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For those keeping score at home, two prominent Republican politicians bucked Donald Trump on major issues Sunday. One of them even works for him. Republican Richard Shelby, Alabama’s senior senator, told CNN’s “State of the Union,” that he believes the stories of the women who have accused Roy Moore and that Alabama “deserves better” than Moore. Meanwhile, Nikki Haley, the United Nations ambassador, said on CBS’s “Face The Nation” that the women who have accused Trump of sexual harassment or worse “should be heard … and I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up.” Via The Washington Post.

Amy Davidson Sorkin: The question now for Trump and Roy Moore is whether they have so degraded the Republican Party that it can never recover. Via The New Yorker.

As the Alabama Senate campaign heads to the finish line, underdog Democrat Roy Jones is seen everywhere while Roy Moore has disappeared from view. Seriously, disappeared. He has not been seen in public since last Tuesday. He doesn’t talk to the press. Is this any way to run a campaign? (Hint: We’ll find out on Tuesday.) Via The Atlantic.

From The National Review, Kevin Williamson writes that whatever Republicans think they are getting in exchange for embracing Roy Moore, it’s not enough.

We’ve been told by the experts that the tax bill will cost somewhere between $1 trillion and $1.4 trillion, depending on how you d0 the scoring. What we don’t know is what it’s going to cost individual Americans when he look for a way to pay for the tax cuts. Via Vox.

David Leonhardt: Was Susan Collins duped by Mitch McConnell on the tax-cut bill or was she just looking for a way out? Via The New York Times.

If you didn’t notice this one, you might want to know. The plan to eliminate medical-costs deductions in the House tax bill would mean major tax hikes for 8.8 million Americans, many of them struggling to pay soaring medical bills. Via The Washington Post.

As the largest of the Southern California fires becomes the fifth largest in modern California history, Congress is working on cutting tax deductions for wildfires.  Photos from the Thomas Fire. Via The Los Angeles Times.

The New York Times takes us on an hour-by-hour tour of Donald Trump’s typical day in the White House. Yes, it involves a lot of TV.

 

Photo by Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz for the Department of Defense, via Flickr: Creative Commons

The Home Front: Sheriffs’ office shakeup in Denver

Your morning roundup of stories from the front pages of newspapers across Colorado

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“A reorganization in the top ranks of the Denver Sheriff Department has stripped the sheriff of his budget staff and elevated a former sheriff who had fallen from grace after a colleague secretly recorded him criticizing his bosses,” reports The Denver Post. “Under the new organization, effective Jan. 1, Sheriff Patrick Firman’s budget staff will report to a deputy director in the city’s safety department. Firman’s chief of staff, an appointee from the mayor’s office, will gain more oversight, including beefing up the department’s public relations efforts. Firman said the changes are part of the department’s ongoing efforts to improve the culture and are no more unusual than any business making leadership decisions. The department is preparing itself to move from reform mode to one of “continuous improvement,” he said.”

“While each season is different, a low-snow Groundhog’s Day is playing out in the mountains as we enter yet another December with little snowfall,” reports Summit Daily. “Only eight lifts are open at Breckenridge, and conditions aren’t much better at other resorts. Snow is the fuel for Summit’s economy. No powder means less terrain open for winter play, which means slower business and fewer hours for the thousands of seasonal workers who make Summit home during the winter. Lift operators, servers, and hospitality workers are among the many workers feeling the crunch of high rents and little pay. Basic necessities like food become luxuries. These temporary residents, many whom come with expectations of 40-hour weeks to cover the bills, slide further into dire straits with each passing powder-less day. Fortunately, Summit’s non-profits and charitable organizations are once again stepping up to offer a helping hand.”

“Alcoholism and a bad breakup derailed Jose Erevia’s life,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “He wants to get better, but for now he has to survive. He’s been homeless in Greeley for about a year, and he usually sleeps under a plastic tarp outside. He spends the days trying to stay warm. He’ll go to Catholic churches to pray, keep warm and charge his phone. Sometimes he goes to the library, too. When the temperature drops at night, as it did Thursday to 11 degrees, Erevia finds some relief at the cold weather shelter run by Catholic Charities and the United Way of Weld County. “If I didn’t have this place here, I don’t know where I’d go,” Erevia said while sitting in the shelter. For now, the shelter is stationed at the old Mazda dealership, 870 28th St. But they’re only allowed to use it until Jan. 1.”

“Area residents gathered Sunday evening at the McKee Conference & Wellness Center in Loveland for the Worldwide Candle Lighting Vigil,” reports The Loveland Reporter-Herald. “The event was hosted by the McKee Medical Center Foundation, 3Hopeful Hearts, and Pathways Hospice, and was held on National Children’s Memorial Day, which exists to acknowledge the grief of families who have lost children and to pay tribute to the children’s memories. Above, Pat M. Young adds a flower to the Angel for Lost Children statue for his son, Pat M. Young II. At right, Josaphine Hood, 5, is illuminated during the Worldwide Candle Lighting Vigil.”

“Some in law enforcement have called it a game-changer: one state-of-the-art portable device that could be used in investigations of bomb blasts and violent crime scenes, and maybe even in space explorations,” reports The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. “As a doctoral student in physics at the University of Leicester in England, Alex Smyth noticed there wasn’t a lot of scientific research on post-blast fingerprints, so he decided to investigate. The result: a device he created, called FINDER, that he’s working to get patented and make available worldwide. One of the test sites he chose for the device was in Larimer County. The device is intended to be used to track blood, other bodily fluids, fingerprints and explosive residues found after explosions. It is also being tested for other uses, such as identifying biological material on other planets.”

“During a recent visit to our nation’s capital, I met many friendly, hard-working Americans, walked for miles to take in the history and then a bald eagle made a prickly landing on my arm,” reports The Steamboat Pilot. “The last time I really got to take in the sites in Washington, D.C. was as a seventh grader. I remembered some parts of that first trip, like flying into Reagan National Airport and lightning striking the plane’s wing. My primary goal for this trip was to visit the capital during a period of heightened social and political unrest and to see an important institution that might disappear.”

“Longmont’s City Council on Tuesday night is to consider the Housing and Human Services Advisory Board’s recommendations for awarding a total of $630,837 to 28 human services agencies in 2018,” reports The Longmont Times-Call. “The city funds would be distributed to agencies whose programs assist low- to moderate-income Longmont residents in meeting individuals’ or families’ basic physical, social, economic, or emotional-well-being needs.”

“Habitat for Humanity is poised to build a 19-unit project in north Boulder, its largest housing development ever in the city, following a unanimous approval from the Planning Board,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “The build site is about an acre in size and sits at 2180 Violet Ave., on a slice of unincorporated county land. In addition to approving the construction plan, the Planning Board also gave approval to a proposal to annex the parcel into the city. The annexation needs a final OK from the City Council, which is expected to review the matter early next year. Assuming the council grants final approval, Habitat is planning a $3.6 million build that will bring a mix of spaces, with a majority of three-bedroom units aimed at families and some one-bedroom units meant for seniors who wish to age in Boulder but may be lacking affordable options to do so.”

“Sexual harassment is one of those terms can be tough to define, but we think we know it when we see it,” reports Vail Daily. “Television legend Katie Couric smiled at the talk show host with whom she was chatting and said her least favorite part about the 15 years she worked with Matt Lauer was him “pinching her on the a– a lot.” Yeah, that meets almost all Americans’ standards for sexual harassment. The Barna Group, a faith-based research firm, conducted a nationwide survey of Americans to find out what we mean when we call something sexual harassment.”

“La Plata County may have to find a contractor to conduct health inspections on marijuana facilities. When marijuana was legalized in Colorado in 2014, San Juan Basin Public Health took the lead in performing annual health inspections at those facilities, Assistant La Plata County Attorney Kathleen Lyons said Wednesday,” reports The Durango Herald. “However, about a year-and-a-half ago, Lyons said San Juan Basin Public Health became concerned about its ability and authority to conduct those inspections, and ceased doing so. Lyons and the health department is not currently interested in entering an intergovernmental agreement to carry out those inspections, leaving the county with two options: find a contractor or do away with health inspections.”

“The Cañon City Council will conduct a special meeting to discuss a potential economic development assistance agreement with Sun Cañon/Four Mile Ranch,” reports The Cañon City Daily Record. “Mayor Preston Troutman called the special meeting that will be at 3 p.m. Tuesday at John D. Havens City Hall, located at 128 Main St. In a memo sent to the mayor and council, City Administrator Tony O’Rourke states that officials representing the city, county, fire district and school district met with Kevin Quinn, the sole owner of a proposed 2,200-residential unit planned development district on Dec. 6 to discuss Sun Cañon/Four Mile development’s financial status.”

“Carl Wilber Newcomb and his wife spent many days taking long drives, exploring Colorado in an attempt to help her dementia,” reports The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “After she died, Carl, 78, continued the habit as a way to keep her memory alive. “He’d say, ‘I’m going out for a drive with your mom,'” said his son, Roy Newcomb. His most recent drive may have gone awry, though. Carl, who has been living in the basement of Roy’s home in the 8500 block of Champie Road outside of Falcon for the past three years, was last seen by family on Nov. 14, and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has few leads on where he may be.”

“Maybe the Colorado Democrats should rename the party’s big annual fundraising dinner after Donald Trump, since their enmity toward the Republican president could be the only thing that unites them,” reports ColoradoPolitics. “Or, if the party is looking to past presidents who didn’t own slaves and are unsullied by sex scandals, how about honoring Grover Cleveland and Harry Truman instead of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, as one local pundit suggests? Colorado Public Television’s public affairs discussion show Colorado Inside Out opened Friday with a brief spin around the table to weigh in on a conundrum Colorado Politics first reported last week. After ditching the name of the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner a couple of years ago and settling for the Annual Dinner, state Democrats have been seeking suggestions for a less generic name. The Inside Out panelists had some thoughts.”

“Forest City, the master developer of the Stapleton community, recently made a change, quietly and without fanfare. The company took down the word ‘Stapleton’ from the signage around the shopping center at East 29th Avenue and Quebec Street,” reports Deverite. “Now it’s just E. 29th Avenue Town Center. In an interview, Forest City Stapleton Vice President Tom Gleason downplayed the significance of the change and cast it as part of a natural evolution. “As the town center became more established, we felt it didn’t need the name,” he said. For some people, Stapleton has never been just a name, but any movement to formally change the name of the community that’s been built on the site of Denver’s old municipal airport — an airport that was named after the mayor who helped develop it, who was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and installed Klan members throughout city government — has proceeded in fits and starts.”

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A bipartisan group seeking to change the way Colorado draws its political boundaries has moved one step closer to its goal — and toward a likely battle before the state’s highest court.

