Connect with us

Colorado

Dubworks closure raises questions how Pueblo monitors companies receiving half-cent money

Published

on

The phone numbers for Dubworks, a cabinet company with a manufacturing facility in Pueblo, are disconnected. And the downtown warehouse where Dubworks has operated since 2013 sports an eviction notice for not paying more than $26,000 in rent.

Four years ago, there were high hopes that the Erie-based company would do well in Pueblo. So well, in fact, the city put money behind the company in the form of a loan from the half-cent sales tax fund, which is reserved for companies that agree to contribute primary jobs to Pueblo’s economy.

Dubworks agreed to create 25 jobs in its manufacturing facility, and in return the City of Pueblo would loan Dubworks $545,000 for equipment.

Today, Dubworks has shut its doors and the city has sent notice to Dubworks that it intends to retrieve the equipment that was bought with the loan.

In May, the City of Pueblo, couldn’t, or wouldn’t, answer questions of whether Dubworks had closed, how many jobs the company created and if they had started to repay any of their loan. The case of Dubworks presents bigger questions of how closely the companies the city incentivizes to set up shop in Pueblo are monitored and whether there is a set process for following up with these businesses.

Pueblo’s Assistant City Manager of Finance Lara Keys, told PULP her office had not received any reporting from Dubworks and therefore could not comment on the status of Dubworks.

“In this case, we have not received any reports, so I simply don’t have any answers. My department (finance) only knows what is reported,” Keys said in an email.

Keys recommended talking to city attorney Dan Kogovsek, whose office is tasked with writing the contracts between the city and the businesses accepting half-cent sales tax funds, or the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation, which recruits businesses to Pueblo, about the status of Dubworks.

Kogovsek would not comment in person or through the city’s public information officer about the status of Dubworks lack of reporting to the city, which is required in the contract.

PULP confirmed the city’s intent to collect collateral after filing a Colorado Open Records Act request. The letter was dated March 24, 2017.

Per the contract, Dubworks was supposed to begin repaying the city for the loan on the second anniversary of the employment date — that would have been in April 2016. The employment commitment date, stated in the contract, was April 1, 2014.

Roni Kimbrel, the city’s director of finance, said the department tries to make contact with companies that have half-cent sales tax contracts with the city twice a year. The exception, she said, would be that a company is in a “ramp-up period” — the time before a company would have to begin reporting to the city their employment numbers to be in compliance with the contract.

It does not appear that Dubworks would still be in a ramp-up period, according to the city contract, which says the repayment period would be from the “second anniversary of the employment commitment date and and ending 84 months thereafter.”

But, upon being asked, Kogovsek would not confirm whether Dubworks was still in ramp-up period — which isn’t defined in the contract — or even hypothetically when and how the city would begin checking in on companies that have received half-cent sales tax loans.

The contract adds that Dubworks was to submit to the city’s Director of Finance company statements showing quarterly employment and their annual salary. The contract dictated that the 25 employees were to make approximately $57,000 each year.

Little is known about where Dubworks stood with the city when the company closed, as the city reports there are no reports and nobody to answer questions of the company’s relationship with the city.

An employee of the city clerk’s office said if PULP requested any kind of report through the Colorado Open Records act it would be of little help as there were no reports to request.

PEDCO, which works closely with the city to recruit and recommend an incentive package, has next to no involvement in the reporting or repayment stages.

But the economic development corporation does have a number of companies that benefit from the half-cent sales tax that get involved in the organization. Many of the board members are employed by those recruited companies.

“We do try and stay engaged with any company we recruit. We focus a lot of our efforts on retention regardless if it is a company we were involved in recruiting or expanding,” said PEDCO CEO and President Jeff Shaw in a statement to PULP about Dubworks and the engagement PEDCO has with companies after receiving an incentive package from the city.

“Most companies welcome any assistance. It is frustrating when any company in Pueblo does not make it. We have considerable amount of talent and expertise that can help a company be successful. Some companies take advantage of this and some unfortunately do not.”

This is not the first time questions have surrounded Dubworks and the half-million dollars it was loaned from the city.

After Dubworks received the loan, Quality Custom Woodwork owner Cheri Bucciarelli claimed the city and PEDCO had under-vetted Dubworks. The half-cent sales tax fund is not to be spent on companies that compete with existing companies located in the City of Pueblo.

But Bucciarelli told PULP she lost at least two jobs in the few months after Dubworks opened in Pueblo, one a $60,000 job.

