Clarence and Peggy in a tribute to the couple and their contributions to the community.

    And Peggy is thrilled with its display, and the fact it will be restored soon in time for the 20th anniversary of the Shivers Fund. She intends to make it a focal point of her biennial Celebration fundraising event Thanksgiving week.

    “At home, only I would get to enjoy it,” she said, smiling as she studied the painting. “Here, everyone can enjoy it. And I can see it whenever I want.”

    I think it’s the perfect spot.

    Unless, of course, it belongs in the section of the library devoted to lost and found.

    Or the section on community service.

    Or love stories.

    Whatever, it’s there and we all get to enjoy it. Thanks, Peggy.

    ============================

  • WE ALL BASK IN THE SUNSHINE

    Sat, March 16, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Sunshine WeekIn December, I was working on a nice little story about an apartment complex employee who had bought hundreds of gifts — some expensive most fairly cheap — wrapped them and put them under the community Christmas tree.

    The gifts were to be given to the tenants at the annual complex Christmas party.

    The assistant manager was even catering the party, buying chicken and fixings, out of his own pocket using money from a small inheritance. He was spending thousands for the residents of the 126 apartments in the complex.

    It was a great story of generosity and giving. Might have run on the front page.

    But the day before it was to be published, my editor asked if I’d run the assistant manager’s name though our public records databases.

    The records I found gave me pause. He had a history of bad debts — his wages were garnished and he was accused of failing to pay his bills.

    I have no doubt some alert readers would have recognized him and wondered why I was holding up a deadbeat as a role model. He’d have been criticized for not paying his bills.

    Lucky I had access to public records in an easily searchable database.

    That’s just one example of the way I routinely use public records.

    I mention this incident not to highlight my desperate need for a vigilant editor. I raise it in observance of Sunshine Week and to show that open government is important for all of us, not just for investigative reporters trying to pry out the next Iran-Contra scandal or Watergate coverup.

    Maybe you, too, routinely rely on public documents in your life.

    In my case, I surf the El Paso County Assessor’s website of property records to find neighbors for my columns. Many others use the records in their research when buying or selling a home. They can determine taxes, previous selling prices, a history of owners, square footage, even how a property was financed.

    And I rely on the police blotter, designed to tell citizens about important arrests, calls for service and other public safety events. When I wrote about a con artist earlier this week, readers spotted a suspect’s arrest posted on the blotter before I did!

    Then there’s the Secretary of State’s website where small businesses register allowing you to find out who owns a company or sits on its board.

    The city/county planning process is another public record gold mine. Neighbors learn exactly what a developer wants to build in a vacant lot. How tall will those condos be? What happens to the wetland? Is a buffer planned to shield neighbors from a strip mall?

    We’re all basking in the sunshine.

    Do you use public records in your personal or professional life?

    Please, take a minute and let me know.

    Sunshine Week 2

    Follow this link to a story by Gazette editor Joe Hight on the importance of Sunshine Week.

    To read Barry Noreen‘s column about The Gazette’s history of using open records, click here.

    To read reporter Dave Philipps‘ account of using open records in his investigations, follow this link.

    Like to follow area police activity, read the Colorado Springs Police blotter.

    The El Paso County Assessor’s database is rich in real estate information.

    To learn about businesses, search the Secretary of State’s website.

    ===================

     

  • THANKS ROLL IN FROM SIDE STREETS READERS

    Thu, March 14, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    American Legion 3.

    Who doesn’t like an “attaboy” now and then?

    I certainly do.

    And I am enjoying a pretty steady stream of calls and emails from Side Streets readers after a Monday column led to the arrest of a man suspected of conning Colorado Springs residents out of cash.

    The suspect, Perry Wayne Suggs, is accused of targeting military families with a sob story of a broken down car, stranded wife, shortage of cash, etc.

    Suggs, 49, even flashed a retired Army identification card in his well-rehearsed pitch for a ride to the nearest American Legion post or a Veteran’s Administration office.

    I received a phone call from Donald,  who was victimized at his Garden Ranch home on Jan. 12 by a man he identified as Suggs, based on a mug shot that accompanied my column. He lost $160 to the con artist.

    I got a call from Joan who said her son-in-law gave $60 to  the same man when he was working the Mountain Shadows neighborhood.

    Jim in the Quail Lake area gave the man $220. Jim was “energized” that the suspect reportedly confessed to police that he’d stolen $80 from another victim.

