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Jobless in the Valley



When Sugar City resident Art Eichhorn went to work on Friday, August 15, he was expecting several people to be laid off, he just wasn’t expecting one of them to be him.

Layoffs aren’t as uncommon as they should be in and around Sugar City.

In 2010, the Southern Colorado Economic Development District’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, a “roadmap” for the region’s economic activity, said unemployment and job creation was at the top of the priority list, but unemployment has since increased in Crowley County.

It’s higher other places too. In a recent New York Times report, Bent, Otero and Crowley County were calculated as the hardest places to live in the state based on statistics such as unemployment rates, average income, college education and disability.

Crowley County’s current unemployment rate is 12.1 percent, 1.6 percent higher than four years ago. Otero’s unemployment has gone from 8.7 percent to 9.5 in four years, and Bent’s 2010 8.1 percent unemployment rate has increased .4 percent.

The reason why more people are unemployed now is complex. Recessions tend to hit rural areas later than urban areas. These areas also rely on agriculture as their main industry, thus main employer, and that field of work is changing.

“There are several factors in those counties most of which is the down turn in the agricultural economy in the region, second is the environment with the lack of precipitation the last few years producers have had to sell off their production herds of livestock, farmers have not planted as much crops all contributing to the down turn in the economy.” said Doug Dowler, executive director of SCEDD. “The fallout of the downturn of the agricultural economy is also in those supportive business that provide goods and services to agricultural. They too have had to cut back with fewer production agricultural operations going.”

Basically, it’s a ripple effect.

“The jobs that you have there have really changed in the last decade from labor intensive to mechanically driven,” Dowler said. Less workers in the fields. More computer-driven equipment.

Eichhorn spent most of his life in Michigan, graduating high school and going on to work at various jobs in the oil fields and farm work. But when the economy started going south, he struggled for a couple years in Michigan before moving south himself in 2009.

Three years before he arrived, La Junta lost the Treehouse Foods pickle and relish factory, and 153 jobs. Two weeks before that a bus factory, a major employer in the region, was closed in Lamar. The next year, 2007, the recession really started to hit Southeastern Colorado, according to Ryan Stevens, executive director for La Junta Economic Development.

Stevens has only held his position since November, but he’s hopeful for the future of the region. Things are finally starting to reach a tipping point, he said. He’s got a plan– economic gardening. Basically, planting businesses in the region, growing them there and keeping them there will build economic development and provide more jobs.

But it’s tough, he said. The hardest thing about attracting employers, especially in the manufacturing sector, is the workforce. It’s hard to keep people in the region, and there’s not many to begin with.

Ironically, Eichhorn never meant to stay. But while visiting some friends in Fowler and Pueblo, he found work. “I was stuck,” he laughed

He started dating his now-fiancé Shanna Ediger in 2010, and that further cemented the move.

Eichhorn started working for Ordway Cattle Feeders LLC, the third largest employer in Crowley County, about a year and a half ago. His previous employer sold some equipment to the feed yard, and a crew of four, including Eichhorn, began working at the feed yard along with the equipment.

His full-time job included running heavy equipment such as graders and loaders to push the manure out of the cattle pens before loading it in trucks.

It may not have been the most glamorous of jobs, but it gave him security and allowed for him to provide for his fiancé, who is currently living with him. But all that changed with the layoffs.

Eichhorn filed for unemployment, and the feedlot manager, Tyler Karney, hired Eichhorn to do some yard work for him immediately following the layoffs, so he has some income coming in, but he doesn’t know for how long.

“How long will it last? Oh gosh I don’t know. Until I’m done cleaning horse pens, he’s got me mowing his lawn, doing some painting for him. It might last a week it might last a couple weeks. You never know,” he said.

The unknown is what a lot of people in the region face, and Hunger Free Colorado’s Executive Director Kathy Underhill believes taking care of that, at the most basic level, could help economic development in the region.

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The hardest thing about attracting employers, especially in the manufacturing sector, is the workforce. It’s hard to keep people in the region, and there’s not many to begin with.


In Bent, Otero and Crowley county the median monthly income is $866.66. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for anything outside of necessity, and sometimes that even means food, she said.

