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City Council discusses ballot measure

Published Thursday, August 27, 2009

Page 12A

Westminster Window


By Clayton Woullard

Contributing Writer

Federal Heights City Council’s meeting Tuesday night featured a bit of back and forth. And some confusion.

The council discussed a resolution in support of the measure it put on the ballot last week that proposes a 4 percent admissions tax on all entertainment venues in the city. The council will vote on the resolution at its next meeting on Tuesday.

“It’s basically the justification for bringing it before the voters,” city manager Dave Blanchard said, adding that the resolution would serve as talking points when speaking with the public about why the measure is necessary.

In contention were three paragraphs in the resolution. One discussed explaining that without the estimated $500,00 in revenue from the new tax, the city will be unable to adequately meet its infrastructure needs. The discussion was on whether to list as examples the paving of streets and repair and replacement of curbs and gutters.

Council member Scott Rinkenberger suggested council place something more substantial than curbs and gutters. Blanchard pointed out that his staff had researched it and discovered curbs and gutters were one of the main city improvements under the general fund, where the revenue raised would go. Council member Dick Hutchinson said he believes the council should be specific as to where the money would be going.

“I think it’s very important we bring out what we’re going to use this money for to improve our services,” Hutchinson said.

At one point in the discussion Hutchinson suggested condensing the resolution down to a few paragraphs.

“This old country boy doesn’t understand all this stuff,” he said.

Council member Michael Cieszlak pointed out that the resolution is already condensed enough.

“I feel that everything here is well put together. It’s concise. It’s simple,” he said.

Suggestions for how to rephrase the paragraph about city improvements went back and forth; council member Dale Sparks suggested the wording be changed to “paving and repair of city streets.” Rinkenberger suggested “upkeep of city streets,” there was discussion of adding infrastructure until Hutchinson suggested most people don’t know what infrastructure means, and finally “maintenance of city streets and facilities,” which the council rested on. However Sparks objected to the use of facilities as most residents do not use city facilities, he said.

Sparks also pointed out that the council should not go around talking to people about what the revenue will be paid for beyond what’s in the resolution.

“It’s very important we don’t make any promises other than what we talk about,” he said.

Mayor Pro Tem Richard Steele made a note that this admissions tax is a long-term thing and could be around for another 20 to 30 years. Mayor Joyce Thomas shot that down saying the council can’t predict the future.

“You can’t make any promises,” she said. “Voters can come back and say, ‘We don’t want this tax,'” adding that they can’t even promise the tax will bring in $500,000 in its first year.

The other resolution change was to two of the paragraphs that discussed how other cities use the admissions tax, something Blanchard pointed out his staff researched. After some discussion, council member Tanya Ishikawa proposed condensing the two paragraphs into one reading, in part, “admission taxes comparable to this proposed tax are commonly used by local municipalities to generate revenue for operating expenses.”

“This is something that’s truly an offset. So we’re looking at this as a way to raise revenue that other cities are commonly using. If you’re in a resort area it’s just an automatic,” Blanchard said.

The admissions tax measure will appear on the Nov. 3 ballot. Blanchard warned in the meeting that if the measure does not pass there will likely be a reduction in services.

He said after the meeting that he felt ultimately residents would see the tax as reasonable.

“If you don’t want to pay the tax, don’t go (to entertainment venues),” he said. If you can afford to go to an amusement or entertainment venue then the tax is not a burden because you have the money.”

He added that he felt the residents would see the purpose of the tax.

“This is going to be citizens recognizing that we need the revenue and this is the fairest way to do it without impacting those who can afford it the least,” he said.



Voters to decide admission tax

Published Thursday, August 20, 2009

Page 1A

Westminster Window


By Clayton Woullard

Contributing Writer

Federal Heights City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to place a measure on the Nov. 3 ballot that would established a 4 percent tax on admissions to entertainment venues if approved by voters.

The tax, which has been discussed at length by the council and city staff in previous study sessions, would affect establishments such as strip clubs and bars that charge a cover fee, events held by businesses or organizations at churches or schools, and Water World, which would be the biggest source of revenue through the admissions tax for the city.