    One of the folks I heard from was Jay Bowen, commander of the American Legion’s Centennial Post 209 near Austin Bluffs Parkway and Academy Boulevard.

    Perry Wayne Suggs. Photo courtesy Colorado Springs Police Department.

    Perry Wayne Suggs. Photo courtesy Colorado Springs Police Department.

    Here’s an excerpt from his note to me:

    “I see there was an arrest for the guy highlighted in your Side Street column Monday. Great job getting exposure on this! I had our state folks check his name and he is NOT a member of any American Legion Post in the state of Colorado.

    “Thanks again for bringing this to the attention of our great Colorado Springs citizens.  Keep up the good work!”

    Bowen, understandably, wants everyone to know Suggs is not affiliated with the American Legion. And he stressed that there is never a reason to take a vet to a legion post to get cash, as Suggs is accused of telling his victims.

    “We never require a vet to come to us to get a check,” Bowen said. “We go to them at their home.”

    In a way, Bowen said it was gratifying to learn how much folks around town are willing to help veterans.

    “The people in Colorado Springs are very generous,” Bowen said. “We’re very proud of that fact. That why incidents like this really bother me. It both saddens and angers me.”

    He warned everyone to be skeptical if someone knocks on your door claiming to be collecting for the legion. And always demand multiple identification cards of anyone claiming to be a legion representative.

    “Door-to-door is not how we do business,” Bowen said. “If we have a fundraiser, it’s very organized and everyone knows it.”

    American Legion 2

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  • JURY SLAPS HOA IN SECONDHAND SMOKE DISPUTE

    Wed, March 13, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    smoker

    Smoking has been banned from most public buildings. It is forbidden in restaurants and bars. It is outlawed in airplanes and generally is socially unacceptable.

    Is the battle of the butts now coming to homeowners associations? Don’t HOAs have enough to worry about already?

    Better add it to the list, I’m afraid, of issues facing the boards and management companies of HOAs.

    Consider this: A jury in Orange County, Calif., has found an HOA board negligent for failing to resolve a secondhand smoke dispute between neighbors at a  condominium.

    The dispute involved a couple upset that their neighbors smoked heavily on their patio and sidewalk. The couple said the smoke aggravated their son’s asthma. Eventually, the family moved to escape the smoke and sued in March 2011.

    After a five-week trial, jurors recently awarded the smoke-averse family $15,500, finding the condo association and management failed to ensure the non-smoking family’s right to the “quiet enjoyment” of their own unit.

    The family received $6,000 was for economic damages and $9,500 for emotional distress. The HOA was responsible for 60 percent of the damages, with the remainder to be paid by the management company and tenants.

    Smoke has been an issue in the Colorado Springs area.

    Side Streets has featured a neighborhood dispute over smoke from cigars and cigarettes infiltrating a neighboring townhome.

    I’ve written about hospital employees angering neighbors by puffing on nearby sidewalks.

    Another column focused on smoke from a neighbor’s fireplace choking a neighbor in her home.

    And I even wrote about smoke from a backyard fire pit igniting a neighborhood feud.

    Follow this link to the entire Orange County Register story.

    About 35 feet separate the chimney of Rachel Catt's rental home on Jon Street, left, from neighbor Luanne Wiley's home on Corbett Lane on the right. Neighbors say the wood-burning stove inside produces choking smoke that infiltrates Wiley's home.

    About 35 feet separate the chimney of Rachel Catt’s rental home on Jon Street, left, from neighbor Luanne Wiley’s home on Corbett Lane on the right. Neighbors say the wood-burning stove inside produces choking smoke that infiltrates Wiley’s home.

    .

    This link takes you to a Side Streets column on Oct. 11, 2012,  about a dispute over a smoking chimney.

    To read about the smoking dispute between residents of Boulder Park neighborhood and the employees and patients of  Memorial Hospital, click here.

    To read more about the 2008 smoke feud at the Woodbridge Townhomes in Colorado Springs, click here.

    Follow this link to my 2006 column about the fire pit feud.

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  • CON ARTIST UPDATE

    Tue, March 12, 2013 by Bill Vogrin with no comments

    Georgia Moen and Stan Kline. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK / The Gazette

    Georgia Moen and Stan Kline. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK / The Gazette

    An angry Side Streets reader, furious that a con artist was cheating money from military veterans, contacted police Monday, triggering a seven-hour investigation that led to the arrest of man on suspicion of theft.