Fair Districts Colorado can begin gathering voter signatures to put its redistricting measures on the 2018 ballot, a state panel ruled Wednesday. It’s the latest hurdle cleared by a group of political heavyweights who say they want to take partisanship out of the once-every-10-years redistricting process.

At stake is the balance of power in Colorado for decades to come. The statehouse is currently split with Republicans holding a one-seat majority in the Senate and Democrats controlling the House by several. How district lines are drawn can make winning for one party easier or harder, and over the years the process in Colorado has led to bitter court fights and bruising battles between the state’s two largest political parties.

In Colorado, the legislature currently carves up the districts represented by the state’s seven members of Congress. An 11-member panel of Republicans and Democrats chosen by the governor, Supreme Court Justice, and legislative leaders approves the districts for members of the state legislature.

Fair Districts wants to change that. Part of its plan calls for a more independent 12-member commission made up of four Democrats, four Republicans, and four people not affiliated with a major political party to approve district lines for the legislature. A similar commission would do the same for Congress. The idea is to have more representation in the process for voters in Colorado who choose to remain independent from a political party. Unaffiliated voters here make up the state’s largest voting population.

The push in Colorado comes as similar proposals are popping up nationwide and as the U.S. Supreme Court considers the question of whether partisan gerrymandering— the practice of drawing political lines to favor one political party over another— is constitutional.

But a resistance movement against the plan is also gathering.

On Dec. 6, Denver elections attorney Mark Grueskin, who has represented Democrats in previous redistricting battles, unsuccessfully argued to the state Title Board, which approves ballot measure language, that Fair Districts shouldn’t be able to move forward with gathering signatures. He is concerned language in the plan isn’t simpatico with the group’s stated purpose of trying to create more competitive districts. If Fair Districts is successful, Grueskin worries race could become a basis for district line-drawing, which he says would be a “radical departure” from the way redistricting has been done in Colorado. Attorney Bill Hobbs, arguing for Fair Districts, says that’s the opposite of the group’s intent.

Grueskin says he will appeal the Title Board’s ruling to the state Supreme Court and make his argument there. It could take months to resolve, and before that Fair Districts is unlikely to begin trying to gather signatures, Hobbs says. Grueskin, meanwhile, teased the possibility that a different group in Colorado might put forward a counterproposal to compete with the Fair Districts plan. He declined to discuss details.

Following the Title Board hearing, Common Cause of Colorado came out against the Fair Districts campaign.

The state group, whose national chapter keeps an eye on redistricting around the country, doesn’t like that the Fair District’s proposal calls for partisan politicians to appoint most of the redistricting commissioners— which is also how it works now— among other issues involving transparency and scant buy-in from minority communities.

“While the measures do include a more neutral selection process for the unaffiliated or independent members, that change is not enough to eliminate the overall partisan selection process of the majority of the members,” Common Cause Colorado wrote in a statement.

Hobbs called the elections watchdog group’s opposition disappointing because he says Fair Districts engaged with Common Cause and incorporated some of its suggestions into the plan. “We really tried to incorporate their concerns and unfortunately they still are not on board,” he says. “Everything that we’re doing is an improvement on the current process.”

Debates about partisanship have dogged the Fair Districts campaign from its start.

An early version of its plan allowed the state’s two largest political parties to choose a majority of the members on the proposed new independent redistricting commission. Critics, like Grueskin, worried doing so would actually increase partisanship. Political parties are accountable to party insiders while elected officials are accountable to voters, he said. Fair Districts later changed course and gave the appointing power to legislative leaders.

Fair Districts also came in for criticism for not having enough buy-in from minority groups, though the group said it made a good-faith effort in its outreach. Since the group launched, two prominent Latino Democrats, former Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia and ex-lawmaker Abel Tapia, pulled their support from the plan. Garcia said the Fair Districts campaign and its efforts are “more controversial and potentially partisan” than he realized.

Along the way, the backgrounds of some involved in the effort have also drawn scrutiny.  

Last year, a group called End Gerrymandering Now tried unsuccessfully to put a similar redistricting proposal on the ballot but was blocked on a technicality by the state supreme court. Its backers included former GOP House Speaker Frank McNulty and former GOP Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, Republican redistricting operative Alan Philp as well as former Democratic Secretary of State Bernie Buescher, PR consultant Rich Coolidge, and Kathleen Curry, a one-time Democratic lawmaker who later became unaffiliated. All of them are working on this year’s Fair Districts Colorado proposal.

In response to early criticism, Fair Districts made some other changes to its proposal between the time the campaign launched in September and this week’s Title Board hearing. Beyond the change to give appointing power to lawmakers instead of parties, having the non-major party members of the commissions ultimately chosen by a random lottery after screening by retired judges instead of whittled down by partisans as the group initially proposed, was an additional tweak to the plan.

Related: Colorado redistricting campaign changes course on appointing power and gains a game-changing backer

Another change this year is the support Fair Districts counts from wealthy powerbroker Kent Thiry, the CEO of the Denver-based kidney dialysis company DaVita. In recent years, Thiry has positioned himself as an advocate for Colorado’s 1.3 million unaffiliated voters. Last year he backed a successful statewide ballot measure that allows unaffiliated voters to participate in party primaries.

In another big move, Fair Districts gained the backing of the League of Women Voters of Colorado, though that wasn’t without drama. A split among leadership over whether to support the plan ended with the departure of the group’s president, Nancy Crow.

Related: Leadership at the League of Women Voters in Colorado split over redistricting campaign

“The fallout was I resigned from the board,” Crow told The Colorado Independent this week. “I lost support.” She says she feels strongly that the League is being used to lend credibility to a redistricting plan she worries could be part of a national strategy to turn more state legislatures red.

The state League’s new president is Toni Larson, who has been working with the Fair Districts campaign for nearly a year. On Dec. 7, the state League’s board voted to fully support the Fair Districts plan, she says, and to encourage its local chapters to help gather signatures for it if and when they are able.

Says Larson: “We have decided that we are thoroughly behind Fair Districts Colorado.”

 

Photo by Adam Kerfoot-Roberts for Creative Commons on Flickr.

The Colorado Independent is fighting to unseal secret records in a death penalty case

The records document misconduct prosecuting Sir Mario Owens under the leadership of former DA Carol Chambers and her successor, George Brauchler

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Update: George Brauchler’s office has asked for another two-week extension to submit its legal objections to The Independent’s motion to unseal documents about prosecutorial misconduct. We’ll keep following the story as it unfolds.

Colorado’s judicial system is shrouding in secrecy documents about prosecutorial misconduct in the case against Sir Mario Owens, a death row inmate convicted of murdering a state lawmaker’s son.

The Colorado Independent is fighting in court to unseal records showing that the 18th Judicial District Attorney’s office suppressed evidence under the leadership of former DA Carol Chambers and her successor, George Brauchler.

Brauchler’s office is opposing the unsealing of the court papers that discussed its misconduct.

“The People object to Colorado Independent’s current request,” Brauchler’s staff wrote in a Nov. 17 court filing. The office has until Thursday to file a legal response outlining its objections in Arapahoe County District Court.

In an email to The Independent’s counsel, Steven Zansberg, Brauchler’s office likened allegations of prosecutorial misconduct to salacious and unproven allegations in a private divorce case. “The District Attorney believes that the court in this case has, and can continue to, limit access to portions of its file that may become the vehicle for an improper purpose, namely for the court file to improperly serve as a reservoir of libelous statements for press consumption,” Brauchler’s deputy, Rich Orman, wrote.

Orman failed to acknowledge that a judge has ruled that the misconduct allegations are founded.

District Court Judge Christopher Munch issued a 1,500-page order in September that upheld Owens’ death sentence, but found a pattern of prosecutorial misconduct, including the withholding of evidence that might have helped Owens’ case.

“A man’s life is on the line here,” says The Independent editor Susan Greene. “The public has a right to know in detail how, as a judge has ruled, these public officials mishandled a death penalty prosecution. This is exactly the kind of case that warrants the most public scrutiny.”

Owens, 32, was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death in 2008 for the 2005 killings of Vivian Wolfe and her fiancé, Javad Marshall-Fields – son of Rhonda Fields, now a state senator from Aurora. Marshall-Fields was scheduled to testify against a suspect in a different murder case for which Owens ultimately was convicted.

Owens is one of three inmates on Colorado’s death row. The two others are Robert Ray, his co-defendant in Wolfe’s and Marshall-Fields’ killings, and convicted Chuck E. Cheese killer Nathan Dunlap, whose execution Gov. John Hickenlooper has reprieved temporarily, citing concerns over how death sentences are meted out in Colorado.

In a state whose population is 4 percent African-American, all three death row inmates are black. And all three were prosecuted by the same District Attorney’s office in Arapahoe County south of Denver, long Colorado’s death penalty epicenter.

Under Chambers’ control, that office was reported by The Denver Post to have handed out bonuses to prosecutors who hit target goals for convictions – a practice Owens’ lawyers have claimed amounted to an improper bounty system. The office suppressed key evidence in other cases, including those in which it was seeking the death penalty. When Brauchler was elected DA, he kept the two lawyers who led the Owens prosecution on the case and, as a court ruling shows, didn’t disclose evidence to Owens’ lawyers, as required.  The rules of criminal conduct say withholding evidence that could have swayed a jury against a guilty verdict amounts to prosecutorial misconduct. Under Colorado’s death penalty law, it’s one of several reasons to disqualify a case for death penalty eligibility.

Much of the evidence-withholding  by the DA’s office took place under Chambers’ watch. But, according to public records, even well into his tenure, Brauchler’s office kept secret witness protection files, which judge Munch and the judge presiding over the case before him found should have been disclosed to Owens’ defense counsel.

There is no physical evidence, no confession, and no eyewitness who identified Owens in a case prosecutors built almost entirely on the testimony of informant witnesses to whom the DA’s office gave funds, plea bargains, or both in return for their cooperation against Owens.

Court records show that one of those witnesses was promised and later given a DA’s office car. Some were given gift cards for local businesses. One received $3,400 in benefits, including cash for Christmas presents in the months prior to testifying for the prosecution.

If he didn’t cooperate, court records show, one of the main prosecution witnesses was threatened with being charged for the murders Owens was accused of and with receiving two life sentences. Another witness received a suspension of his jail sentence on the condition that he help prosecutors in Owens’ case. People working for the prosecution would appear at informant witnesses’ court hearings and ask for lesser sentences on the condition that they testify against Owens, records indicate. Records also show that informants who had been convicted of crimes were allowed to violate probation and commit future crimes without consequences so long as they cooperated.

Owens’ appeal argued that by failing to disclose these deals to Owens’ lawyers before trial, the prosecution rendered them unable to cast doubt on those witnesses’ testimonies and put their credibility in dispute.  As a result, Owens’ appeals counsel argued, Owens was denied a fair trial.