The council voted to hold a special meeting next Tuesday night to discuss the ballot measure further. There was some discussion on whether to hold the meeting today. Council member Dale Sparks stressed the need for urgency on moving forward.

He also pointed out that council approved of this tax four or five years ago.

“I want the staff and I want the public to know that this isn’t just something that came on the radar,” Sparks said. “We’ve been wanting to do this for a long time and we finally have the support.”

Council member Tanya Ishikawa added that she wanted to make sure the ballot measure was seen as a positive thing.

“We do need to be creative and find other revenue sources that are valued,” she said.

At Tuesday’s meeting city manager Dave Blanchard stressed the need for this tax before council passed the resolution.

“We are going to experience revenue shortfall but it is important for us to try to find ways to achieve revenue,” Blanchard said. “But it’s also important for us to do this in such a way that we create a very minimum amount of negative impact, especially on those who can afford it least.”

He also noted that other cities in the area also implement and admissions tax on entertainment venues within their city limits.

Federal Heights currently spends as much as it takes in – $8 million and Blanchard has said the city council could use the approximately $500,000 that’s estimated to come from the admission tax.

Blanchard said a few previous mayors and city council members have given their support to this measure.

“Again it’s a fair tax – it is revenue which is needed for the operation of our city. And I think tonight, earlier this evening puts that in perspective,” Blanchard said, referring to a study session item before the formal meeting in which council heard from Police Chief Les Acker about gang problems in the city. “We have serious criminal issues to deal with (and) a very limited police force.”

Blanchard reminded council that if this ballot measure doesn’t pass, services will have to be reduced and job cuts are undesirable. He also pointed out that for every $100 in property tax a Federal Heights resident pays, only 63 cents goes toward the city’s general fund.

Federal Heights proposes entertainment admissions tax

Federal Heights proposes entertainment admissions tax

Water World, Pinnacle Events Center, could be affected

Published Thursday, August 13, 2009

Page 1a

Westminster Window

By Clayton Woullard

Contributing Writer

Voters in Federal Heights could be asked this November to approve an admissions tax credit that would generate up to an estimated half million dollars in revenue.

The 4 percent tax would affect those who attend entertainment venues, including strip clubs and bars that charge a cover, and events held by businesses or organizations at churches or schools. This would include the city’s entertainment money-maker, Water World.

The Federal Heights City Council is expected to approve the ballot question at its Tuesday meeting.

City Manager Dave Blanchard explained the need for the tax during an interview on Friday. He said Federal Heights, like most all cities in the region, is facing increasing costs – the city has $8 million in revenue and $8 million in expenses – and establishing an admissions tax on local entertainment would bring and extra $500,000 per year in revenue.

Blanchard said the tax is “as fair as possible” in relation to admissions taxes of other cities and towns. He added the tax would not affect the revenue of such businesses as Water World, but said those businesses could coud counter and say the tax is a hindrance to their sales.

Only those who attend the entertainment venues would pay the tax and that revenue would go into the city’s general fund. Blanchard said this tax of choice is preferable to raising property taxes.

“Our property tax level is very attractive in Federal Heights,” he said. “But still it’s a burden for a lot of our citizens to pay.”

Because Federal Heights has such a small land area, 1.7 square miles, the city of about 12,000 doesn’t have a lot of the same revenue sources other cities have, Blanchard said.

“We’re just trying to meet our needs. We do not wish to be greedy,” Blanchard said. “And then if we’re looking at what our projected needs are the revenue from this would allow us to present a balanced budget and in fact it would help us to go ahead and proceed with some of the things we have not been able to do because we have not had enough money.”

City Council also discussed the proposed resolution Aug. 3 in a study session after Blanchard spoke about the need for this measure. Blanchard laid out where property tax money goes in Federal Heights – out of every $100 a Federal Heights resident pays in property taxes, $25 goes to Adams County, $3.42 to Rangeview Library District, $65 to the schools, $5.18 to the Hyland Hills Recreation District and 63 cents to Federal Heights.

Council member Dick Hutchinson said he thought it would be fair to tax admissions for church dances, but that fund-raising and educational events should not be taxed.

