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Public Eye



We've eaten so much tax-paid pizza this week that we've developed a bad case of heartburn.

Honestly, if one more pie arrives unannounced, we're liable to forward it to City Councilman Charles Wingate, who allegedly can't get enough of the stuff.

It all started last month, Wingate says, when he took a tax-paid junket to an American Public Power Association conference in Dallas. The cost for his hotel room and other incidentals were charged to a city-owned Colorado Springs Utilities card. But when a Utilities employee opened the bill, she apparently noted that a number of unauthorized Pizza Hut pizzas had also been charged to the account.

Upon closer investigation, the City found those pies, totaling more than a hundred bucks, had been delivered to Wingate's northern Colorado Springs home over a five-day period in mid-June.

Last Friday, Colorado Springs police officers showed up with a warrant to search for any evidence, presumably pizza boxes, receipts or coupons for large two-topping pies.

District Attorney Jeanne Smith is reportedly reviewing the evidence and will announce on Monday whether she plans to charge the councilman with embezzling public funds, said Wingate, who denies culpability in the pizza caper. "No, I didn't do it; I'm not in jail, am I?"

Instead, he insists the accusations are the latest in an ongoing, orchestrated attempt by the mayor and other council members, including former ally Sallie Clark, to force him to resign -- which, he insists, he's not going to do.

"The council members don't want to have to work with someone who's a conservative ideologue," said Wingate, who's lately gotten super chummy with anti-government activist Douglas Bruce. "It's unfortunate that police are willing to go along with some members of Council who are immature enough not to understand the ideology of small government."

Since he was elected to office just over a year ago, Wingate's alleged and real misfortunes have been well publicized.

In addition to losing his job as a stockbroker and falling behind on his house payments, he has been sued for not paying off campaign debts and for bouncing checks to Popeye's Chicken and -- no kidding -- Pizza Hut. In addition, last year he was accused of surfing a number of eye-popping porn sites from his city-owned computer, which he denied.

This week, Wingate conceded that he and his family are in a tough, temporary economic time, but compared himself to successful businessmen who have rebounded from past failures.

"This is the training on the path of becoming a millionaire," Wingate said. "It's kind of hard to look for a job when you've been accused of committing a crime and when the mayor's comments regarding my situation appear on TV. I may have to go to work in Denver; my job opportunities here are shot to hell."

Hey! Isn't Colorado Gov. Bill Owens looking for a new lieutenant governor?

Meanwhile, while Wingate has spent the week fending off the misuse of pizza allegations, El Paso County has launched in earnest its pizza-for-a-pokey proposal.

In recent weeks, the Sheriff's Office has started -- for the first time -- issuing routine press releases underscoring the unbearably crowded conditions at the county's two jails.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, the number of inmates exceeded 1,200 prisoners, in a jail that is built to house 1,041. Prisoners are not only double-bunked, but are also sleeping in what the guards call "sled-beds," coffin-like plastic devices that are laid out on the floor (some of them are reportedly placed uncomfortably close to urinals).

Leave it to the ever-perky, former KKTV11 reporter-turned-county government PR flak Ann Ervin to look on the bright side.

In a press release issued last week, Ervin jumped on the new jail bandwagon and announced the likelihood for a ballot measure this November. For the price of a "large pizza," Ervin promised, every family in El Paso County could buy themselves a bigger jail.

Unfortunately, Ervin didn't specify exactly the particulars. And us voters might like some ballot options here.

Instead of jail, for example, can we order a pizza and charge it to the county, or better yet, to Colorado Springs Utilities? Can we say no to the jail expansion, but opt to send a pizza to a designated inmate?

Myself, I would like to order green peppers, mushrooms and extra cheese on my jail.

And does it have to be from Pizza Hut?

Please, would someone pass the Tums?


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