“For us, we’re experts on food and nutrition and hunger — not the mechanism of farming. We have a couple of basic premises,” Underhill said. “Get people out of survival mode. If I can’t feed my family tonight, I don’t think about anything else. Part of our work is helping people get out of survival mode, then you’re in a place to say, ‘now I have the capacity to think about what’s next for me.’”

But even that is more difficult than it sounds. It is difficult for this region to rebuild when the issue is so complex and intertwined.

For Hunger Free Colorado, the problem is very narrow. Focus on one aspect, and it will hopefully transcend into other areas of economic development. But looking at the problem from 30 thousand feet, like Ken Lund, executive director for Colorado Office for Economic Development and International Trade, requires a lot of knowledge about many aspects of the region’s economy.

Employment, the workforce, tourism, housing, education — the list goes on and on.

“I think our philosophy is that the solutions start with what you’re already good with,” Lund said. “In region six, that’s agriculture, two junior colleges, some manufacturing, health and wellness. I look at the dilemma and you can either struggle with where to start or you can start with what you’re good at. That’s our approach. Not what you want to be in 20 years, it’s what you are now.”

Exports from the agriculture sector are at record highs, and that, Lund said, strengthens rural areas.

But the big picture is difficult to see in the midst of living day-to-day like Eichhorn is.

And he’s not sure when that will end. He’s had to postpone his wedding. He and Shanna were hoping to get married within the next month, though they hadn’t set an exact date. Now those plans have been pushed back.

“I don’t know when we’ll be able to get married now,” he laughed.

Although Eichhorn would like to stay in the area, he isn’t very hopeful about the local job prospects. He’s the workforce an employer would like to have, but there aren’t enough of him, and so the jobs aren’t there.

“I’d like to find a job around here, but everything’s scarce right now in this area,” he said. “Heck, I don’t know how many jobs there is going to be.”

He’s looking for anything he can get: construction, farm work or maybe even the oil fields again.

“If it comes down to that (working in the oil fields). I don’t want to, but if I have to, I have to,” he said.

Although he hasn’t had time to apply for many jobs yet with his current gig, the one application he did put in was for a railroad company in Denver.

Through it all, the layoff, uncertainty and putting off his wedding, Eichhorn has been upbeat.

“It’s like I told my bosses when I found out I was getting laid off. ‘This is just gonna turn the page and start a new chapter in my life.’ That’s all I could say to them,” he said.

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The Unknown Road to Pueblo’s Mayor



Between now and Election Day, when the Pueblo voters elect its first mayor, the city is tasked with updating city code, making room for a mayor and the staff that will accompany the new leader and ensuring a smooth transition. How that will happen, though, is largely unknown.

Pueblo City Council hasn’t dictated any audits, created any advisory groups or made any formal reports on how the transition should occur. But council president Chris Nicoll, who said he’s still considering whether to throw his name into the mayoral race, expects the members to make a decision over the spring.

Specifically, Nicoll, who helped lead a failed effort to create a mayor in Pueblo in 2009, said he’d like to see a group of citizens, appointed by the council, make up an advisory council that sees the transition through. Among that body, Nicoll said he’d like to see somebody from the Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, especially as how a mayor will be selected is yet to be determined.

City leaders have options on that front. They’ll have to decide whether to conduct a runoff election, which county clerk Gilbert “Bo” Ortiz said might conflict with requirements for when ballots have to be mailed out, or a ranking system. In that scenario, which Ortiz suggested an option the city could consider, the winner of the election would have the most first and second votes combined.

Nicoll said he envisions that committee being able to dictate to the council what should get done in the eight months leading up to the change, whether that be an audit or hire a consultant.

The Nov. 6 election will be a mile marker for Pueblo city government. The city has held a council-city manager form of government since 1954 and refused to give it up in the past. Voters overwhelmingly said no to a mayor less than a decade ago.

Nick Gradisar, the now-mayoral candidate who pushed for the question to appear on the 2016 ballot, previously told PULP he thinks attitudes of voters have changed. Those who voted “yes” on the measure barely outnumbered the “no” votes.