Council member Richard Steele disagreed, saying at a local church it costs $7 to get into the dance and that money goes back to the church.

“I think your answer to the public is that this is not an attempt to gouge anyone,” Steele said. He added he spoke with a pastor who supported the measure, which drew ire from council member Dale Sparks.

“It really upsets me that anybody, unless you were given authority by somebody, would go to anyone in the community and talk about something we haven’t even decided upon,” Spark said. He stressed that the council has one shot at this. If the ballot measure fails, it would have to wait two years to put it up to vote again.

The potential ballot measure would be the first in the city since 2002 and, if passed, should go into effect Jan 1, 2010.

New York Times reporter honored with Lowell Thomas Award

By Clayton Woullard

Published September 2009 on Colorado SPJ Pro’s website
Lowell Thomas traveled to the deserts of the Middle East to follow Lawrence of Arabia during the First World War.

Helene Cooper traveled to the deserts of Iraq nearly a century later to follow the men and women hunting Saddam Hussein.

And both have been sent around the world and back to find and report the truth. That is why Helene Cooper was honored Tuesday with the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists’ first Lowell Thomas Award, given to a journalist who embodies the spirit of the foreign correspondent.

“It’s really cool to be getting this first award,” she said. “I’m really happy to be talking to journalists…I travel a lot and no matter where I go I feel like can recognize reporters. Because we’re always sort of the dregs of society, we drink too much…but there’s always people like me.”

Cooper discussed her New York Times best-selling memoir The House On Sugar Beach and growing up in Liberia as a descendant of a freed slave who helped settle the country in 1822. In 1980 there was a bloody coup in which a group of noncommissioned army officers, led by Samuel Kanyon Doe, killed then-president William R. Tolbert, Jr. and overtook the government.

When the coup happened it was a shock, Cooper said.

“I was much more concentrated with my teenage things, growing up and going to school and playing with my friends and I didn’t really see what was simmering around me,” she said. “That sort of hit me like a truck. I felt like my whole world just exploded in one minute. I went from being an adolescent who was concerned about a crush that she had on a boy at school to being a terrified kid locked up in my mother’s bedroom while soldiers gang-raped my mother downstairs.”

Cooper and some of her family fled to the United States, where Cooper would go on to graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has worked as a foreign correspondent for The Wall Street Journal taking her to Iceland, Britain, China and Iraq, then as diplomatic correspondent covering the State department for The New York Times and now she is covering the White House for the Times.

In an interview after the event, she described the process of writing her book.

“I did it chronologically and that took about nine months and then I turned it into my editor and she said, ‘Try again, there’s no emotion in here, you’re just giving me the facts’,” she said. “In a way it was a way of hiding from what I didn’t want to do…It was very therapeutic…There’s a lot of things I learned about myself.”

Her mother was initially cautious of her writing her memoir.

“My mother kept telling me…‘You’re only in your thirties, what do you mean you’re writing you’re memoirs?’” she said. In the end her family was supportive.

She said people often ask her why, after going through all that trauma, she would want to cover conflicts around the world like in the Middle East, Haiti and Cambodia.

“I never wanted to be surprised by that again,” she said. “I wanted to be aware of the world around me, I wanted to be aware of what was going on, I wanted to know things were happening and I wanted to know the why behind them.”

Moderator Ann Imse also asked Cooper about why women and girls in Africa are so often taken advantage of or abused.

“I think African women are probably the strongest women in the world,” Cooper said. “These women drive the economy, what little economy you have in a lot of these war-torn countries is driven by the market women…It’s hard for me to say why it is that an a relationship between an old man and a 17-year-old who has no prospects, who’s been living in a refuge camp has no food and no anything, no education and somehow is offered a place to sleep with a powerful man and somehow they say that relationship is consensual.”

She also dispelled the hype that the Obama administration is more open than the Bush administration.

“There’s plenty of friction with the Obama administration as well, they’re pretty secretive too. There’s a façade within this administration of openness,” she said. “They put a lot of stuff put up on their Web site but it’s very controlled…They really like to think they can control the message, control what gets out and sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t.”