Then, PEDCO wouldn’t comment on its vetting process, but Pueblo City Council President Steve Nawrocki did say it was the first time something of that nature — loaning money to a competing business — had ever happened that he was aware of.

Bucciarelli always anticipated competition, but not from a company that got a boost with her own tax money, she said.

Since November Bucciarelli has heard the murmurings of Dubworks weakening fiscal health, but couldn’t confirm anything of her competitor.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

News

The #WhatNow of #MeToo for the #COLeg

Published

on

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.”

Continue Reading

News

Overdose overload: Addicts in distress put the strain on first responders

Published

on

The opioid and heroin epidemic has created a growing number of drug overdoses, which are taking their toll on first responders in southern Colorado’s urban and rural areas – first responders who are charged with administering initial treatment at the scene and transporting distressed addicts to hospitals.

Brandon Costerison, who is a spokesman for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and based out of the St. Louis area, says there are two trends coming out of the opioid and heroin epidemic. The first is positive: Hospitals, once overdosed addicts are brought to their facilities for initial treatment, have been more and more able to put those addicts into long-term treatment programs with the help of community support. Costerison likens overdoses to heart attacks in that essential follow-up treatments concentrating on “high blood pressure and all the other things that caused the heart attack” are needed for preventing heart failures in the future. He adds that not all communities, particularly those in rural areas, can offer follow-up treatments for addicts who overdosed and who often leave the hospitals and/or incarceration without getting the treatment they need to get off drugs and prevent future overdoses.

The second trend, though, is most disparaging: the high number of overdosing addicts has put a strain on first responders to get overdose patients through emergency room doors. Costerison says that emergency medical technicians have about two to three hours to get opioid addicts who overdose to the hospital. He adds that he has relatives in the Pueblo area and wonders about the toll put on EMTs in southeast Colorado’s rural areas, where the nearest medical facility could be as far as 45 miles away or even greater.

Third strike, and done?

As for the toll overdoses take on a community in terms of dollars and cents, Costerison refers to a June 28th story appearing on the USA Today website about an Ohio town that has suffered such financial losses from repeat opioid overdose calls that its city council morbidly discussed a three-strikes rule. Middletown, Ohio, which has less than half the population of Pueblo, actually ruminated over leaving a distressed opioid addict for dead if that person was treated and taken to the hospital by the city’s EMTs for an overdose two times prior.

The city council cited, among other things, the high cost of Narcan, the drug used to counter the effects of an opioid overdose. “That somebody’s life is only worth a few bucks is really disconcerting,” Costerison says.

A call last month to Middletown city media representative Shelby Quinlivan humanely revealed that the three-strikes discussion “went nowhere” and the councilman who brought up the idea did not get re-elected and will leave his post this month.

Thankfully, a discussion like the one had by the Middleton City Council would be highly improbable in Pueblo.

Pueblo Fire Chief Shawn Shelton explains that, although his firefighters are also trained as EMTs, they don’t take anyone to the hospital and in at least some cases don’t administer Narcan. He says the City of Pueblo contracts with a Greenwood Village-based national company called American Medical Response or AMR for those services. (AMR has a similar contract with Canon City.)

In AMR’s hands

In regards to opioid and heroin overdoses, Pueblo firefighters and police officers usually arrive at the scene first, then call AMR, which sends EMTs and an ambulance. The AMR EMTs in many cases administer the Narcan and then transport the overdose patient to the hospital. AMR then bills the patient or the patient’s insurance provider for the Narcan and services rendered. The only expense for the city is for the firefighters to call and observe the AMR EMTs, and those firefighters would be on duty anyway.

Also Shelton’s firefighters have observed that, like in Middletown, there have been a number of addicts in Pueblo who repeatedly overdose, but figures on just how many were not readily available.

As an aside, the fire chief says Narcan, which is also known by the generic name naloxone, is only a temporary fix that lasts a relatively short time before the negative symptoms of the overdose – vomiting, dizziness, seizures, etc. – return. Shelton says addicts often get angry after the Narcan is administered (to help save their lives) because it interrupts or ruins the heroin high for which they paid a lot of money to buy on the street.