Owens’ appeals process went haywire last year when the Colorado Judicial system fired District Judge Gerald Rafferty after he had presided over more than two years of appeals hearings and worked on his written appeals decision for about 11 months. Before he was able to finish his ruling, Rafferty, who had made several comments about government misconduct in the Owens’ case, was fired over what judicial officials have said was a contract dispute.

In September, Rafferty’s replacement, District Judge Munch, issued a lengthy order denying Owens’ appeal, yet the judge found several examples of misconduct by prosecutors for having failed to disclose or actively suppressed evidence that would have been favorable to Owens’ defense. Prosecutors defended their handling of the case, saying there was no deliberate attempt to quash or hide evidence.

Although Munch chastised the DA’s office for its missteps, he ruled that they weren’t grounds to overturn Owens’ death sentence.

Defense lawyers and death penalty abolitionists nationwide say it’s rare, and possibly unprecedented, for a death sentence to be upheld when a judge has found prosecutors cut professional and ethical corners.

Munch’s order prodded The Independent to seek specific court records detailing DAs misconduct. Judicial records typically are open to the public. Remarkably there is no publicly available docket identifying Owens’ motion to oust Braucher’s office from the case for its failure to disclose or suppressing exculpatory evidence. Nor is there mention of the court order denying Owens’ request. They’ve been put under seal, prohibiting public review.

So The Independent took legal action to obtain them.

Representing The Independent pro-bono, First Amendment attorneys Steve Zansberg and Gregory Szewczyk of Ballard Spahr LLP filed a motion with the state Supreme Court on Oct. 27. The court ruled Nov. 6 to transfer jurisdiction to the District Court in Arapahoe County, where Owens was tried and where his appeal was heard.

State law allows courts to seal records only when “necessary to protect a governmental interest of the highest order,” when “any sealing order is narrowly tailored,” and when “no reasonably available alternatives can adequately protect the compelling state interest.” In The Independent’s unsealing motion (read full motion here), Zansberg and Szewczyk argue that those requirements cannot be satisfied in a case that was publicly tried almost a decade ago and in which there is lengthy court order that finds a pattern of withholding evidence that would have helped Owens’ defense. The U.S. Constitution, the Colorado Constitution and common law, they assert, “protect the right of the people to receive information about the criminal justice system through the news media, and the right of the news media to gather and report that information.”

Access to public records, they argue, is fundamental to a democracy and necessary to ensure accountability and promote confidence in the criminal justice system.

Legal scholars and civil rights advocates argue that public records access in a death penalty case is especially important, ensuring some measure of public scrutiny before the state executes someone in the people’s name.

The Independent was one of several media outlets Zansberg previously represented in fighting for access to other documents in Owens’ case. The outlets won that legal battle in 2014.

Brauchler, a Republican, recently dropped his bid for governor, and is now running for state Attorney General. That office has a special section that helps local prosecutors seek the death penalty. Earlier this summer, Jack Roth, one of the AG’s top lawyers on capital cases, lost his job after having made public comments that overstepped his authority to seek the death penalty death in a Crowley County murder prosecution.

Brauchler started eyeing statewide elected office after prosecuting Aurora Theater shooter James Holmes, whom the jury spared from death. He remains staunchly pro-capital punishment and is Colorado’s most vocal advocate for keeping the death penalty.

Photo by Spiro Bolos for Creative Commons on Flickr. Photo of Sir Mario Owens courtesy of the Colorado Department of Corrections
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It’s called the first-mile, last-mile problem of mass transit, and it has vexed transportation planners forever during the automotive era. Until you make it easy to get to and from light rail and other public transit, they will remain underused.

One possible answer will be tested soon at Peña Station Next, the laboratory for autonomous and other cutting-edge technology. Peña Station is the last stop before Denver International Airport on the A-Line from downtown Denver.

There, later this year, an autonomous (self-driving) vehicle is to provide a link between the light rail line at 57th and Pena and a bus stop located four blocks away at 61st and Tower Road.

Peña Station Next is the project being driven by Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Co. in conjunction with a variety of partners. With Xcel Energy it will test creation of a microgrid, capable of generating its own electricity. It is partnering with the Colorado Department of Transportation and its future-looking RoadX program and the Regional Transportation District.

For this self-driving vehicle, Panasonic has linked with Easy Mile, a French manufacturer of self-driving vehicles that recently set up shop in Denver. The vehicle shown Monday evening offers six seats and room for six people to stand.

On a round-trip ride Panasonic’s headquarters and the Pena Station light rail, a distance of maybe two blocks, an Easy Mile engineer said the car could top out at 25 mph, but more generally was geared to go only 15 mph. During the two-block ride, it moved at only about 6 mph. It is battery operated and normally can operate for a day without a recharge.

Public officials at the ceremony proclaimed it a solution to the first-mile, last-mile problem of mass transit.

Gov. John Hickenlooper

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper predicted that autonomous vehicles will “cure so many solutions to the things that have been vexing.” Broad adoption of the self-driving vehicles can improve air quality, reduce congestion and expand use of existing infrastructure, he said. He also pointed out that 95 percent of highway fatalities are the result of human errors.

In Colorado, Rutt Bridges has been boring down into the transformational possibilities of the new technologies in transportation. Hickenlooper mentioned that Bridges spokes last week at the Western Governors Association meeting in Arizona. There were  17 governors there, said Hickenlooper, and Bridges had “every one of them of them in the palm of his hands.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock was equally expansive in his description of the importance of the technology.

“This is the key, the first and the last mile is the powerful piece we’re missing in so many situations around Denver,” he said at the gathering held at Panasonic’s headquarters at Pena Station Next. “This is a special day in the life of this city, and a special day in the life of our state,” he said.

That was also the view of Florine Raitano, director of partnership development and innovation with the Denver Regional Council of Governments.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock

“What we need is a well-designed feeder system to deliver passengers,” she said after the remarks. “Easy Mile is just one of many potential technical solutions. There are more to come.”

Raitano, a former mayor of Dillon, Colo., said she was excited by the technological solutions. Some mobility choices in 15 to 20 years will probably be the same as now, but many will be things we haven’t imagined yet.

Dave Genova, the general manager of RTD, said “some hurdles with state, federal and city regulations” remain to be cleared before the prototype at Pena Station Next can move forward. He did not specify.

 

This story was originally published by Mountain Town News

All photos via Mountain Town News

Behind the harassment bombshells from the ‘dark underbelly’ of Colorado’s Capitol

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

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If you listen to public radio in Colorado, you’ve likely heard the voice of Bente Birkeland who covers the Capitol for 15 local stations based out of KUNC in Greeley. In recent weeks she’s blown the doors off the statehouse with a series of scoops about a creepy, sexualized culture under the gold dome in Denver— a place not typically accustomed to salacious scandal.

Just as harassment allegations have drawn national headlines and rocked Congress, Hollywood, and the media biz, Birkeland’s exposés in Colorado have been consequential on a smaller, local stage. Birkeland’s stories came about organically, not based on a tip or from following up on social media postings. And she didn’t have anyone in mind before many of her interviews started pointing her in the direction of a Democratic lawmaker who also just happens to be running for state treasurer. For Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project I sat down with Birkeland to talk about the story behind her stories.

Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

You’ve been here for a decade. The indication is this type of behavior has been going on for a long time. Do you feel like you missed a story for 10 years? 

I told a lobbyist, “I wonder why no one has ever reported this,” and she said, “No one has ever asked us before.” I’m not out drinking with lobbyists and being part of the gossip. I’m not as tied into the lobbyist world as maybe I should be just in general. And so that’s probably not something that really would have been on my radar. But, yeah, I mean it probably should have been done earlier, when there’s people not feeling safe and quitting and [it involves] aides and interns and there’s not an objective process where you can even express a concern. Let’s say you didn’t want to file a formal complaint. A lot of 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds aren’t going to be comfortable saying, “Don’t look at me that way.” I definitely didn’t realize it was as pervasive as it is, especially for the younger people in the building. And there is that power dynamic. The system is not really set up to protect them when you have to go to legislative leaders.

Birkeland is still on the beat and breaking news. But, like any reporter worth her salt, she doesn’t feel like she’s done enough. “I’m glad with the light we’ve shown on this issue so far, but I don’t feel comfortable, I don’t feel like I can sit back and say, ‘Wow, we’ve done our job,'” she says. “So that’s really tough. If I don’t get some of these stories I’m chasing, I know I will always look back and wish I had.”

Now let’s go deeper. Here’s the story behind what keeps Birkeland’s coverage coming

At the bottom of each KUNC story Birkeland files you’ll find this: “Capitol Coverage is a collaborative public policy reporting project, providing news and analysis to communities across Colorado for more than a decade. Fifteen public radio stations participate in Capitol Coverage from throughout Colorado.”

So what is Capitol Coverage and its collaborative arrangement? Well, Meg Dalton and I recently wrote for CJR how public radio across the country is re-thinking journalism with an “eye toward more robust, coordinated local coverage.” As it turns out, there’s a homegrown effort right here in Colorado called the Rocky Mountain Community Radio coalition that’s been around for 16 years.

What began in 2001 as the High Country Community Radio Coalition with eight stations has turned into RMCR and counts 15 local public radio stations around the state as partners. Until 2009, KGNU’s Sam Fuqua, who now runs the Pop Culture Classroom, coordinated the project. Then KRCC’s Delaney Utterback, who died this year, took the helm. The project’s new president is Gavin Dahl, the station manager for KDNK in Carbondale.

So, while KUNC in Greeley, where Birkeland is an employee, has been credited with her impactful recent reporting at the Capitol, know that her work has also been made possible since 2007 because of the 14 other community stations from Crested Butte to Colorado Springs that help pay her salary with membership dues and carriage fees. Here’s a rollcall of all 15 stations with links to something cool about them, because they deserve it: KSJD in Cortez, KDUR in Durango, KDNK in Carbondale, KRCC in the Springs, KUVO in Denver, KGNU in Boulder, KUNC in Greeley, KSUT in Ignacio, KOTO in Telluride, KVNF in Paonia, KBUT in Crested Butte, KRZA in Alamosa, KRFC in Fort Collins, KAJX in Aspen, and KLZR in the Wet Mountain Valley.

A new era of student life: Interviewed by the newspaper, next interviewed by a prosecutor 

This week, The Boulder Daily Camera reported its local District Attorney’s Office determined a group called New Era Colorado “did not violate any election laws in offering rides to the polls and slices of pizza to prospective voters at the University of Colorado last month.”