She said covering the White House is rewarding, but exhausting. Reporters on the White House go in shifts with one reporter each week of the month intensively covering the White House for seven days straight.

“You’re lurching from area to area to area,” she said. “When I’m glued to the White House I’m writing about anything so a lot of times I find myself writing about things I have no expertise in…So you end up with a certain knowledge, you become great at cocktail parties…You spend so much more time faking it than you normally do.”

She said covering the White House can often be surreal.

“You really do think once in a while, ‘I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this,’” she said.

Despite having been to war-torn and otherwise dangerous countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, one of her most nerve-racking moments was when she interviewed President Obama on Air Force One.

“I was so nervous because it was the president, but also because I knew I had to get a story out of it,” she said.

And she did. During the interview Obama admitted he would be willing to talk to the Taliban.

“I was like yes, yes, yes!” she said.

Cooper said she felt so honored to receive the Lowell Thomas Award, especially since it was from fellow journalists.

“I can’t tell you just how thrilled I am with this,” she said. “Something that comes from you peers I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel.”

Former Bush speech writer kicks off Verba speaker series

Story by Clayton Woullard

Published on Colorado SPJ Pro’s website October 15, 2009
Former Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer kicked off the third season of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Helen Verba lecture series talking about bad senators, bad advisers and a funny president.

Latimer spoke at the Denver Press Club Oct. 13 as one of his only speaking events on his tour to promote his new book, Speech-less: Tales Of A White House Survivor. He also said it was one of his first public speaking events.

Seeming to not want to denigrate his former boss, Latimer mostly spoke warmly of President George W. Bush for whom he helped write speeches from March 2007 to October 2008. Still, some politicians and columnists came down on him for writing so candidly about what went on in the Bush administration, even before the book was published.

“My mom still won’t even watch TV because Bill Bennett, former secretary of education, a man I admire a great deal, denounced me and said I belong on the worst ring of hell,” Latimer said to a group of about 40 people. The moderator for the event was Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi.

Latimer said he didn’t except the hoopla about his book in Washington, D.C.

“There was one day that I was on CNN nearly the entire day, and I didn’t expect that,” he said. “I just thought I’d put out a simple book my tale, my experience and people would ignore it and move on but no, people are very sensitive in Washington and I guess I did hit a lot of sensitive areas.”

Latimer said he always wanted to be a political speechwriter, even when he was young.

“Some kids were following like baseball times, and I was coloring red states and blue states on maps I had drawn,” he said.

One of Latimer’s critiques of the Bush administration is that he wasn’t really a conservative in the truest sense considering how much money was spent and how much the government grew.

He also observed how easily representatives and senators are absorbed into the political system in Washington, D.C.

“We send people to Washington time and time again to say that they’re going to represent us, and they’re not going to get ruined by Washington, they’re not going to change, and they go to Washington, and they change,” he said. “It’s very rare to find a politician who goes to Washington, sticks to what they believe in and doesn’t get seduced by the power and the privilege.”

He pointed to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, as an example of someone who was seduced by power and privilege. He said she had two young aides who people in Washington called “purse boys” because basically their job appeared to be to hold her purse as she went around the Capitol Hill.

“The U.S Senate is like 17th French aristocracy,” he said. “Senators…have probably two, three, maybe four offices…everything is geared toward privileges, and they just want to get re-elected.”

He said there was no real set way to write a speech for Bush. The former president would set the theme. He also loved jokes and the lawyers hated jokes. As an example he told about a joke he wanted Bush to say about Jessica Simpson.

“She had just gone to Iraq, so I thought it would be funny for President Bush to go to the USO and say ‘Ya know everybody credits my decision to send more troops into Iraq for turning the situation in the country around. But we all know the real reason Iraq got better, because the USO decided to deploy Jessica Simpson.”

He said it was a simple joke, but there was a big battle in the White House about it because the lawyers didn’t want to give the impression that Simpson actually went there and turned things around.

Latimer emphasized that Bush was not a dumb man as many in the public believed, and that he was very funny. He did say Bush wasn’t very curious.

“He didn’t seem, at least from my perspective, to dwell a lot on what were the alternative views, he was very decisive and more certain about his own opinions.”

