by Rick Langenberg:
As we say good-bye to 2014, here is a synopsis of some of the top news stories and trends that dominated the pages and web postings of The Mountain Jackpot during the last year.
Elections of 2014
Several pivotal elections dominated the news in Teller and the Ute Pass throughout the year, with these votes playing a key role in determining the future political and economic landscape of the area.
In April, Green Mountain Falls voters decided to give the status-quo administration the boot by re-electing Lorrie Worthey for mayor over long-time trustee veteran Jane Newberry. In addition, voters picked several new elected leaders who sided with Worthey and sought government reforms in GMF. This led to major policy changes and resulted in the complete walk-out and resignation of the entire GMF workforce, including veteran Clerk Chris Frandina and Town Manager Rob McArthur and the complete public works crew. Moreover, former Police Chief Tim Bradley, who had his differences with the previous administration, was rehired as marshal.
The election season kicked into full-gear in the summer and fall, with Assessor Betty Clark-Wine winning a contested election against long-time resident Violet Watt. Clark-Wine won, despite getting snubbed by Republican Party leaders at the Teller GOP Assembly. After an aggressive 11th-hour petition drive, she gained a spot on the primary ballot and won the election. The election season then peaked during the heated race for sheriff, with a familiar rematch between incumbent Sheriff Mike Ensminger and challenger Mark Manriquez, an investigator with the Division of Gaming. Only this time, Manriquez ran as an unaffiliated candidate. Even with running an extremely aggressive campaign that heavily criticized the track record of Ensminger, the incumbent sheriff won handily in the general election. Ensminger’s victory demonstrated the strength of the Teller Republican Party.
The big November election news, though, focused on the success of the Woodland Aquatic Project in garnering strong support for plans for a new aquatic center in Woodland Park. Even though the community had rejected two previous efforts for a full-scale recreation facility, the third time was definitely the charm. Voters overwhelmingly supported a $15 million-plus plan to allow the city to incur debt to fund the project with no additional taxes. And to round out the election year, Cripple Creek dodged another major bullet, with state voters strongly defeating a push for racetrack casino gambling. In addition, Manitou Springs voters strongly rejected a bid to do away with the retail sale of recreational marijuana within the city limits. As a result, Manitou will prevail as the sole community in the Pikes Peak region to allow recreational marijuana outlets on a limited basis.
The Arrest of the Former Woodland Park Mayor
The arrest of former Woodland Park Mayor Dave Turley commanded major attention during much of 2014. In May, Turley was charged with sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, which amounts to a felony. Turley, a popular civic figure who was just beginning his second term as mayor, and has been involved with the American Legion and many youth programs, adamantly denied the charges. The allegations stemmed from the former mayor’s relationship with a 17-year-old teen that he was reportedly mentoring. A jury trial is scheduled for February to decide the case.
His arrest, just prior to the Memorial Day weekend, sparked an unprecedented press conference in the city council chambers and demands for Turley to resign. Initially, he retained his post as mayor. But as pressure mounted with the possibility of a recall, coupled with the realization that his case was becoming a distraction for the city, Turley stepped down in the summer. His resignation created one of the most competitive appointments for an elected seat with five contenders making a bid for the mayoral seat. Ironically, the decision to pick Neal Levy, the owner of the Swiss Chalet restaurant and a popular coach, as the new mayor occurred during a chance draw, when the council couldn’t reach a final decision between two finalists.
The World Comes to Woodland Park
Woodland Park and Teller County commanded main stage attention in late August with the official launch-off of Stage 5 of the famous USA Pro Challenge week-long cycling race. Woodland gained the nod as a new host community, a distinction that created quite a buzz and came with tremendous expenses for the city. An entire sports village was recreated during the day of the Stage 5 race and traditional parking areas were eliminated to make room for the teams of international cyclists. Plus, an entire week of events were organized to complement the Pro Challenge launch-off for the route between Woodland Park and Breckenridge.
The event drew mixed reviews, with many civic leaders describing it as a big triumph for the area due to the massive publicity the race generated for Woodland Park and Teller County. But some business operators weren’t impressed and questioned claims of 10,000 spectators. They also weren’t happy with the amount of money the city spent on the event, which far exceeded earlier projections. The big downer for the race was the weather which hampered the coverage of Stage 5.
Economic Angst and Boom
The last year was a mixed bag on the economic front. Once again, Cripple Creek casinos struggled due to the continual Hwy. 24 closures and more industry-wide competition. Plus, a $4.5 million facelift of Bennett Avenue to provide a more pedestrian-friendly downtown, caused major concerns among business and casino operators. The construction occurred throughout the entire summer and generated many headaches, with access becoming a major problem, especially in the tail end of the summer. The town’s economic plight was accentuated by a 20-year-low in the total amount of casino betting devices and games, a trend that led to big reductions in the city’s budget. In late 2014, Ray White, who held the city’s managerial ropes for nearly four years, called it quits.
But down the hill, the scenario was much more positive in Woodland Park, with construction continuing for a nearly 200-unit Trail Ridge apartment development and the opening of a much expanded Woodland Hardware store, along with Charis Bible College and a Tractor Supply outlet. Plans also were approved for a new Arby’s, expected to open shortly. Plans are on the table for possibly $50 million in future projects and the town is making a bid at becoming a Main Street community. And in Green Mountain Falls, the Ute Pass community experienced the opening of a new $800,000 town hall. This replaced the town’s former historic town hall that was destroyed during a horrific arson in the winter of 2012.
Other big stories the dominated the pages of TMJ:
*The selection of a new police chief in Cripple Creek, with veteran law officer Mike Rulo, and the pick of a new city administrator, with Ray DuBois.
*The possible shutdown of the community’s library in Cripple Creek.
*The goose crisis in Green Mountain Falls.
* The approval and opening of a recreational marijuana outlet in Manitou Springs, with Maggie’s Farm, and the continual debate over this issue.
*The Hwy. 24 closures and efforts to minimize the flood impacts.
*Parking-gate in Woodland Park.
*Woodland Park’s push to develop an art district.
*The final approval of annexation and expansion plans for Teller County Waste.
*The expansion pursuits of the Cripple Creek and Victor Gold Mining Company.