Something interesting about how that complaint came about: A local citizen who opposed a local (and ultimately successful) tax-extending municipalization ballot measure for the city to form its own utility read a Nov. 11 story in The Camera about New Era’s organizing around the election and its efforts to get young people to vote. New Era, the Camera reported, is “a pro-municipalization group” that “was active on campus this fall and helped boost student turnout.” A Boulder Weekly columnist wrote after the election that “the millennial-oriented activist organization … all but single-handedly saved the muni” and “did a terrific job of identifying, persuading and turning out voters for [the] ballot issue.” But when local anti-muni citizen Patrick Murphy read in the paper about what New Era was doing with pizza and driving voters to the polls he thought it was a “huge no no.” In a Camera story, a student said he was told by New Era, “if you want to vote, we can give you a ride.”

From The Camera:

The complaint was based on a Daily Camera article that detailed the get-out-the-vote efforts by New Era, an advocacy group strongly in favor of Boulder’s municipalization effort, on the CU campus during November’s election.

And, quoting Boulder’s Chief Trial Deputy Sean Finn:

“While Mr. Murphy claims the Daily Camera article describes illegal conduct, the conduct described in the article itself does not appear in itself to be illegal in any way,” Finn wrote in the letter. “Nevertheless, investigators from this office have contacted elections judges working at the polling place in question, the student whose published interview initiated the complaint, and the representatives of New Era.

So, from being interviewed by the local paper to being interviewed by a prosecutor. Bet that was fun.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages across Colorado 

The Greeley Tribune had a big takeout on the evolution of retail and its effect on local stores and city coffersThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel fronted a piece about area sanctuary churchesThe Longmont Times-Call reported how local police want a database of private security camera locationsThe Loveland Reporter-Herald covered how the city is fighting the state’s Independent Ethics CommissionThe Steamboat Pilot reported on an animals-in-the-classroom programSummit Daily covered ground zero of ski mountaineeringThe Boulder Daily Camera had a piece about local high school students trying to curb booze use. “Coal’s Energy Dynasty Nears End,” read the cover story in The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. The Gazette fronted a story about a Colorado College dorm named after a “tainted leader” accused of harassing women, while The Durango Herald reported on a survey showing how common sexual assault isThe Denver Post reported people are leaving Colorado because of traffic, housing costs, and jobs that don’t pay enough.

The Denver Post/Deke Digital industrial complex

In August, this newsletter reported that Greg Moore, who spent 14 years as editor of The Denver Post, took on a new job as editor in chief of a Colorado online marketing company called Deke Digital. Now, guess who the latest Deke Digital hire is? Linda Shapley, who just resigned as managing editor of The Denver Post amid the latest round of layoffs. Shapley spent 21 years at the Post, the last six in senior management. She will be Deke Digital’s customer service director working with clients.

She credits landing her new job to “something I always tell new people in the business: Keep in contact and don’t burn bridges,” she told me. “When I told Greg my news, I asked about a position I saw advertised by Deke Digital on LinkedIn. He connected me to the right person and the rest is history.” She noted many of her future fellow Dekers are also news expats.

I asked Shapley how she might describe Deke when it comes up at a holiday party and she said the company “works with business leaders to help them put what they know out there in the form of op-eds or other commentary.” (For a better idea, here are some examples of how the firm got some of its clients placed in media.)

And why did Shapley bolt the Post anyway? “The circumstances of my leaving are complicated, as most situations are in the news business today,” she says, adding that the last half-dozen years have been tumultuous ones for the newspaper biz. “The fact that the industry is struggling to come up with a successful, sustaining revenue model makes it difficult for not just the newsroom, but every department at the Post. And truthfully, that struggle has been hard on me.”

And that sounds familiar.

Speaking of ex-journalists moving on to content marketing…

Ricardo Baca, former pioneering marijuana editor of The Denver Post got a recent profile in MG Magazine, which chronicled his reinvention as the founder of the Grasslands content agency. The mag asked Baca what made him want to get into marketing.

“I’d never worked outside of daily newspapers, so the jump was thrilling. And while many people are freaking out about cannabis journalists leaving news organizations to work with the industry, this is actually a normal trajectory for writers,” he said. “Going into the industry you’ve been covering has been happening for decades, especially as newspapers are struggling economically.”

Baca calls Grasslands “a journalism-minded content agency that helps businesses where they need it most,” noting all of its employees came from journalism. “Emily Gray Brosious was the lead cannabis writer at the Chicago Sun-Times until July. Previous to her joining Grasslands, Nora Olabi was the editor of a community news website in Houston. All of us have journalism degrees. That, in addition to our thirty-plus years of combined experience in newsrooms, informs everything we do.”

Why The Colorado Independent is fighting in court to unseal death penalty records

The Colorado Independent is going to court to try and pry loose records about prosecutorial misconduct in a death penalty case against a man convicted of murdering a state senator’s son. A judge in the case against Sir Mario Owens found instances where “prosecutors withheld some evidence that could have been favorable to Owens’ side.” But documents in the case are under seal. The Colorado Independent thinks the public should know what led a judge to rule prosecutors improperly withheld evidence in the case.

From The Independent:

Court records show that one of those witnesses was promised and later given a DA’s office car. Some were given gift cards for local businesses. One received $3,400 in benefits, including cash for Christmas presents in the months prior to testifying for the prosecution. If he didn’t cooperate, court records show, one of the main prosecution witnesses was threatened with being charged for the murders Owens was accused of and with receiving two life sentences. Another witness received a suspension of his jail sentence on the condition that he help prosecutors in Owens’ case. People working for the prosecution would appear at informant witnesses’ court hearings and ask for lesser sentences on the condition that they testify against Owens, records indicate. Records also show that informants who had been convicted of crimes were allowed to violate probation and commit future crimes without consequences so long as they cooperated. Owens’ appeal argued that by failing to disclose these deals to Owens’ lawyers before trial, the prosecution rendered them unable to cast doubt on those witnesses’ testimonies and put their credibility in dispute. As a result, Owens’ appeals counsel argued, Owens was denied a fair trial.

“A man’s life is on the line here,” says The Colorado Independent’s editor, Susan Greene. “The public has a right to know in detail how, as a judge has ruled, these public officials mishandled a death penalty prosecution. This is exactly the kind of case that warrants the most public scrutiny.”

The 18th Judicial District Attorney’s office prosecuted the case under DA Carol Chambers and her successor, George Brauchler, who is currently running for attorney general. His office is opposing the unsealing of court papers related to misconduct. “The District Attorney believes that the court in this case has, and can continue to, limit access to portions of its file that may become the vehicle for an improper purpose, namely for the court file to improperly serve as a reservoir of libelous statements for press consumption,” Brauchler’s deputy, Rich Orman, wrote.

First Amendment attorneys Steve Zansberg and Gregory Szewczyk are representing The Colorado Independent pro-bono. Read their motion to unseal the documents here.

*This roundup appears a little differently as a published version of a weekly e-mailed newsletter about Colorado local news and media. If you’d like to add your e-mail address for the unabridged versions, please subscribe HERE.
Photo by Corey Hutchins
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After growing for nearly two decades, the student population in Denver Public Schools is forecast to drop almost 2 percent by 2021, according to a new analysis released by the district.

The main reasons, the analysis concludes, are lower post-recession birth rates and rising housing prices, which are pushing lower-income families out of the city.

But the decrease won’t be felt in every neighborhood, it says. Some parts of the city, like the booming near northeast Stapleton neighborhood, are expected to see increases. Meanwhile, more than half of the city’s 78 neighborhoods are predicted to experience drops in enrollment. Southwest Denver, home to many Latino families, will be among the hardest hit.

For at least three regions of the city, district planning officials recommend considering a controversial solution: consolidating schools, especially at the elementary level.

The enrollment predictions are the work of the Denver Council of Regional Governments and the Shift Research Lab, which is affiliated with the local children-focused Piton Foundation. (The Piton Foundation is a funder of Chalkbeat.)

This year is the first that Denver Public Schools commissioned an independent, five-year enrollment forecast as part of its annual “strategic regional analysis,” which also examines school capacity and performance in an attempt to identify trends and issues.

Given the rapid pace at which the city is changing, the district wanted an expert opinion, explained Brian Eschbacher, the district’s executive director of planning and enrollment services. The district also hoped having an independent third-party conduct the forecast would give skeptical community members more confidence in the numbers, he said.

The analysis was released publicly at a school board work session Thursday.

Here are 12 takeaways from the 105-page document:

1. At the moment, district enrollment is still growing. But it’s growing at a slower pace than it has over the past 10 years, during which time DPS has worked to recapture families who left the city’s public schools. Enrollment is up just 0.4 percent this year to a total of 92,686 students.

Credit: Denver Public Schools

2. By 2021, enrollment is forecast to be down to 91,201 students.

Credit: Denver Public Schools

3. Elementary schools will be the hardest hit. By 2021, elementary enrollment is forecast to decline by 7 percent. Middle school enrollment is expected to stay steady because it won’t yet be affected by lower birth rates. High school enrollment is predicted to increase as the students who contributed to the district’s growth over the past decade get older.

Credit: Denver Public Schools

4. The neighborhoods that are expected to experience the largest enrollment declines are Montbello in far northeast Denver; Elyria-Swansea, Cole, Five Points and Whittier in central Denver; Sunnyside in northwest Denver; and West Colfax, Villa Park, Athmar Park, Westwood and Ruby Hill in southwest Denver. The district has flagged the areas for further study.

Credit: Denver Public Schools

5. The southwest part of the city is forecast to lose the most students by 2021: nearly 2,000. Most of the decline is expected to happen at the elementary level. Planning officials are recommending that “excess capacity and enrollment declines should be closely monitored going forward, particularly at the elementary level, and consolidation should be considered if school budgets are unable to sustain viable programs.” Officials made similar recommendations for two other regions, as well: the gentrifying central and northwest parts of the city.

Credit: Denver Public Schools

6. The near northeast region is the reverse. Due in part to continued development in the middle- and upper-income Stapleton neighborhood, it’s expected to gain the most students by 2021: more than 2,300. The biggest gains are forecast at the high school level.

Credit: Denver Public Schools

7. Denver Public Schools loses students each year to neighboring school districts, but it receives students from them, too. In 2016, more than 5,000 students who live in Denver attended school in a suburban district. However, about 4,500 students from suburban districts attended school in Denver, resulting in a net loss of about 500 students for DPS.

Credit: Denver Public Schools

8. The overall student population in Denver Public Schools continues to get more affluent and more white. This year, the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a proxy for poverty, is down 1 percent. The percentage of white students is up 1 percent. Both changes are in line with demographic trends occurring over the past five years.

Credit: Denver Public Schools

9. Low-income students, non-white students and English language learners are less likely to attend schools the district deems high quality than wealthier, white, non-English-learners. But the gaps between the percentages of less privileged and more privileged students attending quality schools has shrunk over the past five years.

