OPED: GSA’s actions contradict its “green” message

The U.S. General Service Administration (GSA) states they want to “increase conservation awareness, save natural resources, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

I challenge GSA to live up to their words by setting aside natural habitat on the Denver Federal Center as identified on their final master site plan. Conservation awareness is not possible without including natural habitat and wildlife. Education includes teaching reverence and respect for our natural environment, which GSA seems to have all but forgotten.

Natural resources such as land, water, and wildlife are not renewable.

If GSA wants to influence more sustainable behavior, then they should practice what they preach. Stop exterminating wildlife simply to make way for your “green development”. There is nothing “green” about extermination.

GSA has also stated they have “embarked on a bold goal of achieving zero environmental footprint”.

Rapid development is destroying the environment, leaving a huge footprint from which it cannot recover. The lack of foresight to plan for natural habitat and wildlife, which can be sustained for future generations, is arrogant and foolish.

In addition, GSA states they want to be a “good neighbor” and help us “green our environment together”.

GSA has the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the local sustainability movement by setting aside natural habitat at the Denver Federal Center. Natural habitat helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions by pumping oxygen into the air. If GSA is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, then they must make it a priority to save natural habitat.

Perhaps GSA can consult with Noble Prize winner Susan Solomon, Ph.D., Senior Scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder about how the loss of habitat locally and globally is negatively impacting the world’s environment.

The best way for GSA to effect change is to lead by example.

It is time GSA takes responsibility for including true conservation awareness, the retention of natural resources, and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by incorporating natural habit and wildlife within the Denver Federal Center.

If you value natural habitat and wildlife and want them to remain on the Denver Federal Center for the next 100 years please contact: GSA: Sally Mayberry, Public Affairs Officer Denver Federal Center 240 Denver, Co. 80225-0000 Phone:(303) 236-8000 x2322; Fax: (303) 236-3606; Cell: (303) 941-7637; Blackberry Pin: 30E2ADC6; Email: sally.mayberry@gsa.gov; or Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy: 303-987-7040; bmurphy@lakewood.org

Censure of school board member ignites heated debate

LAKEWOOD – The Jefferson County School Board Thursday got an earful from supporters of embattled board member Laura Boggs, who was the target of a censure approved by her fellow school trustees last month.

In censuring the conservative Boggs, board member Robin Johnson said, despite a board vote to the contrary, Boggs spoke in support of three statewide ballot issues, 60, 61 and 101, which would have restored voter approved statewide tax and spending limits, reduced some fees and the state’s income tax and limited government debt. The board voted to oppose all three of the 2010 ballot issues.

Boggs’ public support of the ballot issues, Johnson said, went against the board’s “governance” policy, which requires members speak with a single voice once a vote has been taken. Other board members cited Bogg’s behavior in school settings, saying she acted inappropriately.

But the catalyst for the censure was a memo to board members from Superintendent Cindy Stevenson that said Boggs had threatened to raise questions about a federal grant to gauge the effectiveness of linking incentive-based pay raises with student achievement. In the memo, Stevenson said she felt intimidated when Boggs said she would “tear this county apart.”

State Rep. Jim Kerr, a Republican who represents the heavily populated House District 28 in South Jeffco said Boggs was “censured unreasonably” in what “amounts to an attempt to limit the First Amendment rights of an elected official who is expressing an opinion.”

“The voices of all of you need to be heard,” Kerr said. “I want my elected official to be able to voice their opinion. By taking that away, you are depriving a member of this board of her freedom of speech.”

After the 4-0 vote to censure Boggs came down Dec. 16, board member Paula Noonan called for Boggs’ exclusion from any school board committee.

During a late afternoon study session before Thursday’s board meeting, Noonan rescinded that proposal, saying she wanted to set a new tone for the New Year.

During a break between the two meetings, Noonan approached reporters to endorse Boggs’ right to voice her opinions despite previous charges that Boggs violated the board’s governance policy.

“Anybody can say whatever they want whenever and where ever they want,” Noonan said.

Other citizens opposed to the censure raised issues of school performance in their support of Boggs’ opinions on linking the rising cost of education to student assessment scores.

