Thursday, December 21, 2017

I like my milk homogenized and my schemes as pure as the driven snow.

Purity works in gold processing, homogenized milk, and separation of colors in laundry. Watch this short news piece on Elbert County government and ask yourself the following questions:

1. Where do you go if you find yourself on the opposite side of an issue than the current Elbert County government?
2. Does winning an election mean you govern only those who see things your way?
3. Should we remove the term “representative government “ from all of Elbert County documents and replace it with “hand-picked government?”
4. Would Chris Richardson be satisfied with this logic, if he found himself at odds with a sitting BOCC or if he felt his government was not listening to him?
5. Does being  marginalized and disregarded merely because you hold an opposing view to a sitting BOCC mean you should have no voice?

You will notice, I did not use the name of any political party.  Let me assure you that many of  the voices whom this BOCC is trying to silence belong to the historically dominant party here  in Elbert County and they are being ignored as well.  Welcome to the concept of authoritarianism in our own backyard. 

View the Channel 9 News Video

The Elbert County BOCC policy
The Elbert County Board of Commissioners is all "you can't sit with us" (literally) if you don't meet the very specific guidelines.
Posted by Next with Kyle Clark on Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Heart of the Vote

As some of you know, I have been actively involved in helping to administrate the elections process here in Elbert County for many years.  From being an election watcher, to a poll volunteer, to an election judge, I have tried to do my part to help Elbert County have fair and accurate elections.  I do this, knowing full good and well, that there isn't a snowball's chance in Tampa that someone from the Democrats of Elbert County will be elected.  Yes, I am a Democrat.  It is okay. Elections in Colorado require participation by paired teams of both Democrats and Republicans in order to fulfill election laws in the state.

For the last couple of election cycles here in Colorado, we have moved over to a mail-in ballot system.  It is inevitable that when you change any kind of bureaucratic process in a state, especially  one that involves an election, eyebrows will go up and trust levels will go down.  It is human nature.  The immediate question becomes, "What was wrong with the old way?"  Like an old pair of boots, you just expect that when you put 'em on, they're incredibly comfortable, and that is the way your feet are supposed to feel.   But what if I told you that those old clodhoppers that you have been sporting for so many years might actually not be as good for your feet as you always believed?  Heresy you say!  Maybe not.

Before we adopted the mail ballot system here in Colorado, our election integrity rating in Colorado was somewhere in the the middle of the fifty states.  Today we are in the top ten for election integrity.  For those of you who believe the election system is rigged and that the best candidates are getting cheated at the ballot box, think again.  (I am not saying anything about how candidates get on the ticket or survive the selection process by the local political parties.  That is just as big of a hot mess as it has always been on both sides of the political aisle.)  All I am saying, is that if you are looking for a boogeyman in the election offices in your county, our county in particular, the chances here in Colorado are becoming very slim that a cabal of corrupt political pirates are flipping elections.

There is a tremendous amount of accountability in Colorado's election system.  Every voter sends in a ballot with his signature.  Every registered voter has a signature sample (or multiple signature samples) on file with the state.  Every ballot signature is verified by a trained, bipartisan team for authenticity.  If the signature does not cut the mustard, it is put through a system to get to the bottom of why that signature failed to pass. Without a verified signature, the vote won't count, but the ballot at that point undergoes a rigorous "procedure to correct" process.  The voter is contacted and instructed on just how to remedy the situation.  Every vote matters in this system.  And while I cannot speak for every election office in every county in the Colorado, I can tell you with 100% certainty, the Elbert County Election Office takes pride in not only its efficiency, accuracy and adherence to state standards, but more importantly that when they complete an election, they know in their hearts that without bias every vote was treated equally.  I believe that.

I will not go into the minutiae of every step of this system.  Suffice it to say, it takes training from the state and you must pass coursework.  Every year, all judges, election officers, judges, watchers, etc. undergo testing to stay up with the changes (if any) since the last election.  It is important that, if you still have questions about the veracity of our current system, you go online to the Secretary of State's website and peruse the information provided to you on the topic of elections.  

Furthermore, I would encourage you to consider taking the training to become an election watcher so that you can observe first hand, just how thorough our process is here in Colorado.  Consider becoming involved with your political party's election team and volunteer to take the training and work an election. It will not only serve to reassure you about the integrity of the vote here in Colorado, but it will also leave you with a sense of community pride knowing that you performed an honest act of civic duty.

Why did I write this?  Who does it serve?  Let me be crystal clear on a couple of facts before I bring this to a close:  It takes energy to complain about a voting system that is not corrupt.  Do your homework and stop looking for the problems with our political maladies in the election office. If you do not trust this system, at least go to the state and learn how it actually works.  Please do not spread baseless political falsehoods garnered from social media.  As a retired educator I can tell you that intellectual curiosity that leads you to fact check these troubling notions will ultimately save you time and avoid ulcers.  
Now take that energy you saved and put it toward becoming a positive force, involved in the political process.  Pick a party, any party (kind of like a magic deck of cards), and be the person who helps to put candidates up for elections who will actually serve your needs.  It is only important that they serve your needs and also your neighbor's needs.  Stop picking candidates that only campaign on vanquishing the evils of their opponents.  Tell them that you will hold them accountable!  Mean it when you tell them they must deliver on their promises.  Stop believing that those who hold opposing political views are evil.  

Take an opposing party member out for coffee once in a while and talk about what would make your city or county a better place to raise a family.  Let's come together as a community.  If you love your country, remember that it is diversity that made us great, not divisiveness.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tarantula Sex

Tarantula Sex

With apologies to George Benson

(Sung to the tune "On Broadway")

They say the women treat you right in Ordway
But looking at them just gives me the blues
'Cause how you gonna make some time
When all you got is one thin dime
And one thin dime won't even shine your shoes 
In Ordway
"On Broadway "
Written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil in collaboration with the team of

Last Thursday I couldn't sleep so I fired up my iPad and found an article that absolutely blew my mind.  It was from the La Junta Tribune-Democrat and was entitled, Tarantulas on the Move This Weekend.  People who know me understand that I have an interest in science, photography, history and politics.  If you count the name of the newspaper, this article covered every one of those bases and I was immediately hooked.  The article outlined the annual migration and "sexcapades" of Colorado's most abundant species of tarantulas.  Yes, Colorado has tarantulas!  Yes, those big hairy spiders. And yes, they are close to where we live!  I must admit, I had never been aware of this annual migration and as a result, I immediately planned a road trip.