Mike Lening is operations manager for AMR’s South Region, which serves Pueblo, most of Pueblo County (except for Rye and Beulah), and Fremont County. He says an increase in opioid overdoses across his region “makes it tougher” on his company’s resources (EMTs and equipment). As for the cost of treating overdosing addicts, who most often cannot pay for AMR’s services, Lening says his EMTs do not curtail their services based on someone’s perceived inability to pay for them. He adds that sometimes in rural areas his EMTs have to transport patients to hospitals that are “up to 45 minutes to an hour away.”

As for the urban area, Lening says AMR has seen “a little bit of a spike” in opioid overdose calls in the city of Pueblo recently.

By the numbers

Although Lening says he cannot come up with the total number overdoses his EMTs treat during any given time frame, the Pueblo Fire Department was able to come up with statistics relating to the number of times Narcan has been administered in the presence the city’s firefighters during their calls. Pueblo Fire Inspector Erik Duran, who is also the fire department’s information officer, provided a chart that shows in 2014 either firefighters, AMR EMTs or Pueblo police officers administered Narcan during calls labeled as drug overdoses and alcohol and other poisonings 69 times. Duran explains that roughly 95 percent of those calls are in fact overdoses. That number increases dramatically in 2015 to 92 calls, then goes down to 73 calls in 2016, and back up again to 84 calls from January 1st to mid-December of last year. Other calls during which Narcan was administered, which might have been overdoses, are those in which the victim was unconscious or near unconscious at the scene and there was no telltale paraphernalia when first responders arrived, so the victim’s medical condition could not be immediately ascertained. In those calls, AMR EMTs took over treatment. Those numbers are 32 such calls in 2014, also 32 in 2015, 48 in 2016 and 37 during most of last year. And yet during other city fire department calls, which again might have been overdoses, the victim received Narcan during treatment and died at the scene. The numbers for those calls are two in 2014, one in 2015, six in 2016 and five for most of 2017.

Rural areas not immune

EMT resources in rural areas are being stretched, to say the least. Alamosa Police Department Capt. Samuel Maestas says that the cost of opioid overdose calls for his city had been steadily on the rise until they “flat-lined” recently when the city took advantage of a state grant giving rural areas the funds to purchase Narcan. The move also allows Alamosa police officers, who are usually the first to arrive at the scene of an overdose, to administer the drug before EMTs from San Luis Valley Health arrive to transport addicts to the hospital thereby taking fire department personnel out of the picture in most instances. San Luis Valley Health provides emergency medical response, through its Alamosa Ambulance Service, for the city of Alamosa and all of Alamosa County.

Ted Andersen is the director of the Alamosa Ambulance Service and he estimates that his company’s emergency call volumes for overdoses have increased by roughly 24 percent from the start of 2015 to the beginning of last month. Andersen says, “We almost don’t have enough ambulances to handle all the overdose calls,” adding that the cost of keeping those ambulances stocked with Narcan is astronomical. Also, Andersen says he needs more EMTs because of the heroin and opioid crisis, and EMTs are in short supply mainly because they require four years of training – much like registered nurses do.

Andersen explains that most of the distressed addicts his EMTs encounter are transients (homeless and from out of state). He adds that many of them are repeat, to coin a phrase, overdosers, who­ – once they are hospitalized – refuse the long-term treatment that would get them off heroin and opioids for good.

Andersen theorizes that addicts come to Colorado without jobs because they know marijuana is legal here and surmise local officials are lenient when it comes to other drugs. He says he has heard that Pueblo, Colorado Springs, and even Denver are dealing with the same issue.

At the scene of the overdose, the EMTs usually encounter an addict who is either not breathing or having seizures. Andersen says EMTs are putting their lives at risk because, once the Narcan is administered, the addict becomes hostile. “It’s like they’re saying, ‘Hey, man, you just ruined my $200 high. Thank you very much!’” he says. Then the punching and kicking begins.

Andersen says his EMTs now wear protective vests to counter these violent reactions. To avoid conflict at the scene in the first place, the EMTs, if possible, try to clear the patient’s airway and get him or her stabilized without using Narcan. Andersen says they save the Narcan treatment for the emergency room, where the environment is more controlled.

What to do?

Southeast Colorado’s first responders are seeing their resources being stretched to the limit when it comes to handling overdose patients – many of whom are repeatedly coming into contact with EMTs because they refuse long-term treatment. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse’s Costerison says in St. Louis the opposite is true. They have overdose patients who want treatment and can’t get it largely because Missouri, unlike Colorado, has not expanded its Medicaid program making long-term treatment unaffordable to most addicts. Yet Costerison says St. Louis has instituted a peer program whereby addicts, once they are done with initial overdose treatments and are in recovery, receive bedside counseling from former addicts who also have been through overdoses. Costerison says the peer program has been more effective at urging distressed addicts into long-term treatment than suggestions that they should get help by medical professionals who have not been through the addicts’ ordeals.

