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January 8, 2014

The Year of What Could Be

In the first column of last year I declared 2013 as the “Year of Personal Responsibility”, in keeping with that theme let’s make 2014 the “Year of What Could Be”. There is a catch here, for What Could Be to be more than a dream we need to have embraced the concept of Personal Responsibility.

What Could Be will mean something different to everyone and, in fact, in my case it means several different things depending on what part of my life is under the microscope.

I’m pretty good at What Could Be when it comes to projects around the house, that list is always percolating in the back of my mind. By the half way point of this year I’ll be surprised if I don’t have a tool shed to get the lawnmower out of the garage and the wheelbarrow out of the snow. Recently shared a What Could Be with my wife about moving a couple of walls to make a very small living room bigger, of course that meant shifting the kitchen about 6 feet . That one got moved to the What Won’t Be list, it’s ok to have that list too. You can’t do everything all at once.

But more to the spirit of Personal Responsibility, as a husband What Could Be would undoubtedly mean paying more attention to my wife, especially when she is talking to me. As a father of grown or mostly grown children What Could Be would be keeping up with what the kids are doing, how are things at work, encouraging them as they raise my grandkids. Neither would cost much, it would take a little effort on my part but really not that much. Actually focusing on the words being spoken and a phone call every now and then would go a long way.

At work What Could Be for me might be grand projects or in the trenches – keep your head down – determination to keep up the good fight. There are some of both in the works right now and at some point the grand projects all take a lot of in the trenches work.

I’ve learned that in figuring out What Could Be you sometimes need a few tools or skills not in your hip pocket. It’s OK to bring the additional resources into the equation to get to What Could Be but in the end it is about deciding to pursue it.

It may take more than the halfway point of this year to get to your What Could Be – in fact I would hope so or you aren’t dreaming big enough, but 6 months from now we might have a few checked off and know if we are making progress towards another.

September 18, 2013

Constitution Day

Signed September 17, 1887 and becoming effective on June 21, 1888, the U.S. Constitution stands as the oldest written document of its kind in the history of mankind

Often unheralded, September 17 is Constitution Day. Combined with Citizenship Day its roots date back to 1940 when congress created “I Am an American Day”. In 1956 congress declared September 17 as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.

The inspired work of the authors and signers of the U.S. Constitution defines the proper relationship between free citizens and their government. It is only through strict adherence to that document that generations that followed and are yet to come are able to maintain that balance where the people retain the ultimate power and government has only the powers granted to it by those people.

Every elected official at all levels of government takes an oath of office where they swear to stay within the limitations of the powers granted in the United States Constitution. And further, ask God to be his or her witness and strength in carrying out official duties in a manner that preserves and protects the unalienable rights of its citizens.

This year as we celebrate the 226th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution and the fact that we are citizens of the U.S.of A. it is appropriate to give thanks that we are blessed to have been born into or had and took the opportunity to become naturalized citizens of such a great country.

Secondly, we need to all take our responsibility as citizens to preserve the constitution by electing representatives at all levels that will continue to preserve our freedoms. Especially in times like these it is important to remember a government that is powerful enough to guarantee your safety is also powerful enough to take away your freedoms.

June 19, 2013

Black Forest Fire

Driving the roads in Black Forest, it is absolutely heart breaking when you think that every burned home represents the hopes and dreams of a person, a couple or a family and it all went up in smoke – literally.

Final numbers won’t be in for a while but 22 square miles (over 14,000 acres) burned along with 500 homes plus or minus and as yet uncounted outbuildings like garages, barns, sheds and even greenhouses. Given the number of residents that initially refused to evacuate we are fortunate that only two people lost their lives and all indications are they were in the process of evacuating and just didn’t make it.

There are some records you don’t want to set. 38,000 people on mandatory evacuation is a Colorado record. Last year’s Waldo Canyon fire with 18,000 acres and 347 homes was the most destructive fire in Colorado’s history. Now it appears El Paso County is home to the two most destructive fires in Colorado’s history and in consecutive years.

With the day starting with 6 a.m. briefings and moving from meeting to meeting, stopping by the Emergency Operations Center, Joint Information Center, Incident Command Post and Disaster Assistance Center, everything else on my calendar just disappeared. I did get a chance to take a quick pass though emails Saturday morning but know I am behind in phone messages.

Manned around the clock, except the Disaster Assistance Center which is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., those operations centers are staffed by professionals, volunteers and reassigned county staff, all were at their post at the assigned times treating Saturday and Fathers Day just like they had the previous three and ever how many more may come.