He said Bush was also very blunt, sometimes overly blunt, and he got criticized for quoting him verbatim. He also said he had very good political sense and made comments on the 2008 election.

“After Sarah Palin was chosen…he said “Ya know she’s an interesting choice,’” he said, further adding Bush’s comment, “’Ya know let’s wait a few weeks from now and see if the bloom’s still on that rose.’”

He said Bush’s economic advisers and former treasury department head Henry Paulson told the former president that the economy was strong—and then came the economic collapse.

“Most of the people who were in charge of government at the time are still there,” Latimer said. “Members of Congress just changed seats…I just thought that was a curious thing.”

He found former vice president Dick Cheney to be shy and “someone who was more comfortable around books than people.”

Latimer said one of his most proud moments as a speechwriter was when Bush had to speak to the Tuskegee airmen for a gold medal ceremony. The Tuskegee airmen were a group of black pilots who served in the military during World War II and faced discrimination, including never being saluted.

“I had the president say ‘Ya know this is not going to make up for that history, but if I can offer you one small token of our appreciation, on behalf of the country you served, I want to salute you for your service to the country. So the president saluted them…all the old black men…they all struggled to their feet, with tears in their eyes, and they saluted him back. And the president cried, and Nancy Pelosi cried, and Colin Powell cried.”

Latimer is currently helping former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, for whom he wrote speeches for three years, put together his memoirs. He has also been offered to write a column and is planning to write a second book.

Verba was a Denver Post staffer who had such a passion for SPJ she left a $50,000 endowment upon death, which turned into $150,000. As a result for the past three years, SPJ Colorado has been able to put on free lectures for the public.

New art gallery opens imagination on Broadway

This is taken from a website two of my journalism friends and I started in September called On Broadway, where we cover all things that happen on Broadway in Denver. Check out the original posting here.

November 12, 2009 · Leave a Comment

By Clayton Woullard

The monsters came out to play.  And the kids came to play with them.

That was the scene at Illiterate Magazine’s brand new art gallery at Bayaud Ave. and Broadway on First Friday Nov 6.

The installation was Where The Wild Things Art, based on the popular 1963 children’s book Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, which has recently been adapted into a live-action feature directed by Spike Jonze.

The book tells the story of young Max, who is sent early to bed with no supper for making mischief. He then becomes immersed in a world from his own imagination where monsters, called the Wild Things, roam and try to eat him.

He manages to tame the monsters and becomes “King of the Wild Things,” then dancing with them in a “wild rumpus” until he feels homesick and goes back to his bedroom.

Electronic music emanated from the basement while mostly young people, around 40 people at any given time, stirred around, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon and wine and admiring the brilliant art, based on Max the King.

The installation took two months to put together and featured 28 artists, said Rachel Paton of South Denver, and comics editor for the magazine.

“It was such a great book in the ‘70s,” Paton said. “And with the movie going on we thought why not run with it?”

The opening was the debut for the art gallery, located at 87 S. Broadway, and was very much a do-it-yourself project she said. Pieces ranged from a few hundred dollars to $1,200.

Editor and founder of Illiterate Adam Gildar said the gallery is a dream, not yet a dream come true.

“People really took this theme and for lack of a better pun, they ran wild with it,” he said. “It was a call to action and they took action.”

The regular free literary magazine publishes photos, art, poetry and fiction. People can submit their work to the magazine’s website and the users of the site vote on them. The editors take the votes into consideration when printing the magazine.

David Sheets’ Let The Wild Rumpus Start, a purple piece featuring a boy riding a skateboard over a fountain as monsters lounge around piqued the interest of several onlookers, including Sarah Redfield of Boulder.

“I’ve never seen that technique before and the use of color really caught my eye,” she said.

Adam Sikorski of Denver, and a local artist himself, had his eye on The Melting King by Milton Melvin Croissant III, which depicted a king with what looked like fluorescent snakes spilling out of his face.

“It kinda scares me a little but at the same time that guy is awesomely weird,” he said.

Kaitlyn South of Denver was admiring Katherine Rutter’s untitled piece of six panels that stood out from the crowd. One panel featured and boy and a girl making hand shadows, another with a girl operating a bunny puppet and another more creepy panel with a boy with animal skulls on his hands.