    Stan Kline tells me he was inspired to call Colorado Springs Police on Monday after his wife, Georgia Moen, read my report in Monday’s Side Streets of a con artist who bilked Marie VanRemortel of Mountain Shadows of $40 using a ruse that he was a military veteran down on his luck.

    “I was also the victim of his con game and it incensed me as a retired military officer, to learn that this indivdiual was targeting retired military and ex-military citizens,” Kline said.

    Kline said he was taken in by a con artist who approached him at his home two weeks ago. The stranger said his car had broken down and he needed a ride to the American Legion post and the Veteran’s Administration office.

    Kline asked to see identification and the stranger flashed an American Legion card. Kline said he made note of the name, Perry W. Suggs, and agreed to drive him to the legion post.

    When the stranger was uanble to get cash at the post, Kline said he withdrew $240 from his bank and intended to give it to the stranger.

    “But he didn’t have a driver’s license or a second I.D.,” Kline said. “It just didn’t feel right.”

    Kline made one more stop at a drug store where he left the stranger in his car with the cash. Then he dropped the man off. It wasn’t until he got home that Kline noticed $80 missing from his bank withdrawal envelope.

    On Monday, Kline called police and filed a report of the theft.

    It was a huge help that Kline remembered the name on the I.D. card. Kline said Officer Pete Tomitsch arranged a photo lineup and asked him to identify Suggs in a mug shot from a previous arrest.

    Another big break came around 3 p.m. when another reader, A.J. Stephenson, was cleaning her car in the driveway of her Country Club neighborhood home.

    “I went inside and the doorbell rang,” Stephenson said.

    Perry Wayne Suggs. Photo courtesy Colorado Springs Police Department.

    Perry Wayne Suggs. Photo courtesy Colorado Springs Police Department.

    At her door was a man with a now-familiar story.

    But Stephenson wasn’t fooled, wouldn’t let him in the house and when he left, she called police. Tomitsch responded, showed her a photo lineup and she picked him out immediately.

    Within a half hour, Tomitsch had arrested Suggs. It was his 49th birthday.

    Tomitsch credited the keen eyes of Kline and Stephenson for helping him crack the case.

    “They get the credit,” Tomitsch said. “They paid attention to details and got me important information.”

    Even so, it took him hours and visits to six former residences before a computer search finally produced a good address for Suggs. And Suggs didn’t confess immediately.

    “Initially he was standoffish,” Tomitsch said. “I told him I had several witnesses who identified him. I told him the story he was using on all these different people. And I told him his story was in the Gazette. I offered to show it to him.”

    Faced with arrest, Tomitsch said, Suggs confessed to stealing $80 from Kline and was cited by the officer with misdemeanor theft.

    “He showed a lot of remorse,” Tomitsch said, explaining more serious charges were not filed because “it’s not a crime to lie.” He compared Sugg’s alleged actions to a panhandler who lies to get handouts on a street corner.

    A more serious charge of theft by fraud or deceit is possible in some cases but difficult to prove, Tomitsch said.

    Once news of the arrest hit, other Side Streets readers said they recognized Suggs as the same man who came to them with near identical pleas for cash.

    I’ve heard from residents of Quail Lake area, Stratmoor Hills, Country Club and Mountain Shadows since my first report.

    Each told the same story of a vet needing a ride to the American Legion or VA office. One gave him $60, another $130, yet another $220. Some said Suggs was accompanied by a younger man he introduced as his son.

    Moen told me she was especially touched by the story told by VanRemortel, who  lives in Mountain Shadows neighborhood, site of the Waldo Canyon fire last summer. Two people died and nearly 350 homes were destroyed when the wildfire swept into the neighborhood.

    “Stan and I lived in Mountain Shadows,” Moen said. “We lost our home in the fire. I thought ‘Oh great. Somebody is up there stealing.’ It hits close to home.”

    All the victims praised VanRemortel for alerting everyone in the first place, telling her story in Monday’s paper.

    Marie VanRemortel wants residents to beware of a scam that was pulled on her at her home in Mountain Shadows. She is starting a neighborhood watch group. Sunday, March 10, 2013. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

    Marie VanRemortel wants residents to beware of a scam that was pulled on her at her home in Mountain Shadows. She is starting a neighborhood watch group. Sunday, March 10, 2013. Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette

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