The Arkansas River Basin in Southern Colorado is home to literally millions of tarantulas.  The species of which I am referring to is the Oklahoma Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma hentzi) a.k.a. "The Texas Brown Tarantula, The Missouri Tarantula."  Every year, just about this time, the sexually mature males of this species head out to find themselves a mate.  Love is in the air and spiders are on the move in places and towns with swell names like Swink, La Junta, Ordway, Kim, Timpas, Rocky Ford and Fowler.  No place is as swank as a place like Swink to a Brown Tarantula.

I mistakenly thought the notion of heading out with my cameras to capture the ecstasy and grandeur of tarantula sex would have my friends begging to come along. I imagined this would be such an a popular idea that we might just have to rent a bus. Okay, no one was interested except for my wife, and that may have only been to dial 911 because she could imagine I probably would be attacked by hoards of horny spiders. In support of her reasoning, I admit that I have a history...I can be a klutz.

I need to back up for a moment.  You may have found yourself wondering just how spiders tell the locals that they are about to celebrate this annual event.  After all, this is the only time of year when all of these gallant males of a certain age and drive are going to go out in public and they want people to be aware of their presence, right?  Wrong.  They don't care about a damned thing except for those comely lasses hiding in their underground dirt hidey-holes playing hard-to-get.  

However, It is not the spiders that are the harbingers of arachnosexcapades at all. It is, in fact, the giant wasps known as Tarantula Hawks (Pompilidae, Pepsis sp.). 
These beauties are the ones that definitely have the most interest in tarantula migrations.  When the Tarantula Hawks start hanging around, the people who are attune to such occurrences call the local newspapers because they know that the short migration of Oklahoma Brown Tarantulas has begun.  You see, the Tarantula Hawks need tarantulas for laying their eggs.  If a Tarantula Hawk stings you and you happen to be a tarantula, you are in for an excruciating death.  When the Tarantula Hawk strikes, her venom paralyzes the spider.  Then this wasp proceeds to lay her eggs. Unfortunately, the venom does not immediately kill the tarantula;  the slow agonizing death comes from the larvae leisurely eating the paralyzed, very alive spider right there on the spot. 
In a bit of irony, the venom from an Oklahoma Brown Tarantula is no more dangerous to humans than the sting from your average honey bee. In fact, some experts say they have no venom whatsoever. The Tarantula Hawk, on the other hand, has one of the most vicious stings in terms of pain that a human being can endure.   

'The sting of the Hawkwasp is likened to being electrocuted, or having your blood replaced by fire.' 

Sting researcher


People are pretty casual about dispatching a single wasp. Without too much fear they are quick to grab a flyswatter to kill any irritating flying critter.  I am reminded of my father who was deathly afraid of snakes.  Once as a child, I caught a small harmless garden snake and wanted to keep it as a pet. My dad nixed that plan even though I assured him it would not harm him.  He very carefully explained to me that it is not the snake that would kill you;  it is running into a low pipe while trying to flee what you are afraid of that will kill you. Wisdom I think we should all consider. 

That is the way it is with Oklahoma Brown Tarantulas.  They really are quite harmless, but if you jump into the path of an oncoming bus to avoid one, you are a goner.  However, if  that Tarantula Hawk stings you, it will be excruciating and something you will never forget. Few people know about the Tarantula Hawk sting but they become experts once it tags them.  Just something to keep in mind...
My wife and I headed out early and were in the Arkansas River Basin within a few hours.  I decided to take the matter of how to find the tarantulas by the horns...ask the locals.  We pulled into a few convenience stores and I would casually wander up to the counter and ask, "Do you know where the spiders are, erm... you know, migrating to have sex?"  With almost no exception, people were quick to point out that while they knew the Basin was a hotbed for the big hairy spiders, nobody seemed to realize that the migration was in progress or where one would find some wild, risqué spider action. I think a couple of people thought I was pulling their legs. One woman seemed flattered that I thought she looked like a person who might be in command of such information. I was getting nowhere fast. I knew that if this were going to be a successful expedition then I was going to have to be smarter about my exploratory methods.

My next move proved to be a lot more productive. While in line at a convenience store, I tried talking only to those who looked like people who were interested in spiders. (I personally know two people who are really into spiders. Both are attractive, highly intelligent, fun-loving people and both females. However, neither of them were with us to help with our spider quest.) Nobody seemed to be on top of the subject until one man approached me in line.  He said, “I noticed you were talking to all of the attractive, highly intelligent, fun-loving women in line here about spider sex.” He followed up with, “ While I am not female or particularly attractive, I did read an article in the local paper last Friday.  Find that paper and you will find the information for which you seek.”  He then vanished in a puff of smoke.  Did I mention he was smoking a cigar?  

I told Gaye about the incident and she immediately looked up the article online that I referenced above.  It was a very informative piece that gave actual details on where sightings might in fact be possible.  Eureka! We had an actual lead.
We headed out toward Kim, CO from La Junta to look in the recommended areas and drove for what seemed to be an eternity.  While I cannot be certain of this, I believe that temperature is crucial to the art of tarantula spotting. As the afternoon got a little warmer, those determined, hairy boys started heading out onto the roads. And one by one, they started their journey across the asphalt.  It was awesome.

I must digress for a moment to mention that the likelihood of you seeing a tarantula from a speeding car is greatly enhanced when they actually step out on to the pavement. Despite their large size, (up to five inches in diameter), they are virtually impossible to see in the grasses and weeds on the soft shoulders. They are camouflage geniuses. 

And, I contend that all of the jokes you have heard for your entire life about why the chicken crossed the road actually originated with big hairy spiders. Why did the chicken cross the road?  Well, it was a damned chicken, and if you know chickens, you are probably aware that they are both flighty and a tad scatter-brained.  They might not even give you the same answer twice in a week about their motives regarding getting from one side of the street to the other.  