Part of it, he said, could be attributed to the ways of the north. Denver has a strong mayor. And Colorado Springs is proving the system to be worth the risk, with former Colorado Attorney General John Suthers at the helm.

Perhaps, Gradisar said, Puebloans are also a little tired of little change in the city.

“We’re sort of going backwards while the rest of the state is going forwards, I think it’s hurt us significantly,” he said at a press even before the election.

Either way, a mayor is coming. And it’s a rare occurrence for Colorado.

In fact, “very, very rare,” said Colorado Municipal League Executive Director Sam Mamet. He’s been with the organization that works on the behalf of Colorado municipalities for nearly 40 years. Changing forms of government doesn’t happen often and when it does, it can be challenging.

“It’s not easy at all and I am concerned they don’t have an adequate transition plan in place,” he said. “You just don’t snap your fingers and make it so. There is a transition and it will be a little complicated. It can be done and it will be done because the voters said so.”

Mamet pointed to the rough patch that Colorado Springs endured after it elected its first mayor.

“In the case of Colorado Springs, for the first couple of years it was pretty rocky between mayor and council over prerogatives,” he said. “This will come into play right out of the box for whatever budget the mayor may submit.”

After then-Mayor Steve Bach finished his term in 2015, the “Colorado Springs Gazette” chronicled the only term of the city’s first mayor. While Bach, which the city’s newspaper called a “political neophyte,” sparred with city council and ultimately cost the city on moving policy forward, he also dealt with the natural disasters during his term and the ending of the Great Recession.

Bach couldn’t get money for roads or stormwater. He was criticized when firefighters weren’t deployed to devastating fires fast enough. One former councilwoman told the newspaper that the constant clash between the mayor’s office and council made it hard to maintain a long-term vision for the city — something Pueblo is searching for in a lead lawmaker.

As in Colorado Springs and Denver, Pueblo will have clear, separate governing bodies once a mayor is elected. But Mamet points out that power is already pretty separated in Pueblo. For example: water. In several cities across the state the water department is an extension of city hall. But in Pueblo, the division is governed by a publicly-elected board of five members and gets all of its revenue from its customers.

Mamet wonders how the Board of Waterworks of Pueblo might interact with a mayor and vice versa on the topic that often rises to the surface as a top priority for communities in Colorado and across the West.

“There are potential issues, that’s why a thoughtful transition process is necessary with a very clear legal analysis,” Mamet said.

Pueblo City Attorney Dan Kogovsek said in an email the city charter won’t have to be updated, only the city code, but didn’t offer up any instances that would require council approval. Nicoll said he believes the council will be able to do a majority of that in a few actions.

“There needs to be a thorough legal analysis by the city atty on what should be considered,” Mamet said.

He also agrees with Nicoll that a stakeholders group should be formed and adds that a commission to study the charter would be beneficial, as would the elected civil service commission overseeing personnel policies of the mayor’s office.

Already two months into 2018, Nicoll said he’s confident that the city will be ready to take on a mayor.

“I’m not panicked about it. We have some time,” he said. “It’s just we need to work through this issue.”

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Middle schoolers have a plan to stop rock art tagging in Western Colorado




GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (AP) — Arron Buehler’s day in a western Colorado canyon might not have had the Hollywood panache of Ferris Bueller’s day off, but something about seeing Buehler’s name scrawled on the sandstone escarpment gave Chris Joyner pause.

Joyner, spokesman for the Grand Junction Office of the Bureau of Land Management, looked at Buehler’s name — and those of many others emblazoned on rock in a canyon south of Grand Junction — and said that, paradoxically, there might be a reason for hope.

It was just last year that Buehler posted his name, next to Elizabeth, who left her mark in 2017.

Few of the names appeared to be more than a year or two old, and, “That tells me there’s opportunity here,” Joyner said.

The more recent the markings, the more likely the vandals are to be found, and the more likely it is that other methods might discourage younger people from following Arron Buehler’s lead, Joyner said.

