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Pueblo County Jail faces two problems, only one can be fixed with voter approval



Pueblo County Jail is experiencing a perfect storm. That’s how sheriff Kirk Taylor describes it.

On the inside there are leaky pipes, walls held together by steel hinges, cots cover the floors. Those reports have been fairly common for the last year, and Taylor hasn’t been shy about letting people have a look at what he and his deputies experience day in and day out.

But those stories weren’t enough to convince Pueblo voters last month to raise the sales tax nine-twentieths of a cent, which would raise around $10.6 million each year for 30 years in an effort to build a new jail.

“I do know at some point we will be forced legally to deal with this. One of the largest issues we have needed to tackle in county government is and has been the county jail,” said Pueblo County Commissioner Garrison Ortiz, who led a task force over the past year on the issue, in a statement after Election Day.

“I’ve done my very best to present what the task force felt to be the best long-term fiscally responsible option, but I ultimately work for the people and I respect their voice in this election. I will continue to do all I can to improve public safety and support the men and women that work in our detention facility every day.”

Taylor too said he supports the decision of Pueblo County voters, but voting down the ballot question didn’t make his problems go away.

When Taylor looks at what options he has to alleviate his problems, he typically starts the conversation with, “well, it’s two-fold.”

On one hand, Taylor said there are ways to decrease the number of inmates in the jail at one time. Sometimes the facility holds upwards of 700 people in the jail built to house 509 inmates.

“Average length of stay is over double the state average, and so I think there’s some things we can do to affect that,” Taylor said. “We can get our inmates to court faster and get them adjudicated. That looks like additional prosecutors, less continuances granted by the court system and less frivolous motions filed by the public defenders.”

Those are just a few ways the sheriff, who’s been through two failed ballot questions that asked voters to increase taxes for a new jail, thinks can help keep the number of inmates in his jail at or below capacity.

Next year there may be some relief. That’s if an interim committee that was created to study county courthouse funding and jail overcrowding gets any of its legislation passed.

Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, chairs the committee. He said he knew of Pueblo’s jail overcrowding problem. In his district Archuleta County, which currently doesn’t have a functioning jail, has been facing similar woes. But he didn’t know other counties face overcrowding. Alamosa’s jail hits capacity at 90 inmates. Last April, it was holding between 130 and 140 inmates. Other counties such as Gilpin, Jackson and Lake were holding slightly more inmates than they’re capacity.

“It was kind of a brush fire that’s been burning for quite a while but with all the opioids and the escalated crime, it worked itself into a full burn,” he said.

One of the bills the committee plans to introduce to the legislature in 2018 would make $30 million available for jails. The underfunded courthouse facility cash fund would be expanded to include jails, offer grants for up to 50 percent of a county’s annual voter-approved debt service and create low-interest loans to help with capital construction or remodeling costs at county jails.

Coram said he feels optimistic about the legislation.

Though, the money would be a fraction of what’s needed to build a new jail in Pueblo, and current estimates from county officials put costs at around $150 million over the next decade if current conditions continue.

Another bill the committee plans to introduce would set the cost of holding a Colorado Department of Corrections inmate in a county jail after 72 hours at $108.78 per day.

Allison Daley, a policy a legislative and policy advocate for Colorado Counties Inc., said DOC has been a significant contributing factor in county jail overcrowding, partially because DOC itself has been overcrowded and so county jails have had to hold more inmates for longer periods of time.

DOC even rented a facility to help with the overcrowding, she said, adding that an important part of the puzzle is that the state agency has enough resources so that county jails aren’t overwhelmed as a consequence.

Taylor said DOC holds haven’t been as much of a problem for the Pueblo County Jail. But within the last two years there have been some problems with DOC delaying picking up inmates.

Other contributing factors to jail overcrowding are actually created through legislation, Daley said. Any kind of sentencing increase may impact a county jail.

But in Pueblo County one of the bigger claims has been that the district attorney’s office doesn’t have enough resources to get people through the criminal justice system fast enough to keep the jail at or below capacity.

Daley said she’s heard that anecdotal claim, but there isn’t any solid data to support it. Pueblo District Attorney Jeff Chostner didn’t return calls as of press time, but has in the past said it’s hard to convince attorneys to take jobs in his office. That’s what he claimed prompted the hirings of his daughter and son in law.

This year in Mesa County, voters overwhelmingly supported a public safety tax that benefits law enforcement officers and the district attorney’s office. In the past, Pueblo has struggled over what resources should go where.

This year Pueblo voters approved a one-fifth cent sales tax was approved, which will put 24 more Pueblo police officers on the streets. The measure was the evolution of past failed measures that aimed to include several projects. Last year, there was squabble over whether a public safety sales tax hike should help fund the district attorney’s office, typically a county responsibility.

Lori Winner, a Pueblo City Councilwoman who championed the measure, said she doesn’t believe more officers on the streets will mean an increase in people in the Pueblo County Jail, but rather there will be more proactive policing. She highlighted a recent deal Pueblo approved with Douglas County. Municipal offenders are now being shipped there to serve time instead of the Pueblo County Jail, which accepts no municipal offenders from the city.

As for processing more offenders, Winner said she doesn’t think the DA’s office will see an increase either. If anything, she said “the two dozen new officers will help push some criminals out.”

“I used to go weeks without seeing a police officer,” said Winner, adding that last year there were 183 police officers, the same number as there were in 1974.

Now there are 200 officers, 12 in the academy and another two dozen on the way.

But deterred crime, legislation and an appropriately funded DA’s office can’t fix the greatest issue facing Pueblo’s jail: a 40-year-old jail that Taylor says is becoming a safety issue for his staff and inmates.

“Regardless of anything else, we still need a new jail just based up on the infrastructure,” Taylor said. “A lot of little things that may have a short-term impact, the long-term solution is still a new a facility.”

And for that, Daley said the state has a limited role to play.

“In counties with newer jails it really was up to the locals,” she said, adding that it was a bit of a personal disappoint to her that the county measure failed because it included innovative, proactive solutions, such as turning the currently overbooked jail into a health facility focused on treating opioid addiction, another major problem the city and county faces.

With no immediate funding, not enough public support and one solution that keeps dominating the conversation, it’s unclear what the future holds for the jail beyond the possibility of legislation alleviating the overcrowding part of the problem.

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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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