Jeffco commissioners unhappy with Library Board decision

JEFFERSON COUNTY – The Board of County Commissioners Tuesday criticized the County Library Board of Trustees’ decision to close libraries on Mondays, a budget-related move announced just a day earlier.

Commissioners also appointed three library board members, two of them from Lakewood, during Tuesday’s meeting. A statement released by the three commissioners said the new library board members were chosen for “their financial and business acumen”, but did not directly link the appointments to the library system’s announcement of the Monday closures.

In addition to putting the system’s 10 libraries and the Library Call center on a six-day-a-week schedule, community libraries in Edgewater, Wheat Ridge and Conifer will reduce the hours they are open. The Traveling Children’s Library will not be affected by the cutbacks.

“The changes are part of a response to significant budget challenges facing the system,” according to a press release issued by the library system.

“The decision to close our libraries on Mondays was not something taken lightly,” said Jeffco Library Executive Director Marcellus Turner. “We are facing a perfect storm of budget challenges requiring us to reduce the operating budget by $3 million over the next two years. The Monday closure will allow us to begin to bring our expenses in line with projected revenues and ensure the future success and sustainability of JCPL.”

But County Commissioners took issue with the move, approving a joint statement authored by Commissioner Kevin McCasky.

“We are disheartened that there have been several fundamental philosophical differences between the Board of County Commissioners and the Library Board of Trustees regarding the Library’s budget and operations, McCasky said. “Most recent disagreements concerned the Library Board’s intent to close libraries on Mondays, a service reduction that this board has publicly stated it adamantly opposes. The Commissioners did everything within our power to prevent this from occurring.”

The library’s press release said the system believes the effect of the closures will be lessened by 24/7 access to its online library site and maintaining full access to book drops at its facilities.

As part of the commissioners’ joint statement, they thanked the Library Board members for their service.

“We thank the appointees on the Library Board who have contributed many hours of service and sincerely believe their actions have been in the best interest of the library. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their work that has contributed to our outstanding library system.”

The new board members appointed by commissioners Tuesday are Buddy Douglass and Ray Elliott of Lakewood and outgoing County Commissioner Kathy Hartman, a south Jeffco resident.

Douglass, is president of FirstBank of Lakewood and treasurer of the Jefferson Economic Council. He also is the treasurer of the Jefferson County Library Foundation Board of Directors.

Elliott, chief financial officer of Controlled Products System Group, Inc., is a former Lakewood City Council member and served on the Jefferson County Citizen Budget Review panel. He is a certified public accountant with 20 years of management and financial experience.

Hartman is the chairman of the Board of County Commissioners and is a board member of the Denver Regional Council of Governments and the Jefferson Center for Mental Health. She is a former executive director of a non-profit agency and a former stockbroker.

They were chosen from 14 applicants for the Library Board.

Dunstan teacher freed on bond amid allegations of fondling students

LAKEWOOD – A Dunstan Middle School teacher bonded out of Jefferson County Jail Friday, a day after he was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and inappropriately touching female students in his classes.

Gary Charles Wegner, 41, was advised of his rights in a video appearance before a Jefferson County judge Friday afternoon and his bail was set at $20,000 and he was ordered to avoid contact with anyone younger than 18 after posting bond.

Wegner surrendered at the Lakewood Police Department Thursday after a month-long investigation by LPD detectives, who interviewed a number of Wegner’s students in the week before his arrest. Wegner, who also was a soccer coach at Green Mountain High School, has been on administrative leave from the Jefferson County School District since the investigation began.

An arrest affidavit indicates no sex acts occurred, but lists a number of incidents a in which Wegner allegedly improperly touched seven of his female students, who were 13- and 14-years-old. In two instances in which Wegner allegedly fondled students’ buttocks, felony charges of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust as a pattern are being considered, according to the document.

In seven other alleged touching incidents, Wegner could face misdemeanor harassment charges stemming from “what detectives believe to have been inappropriate behavior on the part of the teacher,” according to LPD spokesman Steve Davis. The arrest affidavit indicates those charges also involve allegations of inappropriate touching.

Wegner is expected to be in court to hear the charges against him Nov. 17.

He has been a teacher at Dunstan Middle School for about eight years.

Police were contacted after a student told a Dunstan M.S. school counselor she was a victim and described Wegner’s alleged behavior.

“Due to the nature of the charges and the juvenile status of the victims, no further details are available at this time,” Davis said.

Police urge anyone who might have information that would assist investigators with the case detectives to call the Lakewood Police Department at 303-987-7111.

Committee urges City Council to adopt stronger no-smoking rules

LAKEWOOD – An advisory group appointed by the Mayor is urging City Council to revise the city’s smoking ordinance to eliminate some exceptions allowed under state law, enlarge the non-smoking areas at building entrances and prohibit smoking in outdoor areas of bars and restaurants before 9 p.m.

The Mayor’s Ad Hoc Committee on the Lakewood Smoking Ordinance delivered its seven-page final draft recommendations to City Council Monday along with three dissenting reports from committee members at odds with some of the recommendations.

“We had very unplugged discussions. They were unedited, everybody could say what they wanted to and no viewpoints were excluded,” said Ward 4 Councilman Tom Quinn. Quinn was chairman of the committee during its yearlong look at revising the existing ordinance, which was enacted in August 2009 to comply with the Colorado Indoor Clean Air Act of 2006.

If the committee’s recommendations survive a lengthy community “outreach and education” program and pass Council muster in coming months, they would take the city’s ordinance beyond the parameters of state law.

The committee recommends extending the state law’s smoking exclusion zone at public building entrances from 15 feet to 25 feet. The proposed ban on smoking in outdoor areas of bars and restaurants before 9 p.m. would be more strict than the state statute’s requirements, and the state law’s exceptions that allow smoking in tobacco-related “smoker-friendly businesses” including cigar and hookah bars would not be allowed in Lakewood.

Two of the dissenting reports came from healthcare professionals on the committee and each took issue with the committee’s proposed five-year phase-out of existing exceptions for cigar and hookah bars. If adopted by City Council, no new similar businesses could open in the city and those that are now operating would be forced to end smoking in the establishments within five years.

The five-year delay was a concern for committee members Jennifer Merriman, a nurse, and Walter “Snip” Young of Advanced Health Directions.

“This delay in implementation unduly leaves residents of Lakewood exposed to secondhand smoke for an exceptionally long period,” Young wrote in his dissenting letter, recommending instead a three- to six-month implementation period as “sufficient to notify customers and prepare the business environment for any physical or marketing changes that might be needed.”

Merriman concurred with Young’s position on the waiting period and pointed to a specific hookah bar near Alameda High School that she said “is focused on simulating a lounge atmosphere with enticing names for the ‘best tasting’ hookah in town.”

That message, she wrote in her letter, leads young people “to believe this is a safe alternative to cigarettes, which is so untrue….”

In a third letter of dissent, committee member Chad Hotchkiss, who operates Jose O’Shea’s and Chad’s Grill, said the outdoor smoking prohibition for restaurant and bar patios would send patrons of local establishments to eat and drink in nearby cities with less stringent rules.

“”We feel that any ordinance that creates an unfair balance of business from city to city … puts business in Lakewood at a disadvantage by loss in sales,” Hotchkiss wrote.

Hotchkiss also said the proposed expansion of the smoke-free areas at building entrances would be “unenforceable” and that the current 15-foot smoke-free zone is adequate if proposed signage is included in any revision of the ordinance.

Council is not expected to consider the recommended changes until late next year.
The draft report can be viewed on the city’s web site by clicking here.