However, St. Louis has a population of almost three times that of Pueblo, so it might be difficult for Pueblo and particularly the smaller communities in southeast Colorado to find enough recovered addicts to be on call whenever an overdose occurs. So a solution to the problem of overdosing addicts may remain elusive for some time. Meanwhile, first responders are risking life and limb and taxing their resources to save opioid addicts from themselves.

Continue Reading

News

The uncertain Trumpian in Colorado: State Representative Judy Reyher’s barbed politics and unknown positions

Published

on

It’s unclear what plans newly appointed Rep. Judy Reyher, R-Swink, has for the legislative session or whether political fallout will follow the firestorm her controversial and racially-charged Facebook posts caused in November.

State Representative HD-47 Judy Reyher. (Photo Facebook)

One post singled out African Americans as “hatred-filled beings.” In another, Reyher, the former Otero County Republican Party chair, said she wanted to “bitch slap” every person who voted for Barack Obama. Other shared posts and memes challenged Obama’s citizenship. When questioned about the posts, she later told a Denver Post reporter, “the black community and the Democrats are the most racist group of people that exist,” and saying blacks “hate white people with a passion.”

Reyher later apologized for the posts in a letter to the Denver Post, asserting that she is not racist and embraces diversity.

PULP reached out to Reyher numerous times, by phone and email, asking what her plans were for the legislative session, which will begin mid-January, because her district — which includes Otero, Pueblo and Fremont counties — faces issues much different than the ones of urban Denver and western Colorado.

It’s unclear what bills Reyher will carry. She didn’t return messages. One major question is her stance on alternative energy. One of Reyher’s shared posts was an article about the “Utter Complete Total Fraud of Wind Energy.” HD47 borders the Pueblo Vestas plant, which employs hundreds in the region, several likely living in her district.

The 2018 legislative session is also slated to be hot with partisan bills, as many lawmakers are facing elections and carry bills that aim to satisfy the political base, even if they don’t stand a chance of reaching the governor’s desk.

Reyher was appointed to her seat in House District 47 by fellow GOP members to replace former Rep. Clarice Navarro, a staunch Trump supporter who vouched for now-president through 2016 and took Pueblo chile to the inauguration.

Navarro was tapped to serve under the Trump administration as the executive director of the Colorado Farm Service Agency. While in the legislature, the southern Colorado native sponsored a variety of bills ranging from crime to transparency in schools. Few were specific to challenges that rural Colorado face, such as healthcare, broadband access and economic development. though she did sign on to and voted for bills related to those topics.

Whether Reyher’s statements will be an issue or distraction when it comes time to rally the troops in the House is unclear. Colorado GOP Chairman Jeff Hays wouldn’t say one way or another.

“I’m disinclined to stand in public judgment of legislators’ comments. Making myself the arbiter of controversial statements, however ridiculous or offensive, would set a bad precedent and distract from the chairman’s primary mission,” Hays said in a statement. “I will repeat what my administration has said before, which is that legislators speak for themselves and their constituents, not for the party. That’s true when the press is good and when it’s bad.”

But some other Republicans aren’t as indifferent.

Pueblo Republican Tamra Axworthy, who challenged Reyher on being elected to the seat by her fellow party members, said the party is unified, but called the questionable Facebook posts damaging.

Axworthy lost the appointment by one vote, also stirring controversy.

“I believe that on the most important issues we are united. Things like restoring the American dream, defending the constitution, government reform, and honoring our veterans are all things Republicans agree on,” she said in an email. “Judy’s remarks on social media are harmful to our party and its image as they proved able to fuel animosity, feed the stereotypes, and discredit our progress. However, no one person, including Judy Reyher, has the power to divide us on things that matter.”

The Pueblo Republican said HD47’s big issue is the economy, whether that relates to education or water. And there isn’t as much of an emphasis on rural Colorado either, Axworthy added. But that’s because there are fewer rural legislators than urban ones.

“Unfortunately that makes them extremely outnumbered and quite unpopular as they so often have to vote contrary to the ‘party agenda’ in order to protect their districts,” she said.

Continue Reading

Trending