Compare that to the answer you might get from an Oklahoma Brown Tarantula if you asked him why he was crossing the road.  The sturdy spider will, without hesitation, tell you that he was crossing the road to get laid.  We tend to be a bit puritanical here in the USA, so it is just easier to make fun of chickens than it is to answer questions about sex.  I am sure that made sense to someone reading this, but as I said a few paragraphs back in this article, “I digress.”

Both the male and female of the Oklahoma Brown Tarantula species molt every year to allow for growth.  Until he becomes sexually mature, the male is slower, chubbier, less attractive and certainly less buff than when he finishes his final molt.  That final molt is like a super makeover.  He is leaner, faster and so much better equipped to meet the ladies.  If I am not mistaken, he even develops tibial hooks on his legs to keep his amorous, yet bite-happy partner from nipping the crap out of him with her ample fangs as they go about the process of making wee baby spiders. He is often successful dodging her "love bites"  and if he is, he just may live long enough to find a few more partners before he dies.  Yep, this is a once in a lifetime migration for him. He is gonna die.   Period.   Done.  Last hurrah.

Those female Oklahoma Browns, on the other hand, may have many partners over the course of their lifetimes. These lovely creatures can live up to 30 years in the wild.  Go figure.  Where is the justice?

It was a fascinating day, and I know enough now to look for the event each Fall, and I definitely will. The spiders are actually pretty easy to photograph and even though they are not particularly enamored by the attention, they really just want to get about their business. I am certain that kids would just go wild at the opportunity to meet spiders this large in the wild.  Of course, they should not be picked up or taken home to become "pets."  Remember, the spider that you pick up is more than likely to be a sexually mature male and, sadly for him, at the end of his life cycle. He needs to spend the remainder of his time here left on Earth doing his spider business. His destiny. 

Look for an article next year, around this time in October, from me. Perhaps a tour bus with scores of tarantula sex enthusiasts can be arranged. Okay, not every idea is a good idea.


Monday, September 11, 2017

Chris Richardson and the Denver Basin

So a friend of mine, who just happens to be a Republican, sent me the following Chris Richardson diatribe from the Elbert County Republicans Page: 

"In terms of water, this is very well thought out project. The developer has a strong conservation component to the community. A CAT III (treated to almost drinkable levels) water plant will capture and treat all the water used in the homes of the community and reuse it for irrigation of open spaces and individual lawns - through this method, the amount of water allocated to the project by the state (only water that exists under the boundaries of the property itself) will provide for over 500 years of supply. This is far in excess of the 300 years we require in Elbert County (we and El Paso County require 300 years - all other counties only require 100 years supply).
Additionally, during the hearings we made the developer change his plan to ensure that there could be no shipment of water outside of the county from this property. Additionally, any shipment of water to support any individual or entity outside of the property (but within the county) would have to be requested by those that would receive the water and could only be approved after a publicly noticed hearing so no changes could be made secretly in the future. Again - any changes considered would have to meet our 300 water requirement." 
Ever the comedian, Chris started his post with a deep pun: "...this is a very WELL thought out project."  Now, that right there is some funny stuff on several different levels, five different levels, as a matter of for each aquifer in the Denver Basin.  Was this project carefully thought through as much as Chris describes?  Yes, it was! I have no doubt that the lawyers, water district officials, and investors would not have settled for less.  They have poured a ton of money into this project. I am sure the orders came down from the very top of the water chamber of command,  "Think of a way we can get that water out from under Elbert County!" someone hollered.  And with that...the stage was set.  

In capital letters Chris Richardson defines the water treatment as a "CAT III!"  Damned if that does not sound as serious as a heart attack or at least a hurricane bearing down on Florida.  At one point Hurricane Irma  was designated a CAT III! You have captured our attention now, Commissioner Richardson.  Richardson then quickly lets you know just how serious this whole thing is by saying the water will be treated to near drinkable levels!  Wow. Here's a fact for Commissioner Richardson: Urine is near drinkable! Was this treatment process thing designed by NASA?  I find myself now thinking (tongue firmly in cheek) that I would be damned lucky to have near-drinking  water running out of a tap at my house.  Oh, and by the way, I hope I am spelling this correctly. Should this new term be hyphenated?  Merriam-Webster failed to cue me in on the proper spelling of "near-drinking." Maybe the taps will be color coded.  Clear PVC is potable water while yellow PVC is near-drinkable.  I am feeling a little sorry for my colorblind friends right now.

The good commissioner then goes on to show how the 300 year water rule protects us from running out of water in Elbert County.  What could possibly go wrong there? I mean, Douglas County didn't want to wait 300 to 500 years to run out of water.  They did it in a matter of a mere couple of decades. As a result, we now  have people  just like former commissioner Kurt Schlegel running around trying to purchase water for places like Falcon, Castle Rock and Franktown. What?  You thought Kurt was at the BOCC meeting because he wants to grow Elbert County?  It was more likely he was there as the head of the Cherokee Water District, which is trying to purchase water for El Paso County residents.  

With a population of less than 30,000 people in Elbert County, near-drinkable water standards, and a 300 year water rule, we must be in great shape.  And with an expected price for an acre foot of water from the Denver Basin to top $30K, nobody can make any money on a resource that experts are calling the new gold.  Does that make sense to you?  Oh well, you can can trust Kurt and Chris.  They were elected after all.
As for building in protections from transferring  water to another water district by saying they would have to have a hearing,  they just voted unanimously to okay a project on a flawed PUD.  That is not me saying that;  that is a law firm ready to go to court against Elbert County saying that. The BOCC would okay making declaring water skiing the official sport of the county if Independence developer Tim Craft's attorneys were requesting it. 