Credit: Denver Public Schools

10. Denver has universal school choice, which means students can request a seat in any of the district’s traditional, innovation or charter schools. White students participate at a higher rate than non-white students. But English language learners and non-English learners participate at the same rate: 83 percent. This year, 4,400 students in the so-called transition grades of kindergarten, sixth and ninth grade who participated in school choice and whose assigned schools are lower performing are attending a school the district considers high quality.

Credit: Denver Public Schools

11. Districtwide, 70 percent of elementary school students are attending high quality schools, or schools rated blue or green on the district’s color-coded scale, which is an increase from last year. That percentage is lower for the upper grades: 53 percent of middle school and 48 percent of high school students attend blue and green schools. The high school percentage has stayed relatively steady over the past few years, but the middle school percentage has declined.

Credit: Denver Public Schools

12. The district has set a goal that 80 percent of students residing in each region of the city will attend a blue or green school by 2020. While it has yet to meet that goal in any region, it has made some progress, especially at the elementary school level.

Credit: Denver Public Schools

 

Originally posted on Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks, Creative Commons, Flickr 

The Home Front: Ex-Colorado Republican Party chairman who blamed voter fraud on ‘Democratic agenda’ is found guilty of voter fraud

Your morning roundup of stories from the front pages of newspapers across Colorado

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“A Weld District Court jury turned in two convictions in the case of a former Colorado Republican Party chairman accused of voter fraud by filling out his ex-wife’s ballot and mailing it in,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “Jury members deliberated for about four hours after attorneys on both sides in the case of Steve Curtis, 57, delivered their about two hours of closing arguments Thursday. Curtis, who served as chairman of the Colorado Republican Party from 1997-99 was found guilty of voter fraud and forgery. In October 2016, he filled out a ballot delivered to his Firestone house, which was addressed to his ex-wife and forged her signature. She and Curtis had been separated for months by that point, though, and she was living in South Carolina at the time. He faces up to three years in prison, although Weld District Court Judge Julie Hoskins said probation is more likely. Throughout the trial and on the witness stand, Curtis claimed he was in a diabetic blackout when he filled out the ballot and did not remember the incident for months. He claimed he was blacking out often during the closing months of 2016 and had no intention of forging his ex-wife’s signature.” According to The Tribune, the prosecutor in the case said Curtis was a talk radio host who blamed the issue of voter fraud on the “Democratic agenda” just a few weeks before he filled out his wife’s ballot.

“Aztec High School 10th-grader Bill Kearney was working on a project in his first-period math class when he heard what sounded like someone slamming a book on a desk in the classroom across the hall,” reports The Durango Herald. “Students and teachers quickly realized the noise was gunshots. Kearney hid behind the teacher’s desk before being instructed to hide in a utility closet. “I heard a lot of shots,” he said. “It felt like the whole thing lasted a long time.” It is unknown exactly how many shots were fired Thursday morning during the shooting that would end up leaving three people dead, including the gunman, in this small town 35 miles south of Durango. The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office identified the two victims as Casey Marquez and Francisco Fernandez. New Mexico State Police confirmed the shooter was a male but declined to identify the suspect or say whether he was a student.”

“The Bureau of Land Management is issuing a one-year delay in key aspects of its rule regulating methane emissions in oil and gas development, an action welcomed by industry groups for the savings that will result, but considered wasteful and environmentally harmful by critics,” reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “The move is intended to keep companies from having to invest in short-term compliance with measures that the BLM may not require once it finishes a long-term review of the rule, which was put in place last year by the Obama administration. The BLM is considering revising or rescinding the rule in accordance with President Trump’s goal of reducing regulatory burdens on energy development. The 2016 rule was intended to reduce natural gas waste from venting, flaring and leaks during oil and gas production involving onshore federal and Indian leases. It’s modeled after a pioneering rule in Colorado, and would result in reduced emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas, and associated pollutants while boosting federal royalty revenues.”

“A proposed city of Loveland annexation of property on the east side of Boyd Lake drew nearly 200 residents to a public meeting Thursday to hear the city’s plan for the area and to voice concerns about apartments proposed to be built there,” reports The Loveland Reporter-Herald. “A petition has received 250 signatures to stop the annexation and rezoning of the 27-acre property at the southeast corner of Frank Road and Boyd Lake Avenue. Neighborhood residents turned out to the Best Western on U.S. 34 in Loveland in force to voice concerns about traffic congestion, decreased property values, overcrowded schools, the safety of children playing near roads and losing their lakeside views. The city hosted the public meeting as the mandatory first step in the annexation and rezoning process. The Thursday meeting was the fourth neighborhood meeting on the contentious development, which has been in the works since 2015.”

“Fort Collins has a path forward for carbon neutral electricity — and no coal — by 2030,” reports The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. “On Thursday, Platte River Power Authority — the electricity provider for Fort Collins, Loveland, Estes Park and Longmont — unveiled details about what could be the most affordable way to get there. It would include mostly wind and solar power supplemented by about 25 percent gas-powered electricity, according to a Platte River-commissioned study by Pace Global. Extra renewable energy generated would be sold to other energy users to offset greenhouse gas emissions from gas-powered electricity.”

“Three Routt County officials recently sent a memo to the county’s human resources department detailing several concerns they had about the work environment and top management at the county treasurer’s office,” reports The Steamboat Pilot. “The memo, which outlined the observations of Yampa Valley Regional Airport Director Kevin Booth, Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins and Clerk and Recorder Recording Supervisor Barb Houston, stated the three officials walked away from a grievance hearing for a treasurer’s office employee thinking “there is reason for concern about fair and equitable treatment of (treasurer’s office) employees below the level of Chief Deputy Treasurer.” The memo raises serious questions about Treasurer Brita Horn’s leadership of the office at a time she is seeking higher office in the state as Colorado’s treasurer.”

“Boulder County and Lafayette are pushing back against an oil and gas operator by asking that state regulators reject a plan for additional wells and require more public participation in the development,” reports The Longmont Times-Call. “Extraction Oil and Gas is the second operator along with Crestone Peak Resources to propose dotting unincorporated county land with multiple wells. Kim Sanchez, the county’s chief planner, said she plans to request that Extraction be required by state regulators to schedule local public forums on the two developments. Her request will be heard at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission hearing scheduled for Monday and Tuesday at 1120 Lincoln Street, Suite 801, in Denver. She said Lafayette staff also will be there.”

“Several private foundations and nonprofits on Thursday gave a more than $24 million boost to an idea that has gained attention from Denver affordable-housing advocates as a promising way to put homeownership within reach for lower-income families in the metro area,” reports The Denver Post. “By forming the Elevation Community Land Trust and committing that money, its backers aim to create the largest community land trust in Colorado. Within five years, the new organization could assemble a collection of 700 homes scattered across the city and its suburbs — split between existing houses and new townhomes and condos — using a model that reduces the cost for buyers who fall below income limits. It would do so by holding ownership of the land under each home in a nonprofit trust in perpetuity, leasing the land to the home’s owner for regular payments. Upon reselling the house, owners would pocket a portion, but not all, of any increase in the home’s value. Future buyers would face similar income qualifications.”

“Superior may soon sanction a pay raise for the town’s future mayor and trustees in an effort to match the latest offerings of its Boulder County neighbors; by 2019, its elected leaders would enjoy a salary roughly 700 percent greater than what trustees were paid only a few years ago,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “If approved Monday, the ordinance would bump the monthly compensation for the mayor from $500 to $1,100, a 120 percent raise — future trustees would also see a roughly 167 percent pay bump, according to a town staff report. Current trustees wouldn’t be eligible for the raise unless they are reelected, according to the ordinance’s language; three trustee seats are up for reelection in 2018, and another three will be in 2020. Clint Folsom, the town’s current mayor, is eligible to run again in 2018.”

“An upcoming death penalty trial could have the largest pool of prospective jurors in El Paso County history,” reports The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “Jury summonses were mailed out last week to 2,800 people for the double murder trial of former Fort Carson soldier Glen Galloway – larger than any local pool on record, court officials say, but less than a third of the 9,000 people who were called for Aurora theater shooter James Holmes. The job of winnowing the group of nearly 3,000 to a panel of 12 jurors plus six alternates begins Jan. 2 and is expected to take up to three months.”

“Colorado’s U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner are urging Senate leaders to reauthorize the Secure Rural Schools program by the year’s end to avoid cuts in funding to rural public schools,” reports ColoradoPolitics. “The Secure Rural Schools program, which expired in 2015, supports public schools, public roads, forest health projects, emergency services and other essential county services throughout the country. Bennet has introduced legislation to restore that funding for schools in 43 Colorado counties. Last year Colorado received $11.8 million in SRS funding from 2015 revenues, Bennet’s office reports. Without the program’s funding in 2016, Colorado counties saw an average 52 percent decrease in payments — a loss of $6.2 million dollars for essential services and schools in rural counties, Bennet says.”

“Denver officials are working to show more details about where marijuana tax revenue is going, but there’s still room for improvement, according to the Denver Auditor’s Office,” reports Denverite. “Recommendations from a 2016 audit pointing out ways the city could be more transparent about how pot taxes are being spent have been “partially implemented.” But the 2018 budget for the city does not detail how each Denver agency is using the money generated from legal marijuana sales, the auditor’s office announced Thursday in a follow-up report. The initial audit looked at the Office of Marijuana Policy. The office is now part of the Department of Excise and Licensing.”

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Now that Al Franken has resigned, it is fair to note that while this was the right to thing to — and not just so Democrats could claim the moral high ground — the loss of Franken, a good and important senator, is not without cost.

Look, if it doesn’t cost anything, it’s no great feat to take the high ground. Or course there’s cost. And, of course, as Franken pointed out in his resignation speech, there is irony that he is resigning while the self-admitted pussy grabber remains unmolested in the White House and an alleged sexual predator is running for the Senate from Alabama, and with the full embrace of Trump and the Republican National Committee.

As a few people have rightly pointed out, it is actually less ironic than it is outrageous. But there is also the fact of eight Franken accusers (I know, Trump has 16 ) and that this isn’t about whataboutism, but about a long, ugly and tortured history.

It’s not a particularly high standard to say our leaders shouldn’t cop feels, squeeze bottoms or thrust tongues where they’re not wanted. It’s not a particularly high standard, as Franken agrees, to say that women must be heard and believed and not shamed and discarded, even if his resignation speech seemed to suggest he didn’t completely understand it.

The point is, you don’t have to be Harvey Weinstein, or Roy Moore, to be held to account. And as Franken accusers kept coming forward with similar stories, an increasing number of Democratic women in the Senate could no longer accommodate a friend and an ally. They’d have to act.

