Kara Mason, Author at Colorado Politics
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Kara MasonKara MasonDecember 14, 20172min2960

A teacher at an Aurora middle school faced more than a month of administrative leave after complaints that a guest speaker in her social justice class was politically motivated, according to the Aurora Sentinel.

Some parents thought a guest speaker whom teacher Asia Lyons brought into her Sky Vista Middle School class focused on topics not suited for students of that age — such as sexual identity and sexual assault. Some of the materials for the class also allegedly used adult language.

While the parents wouldn’t initially respond to a request for comment from the Sentinel, the newspaper went on to get the parents’ letters through a Colorado Open Records Act request:

“Parent Ami Grube said in one letter that she was upset her child had to quote a video that included the word “hell.” She alleged that one of the videos used the slang abbreviation “WTF” when discussing the gender-pay gap. The letters also expressed frustration over what parents felt was the school administration’s apathy toward their complaints.”

The guest speaker, Dezy Saint-Nolde, also known as Queen Phoenix is an activist in Denver. She’s also facing a felony misdemeanor drug charge. The Sentinel reports she skipped out on her first court date.


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Kara MasonKara MasonDecember 11, 20173min2880

Colorado 50/50, a Fort Collins-based non-profit organization that focuses on putting more women in office, wants a complete overhaul of the Legislature’s workplace harassment policy, as multiple lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been at the center of sexual harassment allegations.

“The policy and the process are deeply flawed,” said organization founder Erin Hottenstein in a statement. “We are seeing problems at every step of the way from the initial reporting to the investigating to the decision-making.”

A news release from the organization said  the group researched the Legislature’s Joint Rule 38 and harassment policy. They also interviewed victims on experiences of filing formal complaints.

The group noted that what’s been reported might just be the tip of the iceberg.

“You shouldn’t need a bodyguard to work at the Capitol,” Hottenstein said. “The Legislature should be safe.”

Also of concern to the group is how little information is available to the public. Leaders in the House and the Senate haven’t been able to disclose even how many complaints they’ve received.

The Aurora Sentinel reported earlier this month that the publication sent two Colorado Open Records Act requests to the Capitol in search of a number but had no such luck in records or voluntary information from legislative leaders.

With little information, 50/50 said voters are essentially in the dark.

“The voters are ultimately responsible for taking action against poorly performing legislators. They cannot hold their elected officials accountable without this kind of information,” Hottenstein said. “Voters may even be unknowingly perpetuating sexual misconduct due to the secrecy currently in place.”

Next week, legislative leaders are meeting to discuss the possibility of hiring an independent consultant to review harassment policies.

“I hope that through this process and the input we will seek from a wide range of interested parties, we can make changes to our policies as needed to properly protect victims and handle issues of workplace harassment when they occur,” House Speaker Crisanta Duran told the Sentinel in a statement.

““There also should be safeguards to allow patterns of harassment to be clearly detected and handled appropriately.”


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Kara MasonKara MasonDecember 4, 20173min3480

It seems as if the small southeastern town of Trinidad is fine-tuning regulations for the industry that saved it from the “abyss of nothingness.”

Earlier this month, the Trinidad City Council decided to amend the way it charges a $25 fee for each pound of cultivated retail marijuana. Up until now the city’s fee called for the marijuana to be weighed after it was cut, not after it was dried.

That ultimately meant the cultivators were being charged more money for less marijuana.

The Trinidad Chronicle reports that the change is actually pretty substantial:

The original plan called for the cannabis to be weighed just after it was cut, that is, in a wet state. Because 80 percent of the weight of each cannabis plant is lost during the drying process, City Manager Greg Sund said he and city staff felt that placing the fee on wet weed would be unfair to its producers.

The council agreed unanimously on the change, and the Chronicle reports that the growers found the ordinance to be fair.

Cultivating hasn’t been a booming business for Trinidad so far. But it’s coming.

“The explanation that we were given was that quite a few of the growers are still in the start-up phases and they really haven’t done much harvesting yet,” said Sund. “Some of them have harvested and we’re getting reports from them. There’s one we had to correct in how he has to pay the fee, and he did pay that. Through the process we’ve made a correction.”