I would also like to remind Mr. Richardson that you can say anything you want to your lawyer.  Craft can sell his water no matter what you do to coerce him with your highfalutin lawyer.  Mr. Craft was agitated that Mr. Richardson made approval of the proposed development, contingent upon not transferring water to another water district without first gaining permission from the BOCC.  That said, the water rights are his, adjudicated, a personal asset and if he wants to sell them?  Well, let's just say that you, Mr. Richardson, do not have any say-so in that regard.  All you did was make his payout a one time event instead of a regular paycheck.  Look it up.
Now, in a more serious tone:  Unlike Mr. Richardson, I do not profess to be a water expert but I have been working on water issues since the mid-1990's.  I sat on a couple of very important Restoration Advisory Boards (RAB's).  There were some very serious issues of contamination to the Denver Bedrock Aquifers from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, the Denver Waste Management Super Fund site on Gun Club Road, and the Former Bombing and Gunnery Range for Lowry Air Force Base.  In order to be on any RAB and make a difference, you have to keep up with a host of experts provided to you nonstop from the Army Corps of Engineers.  You have to do your homework.  You have to learn about how aquifers work, what their designations mean and who stands to make or lose money when it comes to selling, buying, polluting or making false claims about water in an aquifer system.  That is how my wife and I came to be somewhat knowledgeable about water.  Not experts, but I am confident in my claims.

I am not exactly sure what would prompt Mr. Richardson to boast that there impenetrable layers of rock exist between the five layers of the Denver Basin, but I have a lot of research that would indicate that while that might be true in areas of the Basin, it certainly is not true for the entire basin.   
He goes on to say, 
"The wells that will support this community will pull water primarily from the deep Denver and Arapahoe aquifers, not from the more shallow Upper and Lower Dawson Aquifers that people with individual wells use. There is no communication between the 5 aquifers (Upper and Lower Dawsons, Denver, Arapahoe, and Laramie-Fox Hills) that fall under the property. So usage of water from one aquifer doesn't effect water levels in another. (NOTE: Some usage of Dawson wells already permitted on the property is envisioned until the reuse/irrigation system is online - this usage is approved by the state and the allocation is minimal). Bottom line - the water used by this community will not affect local existing wells. I know that people are concerned but, the facts should minimize those concerns."
Mr. Richardson likes terms like "communication" when speaking about aquifers.  Of course it is a nonsensical use of terminology because water is not sentient and only seeks to find its level.  The Denver Basin and its five aquifers were formed by the breaking down of our Rocky Mountains, which actually used to be very much larger than they are today.  As a result, there are a lot of different kinds of layers of rock.  There is a great deal of conglomerate rock that is very porous.  There are some vast and very dense areas of expansive clays.  There is a great deal of sand, which is why our aquifers have given many the impression that there is lots and lots of water below our feet.  Not so fast, cowboy.

But if you sit down with the geologists who specialize in aquifers and the formations in which they reside, you soon learn that there are plenty of mathematical calculations that present educated guesses at the amounts of water in the Denver Basin.  None of them are necessarily accurate.  Those geologists just do not know how much water is in the Basin.  They cannot know because the formation is comprised of so many different kinds of features that they have no way of knowing, when they do a core sample, just what it will reveal.  

Talk to any well digger along the Front Range.  Talk to anyone that has to do percolation tests to see if your ground is suitable for a septic field.  Those people will tell you about clays, sandstone, sand lenses, and thick slabs of conglomerate rock.  Look up at the escarpments next to Kiowa and Cherry Creek.  Does that rock appear to be solid granite?  Even the most impenetrable layers of bentonite clay hide lenses of sand.  

I am reminded of a geologist from the Army Corps of Engineers who wanted to dig a seventy-five foot deep trench around the Denver Waste Management Super Fund Site in Aurora off of Gun Club Road and Quincy over twenty years ago.  He insisted that, if you fill the trench with expansive clay, it would make an impenetrable wall around the cesspool of Benzene and other deadly toxins in the groundwater because the landfill sat squarely on a layer of what was said to be solid rock.  Of course, we looked at it but did not allow them to build the trench barrier without test wells outside the proposed wall's perimeter.  Within a few months of completion of the clay wall,  toxins were found in the test wells.  After doing more bores, it was determined that there were significant sand lenses in the rock.  One scientist said that those lenses might be as wide as seventy-five feet.
When Chris Richardson tells you he knows what the Denver Basin looks like and whether it will or will not allow for water to migrate from one aquifer to another, he is just spouting half-truths.  If I had a dollar for every time Grant Thayer has announced publicly that he had a prosperous career as an engineer and knows a thing or two about oil, gas and water,  I wouldn't need to stop by the ATM for a month of Sundays.  What I never hear either one of them ask the people (who they are about to school in Aquifers 101) is if  they just might have a background that might shed a bit more light on the subject.  Never was that so apparent as it was during the testimony on the Independence development.   

The commissioners in this county, for as far back as I can remember, act as if they are anointed to the high station of Elbert County Commissioner by their Maker and that they are the font of all wisdom.  They are not, and neither am I, but at least I am willing to do my homework and learn.  

I have been active in the fight for people to take charge of their property rights for many years.  There is some irony in the fact that a Democrat has to remind a Republican BOCC that water districts are a bane to the water rights of the average homeowner in this county.  It goes without saying, these three commissioners have been on board with the Independence development since they began their campaigns over a year ago.  There were and still are conflicts of interest and most definitely intellectual dishonesty.  

The citizens  were ignored and the Central Committee of the Elbert County Republicans are responsible for the future outcome of this project, not the rank and file Republicans who only wanted their elected officials to demand a reset on this project.

Friday, September 1, 2017

A Pertinent Complaint on the Independence Matter

The following is a letter shared with me by Jackie Tugwell.  She gave me permission to post.  This is very important complaint to be aware of as we head into the September 5th. meeting of the BOCC at the Elbert County Fairgrounds.