Franken, who notably didn’t apologize in his speech on the Senate floor and instead said he believes he would have been cleared by the Senate Ethics Committee, resigned because the female senators demanded that he resign, and because so many Democrats followed. He had no choice. It was, without question, a watershed moment in American — and sexual — politics.

And for those who think it was all about politics, it’s true that the Democratic governor of Minnesota will appoint a Democrat to replace Franken. But it’s not as simple as that. Franken’s resignation means the seat is open again in 2018. And Minnesota, like Colorado, is very much a purple state. There’s no guarantee that this doesn’t become a Republican pickup next year in the closely divided Senate.

In a brilliant piece in Slate, Dahlia Lithwick takes the politics a step further. She writes that Franken’s resignation only proves that Republicans have successfully forced Democrats to accept an uneven playing field when it comes to morality.

Franken and Conyers go. Trump stays. Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold, who cashed in $85,000 of taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim, stays. Moore, who is accused of sexually assaulting teenagers, stays in the race. You can spot a trend here, although, as I’m writing this, sources are saying that Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican congressman, is resigning — something about surrogacy, something, it seems, I don’t even want to know.

Yes, people like Cory Gardner condemn Moore and say he should be expelled if elected, but that’s as easy for Gardner as reading Colorado poll numbers. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Gardner to condemn Trump’s support for Moore or to insist that the Republican National Commitee stay out of the Alabama race. Gardner won’t condemn Mitch McConnell for shifting ground to say that it’s up to Alabama voters to decide, even as the president is saying that Alabama voters should elect Moore.

What Gardner and others want is to try to claim a small piece of the high ground. But there is no moral high ground when those in the RNC actually believe Moore’s accusers and still want to help him win. That’s right. They’re pushing hard for the mall stalker who allegedly called a girl out of her trig class and writes notes in high school yearbooks and who is accused of molesting a 14-year-old.

And so Lithwick writes: “Unilateral disarmament is tantamount to arming the other side. That may be a trade worth making in some cases. But it’s worth at least acknowledging that this is the current calculus. It’s no longer that when they go low, we get to go high. They are permanently living underground. How long can we afford to keep living in the clouds?”

What we know is that Democrats and Republicans are playing by different rules. That’s in part because their constituents demand it. In a recent Quinnipiac poll, 77 percent of Democrats said an elected official should resign if he is accused “by multiple people” of sexual harassment or assault. Only 51 percent of Republicans agreed.

It’s not clear what happens next. Sen. Lindsey Graham says that if Moore is elected, the stain will be carried by every Republican running in 2018. That’s certainly the way Democrats will play it. But it won’t stop there. The Moore question won’t go away. And now that Democrats have lost Franken, angry Democratic voters will want to avenge that loss.

In fact, not moments after Franken’s resignation, there were already calls for Senate Democrats to demand an investigation into the women’s accusations against Trump. Gaining the high ground is one thing. But doing something with it is another thing altogether.

Photo by John Taylor, via Flickr: Creative Commons

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The Colorado Independent occasionally runs guest posts from government officials, local experts and concerned citizens on a variety of topics. These posts are meant to provide diverse perspectives and do not represent the views of  The Independent. To pitch a guest post, please contact tips@coloradoindependent.com.

 

Gov. John Hickenlooper has become an expert at appearing to care about Colorado’s environment in front of the cameras, while quietly propping up the fossil-fuel industry behind the scenes.

Hickenlooper signed on to the U.S. Climate Alliance in July, vowing to transition Colorado to wind and solar and issuing an executive order with a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. His draft Colorado Climate Plan released in October, an update of the 2015 plan, acknowledges that coal mines are a major source of methane emissions and supports incentives to curb pollution.

His green glow even lured the lucrative Outdoor Retailer trade show to Colorado after organizers boycotted Utah and that state’s public lands-hating pols.

But Hickenlooper is paying lip service to home-grown climate pollution. The worst example is his appalling support for Arch Coal Inc.’s West Elk mine, our state’s single biggest threat to the world’s climate.

I’ve lived in Colorado since I was a toddler, and I appreciate that coal has helped power our state’s economy for generations. But as an environmentalist and attorney, I know we can’t continue to burn fossil fuels if we want to leave a livable planet for our children and grandchildren. I believe the governor understands this, too.

And yet Hickenlooper has been unwilling to stand up to the coal industry to protect Colorado’s glorious forests and the health of its citizens. Instead, the governor has worked to pave the way for the proposed expansion of West Elk mine, Colorado’s biggest industrial methane polluter. In late spring Arch Coal could start bulldozing pristine aspen and spruce fir forests to expand the mine near Paonia.

In 2016, the West Elk Mine spewed more than 16,000 tons of heat-trapping methane gas into the air — the equivalent of more than 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a greenhouse gas on steroids, trapping about 87 times more heat than carbon dioxide.

Under the mine’s proposed expansion in the Gunnison National Forest, 1,700 acres of public lands would be leased to mine 17 million tons of coal, carve more than six miles of roads into the forest and construct up to 48 drilling pads to belch methane from the Sunset Roadless Area adjacent to the West Elk Wilderness.

All that in a beautiful, rolling landscape that provides habitat for black bear, elk, lynx and cutthroat trout.

Hickenlooper has refused to require the mine’s St. Louis-based owners to capture the potent greenhouse gas and use it to create more energy or flare it to reduce pollution. This public health threat costs taxpayers millions.

He recently backed Arch Coal’s request to reduce the royalties they pay Colorado taxpayers for the privilege of mining coal on public lands — an $8 million giveaway.

That money could’ve been used to help West Slope communities transition to alternative energy and a sustainable economic future. Instead, it will help support coal mining that reduces thousands of acres of pristine public lands to a filthy spider web of roads and well pads.

Perhaps most galling, the governor’s latest Climate Plan fails to propose reasonable controls on coal-mine methane pollution.

Here was an opportunity for him to offer a roadmap to limit uncontrolled methane emissions from coal mines, something he has required of the oil and gas industry. Instead Hickenlooper provided no solutions for reducing emissions from the largest source of methane pollution in the state, the West Elk mine.

Colorado needs innovative leadership and action to help communities move beyond coal, not more gifts to the fossil fuel industry.

We need to pay careful attention to what the governor does, not just what he says. It’s important to keep an eye on the results that follow toothless political proclamations.

Climate change is already here. But there’s still time, and I’m still hopeful. I believe the governor truly cares about Colorado and understands the urgency of transitioning to a clean-energy economy. It’s time for him to prove it.

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Denver Public Schools’ comprehensive and increasingly complex system for rating schools is facing criticism this year from leaders and advocates on different sides of the education policy debate.

Some say the system is making bad schools look good. Others say the opposite. Many complain that frequent changes to the School Performance Framework make excellence a moving target in a district that promotes school choice — and one in which parents use the color-coded ratings to decide where to send their kids.

A record number of schools earned one of the top two ratings on the framework this fall, putting the state’s largest school district closer to meeting goals for raising the quality of schools citywide.

With student enrollment tied to funding, and in an era where low performance puts Denver schools on a path toward closure or replacement, the ratings carry real consequences.

“Lots of things get mentioned or murmured in the hallways,” said Chantel Maybach, an educator at George Washington High School. “Instead of building up a school, that’s an easy way to start tearing it down from the inside, those fears and those concerns.”

Superintendent Tom Boasberg defended the ratings system, which put new emphasis this year on how well schools are educating traditionally underserved students. He also defended the academic gains schools have made and the high ratings they earned.

But he acknowledged that some measures weren’t as rigorous as they need to be, while others had the potential to be applied in a way that didn’t make sense. Correcting that will require more changes to the framework. While the fluidity of the system is one of the most persistent criticisms, he said making those changes is critical if Denver is going to get it right.

“Do you not make improvements that clearly need to be made in the interest of saying, ‘No change?’” Boasberg said. “I think our view is that over time, as we learn more and listen to folks, we want to make those improvements. … If we have data that’s not doing a good job helping schools focus on how and what to improve, that’s a reason we want to improve our tool.”

The concerns voiced by educators and advocates this year include that the framework too heavily weights the scores of less-rigorous early literacy tests taken by students in kindergarten through third grade, thereby inflating elementary school ratings.

Others complain that the new “academic gaps indicator” for all schools does the opposite, unfairly penalizing those that serve a diverse population at a time when the 92,000-student district, where two-thirds of students are living in poverty, is trying to increase school integration.

To understand the concerns, it’s helpful to first understand the framework.

What is the School Performance Framework?

The School Performance Framework was adopted by Denver Public Schools in 2008 under Boasberg’s predecessor, Michael Bennet, who is now a U.S. senator.

It awards schools points based on a long list of metrics. The number of points a school earns puts it in one of five color categories: blue (the highest), green, yellow, orange and red.

The system was meant to reward top-performers and identify low ones, which from the beginning received extra funding to help them improve. Bennet warned the ratings could have more dire consequences, too, including being used as a basis for school closure.

While the district has for many years closed schools due to poor performance, it solidified the framework’s role in those decisions in 2015 when the school board approved a policy setting consecutive low ratings as the first step toward school closure or restart.

So how are schools measured? State test scores have always been a big part of the metrics. But it’s more than just how many students score at grade-level or above, a factor the district calls status. In fact, the framework more heavily weights academic growth, or how much progress students make on the tests compared to peers who scored similarly to them in previous years.

When the framework debuted, Denver was among a first wave of large urban districts to emphasize growth over status. In 2008, growth accounted for about 60 percent of a school’s score, while status counted for about 30 percent, a ratio of 2-to-1.

As the district has added more growth metrics over the years, that ratio has stretched to 3-to-1 for elementary and middle schools. Growth accounted for 73 percent of an elementary school’s score this year, while status counted for 22 percent.

Boasberg is adamant that growth is more important than status. The latter, he said, is more a measure of where students start, which can depend on factors outside a school’s control. A school is not “good” because it serves more affluent kids, he said.

The traditional way of measuring schools based on how many students pass a test “plays to your worst biases around privilege,” Boasberg said. “The most important thing is for schools to make sure when kids come in, whatever level they’re at, that they grow.”

But the district has been criticized, including by candidates in this year’s heated school board election, for giving high ratings to schools that may have above-average growth but where, for example, just 10 percent of third-graders can read and write at grade-level.

The percentage of schools rated blue and green, the two highest ratings, has grown over the years. In 2010, 45 percent of schools were blue and green. This year, more than 60 percent were. The district’s goal is for 80 percent of schools in every neighborhood to be blue or green by 2020.

Sean Bradley, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver, is concerned that all that blue and green is misleading to parents.

“The district has a duty to tell the truth,” he said. “And the current calculations that the district is putting out there may not be as accurate as we assume they are.”

Early literacy concerns

Last year, just 9 percent of third-graders at Barnum Elementary in southwest Denver scored at grade-level or above on the PARCC literacy test, which the state requires be given to students in grades three through nine and which it considers the gold standard measure of what students should know.