Nearly 8,200 people live in Trinidad, a town that was once bustling with the coal industry. Just north of the New Mexico border, the small city now relies on marijuana. Nearly 10 percent of the general fund is made up of marijuana tax revenue, according to a CNN report.


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Kara MasonKara MasonDecember 1, 20174min2010
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican, speaks at a meeting of the Colorado Republican Party central committee on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, at Colorado's Finest High School of Choice in Englewood. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)
Aurora Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman speaks at a meeting of the Colorado Republican Party central committee on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, at Colorado’s Finest High School of Choice in Englewood. (Photo by Ernest Luning/Colorado Politics)

Progressive coalition Not One Penny, which was established to fight GOP tax reform, is shelling out $200,000 in ads targeting Aurora Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman and his vote on the proposed tax plan.

The Aurora Sentinel reports the ad is part of a seven-figure nationwide campaign, $200,000 of that spent here in Denver broadcast and digital ad space.

“With this vote Congressman Coffman proved that he would rather do the bidding of his wealthy and well-connected campaign donors than do what’s right for Colorado’s working families,” said Not One Penny spokesman Tim Hogan. “The bill that Congressman Coffman helped ram through the House is a taxpayer-funded giveaway to millionaires, billionaires, and wealthy corporations, all at the expense of the middle class, and his constituents will not forget his vote.”


 

Related story: “National Democrats, pro-Obamacare group hammer Mike Coffman for vote supporting tax bill”

 


 

The ad features several statistics, all of which show the GOP tax plan, which could see a Senate vote soon, adversely impacting hundreds of thousands of Coloradans.

Not One Penny is also targeting Republicans in Iowa, California, Maine and New York. Hogan told the Sentinel the coalition will continue to target more lawmakers who support the tax bill.

So far, the attack ads have been very strategic. The Washington Post reported in August:

Starting today, the Not One Penny campaign includes a seven-figure ad buy in eight Republican-held congressional districts, all with large numbers of white voters without college degrees, who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 but have not historically been passionate about tax cuts.

Coffman’s campaign told the Sentinel the ad contains, “outright lies.”

“Despite his political opponents’ utter disregard for the truth, he will keep fighting to fix our broken tax system,” said Tyler Sandberg, a campaign spokesman for Coffman.

Coffman voted for the House version of the bill, saying in a statement he “always believed that simplifying our tax code and reducing the tax burden on hardworking families and businesses will promote job growth and higher wages in communities all across our country.”


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Kara MasonKara MasonNovember 29, 20173min1750

The spirit of two Colorado mountaineers is a little closer to living on in the form of mountains, with this week’s House passage of H.R. 2768.

CD3 U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner are working to pass a bill through Congress that would name two peaks on the border of San Miguel and Dolores Counties after Charlie Fowler and Christine Boskoff. Both died in 2006 during an avalanche on Genyen Peak in Tibet.

“Charlie Fowler and Christine Boskoff were celebrated mountaineers, but they were also known for their tireless advocacy for human rights, dedication to philanthropy, and stewardship of the environment,” Tipton said in a statement. “Through the designation of these peaks, their legacy and life’s work will live on for generations to come.”

The two peaks, located in Uncompahgre National Forest, are just more than 13,000 feet and will be called “Fowler Peak” and “Boskoff Peak,” respectively.

The duo were longtime residents of San Miguel County, according to the bill. But they loved mountaineering and traveled the world for it. Each had summited the world’s tallest mountains, including Everest, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma.

Fowler was an author, guide and filmmaker, according to the bill. Boskoff was one of the country’s top female alpinists.

Both were also known as advocates. They supported rights of porters and Sherpas, women’s education, gender equality and global literacy.

“The two are remembered not only as internationally acclaimed climbers, but also as mentors to school students and troubled youth,” said San Miguel County Commissioner Joan May in a statement in May. “Naming these peaks for them would serve as a perpetual reminder of the couple’s contributions to climbing, youth, and protecting the outdoors.”

With the passage of the bill, all documents, maps and records will refer to the two peaks by their new names.


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Kara MasonKara MasonNovember 28, 20173min2630

Typically a quiet Monday night at Aurora City Hall wouldn’t be news. But this week the city council chose to cancel a study session meeting altogether because the group couldn’t decide on what it wanted to meet about.

