- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, Dec. 30, on repairing the aging Grand Junction Regional Airport:

The Grand Junction Regional Airport is falling apart.

No surprise there. The aging terminal building was the reason that construction began on an administration building, which now sits unfinished and gathering snow for a second winter.

Portions of the administration building would function as a temporary terminal until a new one could be built.

But that was before the airport’s reputation with the Federal Aviation Administration took a hit in the wake a federal investigation of fraud allegations, leaving the current airport board with fewer options to make needed upgrades. Work on the administration building was halted as a result of the investigation, which didn’t produce an indictment.

The board has authorized consultants to provide some guidance on where to shore up the airport’s physical assets. Good thing, too, since aluminum ductwork fell from the ceiling on Sunday. The consultants were going to start with an evaluation of the unfinished administration building, but are now focusing on the structural and mechanical conditions of the terminal.

But this critical work was back-burnered so the current board could focus on its top priority: removing the gates that have prevented the general public from accessing private hangars, aviation-based businesses on airport property and an aviation-related museum.

The Transportation Security Administration has approved a sophisticated monitoring system and earlier this month the airport board approved a $163,000 lump-sum payment to Dynetics, the provider of the GroundAware radar system.

We’ve expressed concern on more than one occasion that the board’s agenda has been hijacked to give first priority to the needs of the airport’s general aviation tenants. Much of that agenda was shaped in a power vacuum after former Airport Manager Rex Tippetts was fired.

Thankfully, the board has hired a new executive director, David Fiore, and our hope is that his leadership will return the board’s focus to where we think it belongs - on improvements that benefit travelers and developing airport property.

We wrote earlier this month of the “internecine warfare” over airport affairs as an obstacle to progress. Editorials like this one don’t help ease the tensions that have arisen in the shadow of the investigation. But with a new year looming, it’s time for the owners of the airport - the city and county and their elected representatives - to show some leadership of their own and exert some pressure on the Airport Authority to solve the facility’s most pressing problems.

Now that the board has “solved” its gate issue and made a critical decision regarding the Subway franchise in the airport, how about focusing on a new terminal that would make GJT more attractive to carriers flying directly to the West Coast?

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1OzDDvm

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Denver Post, Jan. 2, on the use of solitary confinement in Colorado prisons:

It wasn’t so long ago that Colorado kept prisoners in solitary confinement - what the system calls administrative segregation - at a much higher rate than most states.

By 2011, in fact, more than 1,500 prisoners in Colorado, or 7 percent of the total inmate population, were languishing in solitary.

By contrast, today that figure has shrunk to about 160, or less than 1 percent of the prison population, according to an encouraging report released the other day by the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Executive director Rick Raemisch and deputy director Kellie Wasco, who co-authored “Open the Door - Segregation Reform in Colorado,” admit there hasn’t been enough time for a full assessment of the new options to solitary, but say “the initial results are worth celebrating.”

Indeed they are.

Solitary wasn’t invented out of sadistic desire to inflict emotional damage on prisoners. It was created because some are dangerously violent toward other inmates and prison staff and need to be kept under tight control - which in Colorado meant 23 hours of cell time each day. Over the years, however, the use of solitary expanded as it came to be used to solve other problems, too, such as what to do with the seriously mental ill.

Nor was there any assurance a prisoner would ever emerge from solitary. As the report notes, as recently as 2013, “There were still offenders who had been housed within administrative segregation for over 24 years.”

Twenty four years!

Raemisch and Wasco seem to acknowledge that critics might quibble with how the department defines the status of some prisoners, such as those in residential treatment programs who would rather stay in their cells. But the apparently sincere desire on their part to end the isolation of as many prisoners as possible is clear in the report.

“We offer our offenders in Residential Treatment Programs out-of-cell opportunities for both therapeutic and non-therapeutic time,” they write. “We don’t force them to come out if they don’t want to. This has brought us ridicule and critique but we feel that we are reaching these offenders through time and patience and consistent dose and frequency of treatment availability.”

Legislation last year outlawed placement of the seriously mentally ill in long-term solitary, although the department had already committed to such a policy on its own.

Since we’d been critical of the department’s reliance on solitary, it’s only right to acknowledge significant progress. And it’s also worth noting the progress extends to public safety. No prisoner today is released directly from the most highly restrictive status directly into the community, as was done in the past. The release in 2013 of Evan Ebel was the most notorious mistake in that regard, as he went on to commit two heinous murders, including the shooting of Raemisch’s reform-minded predecessor, Tom Clements.

Editorial: https://dpo.st/1kLb95T

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The Durango Herald, Jan. 3, on funding Colorado’s pension system:

The governing board overseeing Colorado’s Public Employees’ Retirement Association released a report in December outlining its progress toward ensuring that PERA becomes fully funded. In it, the PERA board says that because of legislative reforms enacted in 2010, the agency has reduced its unfunded liability by $15 billion.

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton disagrees.

Well, of course he does. To agree would be to accept that PERA is a good thing and perhaps even well run. For politicians of a certain ideological bent, that seems unacceptable.

Stapleton couches his objections in terms of fiscal responsibility, prudence and conservative investing, but his real problem with PERA appears to be PERA itself. He questions its board’s predictions and assumptions, but over time, they have generally been right. And with that, the PERA board tends to ensure the continuation and ongoing popularity of a pension plan many on the political right would probably like to see vanish.