But 57 percent of those same third-graders scored at grade-level or above on the iStation literacy test, another state-chosen test that’s given to students in kindergarten through third grade.

For the purposes of Denver’s school ratings, that 48-point gap and others like it are troubling to advocates like Van Schoales, CEO of the nonprofit education advocacy group A Plus Colorado.

“What’s happened this year on the elementary school front, primarily because of the early literacy scores, threatens undermining the whole system,” Schoales said. “Most importantly, it is saying to families that schools are good when they aren’t.”

This year, the district increased the number of points schools could earn for doing well on iStation and other early literacy tests by adding metrics measuring how groups of traditionally underserved students did, which district leaders consider key to closing achievement gaps.

That increase in the number of points came at the same time schools across Denver, including Barnum, saw big jumps in the number of young students scoring at grade-level on iStation and other tests, which leaders credit to an increased focus and investment in early literacy.

As a result, Barnum earned nearly every possible point on the framework for its early literacy scores, while earning far fewer points for its PARCC scores, including zeroes in several categories. The school, which serves a primarily low-income student population, was rated green this year after being rated yellow the year before.

In a statement provided to Chalkbeat, Principal Beth Vinson said Barnum is proud to have been rated green. She said its focus on early literacy “is starting to show good results” that she hopes will lead to higher achievement in its upper grades.

Barnum was not the only green school with a big chasm between its third-grade early literacy scores and its third-grade PARCC scores. One of the biggest was at Castro Elementary, where 73 percent of third-graders scored on grade-level on iStation but just 17 percent did on PARCC. Castro jumped all the way from a red rating, the lowest, to green this year.

Boasberg agrees that the misalignment between PARCC and tests like iStation is concerning. Because PARCC is relatively new, he said it was only recently that the district had enough data to confirm the mismatch. To remedy it, the district announced this fall that it will raise the early literacy test cut points, which were previously set by test makers and the state. Doing so will make it harder for schools to earn points, which Boasberg suspects will affect ratings.

The higher cut points will go into effect for 2019, giving schools time to get used to them. Boasberg rejected an idea floated by some critics to eliminate the early literacy tests from the framework altogether. While he acknowledged they’re an imperfect measure, he said the district added them in response to complaints that elementary school ratings long ignored progress being made in the lower grades because those students don’t take PARCC.

“We definitely agree the PARCC assessment is a stronger, higher quality assessment,” he said. But the early literacy tests are useful, too, he said, and the district is better off using them than nothing. “The question is,” he said, “‘Do you let the perfect be the enemy of the good?’”

The debate over academic gaps

Another pervasive complaint this year has been how the district’s focus on academic gaps between more-privileged and less-privileged students is dragging down some schools’ ratings.

Two years ago, the district launched a new part of the framework it called the “equity indicator.” Meant to shine a light on educational disparities, it measured how traditionally underserved students — low-income students, students of color, special education students and English language learners — were scoring on tests compared to set benchmarks, and how they were scoring compared to students not in those groups, so-called “reference students.”

The district warned schools that the following year, the equity indicator could count against them. If they didn’t score blue or green on the indicator, they couldn’t be blue or green overall.

During that hold-harmless year, 33 blue or green schools scored poorly on equity. The hold-harmless period also provided a chance to highlight issues with the indicator. Some school leaders, for example, complained it was unfairly dinging them for having large gaps even though their traditionally underserved students were scoring better than average.

What sort of message was it sending low-income parents, they argued, when a school with a big gap between poor and affluent students but where poor students were doing above average was rated lower on equity than a school where all students were doing below average?

The district took those concerns into account and tweaked the indicator this year, Boasberg said. It still measures gaps within a school, but it awards twice as many points for whether traditionally underserved students are meeting the benchmarks, taking the emphasis off the comparisons and putting it on whether underserved kids are on grade-level.

The district also gave the indicator a more precise name: the “academic gaps indicator.”

But concerns persist.

The Downtown Denver Expeditionary School, a charter elementary school where about 40 percent of students are minorities and a quarter are low-income, scored red on the academic gaps indicator for the second year in a row and was rated orange overall.

School leaders acknowledge the school has work to do in closing its gaps. Last year, 61 percent of middle- and upper-income third-graders scored at grade-level on the state literacy tests, while just 23 percent of students who qualify for subsidized lunches did, for example.

But they said despite the district’s tweak, it continues to make little sense that schools with smaller gaps but 8 percent literacy proficiency are green, while their school is orange.

“This isn’t about not holding us accountable for our achievement gaps,” said principal Erin Sciscione. “We want to be held accountable to that. We just don’t think the current system of measuring that is doing what it says it’s doing.”

Chantel Maybach, a special education coordinator at George Washington High, was among a group of teachers, parents and students who spoke publicly about the indicator at a recent school board meeting. She said she was “discouraged and sickened” to learn from one of the school’s data specialists that if white students at George had just not answered every fifth question on the test, the school would done better on the indicator and been green overall instead of yellow.

Senior Emily Ostrander said the lower rating was unfair for a school that serves “some of the highest-achievers in the district.” George is home to a rigorous International Baccalaureate program that for years fueled a divide among students, often along racial lines, that the school is working to erase. About 72 percent of George students last year were students of color, and about 55 percent qualified for free or reduced-price lunch.

“In a way, it dings the school for being as diverse as it is,” said student Yemi Kelani.

Nine schools were downgraded this year because they didn’t score high enough on the academic gaps indicator. George wasn’t among them, but Brown International Academy, an elementary school in northwest Denver, was. Kate Tynan-Ridgeway, a third-grade teacher at Brown, wrote an opinion piece in the Denver Post calling the ratings misleading.

Sixty-one other teachers signed on in support of the opinion piece.

If Brown were located a few blocks west and over the border of Jefferson County, where there is no academic gaps indicator, Tynan-Ridgeway said, it’d be green and not yellow.

“The achievement gap worries us all,” she said. “As educators, we’re differentiating all the time.”

But Tynan-Ridgeway said that with the indicator highlighting the performance of traditionally underserved students, “it feels to me that the district is saying those kids are far more important than what could potentially be the bulk of your student body.”

Boasberg responded with an opinion piece of his own explaining why the indicator exists. He wrote that it’s already showing promising results: The number of would-be green schools with poor indicator scores dropped by two-thirds from the hold-harmless year to this year.

The district is still fine-tuning the indicator, Boasberg said, and it’s possible more tweaks are coming. One issue, he said, is whether it should apply to schools where nearly all students belong to traditionally underserved groups. This year, the district decided not to downgrade the overall ratings of three high-poverty schools even though they did poorly on the indicator.

Looking ahead

With such high stakes as funding, enrollment and even possible closure attached to school ratings, there are plenty of theories about the reasons behind the frequent changes. Is the district embellishing the ratings to make its schools look better and insulate itself from criticism about closing low-performers? Or is it inventing new ways to drive traditional schools’ ratings down so it can justify replacing them with charter schools?

Boasberg insisted it’s neither. But he said he understands why people hold such passionate, and often conflicting, opinions about the way the district rates its schools.

“There’s no perfect way to do it,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s enormously helpful for teachers, for parents and for school communities to have a school performance framework that takes data from many different sources and brings it together in a way that’s understandable.”

While the district debates what to do about the academic gaps indicator and gives schools another year to get used to higher early literacy cut points, there is one change that’s definitely happening for the 2018 framework. After lowering the bar in 2016 to essentially give schools a reprieve from the new and rigorous PARCC tests, all cut points for the literacy and math tests will go up next year, inching blue and green ratings a bit further out of reach.

 

This story originally appeared in Chalkbeat Colorado

Photo by Nic Garcia, Chalkbeat Colorado

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Democratic women in the Senate lead the way in calling for Al Franken to resign. And as Tina Dupuy writes in The Atlantic, it finally dawned on Democrats that they should stand with the women who were harassed and not with the men who did the harassing. Dupuy wrote that she believes the women who accused Franken of groping because, she said, he had groped her.

Why Al Franken is apparently done for — and why Roy Moore apparently isn’t. It’s as easy as reading as reading poll numbers. Via The Washington Post.

Donald Trump’s announcement that he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem — eventually, but no time soon — had nothing to do with diplomacy and everything to do with politics. Via The New York Times.

Trump won’t take credit for this, but Robin Wright writes in The New Yorker, that Trump has sabotaged his own Mideast peace process, not that there was much hope for it in any case.

The winds are back, there hasn’t been any measurable rain since March and there’s plenty of brush for fuel. And so the fires reach the heart of Los Angeles. A video presentation showing why the California fire season has been so bad this year. Via The New York Times.

Don Jr. invokes attorney-client privilege in refusing to disclose details to a House panel of a conversation he had with his father, the president. Neither Don Jr. or Don Sr. are lawyers, of course, but Don Jr. said there was a lawyer in the room when they spoke. So there’s that. Via Politico.

Are congressional Republicans and their allies starting to panic about the progress of Robert Mueller’s Russia probe? One way to answer the question is by looking at the efforts to undermine Mueller and the FBI. Via The Washington Post.

Doyle McManus: When it comes to investigations, what we know about Trump is that no one has ever used whataboutism to more effect than this current president, who never seems to ask what about how the great presidents before him would have acted. Via The Los Angeles Times.

From The National Review, George Will writes that Republicans don’t really know how the tax plan will work out, but, given what they can guess, it’s worth the gamble.

How Ryan Zinke came to be Trump’s attack dog on environmentalist. For Zinke, his political career didn’t start that way. Via Outside magazine.

 

Photo by Veni, via Flickr: Creative Commons

The Home Front: Denver man must pay $53k for firing explosive tracer rounds that started the Frey Gulch wildfire

Your morning roundup of stories from the front pages of newspapers across Colorado

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“It’s been more than a year since a man from Denver made a fateful trip to the Summit County Shooting Range near Dillon, where he fired explosive tracer rounds that ignited the 22-acre Frey Gulch Fire,” reports Summit Daily. Tracer rounds are prohibited at the range, but it wasn’t the first time they had started a fire; in 2012 they were believed to have whipped up a small, 0.66-acre fire, although it was quickly extinguished. By all accounts, Bryson Robert Jones, the man whose specialty ammo started the Frey Gulch Fire on Oct. 8 last year, was shocked and horrified when the fire started. He immediately took responsibility when first responders arrived and was sick with anxiety and grief, according to incident reports. Nonetheless, he was ordered by the Summit County Court to pay nearly $53,000 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service, underscoring the potentially enormous cost of even an honest mistake if it happens to cause a wildfire.”