Letter from Folkestad, Fazekas, Barrick, & Patoile, P.C. regarding Independence Specials Districts non-compliance with Elbert County Zoning Regulations. A HUGE thank you to Tony Corrado for your knowledge and helping to bring attention to this issue.
Sent via email to:
Elbert County Assistant County Attorney:
Bart Greet
P.O. Box 924 Kiowa, CO 80117
Board of County Commissioners:
Chris Richardson, District 1
Danny Willcox, District 2
Grant Thayer, District 3
August 31, 2017
Re: Independence Special Districts/Incomplete Applications
This firm represents Jackie Tugwell and Shelly Rodie, as property owners within ¼ mile of the proposed Independence Subdivision and related proposed Special Districts. This letter shall serve as notice to the Board of County Commissioners that the Applicant’s Special District pre- and final applications are incomplete and must be rejected for failure to comply with applicable County regulations.
The Special Districts that are the subject of this letter are:
1. Case # SR-17-0020 The Independence Water & Sanitation District;
2. Case # SR-17-0021 The Independence Overlay Metropolitan District;
3. Case # SR-17-0022 The Independence Metropolitan District No. 1;
4. Case # SR-17-0023 The Independence Metropolitan District No. 2;
5. Case # SR-17-0024 The Independence Metropolitan District No. 3;
6. Case # SR-17-0025 The Independence Metropolitan District No. 4.
Pursuant to Resolution 13-13, as recorded in the real property records of Elbert County SR-17-0021 (the “Resolution”), the County has adopted local regulations governing the approval of Special Districts. These regulations were incorporated into Part II, Section 26 of the Elbert County Zoning Regulations, effective April 24, 2013.
As detailed below, the Developer’s pre-applications and final applications are incomplete in various areas. Pursuant to Section C(3) of the Resolution: “If/when either a pre- or final application is found to be incomplete, Community & Development Services shall inform the Applicant, return the Application, and restart the timeline clock only after a completed application has been received.”
Pursuant to Section C. (2)(b)(i) of the Resolution, both the Pre-application and Final Application are required to include certain information specified in Appendices A and B of the Resolution. In this regard, the Developer’s Pre-applications (and final applications) were incomplete in the following regards:
• Appendix A failed to include a list of all parties, individuals and entities providing funding and/or receiving revenue [Resolution, Appendix A, Section A(2)]
• Appendix A failed to include a list of all parties, individuals and entities that are part of the Special District delineating their roles and responsibilities. [Resolution, Appendix A, Section A(3)].
• Appendix A failed to include a report delineating the success of failure of related endeavors in which the same parties, individuals and entities have been associated, including bankruptcies or turn over of Special Districts to other entities for operation. [Resolution, Appendix A, Section A(4)].
• Appendix A of the Independence Water & Sanitation District failed to include an analysis regarding the cost and source of replacement water should the primary water source prove inadequate. [Resolution, Appendix A, Section E(2)].
• Appendix B (and referenced exhibits) apparently fails to provide for 50% funding in excess of the projected 10 year costs to provide for cost overruns. [Resolution, Appendix B, Section B(4)].
The apparent shortfall is exacerbated in light of the Developer’s use of an overstated and illegal residential assessment ratio. See Anderson Analytics Review of Financing Plans prepared for Elbert County Community & Development Services, June 19,2017 (“Anderson Review”) at 7, attached to Addendum to June 16, 2017 Staff Report Document. The Anderson Review further stated that “the residential assessment ratio correction should be made to the Finance Plans (which lowers the amount of debt that can be supported)”. Anderson Review at 8. The County apparently failed to direct the Developer to correct and resubmit the Financial Plan and Service Plans to correct the identified error. As a result, numerous financial conclusions and predictions within the various pre- and final applications are erroneous.
The Resolution clearly mandates that in the event a pre or final application is deemed to be incomplete, the County must return the application and shall restart the “timeline clock” once a completed application is received. Accordingly, based upon the omissions identified above, the Pre-Applications were incomplete and the BOCC is required to direct Community & Development Services to return the applications to the Developer and vacate the September 5, 2017 agenda items regarding Case Nos. SR- 17-0020, SR-17-0021, SR-17-0022, SR-17-0023, SR-17-0024, and SR-17-0025 (The Independence Water &
Sanitation District, The Independence Overlay Metropolitan District, and The Independence Metropolitan District Nos. 1-4, respectively).
The Board of County Commissioners is required to adhere to the unambiguous language of the Resolution, and a failure to do so would constitute an abuse of discretion by the Elbert County Board of County Commissioners. See Friends of the Black Forest Preservation Plan Inc. v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs of El Paso County and Black Forest Mission, LLC, 381 P.3d 396, 400 (Colo. App., 2016) (“A governmental body abuses its discretion if its decision is not reasonably supported by any competent evidence in the record or if the governmental body has misconstrued or misapplied applicable law.”).
Please feel free to contact my office with any questions.


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Water in Peril

Over the past decade, my wife and I have helped a great number of people learn how to fill out their own paperwork with the Colorado Division of Water Resources so that they were able to adjudicate their ground water.  We are not lawyers nor are we water experts.  We are retired  school teachers who moved to Elbert County twenty years ago with the firm understanding that Elbert County is a great place to live as long as you are aware that there is very little surface water.  There are only a handful of creeks and most of them can be jumped over by the average grade school kid looking for tadpoles. I have joked for years that the county motto is "Aqua ludis et sunt optionem," which loosely translates into English as "Water sports are not an option."  A little over 98% of the residents in the county are on well and septic systems.

The Palmer Divide, located on the southern edge of the county and not including the panhandle, rises to over 7,300 feet above sea level and acts as a divider between the Arkansas River drainage and the Platte River drainage.  The greatest amount of precipitation falls on this Palmer Divide area, and the water that accumulates there is the only reason that the average precipitation rate for the entire county rises out of the desert category.  That is the story on the surface of Elbert County, but the hydrology beneath the surface of the county is quite different.  Ironically, the lion's share of the water in the Denver Basin aquifers lies beneath our feet.  The water there has been designated as a finite resource.  The great Denver Basin no longer can recharge itself at a rate that remotely keeps up with the rate at which we pump it out for our homes and agricultural purposes.  

In the Denver Basin we have the 100 year rule in place. Using geological science and computer modeling, experts have determined (scientifically guessed, really)  the approximate amount of water  that is in the ground.  There are five distinct aquifers (Upper Dawson, Lower Dawson, Denver, Arapahoe, and Laramie-Foxhill) separated by layers of rock.  There is much debate about just how much migration of water occurs between the layers of the Denver Basin.  The 100 year rule simply states that, in order to insure water will be available for the next 100 years, no one  should pump out more than 1% of the available water from the aquifer beneath their property.  