Originally Mayor Steve Hogan had planned for some of the new council members to have an orientation of sorts with the current council members during the study session, which typically takes place Monday evenings.

But Councilman Charlie Richardson had other ideas. He proposed to the group during last week’s study session that a study session was too precious to spend on answering questions for new members. Instead of an entire study session for some of the new members, Richardson said the council should talk important issues, and plan for a usual study session.

The rest of the council agreed and repealed the mayor’s plans, despite Hogan’s claim that the date was the only workable time for a majority of the new members. One at-large seat is still undecided with a recount in the works.

Outgoing Councilwoman Barb Cleland said she was disappointed city staff couldn’t find a time for all new council members to meet together, adding that they should be treated with the same “dignity as the current council.”

“That’s part of the problem around here,” Hogan said. “Everybody assumes and doesn’t try to fix anything.”

During the 45-minute discussion on the next week’s meeting, it seemed a majority of council agreed the orientation didn’t have to be during the study session. It could be held elsewhere in city hall.

After recalling the orientation-slash-study-session, it was up to the council to find something for the agenda. But with a holiday weekend in the works — the city was closed Thursday for Thanksgiving and Friday — it left city staff just two days to gather needed information and put together a backup document for the meeting.

The council was unable to come up with anything to talk about for the meeting with the two days available for staff, so the entire meeting was cancelled.

After the study session let out Richardson said he only got “half of the cake.” While he didn’t want the orientation during study session, he also didn’t want the meeting cancelled altogether.

Hogan said what council had essentially done was “thumbed their nose at the new council.”

Next Monday’s regular city council meeting is slated to be the first for the new council members. A swearing-in ceremony is scheduled, though it isn’t so far clear whether the recount will be finished by then.


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Kara MasonKara MasonNovember 27, 20173min1250

This week Pueblo City Council may approve an ordinance that creates an emergency overnight homeless shelter for when the weather turns frigid.

The city, with a population of just over 110,000 people, doesn’t currently have an emergency homeless shelter. It hasn’t since last spring, when the Salvation Army closed its doors, as the Pueblo Chieftain previously reported:

Pueblo Rescue Mission officials had predicted they would have the old Wayside Cross Mission on Fourth Street remodeled by the end of December, but those plans have been indefinitely postponed, according to a spokesman.

Now the city is entering into an agreement with the Pueblo Rescue Mission to temporarily open the Hype Park Community Center on nights when the temperature is expected to drop below freezing; 100 or more people could be sleeping at the center then.

Even though the shelter won’t serve meals and plans to bus the people using the facility back downtown during the day, neighbors told the Chieftain they aren’t interested in having homeless people in their West Side neighborhood. One mom pointed out to Chieftain reporter Peter Roper that there is a bar and liquor store closeby, and it probably isn’t the best place for a pop-up homeless center.

Pueblo has been attempting to deal with a homeless problem for the last few years. City Councilwoman Lori Winner has taken a strong stance against squatters; some community advocates have blamed marijuana for an increase in homelessness (which hasn’t been proven through data), and now the city lacks fewer resources to support the homeless population with one shelter closed and its replacement postponed indefinitely.

Councilman Bob Schilling, who represents the neighborhood where the emergency shelter would be located, said during a council meeting the city wouldn’t let people freeze to death.

Still, one West Side resident speculated to the Chieftain that the city wouldn’t follow through with the chosen location, adding that a downtown location would be better.

City and county officials had their sights set on one downtown location, but those plans fell through.

According to a state count, there are around 1,800 people who are homeless in Pueblo County.


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Kara MasonKara MasonNovember 17, 20173min2120

It’s been nearly two months since the Aurora City Council first took on a resolution supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as DACA. Now after a round of revisions in a committee, the governing body is back to where it started.

But it’ll likely be a more conservative council that gets the final decision on the resolution.

Councilman Charlie Richardson first submitted the resolution. It was in support of legislatively extending DACA and Aurora Congressman Mike Coffman’s BRIDGE Act. Richardson said voting for the resolution, which would have been a symbolic measure of support for the protections of young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally, was simple and shouldn’t require so much back-and-forth from council.

But some council members, including Sally Mounier who represents a significantly diverse portion of the city, thought the resolution should encompass immigration issues as a whole.