Joyner and BLM archaeologist Alissa Leavitt-Reynolds are working in Grand Junction to deal with vandalism on federal lands, whether it be by graffiti artists such as Charley Humpy (who helpfully added, “Remember me” next to his name and yes, the BLM is doing all it can to achieve total recall), drug users ditching evidence in the desert, mayhem by “marksmen” and plain old dumping.

As much as Arron Buehler and a multitude of companions — Brian, Charley, Dizz, Dominique, Kay, Megan, Elizabeth, Jon, Sam and Tosha all seem to be begging for court dates (and Tosha, did you know your name covered an ancient petroglyph?) — Joyner said prosecution ought not be the only response to a growing trend of vandalism and worse on western Colorado’s rocky outcrops and arid landscapes.

Citations for vandalism aren’t tracked by the Colorado U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes offenses on federal land, so no precise numbers are available.

An Army veteran, Joyner is using his post 9/11 GI Bill funds at Johns-Hopkins University to study ways to divert people from what he terms “dysfunctional visitor behavior.”

“Dysfunctional visitor behavior” has a more authoritative ring than “vandalism” and “littering” and Joyner said he hopes that a scholarly approach can help agencies fend off some of the destructive activity on federal lands before it takes place.

Some of his research suggests that “informed participation in nearby historic and cultural sites” can influence the way many residents perceive those sites, Joyner said.

The students in Ginger DeCavitch’s social studies classes at Mount Garfield Middle School experienced “informed participation” last summer.

DeCavitch took her students into Bangs Canyon to see the mica mine and found the defaced escarpment “as we were stepping over broken beer bottles and charcoal” from fires.

Vandals had used charcoal to scratch names and slogans on the rock, DeCavitch said.

“They call it tagging” and few participants see any issue with defacing the rock, taking selfies and posting them on social media, DeCavitch said.

She contacted the BLM soon afterward to see if her class could help clean up the mess they found.

“They all wanted to go back,” enough that some students hauled 40-pound containers of water down an occasionally difficult trail to help clean the site, DeCavitch said.

Her middle school students sat silent as members of the Southern Ute tribe described how they perceived the canyon and the ancient markings, many of which had been defaced, DeCavitch said.

Far from being discouraged, her students were enthused about tackling the enormity of the defacement, DeCavitch said.

“We have a plan that we’ll be back,” she said.

Introducing young people properly to wild lands is one way to discourage future vandals and dysfunctional visitors.

It’s one “foot-in-the-door” tactic that Joyner hopes land managers take up.

Visitors also can be endowed with a sense of ownership by agreeing with a simple proposition — the idea that one ought not litter on public lands, for instance — and then be brought along to agree with how to visit them appropriately, Joyner said.

It’s part of a human tendency to want to be consistent, he said. People who agree not to litter tend to want to build on that as opposed to act in contradictory fashion, he said.

Even providing a small gift or trinket can engender a sense of responsibility among potential vandals, Joyner said.

Other techniques include the “broken-window” approach — the idea that replacing broken glass as soon as it’s found and thus denying miscreants their moment of victory — isn’t as easy as it might be in other environments, Joyner said.

DeCavitch’s class, for instance, learned that while cleaning up a mess might eliminate an eyesore, it also could erase history.

Her eager middle-schoolers couldn’t go forward with the cleanup until members of the Southern Ute Tribe, headquartered in Duchesne, Utah, approved the plan, DeCavitch said.

While Joyner’s studies have suggested that males 16 to 25 who live within 60 miles of Grand Junction are the likely offenders, one look at the escarpment suggests that young women are more active participants than crime statistics might suggest, Joyner said.

One study suggests that younger people prefer non-coercive approaches, but Joyner said that doesn’t mean the BLM is losing interest in prosecuting vandals and others.

Far from it.

BLM officials routinely contact school officials and consult high school yearbooks to match the names they come across with people who could be prosecuted.

Some miscreants make it easier, posting selfies of themselves with their works. Some even lower the level of difficulty by including hashtags.

The criminal exposure can reach felony levels because of the difficulty and expense of dealing with cleaning up or restoring the markings that date back hundreds of years.

If the malefactors are found, Joyner said, “We don’t write warning tickets.”