The problem critics have with PERA is simple. It is a defined benefit pension plan, which means that its recipients are promised a specified benefit that the employer - in this case, the state of Colorado - must figure out how to provide. This is in contrast to a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k) in which employees set aside a specified amount of their pay to be invested and, they hope, grow.

The private sector has largely moved away from defined benefit plans. To be adequately funded, they require careful, prudent planning and wise investments. Above all, they create a liability, a debt that must be paid.

Defined contribution plans, on the other hand, are not the employer’s problem. How well they work out for workers is a function of their willingness to kick in, how prudently they invest and how well the overall economy performs.

At one time, many private sector workers had defined benefit plans. But it is easy to see why private sector employers have moved away from such traditional pension plans. It is also easy to understand why workers might want to keep them. When and where that can happen depends on the nature of the employer.

All businesses face a number of challenges. They must deal with the vagaries of the markets they operate in as well as the financial and political climate. They face often unpredictable challenges from new competition, new technologies and new tastes, fads or fashions. For all those reasons and more, businesses come and go. And in the 21st century, the marketplace has become increasingly fluid and dynamic. Few businesses today can be assured of lasting long enough to manage pension plans that will have to span decades. (PERA’s board projects it will be fully funded in 38 years.)

Governments can take that long view. While there are inevitably budget issues at all levels - incompetence or malfeasance can happen too - states and the federal government have the resources, the ability and, above all, the time to administer defined benefit pension plans.

If Stapleton has evidence of actual wrongdoing or demonstrable ineptitude at PERA, he should produce it. Failing that, the PERA board’s report sounds like good news. Perhaps it is time for the treasurer to take yes for an answer.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1TE1I4q

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The Aurora Sentinel, Jan. 5, on Obama’s response to gun violence:

Few places such as Aurora and Newtown, Conn., can appreciate President Barack Obama’s emotional response Tuesday to the tragedy of gun violence and the need to do something as a society to keep others from suffering our unenviable fate.

If someone were able to have stopped Aurora theater shooter James Holmes from amassing a military-style arsenal in 2012 and unleashing it inside the Century 16 Theater in 2012, what might we have done to make that possible?

Because of the loathsome politics gripping Washington, we may never know.

Immediately during and after Obama’s emotional speech at the White House, where he outlined administrative changes he wants to make to combat rampant gun violence, critics dog-piled on Obama’s modest and unsurprising plan.

It seemed almost surreal that in the very place that serves as a top argument for doing something to stop gun violence and mass shootings, Colorado elected representatives like Sen. Cory Gardner, and even Aurora Congressman Mike Coffman, who yielded to Washington’s status quo of shrill partisan politics. Both were quick in attacking Obama’s heartfelt albeit inadequate attempt to at least do something. Congress has done nothing but capitulate to political extortion exerted expertly by the National Rifle Association and others, thwarting the clear and unequivocal will of Americans.

Between 80 percent and 90 percent of Americans, including Republicans, back universal background checks for gun sales, which is exactly what Obama is trying to do after Congress has adamantly refused. Almost every one of Coffman’s and Gardner’s constituents want everyone who buys a gun to undergo a background check.

Instead, these two lawmakers jumped on the GOP jingoism bandwagon, saying that Obama “disrespects” the U.S. Constitution.

“This President has just demonstrated, once again, that he has no respect for representative government nor for the limitations that our Constitution places on the powers of his office,” Coffman said.

Gardner said Obama doesn’t respect the right of Americans to to own guns.

Red herring.

These arguments, like so many in the past, are meant to divert attention from discussion and action on what will effectively reduce gun violence, and how can we get there.

Disrespectful? No. Desperate? Yes. Mistaken? Maybe. The president’s ability to maneuver these changes is limited, but his argument has plenty of history and merit behind it. It’s an issue for the courts, and the partisan rhetoric fired off by Republicans spatters everyone in Aurora, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Arapahoe High School, and the site of every wretched place that gun violence continues to erupt.

Parents of children slaughtered in Newtown and Aurora don’t disrespect America, the government or even Congress. They just want something done so other parents don’t have go through what they have. Obama’s plan is hardly the answer to the crisis, but it offers a new chance to find one.

When Colorado passed similar legislation after the Aurora theater shooting, we expressed staunch support for the common sense plan, and grave reservations about how much of an impact it would have.

Similarly, we doubt Obama’s impassioned gesture will directly have any great impact on America’s epidemic of gun violence. Congress, under the thumb of gun manufacturers and the NRA, won’t even allow the government to study the problem to better pose possible solutions. And there are numerous ways forward.

If it were clear that buying large amounts of ammunition or military-grade weapons, or requiring their registration and license, would have drawn authorities to Holmes and stopped him, would you sanction such policy? It would be hard not to.

The notion that there can be no regulation of the Second Amendment is not only laughably erroneous, it’s repugnant and spurious. Like all rights, these can and must be tempered with common sense and reality. Widespread and easily acquired military weaponry is a disaster in the making, a disaster we’ve lived right here in Aurora. Americans arguably have a right to own and use guns, but that right shouldn’t be unfettered and isn’t.

Aurora, Colorado and America have had enough of the partisan political circus that has prevented the country from addressing the crisis of gun violence. While Washington plays at petty political sniping, the country is dying for real answers.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/1Z5169h


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