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City government 101

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You'd think the main spokesperson for the city would know how to spell the mayor's name. You'd also think she'd know that Memorial Hospital and the Colorado Springs Utilities are city-owned enterprises.

Unfortunately, as exhibited in a letter dated Nov. 12, City Communications Director Eugenia Echols is confused about both. Notably, Echols displayed her confusion in a request for a correction for a "factual error" she claims this newspaper made in a news story last week. The story, which was published the day before, was about the fact that Echols -- with the clear approval of City Manager Jim Mullen -- was attempting to muzzle the press by restricting access to government operations.

Reporters are now being told, among other things, that they have to submit questions about city government issues in writing. The answers, presumably after being massaged by the city's public-relations department, would be returned in written form.

In a Nov. 8 interview with the Independent, Echols said that city-owned enterprises -- which include Memorial Hospital and Colorado Springs Utilities -- would be affected by the city's new policy regarding media access.

The news undoubtedly surprised those two city-owned businesses, which have their own public-relations operations. Rita Garza and Rita Burns, respectively, run the utilities' and hospital's public relations departments, and Garza, said in a telephone call to the Independent that she, at least, was not notified of the policy and was unclear as to whether it applied to utilities.

In her letter, Echols wrote: "I want to clarify that city enterprise operations include the Colorado Springs Airport, Pikes Peak Highway and the cemeteries. Colorado Springs Utilities and Memorial Hospital are separate public entities, not city enterprise operations.

"I would appreciate the Colorado Springs (sic) correcting this factual error."

Echols sent copies of the request for a correction to City Manager Jim Mullen, Marylou (sic) Makepeace and City Council, as well as Garza and Burns.

Echols' time may be better spent studying and understanding the way the city government operates than sending out erroneous letters asking newspapers to print corrections for factually accurate items.

According to the City Charter, Article VII, Section 7-90 (b), an enterprise is defined as "a City-owned business receiving over seventy-five percent (75%) of annual non-debt revenue from non-government sources."

In other words, the hospital and utilities company are indeed city-owned enterprises.

City Councilman Bill Guman said he was stunned when he read the letter.

"I couldn't believe it; I thought maybe she'd better take a lesson in the structure of city government operations," Guman said. "It kind of threw me for a loop but I didn't want to get involved because then my cordial relationship with the city manager wouldn't be so cordial anymore."

There were a few internal grumbles last week when Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace left in the middle of the Tuesday, Nov. 9, marathon meeting of City Council.

The mayor left during a long and complicated discussion about developer impact fees being proposed to help improve traffic at the interchange of Woodmen Road and Academy Boulevard. The main topic of debate was whether the fees were fair to nearby business owners and developers, who were to pay for the improvements.

The debate raged on for hours, well into the night. But Makepeace -- who was the honored speaker for a dinner event -- left early. The special event? A dinner for the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, whose members, of course, are developers who contributed mightily to the mayor's election campaign. Other City Council members reportedly had been invited to the HBA dinner as well, but declined, knowing it was a Council meeting day. And, a number of citizens who attended the Council meeting -- and who had to wait patiently for their own issue to follow the impact-fee discussion on the Council agenda -- had to cancel their own dinner plans when the meeting stretched to midnight.

The mayor's departure left the City Council chambers with eight members when the user-fee issue finally came up for a vote, and the remaining lawmakers split, voting 4-4 on whether to approve the item. Of course, if the mayor had been present, she could have placed the tie-breaking vote, a fact not lost among some attendees and members of Council.

When the state's newspaper circulation numbers were released last week, The Denver Post and The Denver Rocky Mountain News fell all over each other, both reporting they were winning the capital's fierce daily-newspaper war.

Meanwhile, down here in the Springs, The Gazette didn't utter a peep about their own circulation numbers. Maybe that's because, in one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, the daily newspaper has experienced a 6 percent drop in circulation from the same time last year.

According to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, a year ago, The Gazette was selling 99,476 papers a day. That has dropped to 93,883. Sunday circulation has dipped from 120,102 at this time last year to 114,830.

By comparison, 11 years ago, The Gazette was selling 106,000 papers a day.

So why the downward spiral for The Gazette? Rocky and Post execs like to think it's due to their own aggressive maneuvering in El Paso County. Both Denver dailies have made great efforts -- and have offered unbeatable deals -- trying to woo local readers over the past year.

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