Information from: The Daily Sentinel,

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The #WhatNow of #MeToo for the #COLeg



AP Photo/David Zalubowski

When several lawmakers, lobbyists and staff at the state Legislature came forward this fall to allege they were victims of sexual harassment by lawmakers, two big questions followed: how often does this happen? What can be done to prevent more cases?

Reporters have asked state officials the first question repeatedly, returning to readers with little response from the state. The latter prompted a conversation from leadership, but as for what’s next—how the allegations, formal complaints, and legislature’s response—will impact politics under the gold dome and whether women will feel any safer is to be determined.

So far, top state lawmakers have decided to hire a human resources officer—who would be independent from the legislature—to be a contact person when incidents involving sexual harassment are brought forward. Now, leadership is tasked with handling and investigating such claims.

The group also decided to hire an independent consultant to review the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, and lawmakers, staff, and aides will undergo another round of sexual harassment training this year. Typically, those working at the Legislature are only required to go through training every two years.

Those changes are a good start, said Erin Hottenstein, executive director of Colorado 50/50, an organization that aims to get more women in public office. But the legislature stopped short of changing any current policies. And Colorado 50/50 called for an entire overhaul.

“I’m very pleased that there was a recognition that the policy needs to be improved,” Hottenstein said.

But there weren’t any specific recommendations regarding transparency, which Hottenstein said is significant in looking at what happens next.

Lawmakers and staff said they couldn’t disclose how many sexual harassment claims that leadership in each chamber have received because they were personnel issues.

“I think there’s a way to be transparent and safe,” Hottenstein said. “There should be a high- level summary document that shows on a certain date a sexual harassment complaint was made and who it was against and a date of a deposition and what the result was.”

Hottenstein said transparency becomes crucial in these cases because it leads to accountability and the public’s right to know what actions the people elected to office are taking.

In October, Pueblo Rep. Daneya Esgar broke her silence posting on Facebook that she was no stranger to sexual harassment and experienced it just a week earlier with a colleague she works with regularly as a lawmaker. The post was part of the #MeToo movement after a New York Times expose highlighted the stories of several women who said they’d been sexually harassed or assaulted by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Then, a flood of other allegations were brought to the surface in Colorado politics. Rep. Faith Winter said fellow House member Steve Lebsock had harassed her at a legislative party in 2016. Winter and a lobbyist say they filed formal complaints against Lebsock.

An intern said Sen. Randy Baumgardner harassed her with sexually suggestive comments. The same went for Sen. Jack Tate of Centennial, who was accused of telling an intern that if she wanted to get ahead in her career, he could help.

Rep. Paul Rosenthal, who is openly gay, allegedly groped a man and used his seat to try and get a date with another.

But the case between Lebsock and Winter gained the most attention, even prompting Lebsock to take a polygraph test, which the administrator says he passed, to prove his innocence. Lebsock has hinted that the entire incident may be a case of dirty politics, alleging that Winter is the one lying.

When several lawmakers were asked if the case would mean a splintered Democratic party in the House, they were unsure, but optimistic about the session.

Still, there haven’t been any resignations over the allegations, though several, including leadership and editorial boards from across the state, said these legislators should step down from their seat. Some even called for House Speaker Crisanta Duran to step down from her position because she promoted Lebsock to a chairmanship despite knowing there was an incident between him and Winter.

The transparency piece has yet to be addressed by state lawmakers, and it’s unclear whether any policy or legislative changes will address that in the coming months. But for what it’s worth, the women who have broken their silence about sexual harassment in the Legislature are supportive of the changes leadership has discussed.

“I’m encouraged to see the direction leadership is taking when it comes to developing new and independent methods of dealing with complaints of sexual harassment at the Capitol,” said Esgar, who still hasn’t named the colleague she said grabbed her thigh at a legislative event earlier this year. “I’m hopeful that new ideas are still being formulated and considered, when it comes to ways to change the culture itself.”

The lawmaker added that a new session will certainly mean new ideas will come to light, “it’s our responsibility to lead the state in changing cultures to help make work environments safe and productive for all employees on every level.”

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