Jen Raiffie, with a group of Boggs’ supporters standing behind her, said the district spends $11,000 per student each year, but some schools post proficiency rates as low as 10 percent.

“I am disturbed by the transgressions of this board,” Raiffie said. “This board is not putting students where they should, and that’s first.”

And Brenda Smull, backed by another group of Boggs’ supporters, echoed that concern.

“Why are we paying more for less,” Smull asked.

Board members did not comment on the support for Boggs, but a group of teachers stood in defense of the censure, and a Jefferson County Teachers Association officer defended the JCEA, which took some collateral criticism during the meeting.

“We do have a lot of work to do. We have also accomplished a lot,” said Lisa Elliott of the JCEA, referring to the comments about low proficiency rates. “(But) It seems today that, much of the time, when a student doesn’t do well, the teacher or the school or the principal or the school board is in trouble, not the kid.”

And David Rupert, speaking for the group of teachers, hinted Boggs had the wrong motives when she questioned the federal incentive grant.

“Too often in today’s winner-take-all climate, true collaboration and mutual respect are replaced by dishonesty and manipulation generated by a politician who is attempting to further his or her political agenda,” Rupert said. “When true collaboration does occur, as it has in this case, it can be twisted and used for political posturing or an opportunity to spout one’s ideology.”

But Lakewood activist Sherry Collins questioned the role Bogg’s behavior played in the censure.

“This seems to be about two things: process and behavior. And you will recall, you had a former Board member that beat his wife and daughter,” Collins said, referring to former school board member Vince Chowdry. “You didn’t censure his behavior, which was worse than the political dissent and supposed behavior of Mrs. Boggs.”

Jeffco youngsters take radon awareness message to another level

LAKEWOOD – A pair of Jeffco youngsters have a message: Radon can kill.

Christina and Eric Bear have launched RAP-Detect to Protect, a radon awareness program (RAP) urging use of inexpensive, in-home radon detection kits and other measures to mitigate risks.

And they are taking their message to city councils, community events and, soon, to schools, YouTube and the state legislature in hopes of alerting their young peers, teachers and public officials of the need to stem the intrusion of the silent killer.

Lakewood City Council is next on their list. Christina and Eric plan to address Council at its Jan. 10 meeting, and hope to persuade council members to enact an International Building Code provision that would require radon mitigation in newly built homes and other buildings, perhaps even extending the mitigation requirements to renovations.

“We have a grass-roots strategy that we’re working with,” said Christina, 12. “We start at the bottom with teachers and kids,” who spread the word to parents, grandparents, neighbors and others.

“And we’re also speaking at City Council meetings where we can ask them what they’re doing and ask them what we can do to help them and what they can do to help us,” said Eric, who is two years younger.

Radon is a naturally occurring, invisible radioactive gas emitted from uranium and radium in the soil. It can be drawn into a building – a process hastened by some heating systems – where it accumulates to levels that increase the likelihood of lung cancer, especially among people who spend decades in an affected home.

They adopted radon awareness as their cause a few years back while looking for something to occupy their time during a break from school and found a national radon poster contest. As they researched the topic, Christina and Eric became alarmed about the looming presence of radon, which occurs at high levels in the soil across Colorado.

“We know that Colorado is one of the states that has the most radon in the United States,” Eric said.

“It really surprised us that so many people were dying from this gas that you can’t taste, feel or anything like that, and we just wanted to spread awareness about it,” Christina said during an interview at the Jefferson County Department of Health offices in Lakewood.

Jim Dale, epidemiologist for the county agency, said a “broad estimate” based on national figures and bolstered the elevated radon risk in the state suggests 400 radon-caused lung cancers deaths occur each year in Colorado. Based on population assumptions, Dale estimates that 40 of those deaths occur in Jefferson County.

Christina won the national poster contest in 2008 and Eric won the contest in 2010.

With those credentials in their favor, they decided to take their radon detection and mitigation message to the community.

“We were like: We really need to do something about this,” Eric said. “We think it is a really good idea to spread awareness and help people know that there is this stuff out there and we need to fix it.”