In some counties, including Elbert County, there is an even more restrictive discharge rule.  Our county leaders were once was so protective of  our water that  they decided to employ a 300 year rule.  In our county we allow 1/3 the amount of the water that the state allows, the idea being that it would insure Elbert County would have water for its residents until 300 years into the future.  This, of course, was in the days before water was expensive and there was no profit to be made from pumping the water out of the ground for watering lawns, washing cars, etc.  

Our personal adjudication of water rights on our sixty acres entitles us to approximately 100 acre feet of water per year.  If we had a pipeline and a customer in mind, we could make a fortune off of our water at today's prices even at the 300 year level.  We choose to leave it in the ground and enjoy taking the occasional shower and watering the garden.  However, not everybody agrees with this frugal and respectful approach to our water usage and conservation. 

The operative words in the previous paragraph are as follows, "If we had a pipeline..."  We don't.  We are also okay with that reality.  It is only when water districts form, gain the power to float bonds and consequently build pipelines, that people get wealthy off of ground water.  Trucking water is never going to be a money maker. This is why the Independence housing development is such a huge problem for so many people.  The project allows a number of small water districts to be formed.  Of course, one water district would be sufficient for the entire development's plans as they exist, but each water district can issue bonds.  It does not take a mathematician to understand that six water districts can get six times as much money through the issuance of bonds as one district can. Why would they need to have that kind of money?  If you just said, "PIPELINES!" then you just won a chewing gum cigar. 

The developers of Independence do not have to sell a SINGLE home if they can form water districts, build a pipeline, and pump water back into what would become a desperate metropolitan area.  The value of water can be expected to exceed $30K per acre  foot.  If you think all of this projected development  is about bringing the rooftops and all of the tax money that say will be generated, think again.  It would be a pleasant extra for them, but houses are the last thing they need to make money.  

Water is the new gold.  The scarcity of it insures a continued rise in prices.  These developers do not care if the water table drops or that it would cause those who are on well and septic systems to lose their wells.   Think about it:  if diamonds were as plentiful as Canadian thistle weeds, you could buy them in gumball machines.  These guys will pump the aquifers until the water table drops and then sell you your OWN water back at an enormous profit.  Greed has a mighty thirst.

And finally, you do not get protections from the courts for any of this.  If they have adjudicated the water rights, it is theirs to sell.  If they acquire water rights using the powers of their water districts, it will be theirs to sell.  I can sell mine.  You can sell yours.  But never forget this one fact, the water in the Denver Basin is a finite resource.  Once it is gone, it is gone.  The state will not hear complaints about the dropping level of your well.  The only remedy by the courts would come if you could prove that the quality of your water has been damaged by a neighbor's misuse.  Well levels do not count as damaged water quality.  

The only protection from this threat to the water tables can come from a require careful review of these projects.  We must demand our BOCC  stop any unnecessary formation of bonding schemes disguised as water districts.  They have the power to okay or deny applications on unnecessary pipelines.  The future of our water in Elbert County runs through the Kiowa Courthouse.  The developers have been romancing Elbert County for years.  From the perspective of this author, it looks as though, unless this whole Independence project is slowed down and reviewed for its potential benefits and anticipated negative impacts, the fuse will finally have been lit on the water rush in Elbert County.  In the words of the most interesting man in the world, "Stay thirsty, my friends."

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Short Followup to the Mike Akana Story - Sky Rim, Etc.

Imagine what would happen if a group of like minded home owners in a covenant controlled subdivision were dissatisfied with a reappraisal done by the tax assessor of a county.  Would they just call one another and complain?  Would they break into two political groups and try to lay blame for a less than acceptable reappraisal on the doorstep of the opposing political party?  Would they break into various factions within their community and argue with each other about why one group or another was responsible for what seemed like an unfair increase in taxes?  Of course not.

No, when something like a countywide reappraisal  occurs and something seems out of the ordinary, what normal people do is to call a neighbor and ask them if the got their appraisal in the mail, and if they did, ask the follow up question about whether they felt it was fair.  A friend of mine who is well versed in property appraisals looked at the list of 389 appeals that were sent into the Elbert County Tax Assessor's Office.  This person noticed that, of 80 homes in the Sky Rim subdivision,  23 of the residents living there, (or a little over a third of the homeowners) decided to appeal the reappraisal numbers calculated by the county.  It was determined collectively that not only did their taxes increase significantly,  nobody from the county actually went out to Sky Rim and actually inspected the properties.  As I have reported before, Elbert County  no longer even has a licensed appraiser employed who is qualified to do the inspections.
Three members of the Sky Rim subdivision enlisted an actual licensed appraiser.  As a result of the information presented by that professional and licensed appraiser, every appeal was found to be legitimate and all 27 members of Sky Rim subdivision were granted substantial cuts in their property taxes. Why does it look as though Billie Mills and her chief analyst, Mike Akana, are in way over their heads?  It appears as though the entire county reassessment was based on computer models, maps and guesses.  And could this be the reason Mike Akana never seems to work in one place for very long?

On another topic, I have noticed that the EC Republicans have been busy purging from a number of Elbert County websites everybody who even remotely is not in lockstep with the political ideologies of Peterson, Wills, Richardson or even former Commissioner Schlegel.  The vast majority of the people being tossed off of EC business sites, the EC Republican page, etc. are conservatives.  It makes one wonder why all of this purity of beliefs stuff is occurring at this particular moment in time.

Commissioner Richardson has been asked to recuse himself a number times from the review and approval of the Independence project because of  his perceived conflicts of interest. Richardson is being called out for endorsing the Independence project because he is a member of the Elizabeth School Board when he is well aware that the Elbert County Planning Commission had not yet presented their findings to the Elbert County BOCC.   He should not offer any analysis of any project that has not been been presented to the BOCC before it has gone through the correct channels.  