“I feel that they’re the most unique and they took the most different interpretation of the showing,” South said.

Mark Sink, owner of the local Gallery Sink for the past 10 years, was one of many who showed up to help build the art gallery space and was impressed with how it came together.

“They really turned it from a beat-up space to a nice gallery,” he said.

Sandi Calistro’s untitled piece was a bit different in that it featured a girl donning a bunny suit in a boat encountering a fearsome dragon.

“It was geared more toward a female child rather than a male child,” she said.

“I think all of the artwork is amazing,” she added.

In addition to paintings and sculptures the gallery also sold necklaces of different colors shaped like divining rods and t-shirts, one with a funky design spawned by Paton.

Next up for the gallery is a fashion show put on by local fashionista Bailey Rose who will be featuring reconstructed fashion and fashion incorporating bicycle intertubes as part of her spring workbook from 7 to 11 p.m., on Nov. 21.

Charter school targets college goals

Charter schools targets college goals

August 06, 2009
Vicky Annesty went through three high schools before coming upon Early College High School at Arvada and its new program, Excel. She said she ran into the same problem at all her previous schools.

“I have problems with bigger schools,” said Annesty, 17, who just finished her junior year. “I had problems with teachers not paying (enough) attention because they had so many students.”

She said she wants more one-on-one time with teachers, and that’s one of several features the Arvada charter school promises with Excel, a new program geared toward 15- to 17-year-olds looking to quickly recover their credits, gain college credits or didn’t succeed in a traditional high school setting. The program begins Aug. 17.

Annesty said she usually gets good grades, but when she was lacking in one-on-one time, her grades dropped. She heard her neighbor was going to ECHS, so she thought it might be a better fit.

The new program is not simply for those looking to only get their high school diploma. Every student in the program is expected to go on to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree. Annesty said she is hoping to get better grades so she can get into a good college, possibly one in Maine, to study marine biology.

The program, which is free and open to students in any school district, offers students the chance to get a high school diploma and up to 20 college credit hours, said Chris Gerboth, director of student services at Early

“Society looks at students falling into this category as at risk, or falling behind,” Gerboth said. “When the rubber hits the road, they’re actually able to think and perform more efficiently. They have a little bit better sense of who they are, maybe they have a job and more responsibilities.”

Excel is designed to take two to three years for a student to complete. The first year consists of credit recovery — or giving students the ability to retake classes they failed — and academic skills building — such as college preparedness, self-advocacy and interpersonal communication.

“Very few high schools teach how to take notes or how to read a textbook,” Gerboth said.

As well as meeting the age requirements, to qualify students must have at least 20 high school credits, equal to two, yearlong classes. Students do not have to take any admissions exams to get into the program,

In addition to traditional classes, the program offers self-paced study and computer and online classes for credit recovery. The classes are age-appropriate — meaning the curriculum will be molded around the learning abilities and skills of 15- to 17-year-old students — and are constructed to build on students’ existing strength.

The school will hold most of the classes in a workshop setting, where students work in groups and teachers can walk around the classroom, helping students who need it. Classes will have between 20 and 23 students each.

Classes are offered from either 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. for students who work late after school.

The program also incorporates the same core values the school tries to instill in all of its students, the five R’s: respect, responsibility, rigor, relevance and relationships. Gerboth said in addition to being incorporated into the curriculum, students meet with advisors everyday for 15 minutes during which those values are discussed.

Gerboth said while schools on the East and West coasts have embraced programs like Excel, the interior part of the country has been slow to incorporate such programs in their high schools. Often students who fail in high school are forced to drop out.

Gerboth said the school will be taking admissions a little bit past the Aug. 17 start date. However maximum enrollment is 40, in addition to the 100 traditional students the school is anticipating this year. He said he is expecting most admissions to come in close to the start date because students are waiting to see what their spring grades and CSAP results are, to see whether or not the students need an alternative program.


Call 720-479-3475 or visit for more information or to register.

The school will host an informational session from 7-8:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 10 at Early College High School, 4905 W. 60th Ave., Arvada.