Columns » Public Eye

Eugenia's List

by and

Colorado Springs public communications manager Eugenia Echols has released a list of the people at City Hall who are allowed to talk to the press. Her effort comes three weeks after she enacted a policy that restricts media and public access to government operations and city staff.

The list includes the names of 71 city employees, mostly upper-level managers in various city departments.

Culled from of a total pool of roughly 2,000 city employees, these chosen few are the public employees that Echols and her boss, city manager Jim Mullen, have allowed access to the press without prior approval from even higher authorities.

The list is even more interesting for who's been left off. Some pretty important city staffers didn't make the grade -- employees that the public and elected officials have often relied on for information about vital government issues.

Here's a partial list of those who've been partially muted by the new no-speech policy.

Elena Nunez, senior analyst with the city's office of budget and financial analysis. Nunez is best known as the point person for the Springs Community Improvement Program, which is, ironically, designed to encourage and engage citizens to be involved in their city government. The $88 million program of capital improvements was approved by voters in April. Now, all SCIP inquiries will have to be funneled through the city's public relations department.

Financial planning manager Mike Anderson has long been the city source for all things budgetary. Though Anderson has recently told the Indy that he can talk to reporters, he's not on the master list. That means anytime reporters want to learn more about the city budget or check a quick fact about city finances, they have to officially request an interview through the public-relations department.

Ditto for city controller Steve Hilfers, who, among other things, oversees the city's investment portfolio and makes sure the city stays in the black.

Police Chief (and now deputy city manager) Lorne Kramer was also left off the list. Likewise, no one at the city's municipal court (not even court administrator Steve Wheeler) is allowed to talk to reporters without permission from the suits downtown.

And when the city finds itself before the bar, reporters may not directly contact City Attorney Pat Kelly, a City Council appointee who is not on the master list, nor any other lawyers in her office.

Stories about city contracting will also be hampered under the new policy. No one in city purchasing department, including purchasing director Steve Gess, made the list. Similarly, no one in the facilities or fleet-management departments have been designated as media liaisons.

City clerk Kathryn Young did not make the list. The Council-appointed Young and her staff are a key source of basic information about the city charter, city functions, meetings, elections and bylaws.

Another notably absent name: Bob Kelso, who manages the city's Y2K compliance program.

Nearly all the city's planning staff have similarly been gagged. Steve Tuck, Gary Rapp, Robert Tegler, Steve Mayerl and Tim Scanlon are just some of names familiar to reporters, as well as readers of the Independent. Under the policy, reporters must talk to planning group manager Quinn Peitz, who at his discretion can approve or disapprove interviews with subordinates.

Since the new policy was enacted, Indy reporters have hit roadblocks with several staffers not on the list, including city planner Scanlon; Larry Baggett, who's overseeing the renovation of the old City Hall; and Marilyn Edwards Young, who works in the city's real estate-management unit.

In addition to the slipshod way the new policy has been enacted -- with Echols refusing to release details until served with an Open Records request -- the city has also not applied its policy in an equitable way among the city's press corps.

In its effort to learn the details of the restrictive policy, The Indy was only able to obtain a copy by filing an Open Records request on Oct. 26.

The city's daily newspaper's editor, meanwhile, received a personal visit from city manager Mullen and Echols, who explained the policy to editor Steve Smith, according to City Councilman Richard Skorman.

And, apparently, The Gazette approves of the proposal: In at least one instance, a Gazette reporter submitted interview questions in writing for information pertaining to city business. The information, related to arts funding, was also answered in writing, and resulted in an Oct. 27 front-page story which did not include any quotes from city staff.

The Indy will not submit such interview questions in writing as it prohibits the free flow of information and discourages follow-up questions. The process also allows the city to massage government information and put a positive "spin" on the news coming out of City Hall.

Meanwhile, The Denver Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post were not immediately formally notified of the policy. Last week, the Rocky's Dick Foster said he still had not been told of the plan.

And, Echols said she had contacted KKTV Channel 11 early in the process, however, she did not similarly notify other television or radio broadcast channels.

The city claims it is merely trying to "streamline" media inquiries, however, the sloppy and partial way the policy has been implemented suggests that the city is attempting to stifle coverage that Mullen and Echols simply do not like.

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