A few weeks ago, Andrea Richardson, Commissioner Richardson's wife, made a public spectacle of herself at the Stop Over-Development booth at the Elbert County Fair.  Mrs. Richardson, a successful realtor in the Elizabeth area, was wearing her Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce badge when she lost her temper and went on a 10+ minute rant that required intervention by Elbert County law enforcement.   

Did these two events trigger the recent purging of individuals and businesses from Elbert County websites? Coincidence? I wonder.

Touchy or vindictive?  You be the judge, but I suspect that before it's all over, this, too, will end up in court.  This debacle of recusal and the conflicts of interest, and even shoddy property reassessment will go down as another unforced err on the part of Elbert County government officials who still seem to believe that rules and procedures are for dimwitted suckers.  Heck, it's only taxpayer dollars and a well-earned, further tarnished reputation badge for our county.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Confusing Story Behind Mike Akana

Elbert County is experiencing more controversy in its county government.   The following report  is yet another example of the worrisome culture of government employees  who work in the Kiowa courthouse.  Senior data analyst in the Elbert County Assessor's office, Mike Akana, is a person of whom we should all familiarize ourselves.  If you are a property owner in the county, he does have a direct impact on you.  It is the  analysis that he conjures up from his desk that ends up changing your property taxes.  It is not based on first-hand observation of actual properties by licensed appraisers.  It is a system that uses mapping and often times flawed conjecture.    

Let it be known that Mr. Akana has a confusing reputation that precedes him.  It is not a reputation that I fabricated.  No, it is one that was being covered by the press long before he got to Elbert County. I figured I would let the words of others help you get to know the man at the heart of Elbert County's tax reappraisal controversy.

My first link is an October 16, 2016 television news story from Ft. Meyers, Florida.  The source of the story is NBC-2.  It was brought to the attention of the press by Mr. Mike Akana (described in the article as a whistleblower) who was working in the local tax assessor's office.  He alleged he was bullied and harassed by his department head.  The department head asked for Mr. Akana's resignation based on his conduct and he tendered it with no comment to the reporters at NBC-2.  There is no doubt that Akana's boss in Ft. Meyers was viewed by many in the department as being the aggressive one in this disagreement, but the irony should not escape the reader.  Today, Mr. Akana is accused of being a bully tyrant.

The only licensed and qualified ad valorem appraiser employed by the Elbert County Tax Assessor was K. Meis.  This licensed  employee resigned because she felt intimidated by the former  so-called whistleblower from Ft. Meyers,  Florida, Mike Akana.  Mr. Akana allegedly decided that while under the employ of  the Elbert County Assessor's Office, he should play the role of the bully when dealing with the assessor's staff.  

The following is an account of Mr. Akana's behavior with K. Meis. The article was written by local resident and retired attorney Rick Brown. It ran on several local web sites and as a news story on  I have checked this information with several reliable sources.

"Our county government’s culture of bullying, enabled by former Commissioners Schlegel and Rowland and fostered by the disgraced former county manager and the soon-to-depart county attorney, lives on as their malignant legacy. Its most recent manifestation occurred in the office and with the knowledge of Elbert County Assessor Billie Mills and has led to the resignation of one of the county’s appraisers, a woman who has worked in the office for years and whom I know from experience to be highly competent, professional, and courteous in her dealings with the public

On June 28, Mike Akana, a senior data analyst in the assessor’s office, entered the office of the appraiser and angrily accused her of giving a member of the public information about the number of protests filed in response to recent property tax reassessments. It’s not clear why Akana was angry about the release of public information, which, in any case, had not been given out by the appraiser, but he lost control of his temper and kicked the chair she was sitting in.

The appraiser’s immediate response was to walk to the office of the County’s Human Resources Director. There, she was joined by Ms. Mills, the deputy assessor, Akana, and County Commissioner Danny Willcox. Akana accused her of being insolent, and she received no support from the assessor or her deputy. According to sources, Willcox said nothing. In the face of the total lack of support the appraiser wrote out a resignation on the spot.

Some of you may remember Mike Akana as the egregious suck-up who compared his boss to Galileo in the course of a power point presentation at a BOCC meeting. Mills is term limited, and I and others believe Akana hopes to convince voters to elect him as assessor next year.

In itself, this incident is disturbing, but it is also part of a pattern whereby female county employees are bullied or subjected to inappropriate conduct. A pending lawsuit against the county has arisen from such conduct. County commissioners seem to treat these issues as unworthy of swift and unambiguous discipline. Commissioner Richardson has reserved his most vigorous response for a letter to the Ranchland News accusing citizens concerned about such matters as having a “prurient obsession with the private lives of others” (for more on this letter see Robert Thomasson’s article posted below. It remains to be seen if any legal liability will flow from this latest incident.

(end of article)

According to the State of Colorado,Mr. Akana is not qualified to actually go out and do any property appraisals in the field.  I am including a copy of the only licensure that Mr. Akana currently holds with the State of Colorado in regards to assessments.
The license (above) is what is known as an Ad Valorum license. It qualifies Mr. Akana to do almost nothing in the way of an actual site appraisal. This level of licensure is only utilized for appraiser employees of county tax assessment offices.  There are no assessment capabilities/requirements  connected with it.  Mr. Akana only received this license on July 15, 2017 and it is good only through  the end of this year.  

So all of you who were led to believe that Billie Mills and Mike Akana had proper credentials to jack with your taxes during this year's lengthy tax reappraisal were at a minimum, misled.  He got this inadequate license well after he had already been doing the appraisal.

The female appraiser, K. Meis had the next higher level of qualifications from the State of Colorado.  Her license, of which I have a copy, is current and is called "Licensed Appraiser."  The definition of that level is found here on the DORA website.  

"The Licensed Appraiser credential allows the appraiser to appraise non-complex 1-4 unit residential properties having a transaction value of less than $1 million and complex 1-4 unit residential properties having a transaction value of less than $250,000."