The Aurora Sentinel has been following the story:

After Councilwoman Sally Mounier requested the first resolution be sent back to a committee, two more resolutions were drafted by the city attorney’s office. One was a revised “short” version, which mostly focused on DACA. The other was dubbed the longer version and was intended to support immigration reform as a whole.

“I totally support a path to citizenship for the DACA kids. What I also support, though, is a total and complete immigration reform… It is time to tell Congress that we have multiple issues with immigration,” the Sentinel reported Mounier saying during the first meeting at which Richardson’s resolution was presented to the council.

Mounier lost her seat last week to upstart candidate Crystal Murillo who ran a campaign largely on the premise she could better represent the district because she is a young Latina.

This week, the council reviewed the two versions. But neither satisfied the council. Both failed to make it to the regular meeting.

Richardson said he had another resolution ready to submit. He called it the “clean” version. This time it made no mention of Coffman’s BRIDGE ACT or the Trump administration. Just support for DACA.

That’s slated to be in front of council at next week’s meeting. Four new council members — three of which are slated to be more progressive than the rest of council — will join council on Dec. 4.

Five seats were up for election. Marsha Berzins won her seat in Ward III.

 


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Kara MasonKara MasonNovember 16, 20172min1610

The Fremont Clerk and Recorder has reappeared, according to reports from the Cañon City Daily Record.

Katie Barr was absent about a month after both the Fremont County commissioners and Cañon City Police Department announced the clerk was under investigation. It was also reported there were financial discrepancies coming from her office. Though, to what extent is still largely unknown.

The newspaper’s Sarah Matott reports:

The commissioners, according to a news release, reached out to the CPPD on Sept. 29 to investigate what appeared to be “irregular financial activity” stemming from Barr’s office.

According to the county’s news release about the investigation, Barr at that time “voluntarily removed herself from the operations of the Office of the Clerk and Recorder.” In accordance with Colorado law, Chief Deputy Clerk Dotty Gardunio stepped in to fulfill the duties of the elected office.

It’s so far unclear what those financial discrepancies are or how widespread they might be, but the Daily Record was able to confirm the police department reached out to the FBI for help on the case.

As for who else may be involved in the investigation and why Barr was gone for a month is under wraps. But county commissioners said they were adopting “additional financial safeguards.”

Elsewhere in Fremont County, citizens in Rockvale are gearing up for perhaps an entire recall of the city government. There, citizens say the town clerk was wrongly terminated after raising concerns about the bookkeeping on a truck-mudding event.

The recall election is slated for January, according to the Daily Record.


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Kara MasonKara MasonNovember 6, 20173min10390

A sleepy southern Colorado town in Fremont County may have a completely new government come January. The Rockvale mayor and board of trustees are being recalled over a slew of charges leveled by a community group.

The town leaders are accused of wrongly terminating the clerk, breaking Colorado sunshine laws and misusing town funds after a truck-driving event, according to a report from the Cañon City Daily Record last week.

The paper’s Sara Knuth has been following the events leading up to the anticipated recall election, which hasn’t technically been confirmed. The new city clerk couldn’t confirm the election date to Knuth, but rather referred the reporter to the citizen group leading the recall effort. They say that election will take place Jan. 16.

Back in August, Knuth reported a recall was in the works. Then, a group of citizens were concerned a city trustee, Heather Criner, didn’t keep track of ticket sales at “Mudfest,” the two-day truck event, which apparently featured pits of mud, trucks and somewhere around 600-700 spectators.

Per the Daily Record:

Criner, who has been on the board since December and organized the inaugural MudFest in June 2016, disputes the claims. She said the town allowed her to organize the event, which, she said, made $2,695.20.

But the former clerk, Kimberly Greer, said the event should have made much more money, and after questioning the funds was asked to resign her position — which she did and then filed a suit against the city, which has a population of less than 500 people.

“The town gave it me (sic) and my husband to run the way we wanted to, as long as all the proceeds came back to the town,” Criner said. “We never claimed it as ours, we told people that they gave us the right to do it the way we wanted to. And they didn’t like that because they weren’t there for the first one.”

The community group said those interested in running for mayor or the board of trustees, should drop off an application with the city before Dec. 26.