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Noted: Skiffington-Blumberg released


City spokeswoman ousted

Sue Skiffington-Blumberg, the city's manager of public communications, was asked to resign Tuesday, effective Wednesday, as part of changes before Steve Bach takes over as mayor. She had been with the department 10 years.

Reached by phone, Skiffington-Blumberg says Bach was simply looking for a change, adding, "I think that they have every intention of putting in perhaps more of a press secretary-type setup. I think there will be a lot more focus on the mayor's day-to-day activities." She does not believe the change was "personal."

Laura Carno, spokesperson for Bach, says by e-mail: "Steve Bach was advised by [interim city manager] Steve Cox of the decision, but played no role in it."

There was no word on a replacement.

City Council President Scott Hente praised Skiffington-Blumberg for "many years of admirable service to the city. I am sure that she will find a marketplace for her skills and I look forward to working with whoever her replacement is."

Bach is expected to terminate several other high-level city employees. "I would bet I may be the first," Skiffington-Blumberg says, "but I won't be the last." — JAS

USOC pride coming to I-25

City Council has agreed to spend up to $33,800 to create a U.S. Olympic Committee-themed mural and to add Olympic rings to "welcome" signs north and south of the city along Interstate 25. The $28,800 mural will be painted on the roof of the building known as "The Long Bar" in the Depot Arts District, visible from the Colorado Avenue bridge. Upgrades to the signs will cost approximately $5,000.

In all likelihood, the city will only spend $28,800 on the changes because it looks as though upgrades to the welcome signs will be privately funded. Dave Munger, former mayoral candidate and president of the Council of Neighbors and Organizations, worked with Sarah Jack, of the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, to raise approximately $9,000 in private money for the effort.

Both projects are expected to be done before the U.S. Women's Open, coming to The Broadmoor in early July. — JAS

COPPeR joins national study

To learn more about the local public's commitment to the arts and how it compares to other markets, the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (COPPeR) is taking part in an "Arts & Economic Prosperity IV" study for the rest of 2011, with results expected in July 2012.

Along with other organizations nationwide, COPPeR will help assemble attendance and economic statistics for the region's arts and entertainment scene, working with other nonprofits in gathering data at all kinds of events, festivals and performances. The last such research, based on data from 2005, determined a local economic impact of $94.7 million annually from the arts.

Christina McGrath, COPPeR's executive director, says she's "eager to see our progress." The study will calculate attendance, dollars spent, jobs supported and tax revenues produced by local organizations. — RR

Templeton Gap spared again

Thousands of residents and business owners near the Templeton Gap levee may not have realized it, but they've dodged a bullet — at least for now.

They've been spared from having to buy flood insurance, despite such a mandate seeming certain after the city's Stormwater Enterprise was shut down last year. When voters killed it, they also killed plans to repair the levee, which no longer meets federal standards. The insurance cost would have been perhaps $50 to $150 a month for the average home.

But in February, 27 U.S. senators (none from Colorado) signed a letter asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to change its policies. FEMA had considered a compromised levee to be nonexistent, making flood insurance a requirement; the senators asked FEMA to consider taking existing levees' abilities into account. In March, without fanfare, FEMA agreed to create new policies. In the interim, no "final determinations" are being made on unsound levees such as Templeton Gap. — JAS

Hospital records breached?

City-owned Memorial Health System is trying to get to the bottom of whether a city employee has been prying into colleagues' medical records.

Memorial spokesman Brian Newsome issued a statement Wednesday, saying, "We are investigating a possible breach of patient records by a city employee. We take patient privacy very seriously and plan to provide more information once the investigation is complete."

That could be as soon as this week. Watch for developments. — PZ

Winnefeld heads for D.C.

Adm. James "Sandy" Winnefeld, commander of Northern Command and NORAD, both at Peterson Air Force Base, has been nominated as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by President Obama. Winnefeld took command at NorthCom and the North American Aerospace Defense Command in May 2010.

Obama also nominated Army Chief of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey as chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Dempsey served at Fort Carson from 1979-82 and again from 1996-98. — PZ

Insurance rates shouldn't soar

Insurance companies have been slammed this year with billions of dollars in loss claims after tornadoes swept through Missouri, Alabama, Arkansas and North Carolina, and fires consumed more than a million acres in Texas.

If you're worried that companies will try to jack up rates in Colorado, it's possible, but not likely, says Bobbie Baca of the Colorado Division of Insurance. She adds that companies can consider only states like Colorado when developing rates here, so hurricanes can't be part of the equation.

"States that are similar to us — Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, anyplace that gets those same storm activities — they can use that experience when developing those rates," Baca says. So hail, tornadoes and snowstorms could affect our rates.

Baca says companies typically include catastrophic losses over a 25- to 30-year period when devising rates, so "most of this loss activity has already been contemplated" in existing rates. Still, this year has been such an anomaly, companies might revisit their rates next year.

Incidentally, the Division of Insurance doesn't give permission for rate increases; it only monitors them and, if not justified, tries to convince the company to lower them. — PZ

Ex-candidate, wife drown

The bodies of former mayoral candidate Mitch Christiansen and his wife, Susan, were found last week at Eleven Mile Reservoir.

Susan's body, and the couple's capsized fishing boat, were found on Sunday, May 22. Mitch Christiansen's body, however, was snagged on rocks, and was only located after an intensive six-day search that was periodically called off due to bad weather. His body was finally located May 27.

It is thought that the couple, who died of accidental drowning, were participating in a fishing competition when their boat capsized in high winds. Neither victim was wearing a life jacket. — JAS

Compiled by Ralph Routon, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.

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