If you are confused because it appears that even this licensed employee falls short of the mark necessary to do appraisals on  most properties in the county, do not blame her.  She has at least met the much more rigid state standards for appraisal by the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) in Colorado.  Becoming a registered and licensed appraiser requires coursework and performance standards. She had to pass a difficult exam. She earned her status and it is a step well beyond what Mike Akana rushed down and applied for when people began to ask questions in July of this year. Billie Mills, the actual Elbert County Assessor, is the one in this case who should be answering the important questions in regards to who is and who is not qualified to go out into the county and perform assessment evaluation work that meets state requirements.  We can only assume that our entire Assessors Office is pulling some grand charade if we have not managed to hire qualified employees.

The following is another interesting article from 2007 when Mike Akana worked for Teller County as the chief analyst in the assessor's office,  and property values did not seem to align with what property owners were expecting.  Read it and see if you see any resemblance to some of the questions that are being asked of our 2017 Assessment in Elbert County.,62927

Then there is this article written by Michael Phillips on May 25, 2017. The link is as follows:

"Sticker Shock? You’ve been Akanaed…

Ok so have most of you recovered from the shock of opening up your 2017 Notice of Value from the Elbert County Assessor?
Some background: You might be wondering by what unicorn magical process did they come up with the percentages of increase? The legend goes that in 2013 County Assessor, Billie Mills, decided two things; to fire or run off a bunch her employees, and that property in Elbert County was undervalued. So that year, property values increased slightly and employees decreased a bunch.
Then in 2015 the County hired a “well-respected company from Lamar” to do assessments that the now sharply reduced EC staff was unable to accomplish. Then this is where the typical Elbert County government fog rolled in to muddy the facts: Mike Akana (who has his own interesting reputation in various Counties) somehow wormed his way into working under said “well-respected Lamar company “ (as a subcontractor-surrogate-buddy of Billie – or something else that nobody concerned will admit to.) So Mike Akana did the residential and commercial values for the County, apparently from the state of Florida at the time using wild-ass guessing or software, but never actually physically inspecting the properties (as required by law.)
Flash forward a bit. Billie Mills then hires Mike Akana as her special data analyst....and what happens....residential values jumped all over the board (even in the same neighborhoods) from a minus to over 181% increase and those are just the ones that have been investigated so far. And commercial properties, which Elbert County is desperate to attract, go from a minus 3% to a 200% increase. Apparently Akana’s Ouija board got his Monopoly game pregnant.
Property assessments are supposed to be based on property sales information gathered from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2016. And your property value is established from those sales - when like property is compared to other like properties.
Is that what is happening? The Ouija board says NO.
YOU NEED TO DO THIS FAST So, figure out your percentage of increase from the valuation the Assessor’s Office sent you...if it's not like homes in your neighborhood then PROTEST your value. With your Notice of Valuation is a “Real Property Appeal Form.” Fill it out and get it into the Assessor’s office (hand deliver or get Postmarked) by June 1.) Demand that the assessor's office to show you how they valued YOUR home....and if you don't like the answer they give you....go on to higher authority ....the County Board of Equalization...and then to the state Board of Equalization. Remember the taxes you’ll pay next year are based on your property valuation – you know, in case you didn’t think this issue is important. 
Elbert County is not booming like say Denver or high valued San Francisco; we are not shiny with lots of friendly services. We’ve got dirt roads, essentially non-existent infrastructure and scant services. Contrary to Elbert County Government’s rich fantasy life, property and values here are not sky-rocketing to raise the tax base. We are not a destination; we are a dusty pass-through on the way to somewhere.
Billie Mills needs to quit hiding behind Mike Akana’s data cloud, cut him loose, and do the job she was elected to do. Hire employees that know what they doing and get the job done right. Oh and by the way your County Assessor's value went down in 2015 ....up in 2017 but not by the 75-100% that other's that’s unicorn magic in action." 
(end of article)

So where does this information leave us?  It is not my intention to suggest that there is an easy fix to all of this.  Mike Akana is not without his skills in assessment.  He has worked in several locations and has risen to the level of Senior Assessment Analyst, and so one must fairly reason that he does have a knowledge base about his field.  Unfortunately, it is based almost entirely on software-based analysis that often meets with severe critical review by practitioners in his field. The concern here is the licensure, the cloud of public dissatisfaction with his methods, and the nagging employee turmoil that seems to follow him.  Elbert County government has already come under enough public criticism over the past decade without adding this to the list of complaints.

Why is Billie Mills not hiring qualified and licensed assessors in her department to reassure the public that the tax assessment is being handled within the recommendations of the state laws put forth by DOLA?  It is virtually impossible to get any sort of answers from the elected officials at the Kiowa Courthouse on these subjects without going through back channels, CORA requests, and the reporting of perceived violations uncovered by this process to state government officials.  

This newest iteration of elected officials likes to say that they have been more transparent than past groups, but it is my observation that what transparency we do have should be credited to the citizens from both sides of the political aisle who have, quite frankly, had enough of the "good-ol'-boy" methodology.  Elbert County wants to grow into a position of a modern and high functioning governance so that it might take its rightful place at the table with neighboring Arapahoe, Douglas and El Paso counties, but it refuses to acknowledge the need for compliance to state standards. When people come into adulthood, it is not good enough to say you are an adult, you must act like one.  This is a concept that Elbert County seems to fight tooth and nail.  There is a misguided notion that the "Elbert County way" has always worked in the past so the state and surrounding counties should accept it, but ultimately the adults around you will demand maturity and proper behavior.

We're waiting.


Licensed Ad Valorem Appraiser

  • This level of licensure is only utilized for appraiser employees of county tax assessment offices. 

Licensed Appraiser

  • The Licensed Appraiser credential allows the appraiser to appraise non-complex 1-4 unit residential properties having a transaction value of less than $1 million and complex 1-4 unit residential properties having a transaction value of less than $250,000. 

Certified Residential Appraiser

  • The Certified Residential Appraiser credential allows the appraiser to appraise 1-4 unit residential properties without regard to transaction value or complexity. The credential includes the appraisal of vacant or unimproved land that is utilized for 1-4 family purposes or for which the highest and best use is for 1-4 family purposes, but does not include land for which a subdivision analysis is necessary. 

Certified General Appraiser

  • The Certified General credential allows the appraiser to appraise all types of real property.