Among the fixes: Appendix F of the International Building Code, which suggests several mitigation measures for new construction. The IBC urges such things as polyethylene sheeting beneath crawl spaces, a 3- to 4-inch vent pipe from below grade to the roof that can be modified to accommodate a vent fan where needed and sealed basement joints and the areas where pipes enter structures.

Such measures would cost between $350 and $500, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

And for existing buildings, Eric and Christina to use radon detection kits available from a variety of sources, including Jeffco Health and home improvement stores.

Because radon is contained in soils, basements and ground-floor areas harbor the highest risk for radon exposure.

But homes aren’t the only problem, especially for school children.

“One of the reasons we want to spread awareness is that kids spend most of their time at home or at school and we thought that if one of those has a high radon level then that’s dangerous,” Christina said.

Because schools can pose a risk, she and Eric want to take their presentation to schools, as well, partly because schools are not required to mitigate the intrusion of radon into schools, something both youngsters plan to change.

“Our goal is to spread awareness. Then further down the road, get some laws passed to get it mitigated” in schools as well, Eric said.

When they start lobbying the legislature, the siblings will have plenty of support.

They have enlisted the Colorado Department of Public Health of Environment, the EPA, the American Lung Association and Jeffco’s Health Department in their awareness campaign.

And Jeffco Health spokeswoman Nancy Braden plans to help Eric and Christina compile a YouTube video presentation they can use in their awareness campaign. Braden had high praise for the youngsters.

“Most of us don’t start thinking about medical issues until we are older,” Braden said. “What could be more important in our lives?”

Mayor points to city’s financial health, public safety in year end report

LAKEWOOD – The city fared well during 2010, escaping many of the financial problems that face many of the city’s neighbors, and 2011 offers some promising developments, Mayor Bob Murphy said in his annual Year’s End Report.

“It is time to celebrate accomplishments … some of the things that we accomplished in the City of Lakewood this year,” Murphy told City Council Monday night during the last Council meeting of the year.

Murphy gave credit for the bright outlook to “this council, everybody that works for the City of Lakewood – each and every one of our staff members – and our community, as well, the very, very engaged and active citizenry.”

While most governments in Colorado as well as nation wide are struggling to make ends meet by cutting back on staff, services and other expenses Lakewood has thus far avoided crippling budget problems, adding to the city’s reserve fund for the fourth consecutive year without layoffs or cutbacks in city-provided services, Murphy said.

That came about while the city entered its first full without its long-standing grocery tax, which was eliminated by City Council in response to findings by a city-appointed review panel and a citizen-initiated petition drive that would have sent the matter to a special election.

Among other good news: the city’s crime rate is down for the third consecutive year

“Our fundamental role is keeping Lakewood safe,” Murphy said, praising the Lakewood Police Department as “the best in the state” and acknowledging the role of a vigilant community in safeguarding public safety.

The city also took a large step forward on the issue of government transparency at the beginning of the year, launching The Lakewood Ledger, a searchable online database of the city’s checkbook.

“You can go online and track every single nickel of Lakewood’s revenue and expenses,” Murphy said.

Murphy also noted the city’s role in saving O’Connell Middle School in east-central Lakewood after the school was placed on a Jeffco Public Schools hit-list of facilities to be closed in a money saving measure.

The city lobbied the county school board to spare the school, which serves an economically challenged area of the community. As part of the argument to spare the school, the city revealed plans to launch a Boys and Girls Club at the school, then helped raise the funds to ensure the youth organization could meet its funding goal.

And the city launched a number of small-business initiatives during the year, part of the effort to demonstrate Lakewood is a “small business friendly” community, Murphy said.

Among other 2010 accomplishments on Murphy’s list: a new Head Start preschool center at the new light-rail Garrison Street Station, a Sustainable Neighborhoods Pilot program in the Glennon Heights neighborhood, the Seniors Mentoring Program, the opening of Ortho-Care Colorado Hospital on the St. Anthony Hospital campus, the pending July opening of St. A’s, and the progress of light-rail construction.

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.