In our cover feature this week, Pam Zubeck offers an exhaustive examination of our city's Waldo Canyon Fire response — the fire inarguably being the single most impactful event locally of 2012. As she looks back, we felt it apropos to touch base with a handful of other news subjects from the year, in the interest of updating our readers on progress (or lack thereof) since our last reporting.
In each week of what we're planning as a three-part series, we'll check in on features from different sites on the local news spectrum. (In other words, it'll be a random assortment.) If there's a story you found compelling on which you'd like an update, drop us a line at email@example.com.
A light on dark money
Western Tradition Partnership's national profile has risen considerably — and not entirely to its liking — in the 11 months since the secretive conservative advocacy group was featured on our cover.
As explained in our Jan. 12 "Person of interest" story, the Denver-headquartered organization operates as "a channel for funds from corporations and individuals who want to influence elections under a cloak of anonymity, assuring its donors that 'no politician, no bureaucrat, and no radical environmentalist will ever know you helped make this program possible.'"
Then again, maybe not. In June, WTP (which is now operating under the name American Tradition Partnership) scored big in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that extended its Citizens United ruling to individual states. The organization then went on to become the subject of an October Frontline documentary called "Big Sky, Big Money." Within weeks of the program's airing, the PBS organization reported that documents revealing the "inner workings of the dark money group" were found in, of all places, a Colorado meth house.
Subsequently released records revealed ties between WTP and the Ron Paul presidential campaign, as well as the names of contributors who'd been promised by the organization that their identities would forever remain secret.
Among them was Longmont resident Donald Hood. "That's nobody's business," Hood complained when a PBS reporter asked about a $6,000 donation he'd made to WTP in 2009, the same year the group sued the city in an effort to prevent enforcement of the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act.
"Most of my donations are to groups where my donations are anonymous," added Hood. "The fact that you have my name and know I gave money to an organization one time is not really too pleasant, to my mind." — Bill Forman
In early 2013, AspenPointe Café's culinary training program anticipates graduating another 15 students, bringing the total since the program's 2011 inception to 33. These trainees are unique in that they range from veterans and at-risk youths to students from the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind and those with some type of disability who've used AspenPointe's mental and behavioral health services.
When we last checked in on the café (see "Order of magnitude," May 2), located inside the El Paso County Citizens Service Center at 1675 Garden of the Gods Road, 10 students were undergoing the 17-week, hands-on training program. Today, that number has grown to 19 students helping serve upward of 350 guests per day.
"We put them in a position where they can succeed and start to earn money — they want to be productive," says Ralph Molinar, operations manager for food services.
AspenPointe is run as an umbrella organization with a trio of nonprofits, the culinary program being part of a social enterprise branch called AspenPointe Enterprises. It employs and trains those with disadvantages and helps with job placement and follow-up support, without state or federal assistance. In the AspenPointe Café, 100 percent of the proceeds from guest purchases are reinvested in the student training program.
Brian Toon, director of business operations, says the catering division of the café in particular has taken off over the past six months, growing by some 50 percent and $118,000. In response, they've bought two new vans and created three full-time catering positions. — Matthew Schniper
The rest of the tail
Casandra Barelli doesn't live in Colorado anymore. Only days after the 4th Judicial District Attorney dropped animal cruelty charges against the single mother, she packed up her things, and moved farther west.
As we reported Feb. 16 ("Rat trap," News), Barelli's legal ordeal began after rushing her pet rat Natalie to the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region to be euthanized.
At the end of her life, Natalie was not a terribly healthy rat, and she had many external signs of ill health, such as lesions that had formed over her cancerous tumors. However, Barelli contends, the nearly 4-year-old rat had never suffered. She was a big eater up until the day she died and was well cared for and pampered.
So Barelli was horrified when the Humane Society cited her for abusing the animal, a Class 1 misdemeanor. Facing fines and possible jail time, Barelli retained an attorney.
"The day before we were to go to trial, my defense attorney got a call from the DA offering a deal," Barelli writes in an e-mail. "They dropped all charges, but they insisted that I write a statement that I would never own more than 2 rats within El Paso County and that I would 'donate' $50.00 to the Humane Society that wrote the ticket. As I had been away from my child for 2 weeks while they mulled over prosecuting me for something that wasn't against the law (ie there are no laws requiring euthanization of a geriatric pet), I quickly gave them a money order through my lawyer for the required donation."
Lee Richards, spokeswoman for the DA's office, confirms that the charges were dropped.
"The whole situation was so traumatic for myself and my family, we have been unwilling to have any pets at all since that time," Barelli continues. "I can only hope that the local Humane Society has either properly trained [its] employees or has changed hands. Even if my family does decide to come back to Colorado, we have decided we will never use their services or donate to them again. Whether I will ever own another pet is still something we are deciding. ...
"I love animals, but I won't put my family through that again." — Chet Hardin
Happy ending for 'Start'
Not long after the outbreak of the Waldo Canyon Fire, the Business of Art Center started collecting donated works of art to give away to those who lost their homes in the fire. Through its "Art for a New Start" initiative ("Kindling memories," Fall Arts Preview, Sept. 5), the Manitou Springs business sought all types of works to help all types of people.
After months of collecting, the BAC hosted a reception Nov. 30, open only to those who lost their homes so they could pick out one piece of art.
BAC executive director Natalie Johnson says they collected about 275 pieces (the original goal was one for each of the 345 homes that burned), and gave away about 240. She says about 500 people at the event not only got to meet some of the participating artists, who included Deb Komitor, Sean O'Meallie, Laura Reilly and Lance Green, but to talk to one another.
"It wasn't one of those things that really dawned on anyone," says Johnson, "but it's the first time they've sort of all been together and in a way that was positive, that it wasn't a meeting about insurance or their next steps or anything like that." — Edie Adelstein