“By his own admission on the witness stand Wednesday afternoon, October 2016 was a rough month for former Colorado Republican Party Chairman Steve Curtis,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “It was the month during which he is accused of committing voter fraud and forgery, after he filled out his ex-wife’s ballot and mailed it in. She had recently moved out of their Firestone home, and, at that time, she lived in Charleston, S.C. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison. Yet, Curtis said in court Wednesday, though he concluded he must have filled out the ballot and submitted it in an envelope with his ex-wife’s name on it, he had no memory of the incident for months. That’s because, he said, he was in the grips of a severe diabetic episode at the time. He’s lived with Type 1 diabetes for almost 30 years, he said, and it is a very debilitating condition. He has difficulty concentrating, he said, and difficulty sleeping. If he gets more than 90 minutes of sleep at one time in a night, he said, it’s a “miracle.” “When it’s really erratic it’s ridiculous how stupid I sound. … I think I just appear like a moron really,” he said.”

“At least a dozen explosions have occurred on Colorado oil and gas industry facilities in the eight months since two men were killed when a home blew up in Firestone, a Denver Post review of state records found,” reports The Denver Post. “Two of those explosions killed workers. The state has not taken any enforcement action in the April 17 Firestone deaths, saying there is no rule — and none is proposed — covering oil and gas industry accidents that lead to fatalities. Colorado oil and gas industry regulators have responded to the Firestone disaster by proposing modifications of existing rules — to be hashed out in meetings next month — for pipelines under well pads that they call “flowlines.” But none of the changes deals with industrial accidents that result in deaths. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, set up by lawmakers to ensure orderly extraction of oil and gas consistent with environmental protection and public safety, lacks the authority to punish companies for fatal explosions, agency spokesman Todd Hartman said.”

“The anti-fracking activist ticketed for projecting a skull and crossbones onto the wall of the courthouse on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall has asked a judge to throw the case out, arguing his actions broke no law and were protected by the Constitution,” reports The Longmont Times-Call. “David Paul, 54, was cited by Boulder police for trespassing after officers say he beamed an image of a skull and crossbones along with the words “Ban Fracking!” onto the courthouse building, which houses Boulder County government offices. He was protesting with the group Boulder County Protectors outside the adjacent Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., during Boulder’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the city’s open space program on Nov. 7. The motion to dismiss indicated prosecutors have since sought permission to amend the charge to unlawfully posting signs on the property of another. On Wednesday, a judge granted that request.”

“The number of people deported from Colorado and Wyoming increased by close to 150 percent in the fiscal year 2017, according to new statistics from the Department of Homeland Security,” reports Denverite. “It was the highest rate of increase among the nation’s 25 immigration enforcement areas, and it demonstrates that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is shifting its attention to the interior states. In some cases, ICE has arrested people at courthouses and in other “low-hanging” situations, according to Jennifer Kain-Rios, an independent immigration attorney. “We’re seeing basically indiscriminate enforcement,” she told Denverite earlier this year.”

“The Western Slope’s population will grow by approximately two-thirds by 2050 with Mesa County accounting for a quarter of that increase and surpassing 230,000 residents during that span, according to forecasts from the State Demographer’s Office,” reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “During that time, Mesa County is slated to surpass Pueblo County to become the 10th largest in the state, but its growth still lags behind the likes of Weld County, which is expected to see a big surge and more than double in population. El Paso County is expected to become the state’s most populous county, passing Denver around 2035. The State Demographer’s Office released its estimates looking out to 2050 at its annual summit in early November and estimates Mesa County’s population will reach 236,554 by 2050. The Western slope is slated to reach 942,463 people — an increase of 67.2 percent — during that time, up from 563,766 in 2015. Mesa County’s 2015 population came in at 149,023. The state as a whole is estimated to gain more than 3 million residents by 2050, surging to approximately 8.46 million people.”

“In an effort to help keep Loveland’s infrastructure on pace with growth, the City Council voted Tuesday night to allow annual increases to most capital expansion fees charged to development within city limits,” reports The Loveland Reporter-Herald. “Capital expansion fees provide a source of funding for new and expanded facilities associated with population growth in an area. Loveland’s 10 types of CEFs, also known as impact fees, help fund public services and infrastructure like roads, community parks, libraries, emergency medical services, fire and police. A change is necessary because the level of fees now being collected is 75 to 80 percent of the level needed to keep up with the higher costs of service, a council memo states. Fees at this level will cause a delay in capital projects, the memo says.”

“After months of staff work and hours of public debate, the Vail Town Council on Tuesday, Dec. 5, gave unanimous final approval to an ordinance regulating short-term rentals in town,” reports Vail Daily. “While the regulations prompted plenty of discussion and debate, property rights dominated Tuesday’s discussion. The ordinance on first reading contained a requirement for duplex owners to get the consent of their neighbors before putting units with shared property into the short-term rental pool. That requirement was dropped on second reading. The idea of duplex owners’ property rights — and whose rights might hold sway in the regulations — divided both council members and residents who spoke Tuesday.”

“The Old Town smoking ban remains in place, though violators won’t face as severe a penalty,” reports The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. “The Fort Collins City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday night to leave the ban in place. Mayor Wade Troxell was absent. Only Councilmember Kristin Stephens offered any support for designated smoking areas, and that was only to move the clouds of smoke away from thoroughfares. ‘We already have these de facto smoking areas,” Stephens said. “Everyone knows where people duck into an alley or duck into a parking garage … I think if we have a way we can corral people into where they can smoke, it makes (the ban) more enforceable.'”

“A new master plan the city of Steamboat Springs is starting to draft could someday have significant impacts on park users ranging from tubers to softball players to joggers and cyclists on the Yampa River Core Trail,” reports The Steamboat Pilot. “The $150,000 plan will outline a 10-year vision for the vast portfolio of the city’s parks, recreation, open space, river and trails. It will also aim to answer more specific questions like whether the city should change any regulations on tubing in the Yampa River and whether the Core Trail should be extended to the west and south.”

“Boulder and Xcel Energy have avoided trial related to a lawsuit the city filed this summer in U.S. District Court in Denver, as the two sides agreed to a settlement that will see the company pay Boulder $3.6 million for removal of dangerous chemicals in the 13th Street Plaza,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “The City Council approved the settlement in the lawsuit, filed in July, late Tuesday night. It is unrelated to Boulder’s ongoing bid to separate from Xcel and form a municipal electric utility. From 1902 to 1952, the property surrounding 13th Street and Canyon Boulevard was owned by the Federal Gas Co., which operated a coal gasification plant that produced fuel for heaters and lanterns. The plant, which was owned by the Public Service Co. of Colorado, an affiliate of Xcel Energy, was torn down by the early 1960s, then used mainly for parking until Boulder started redeveloping it in 1995. Potential hazards on the site weren’t publicly discussed for decades, but six monitoring wells installed in 2010 revealed the presence of benzene and naphthalene.”

“U.S. Rep. Jared Polis said Wednesday he supported a failed House resolution to begin impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump because he believes it’s time for an ‘honest discussion’ about the president’s fitness for office.,” reports ColoradoPolitics. “Polis, a Boulder Democrat and candidate for governor, was one of just 58 votes — all Democrats — in favor of opening debate on an impeachment resolution sponsored by Rep. Al Green of Texas. The resolution drew opposition from twice as many Democrats as supported it, and from every Republican, and was defeated by an overwhelming 364-58 vote. House Democratic leaders said in a statement before the vote that while “legitimate questions have been raised about his fitness to lead this nation,” now wasn’t the time to consider impeaching Trump. Polis disagreed. Citing what he called regular revelations that raise questions about Trump’s “truthfulness, his integrity, and his ability to lead,” Polis said in a written statement, ‘Congress cannot continue to pretend that the president’s behavior isn’t putting our republic at risk. This is a debate that must happen NOW for the good of our country.'”

“Short on answers for how to revitalize southeast Colorado Springs, residents Whitney Pacheco and Steven Deluna said the next step must be for them to get involved,” reports The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “I don’t feel like we got a whole lot of answers other than “We’re trying,” Pacheco said after a panel hosted by The Gazette Wednesday evening, which focused on the problems plaguing the southeast part of the city. “I’m still wondering what they’re going to do here?” The panel discussion attended by about 75 people was held in response to The Gazette’s recent five-day series on how the southeast has failed to share in Colorado Springs’ prosperity. The area, home to 94,000 people, wrestles with high levels of poverty and crime while most of the city has record low unemployment, a strong economy and a hot real estate market.”

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As Donald Trump rapidly shifts the spotlight from one major issue to the next, he has now landed it on Israel where he is keeping a campaign promise to recognize Jerusalem as the nation’s capital and eventually move the U.S. embassy there. Of course, there are possible repercussions that come with ending seven decades of American diplomacy, including threats of violence breaking out in the Middle East and the potential for destroying the Trump administration’s hopes to broker peace between Israelis and the Palestinians. Via The New York Times.

Conservative economist and Trump adviser Stephen Moore explains what the GOP tax bill was really about. “It’s death to Democrats,” he said. As Moore says, Republicans used the cut to go after state and local taxes, university endowments and Obamacare. Via Bloomberg View.

Remember the House conservatives? They were relatively quiet during the tax-cut fight, but now they’re back, and Paul Ryan is again left in the middle. Meanwhile, California House Republicans have suddenly become aware that the tax-cut bill will be really bad for their constituents and want to make changes. Via The Washington Post.

Did Susan Collins and Jeff Flake get steamrolled in the compromises they thought they had made in order to get their votes for the tax-cut bill? Or were they just looking for cover? Via The Daily Beast.

This time it’s the CEOs firing back against Trump as outdoor goods retailers Patagonia, REIO and North Face are protesting the president’s executive order to drastically reduce the size of two national moments in Utah. “The president stole your land,” a post on Patagonia’s website said. “This is the largest elimination of protected land in American history.” Via The Washington Post.

This McCay Coppins piece in The AtlanticGod’s Plan for Mike Pence — is getting huge buzz. Will the Vice President — and the religious right — be rewarded for their embrace of Donald Trump?

All that stuff the White House insisted was fake news, at least before Michael Flynn pleaded guilty, now has Trump’s various lawyers scrambling. They can’t quite decide among them how to respond. Via The New Yorker.

Harvey Weinstein’s complicity machine. The enablers. The silencers. The spies. Those he bullied. Those he paid off. Those who looked the other way. Those who stood silent. The New York Times, which broke the Weinstein story, now tells of Weinstein’s warning to the reporters on the story: “I am a man who has great resources.”

From The National Review, Victor Davis Hanson takes on sexual harassment and the cruelty that is so often present. He mentions nearly all those who have made such ugly news on this score. Except for Donald Trump. And Roy Moore. And Roger Ailes. And Bill O’Reilly. So there’s that.

Photo by Dennis Jarvis, via Flickr: Creative Commons

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