The evacuee number is steadily decreasing as the fire zone and threat continue to decrease. Families are being allowed back to their homes but there will be some 500 families with no home to go back to and others with smoke damage so severe that they will not be able to stay until it is mitigated. So as we learned with Waldo, the disaster is not over when the fire is out we just move to the next phase.

Utilities, building officials, Health Department, DOT, and a host of others are working to ensure when people are allowed back to their homes in the burned area the roads are safe, water and sanitation facilities exist and safe disposal sites are set up for spoiled food. And all are working daylight to dusk and beyond to make certain there is minimal delay in getting these people home.

Trees, houses and even family heirlooms burned but community survived. The Black Forest community is wounded and hurting but it will heal, it will flourish and it will always be the Black Forest.

February 13, 2013

Peeking Under the Gold Dome

“No man’s life, liberty or property is safe while the Congress is in session” attributed to Mark Twain (Originally penned in a court decision by Judge Gideon Tucker) it seems to resonate with generation after generation.

One of the bad things about congress is it has 435 members and can’t seem to get anything done. One of the good things about congress is it has 435 members and can’t seem to get anything done. The Colorado State Legislature on the other hand…

With 100 members, 35 in the Senate and 65 in the House, it only takes 18 in the Senate and 33 in the House to get something done. And the legislature is in session.

From one side of the aisle came the bill that said if a business does not allow firearms – concealed or otherwise – on the premises, it must provide one armed security guard for every 50 people in the establishment. Or it could be held liable for events like the one at the movie theater in Aurora.

Last I heard I had a choice as to whether to patronize establishments that banned guns or didn’t. That bill suffered a quick defeat.

The other side of the aisle put forward a bill that would make gun manufacturers liable if a firearm they manufactured was used to kill someone.

This appears to be the “full employment act” for attorneys. After all, if this is well and good for firearms the same must be said about automobiles or pharmaceuticals which kill many times more people a year than guns. Unfortunately I don’t expect this bill to suffer a quick defeat.

Both of these bills were introduced by State Senators from Colorado Springs. With over 500 bills introduced each year there are many that we can be thankful never survive their first contact with a committee. But many bad bills make it to the House or Senate floor. Some are important enough that it is necessary to testify in person to let the legislators know the consequences of their vote – be that good or bad.

That said, I have made a few trips to Denver and the Gold Dome already this session and expect several more in the next 84 days. And on May the 8th when the legislature adjourns we can go back to focusing on what Congress is doing to our lives, liberty and property.

March 23, 2011

Water Quality and the EPA

Last week was about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new rules on air quality. Not to pick on the EPA, but their proposed rules for waste water treatment are just as onerous. This time it is the nutrients Nitrogen and Phosphorus that are being targeted.

With the LFMSDD (Lower Fountain Metropolitan Sewage Disposal District) presently constructing a new regional treatment plant, and Security, Widefield and Fountain all operating plants, the impact to the monthly bills of every Fountain Valley resident could be significant.

The way it stands right now the proposed new standards could add 20 to 30 million dollars to the cost of the new treatment facility and upgrading an existing plant could increase your waste water bill by 50 percent, so if you are currently paying $20 it would rise to $30 each month.
In the case of water regulations there is a working group looking at these regulations that has recommended a more reasonable limit that would require upgrades in the mere 5 million dollar range for plants the size of ours here in the valley.

Once again there are many sources of nitrogen and phosphorus, many naturally occurring and many connected with agriculture, and waste water treatment plants contribute a very small percentage of the overall loading of these nutrients in our watershed. Even if you remove them completely the problem is not solved so once again, mathematically, this just won’t get us there. Not that waste water treatment plants should or want a pass on this problem, as one board member recently stated “if we are contaminating the water it is our job to fix it”.

As an interesting side question, since expenditures of this size likely will require borrowing, and debt requires a vote of the people in Colorado, what happens to the daily fines if the EPA finds a facility is out of compliance but the voters have rejected borrowing the money needed to solve the problem?

November 10, 2010

Armistice Day

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 a temporary cessation of hostilities ended “the war to end all wars”. The formal treaty ending World War I was signed June 28, 1919. President Wilson declared November 11 Armistice Day that same year stating it “…will be filled with solemn pride for those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory…”

Congress went on to pass a resolution memorializing the end of WWI in 1926, in 1938 it became a federal holiday and in 1954 at the urging of veterans who fought in WWII and Korea Congress modified the resolution changing it to Veterans Day, thus honoring all veterans who fought in the service of their country.

The El Paso County Commissioners were pleased to pass their annual Veterans Day Resolution on Tuesday the 9th honoring service members of all branches of the military. Thursday the 11th will find many of as at one or more of the many memorial services being held around the county.

