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Public Eye

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Last week, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Company announced it would cut back on exclusive contracts in school districts all around the country -- a shift that was, no doubt, brought on by the negative connotations of pushing caffeine-and-sugar-laced products onto children in their institutions of learning.

The breakthrough concept of entering into exclusive soda contracts began right here in trend-setting world-class Colorado Springs, where District 11 signed a deal with Coca-Cola to raise cash for student programs.

But an overzealous John Bushey, whose actual title was "Director of School Leadership" and who called himself the "Coke Dude" got a little carried away a few years back. In what has become known as The Famous Memo, the Coke Dude complained that the district was not meeting its sales quota. He urged principals to better pimp Coke products at their schools -- including letting kids drink up in class and moving the machines to high-traffic and high-profile spots. "Location, location, location is the key," Coke Dude admonished.

D-11 should have been mortified when the contents of the memo went nationwide, but instead its administrators and policy-setting board carried on undaunted. The Coke Dude has since left the district after he was offered a sweet deal as principal of the high school in the Walt Disney-created planned community of Celebration, Florida, conveniently located next to Disney World.

If the story seems surreal, it's because it is.

According to a recent study, titled "Liquid Candy" and conducted by the Oakland-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), obesity in children is up 100 percent from 20 years ago. Teens today drink twice as much soda as milk. Five percent of teenage boys today drink five sodas a day, and the same percentage of teen girls drink at least three cans of soda every day.

As bizarre as it sounds on the surface, some opponents of Coke in classrooms also note that exclusive contracts jeopardize children's critical thinking skills when they are not given a choice of soda pop.

But just because Coca-Cola is shifting its advertising techniques targeting schools elsewhere, District 11 administrators said last week that it plans to change nothing about their own exclusive contract. Coke sales here will continue, unimpeded.

Now that's critical thinking.

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If there's one thing that we have learned from this year's Council races, it's that developers truly run this city. And they aren't afraid to flaunt it. Maybe next time around, candidates will remember that they want to represent other people in the city as well, and reach out to them for contributions and support.

The following is a list of the candidates' most recent contribution totals. Here's a little game: Guess who the developers are supporting?

Jim Null, District 1 incumbent: unchallenged, but still has raised $13,935

Judy Noyes, at-large incumbent: $48,933

Tim Pleasant, at-large challenger: $2,920

Kevin Butcher, District 2 newcomer: $24,845

Leon Kirk, District 2 newcomer: $3,300

Charles Wingate, District 2 newcomer: $2,510

Linda Barley, District 3 incumbent: $22,537

Sallie Clark, District 3 challenger: $37,750 (hint: Clark actually has raised money from more individual donors -- 317 -- than any other candidate)

Margaret Radford, District 4 newcomer: $14,124

Luis "Joe" Ybarra, District 4 newcomer: $0

Kendell Kretzchmar, District 4 newcomer: $0

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The Independent and our own erstwhile Malcolm Howard are being singled out by the local Housing Advocacy Coalition for an award for outstanding media coverage on housing issues in 2000. "In particular, Malcolm's article on the Mill Street neighborhood and the damage being done to it by the Red Cross, Utilities, El Pomar, etc., was an outstanding example of quality coverage to expose what is happening in this city that is affecting the affordable housing outlook," said HAC spokeswoman Cyndy Kulp.

Way to go Mac!!!

The group of housing activists is also honoring Channel 11 for its sustained coverage of the sometimes scandalous condition of rental properties all over Colorado Springs. In its ongoing series, Channel 11 entered several deserving Colorado Springs landlords into its "Hall of Shame" and provided entertaining TV by having their reporters literally chase down the miscreants and try to force them to explain why they rent such pigsties to people. (And yes, Channel 11 inducted local landlord Doug Bruce into its Hall of Shame.)

We don't think it's a coincidence that finding solutions to the city's appalling lack of affordable homes for the poor and working class -- which these days includes teachers and firefighters -- is at the forefront of the current City Council candidate debate. And at least one candidate -- Charles Wingate -- has cited Channel 11's findings, as an example of how the city should be better equipped to exercise the power of code enforcement when it comes to substandard living spaces.

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