President Wilson’s original proclamation stated the day to be celebrated with parades, public meetings and a brief suspension of work at 11:00. The Colorado Springs Veterans Day Parade last week end was one of the largest in the nation, both in terms of entries and spectators. The spirit of “solemn pride” for those who served and died in the country’s service is alive and well in El Paso County.

A heartfelt thank you to all who have worn the uniform and to those who supported them.

May 14, 2008

Fort Irwin National Training Center

This past week Fort Carson took a group of civic and governmental leaders to the 640,000 acre National Training Center at Fort Irwin California. In tow were Congressional and Senatorial aides, County Commissioners, Chamber of Commerce folks, a County Administrator, and civilian liaison to the military. We were spread out pretty evenly between El Paso, Pueblo, Otero and Las Animas counties.

Fort Carson had 3,368 2nd BCT/4thID soldiers that were culminating their 14 days “in the box”- actual training time in what we would call “down range”. When you include the time spent getting their equipment to and from the railhead 35 miles from the training center, they will have been gone from home about a month and will be leaving for Iraq within 90 days of getting back home from Fort Irwin.

Fort Irwin is the “finishing school” of training with permanent Iraqi villages, hundreds of Iraqis as role players providing soldiers with realistic interaction with mayors, police chiefs, and tribal leaders. Our group became part of the training when the UN decals were placed on the side of our vans. Just one more thing soldiers have to work with and around as they carry out their mission in Iraq. I learned the meaning of several new acronyms and heard many more that I trust had meaning, or the senior NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) were just perpetuating an inside joke at our expense.

While the electronic capabilities are not as exciting as IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) blowing up just down the street or taking cover during a sniper attack (think laser tag on steroids), they are a marvel to behold. With cameras on everything from light poles to balloons to unmanned aerial drones and the capability to stream those pictures plus satellite images into a FOB (Forward Operating Base) allows a central command to direct operations taking place hundreds of miles apart.

Something the OC (Operation and Control) folks stressed during our last briefing was “The better trained the soldiers are when they arrive at Fort Irwin the more they get out of it”. In other words, if the training they receive at their home post is very good and as realistic as possible they can leave the National Training Center the best trained and most prepared soldiers of the finest and most formidable army in the world.

While the training area was the highlight, we did spend time, complete with power points, discussing how Fort Irwin contracts with local businesses, since the nearest community is 40 miles away and has a population of 24,0000.

Thank you, General Graham, LTC Dean Dunham and Capt Gregory Dorman for the invitation, for an extremely educational trip and for the chance to discuss military issues with our counterparts in the southern part of the state.

September 5, 2007

Government has been contracting with the private sector for years, in fact private companies have been contracting with other private companies since the days of bartering. Contracting for janitorial services is more common than not. Outsourcing payroll is widespread, security may be contracted to a company with licensed, trained and insured professionals, and the list goes on.

At a recent “Limited Government” conference I visited with the City Manager of Sandy Springs, Georgia, he and his administrative assistant are the only two employees in a town of over 87,000. They have a primary contract with CH2M HILL who employs several people directly and manages contracts for other services. For a fee, Fulton County provides police and fire protection, local contractors repair roads, code enforcement and the planning review folks are CH2M HILL employees and the 24 hour 7 day a week “reception number” is contracted to a call center. Sandy Springs estimates it is saving 20 million annually using this method.

Given that all private companies desire to make a profit, the question arises as to how they could provide services at less cost. In reality there are times where certain expertise, equipment, or even time can be shared and management of those resources can be spread out over multiple entities. There does not seem to be a case where the Department of Transportation has been totally privatized in an area where snow removal is a major responsibility. Currently though, the bulk of El Paso County’s DOT budget goes to contractors for major maintenance and construction projects. Jails have been privatized off and on through the years, a few successfully, several not. To my knowledge no one has tried to contract out the Assessors Office or the Treasurer, but several other counties contract with our Coroner to perform their autopsies.

As Colorado’s most populace county and a total of 11 county elected officials, El Paso is not a likely candidate for 100% privatization. Like those businesses that outsource support services so they can focus on their core product, we can look at contracting some traditional employee jobs just as we recently did in the Human Resources department. We had a Director and Employment Services Manager supervising and dealing with the difficult cases in addition to the $38,000 we spent on outside attorney consulting fees for the HR Department. We eliminated the top two positions leaving a manager level position and the support staff. We will increase the contract with a private employment services company who will handle the difficult cases and continue to take care of the more run of the mill cases in house with existing staff. We expect to save about 200 thousand dollars.

Dropping a zero, to paraphrase a common expression in congress; a hundred thousand here and a hundred thousand there and the next thing you know you are talking about real money.

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