Aurora Sentinel, May 29, on Colorado’s Capitol #MeToo scandal waiting for new political leaders, new lawmakers:
As the dust settles on the 2018 Colorado Legislature, and congratulations go round for making a solid attempt to fund roads and fend off the usual crop of fringe civil rights abuses, one sordid episode can’t be so easily brushed aside.
State lawmakers not only seriously mishandled a spate of sexual misconduct cases involving legislators, they punted the problem to the next class of House and Senate members.
That’s probably a good thing.
Given how some political leaders in both houses bungled the controversies, it’s best that legislative leaders with untarnished records create a new policy dealing with elected officials accused of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Much of the unconscionable behavior by lawmakers was brought to the public’s attention this year because of KUNC-FM reporter Bente Birkeland’s investigative stories. Her work featured courageous Capitol staffers, interns and lawmakers who were victims of perpetrators, politics and a broken system. Despite real risks that materialized for some of these victims, they came forward, and they persisted in their complaints.
Colorado was hardly alone in how this wave of the national #MeToo tsunami washed over the country. Congress and state legislatures across the nation were jolted by seemingly endless allegations of sexual misconduct.
By the time the 2018 Colorado General Assembly quit for the year, five lawmakers were accused of a wide range of sexual misconduct, ranging from juvenile and banal comments to borderline criminal assault. All of the cases were clear abuses of power.
In the state House, members evicted Democratic state Rep. Steve Lebsock from his post after investigators found credible claims that he was abusive to five women. Democratic House Speaker Crisanta Duran charged into an effort to expel Lebsock and champion the cause of victims of sexual misconduct.
But Duran was part of the problem the next class of legislators needs to solve.
Investigations and news reports revealed that Duran knew about Lebsock’s behavior before the stories became public. She had heard victim state Rep. Faith Winter’s recollection of Lebsock’s intolerable encounters firsthand. But when it came time for Lebsock to assume the role of chairmanship of an important committee, before he was outed, she permitted it. This year, when confronted with her behavior, Duran said she did it because one of her victims was OK with it, so she was, too.
Duran’s claim was ridiculous. Employment and political leaders do not and should never just look the other way because victims ask them to. This is Rule No. 1 of any intervention in any abusive situation, and one that a new Legislature policy needs to rectify. Lebsock wasn’t just accused of making inappropriate or suggestive comments. Drunken lawmakers physically haranguing people into having sex should not be given leadership positions, no matter how awkward the politics might be. Given Duran’s role in making it possible for Lebsock to continue abusing victims, she should have no role in mapping out the future for handling complaints.
The problem was far more egregious in the state Senate. There, Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham became complicit in protecting fellow Republicans from rebuke for even worse abuses.
Feigning judicious concern for due process and the accused, Grantham actively impeded lawmakers from taking action against fellow GOP state Sen. Randy Baumgardner. A bevy of shocking accusations against Baumgardner were substantiated by more than one investigation. Grantham deployed delaying tactics and worked to cast doubt on investigations. It was a clear and shamelessly partisan attempt to protect his fellow Republican.
Grantham lied to the press in early May after finally removing Baumgardner from committees after even more allegations were founded. He said he and bipartisan leaders had reached consensus in what was essentially a hand-slap for Baumgardner.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Leroy Garcia said he and other Democrats were “told, not consulted” by Grantham about Baumgardner’s obliging punishment, according to an Associated Press story.
“To suggest that Sen. Garcia thinks (Baumgardner’s) punishment is adequate is false,” Senate Democrats’ spokesman Mansur Gidfar said.
Grantham shamelessly pulled similar stunts in trying to shield Republican state senators Jack Tate and Larry Crowder from their allegations of misconduct. Tate is accused of repeated inappropriate comments to a young Capitol intern, allegations that were found credible during an investigation.
Grantham and Duran are both term limited and won’t be back next year. Now, voters need to carefully weigh how 2018 candidates react to the abhorrent escapades this year.
An independent investigation recommended a far more transparent process, and we agree. And since the temptation by House and Senate leaders to let politics overshadow good sense and judgment is irresistible, they must be removed from hearing complaints and deciding resolutions. Bipartisan standing committees composed of more than just legislators are key to justice.
Voters, however, are critical to cleaning up the Capitol from this pervasive abuse of power. Ask candidates how they think their political leaders handled the problem this year. Ask candidates how they would handle it.
As tolerance for sexual harassment diminishes, so will the problem.
Cortez Journal, May 28, on a culture of secrecy at the EPA:
One of the challenges of environmental protection is that human activity produces pollution. Driving is a good example, from the extraction of mineral resources that eventually will become a vehicle, through the manufacturing process, the consumption of petroleum or electricity, and the car’s eventual disposal.
Food comes at an environmental cost. And environmental protections come at their own cost, which industry would prefer not to incur and consumers prefer not to bear.
Southwest Colorado has visible reminders of the problem: an orange-running river, piles of toxic mine tailings, tap water that burns, an ever-present brown cloud. The health problems caused by pollution are a daily reality for some residents. We need local, state and national regulatory agencies.
This week, the Environmental Protection Agency convened a national summit of states, tribes, chemical companies and environmental groups to discuss PFAS - per- and polyfluoroalkyls found in consumer products, from cookware and stain repellents to packaging and firefighting foam.
The EPA website says the chemicals “are very persistent in the environment and in the human body - meaning they don’t break down, and they can accumulate over time. There is evidence that exposure to PFAS can lead to adverse human health effects. The most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to low infant birth weights, effects on the immune system, cancer (for PFOA), and thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS).”
That’s a significant cause for public concern, and one way the public learns about such concerns is through the media.
But the EPA had initially intended to prohibit the media from covering any part of the summit save EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s remarks. After protests, the summit was opened to some media members, but others - apparently those viewed as not having provided supportive coverage in the past - were excluded.
A reporter from The Associated Press, an organization through which member media outlets around the world share coverage, was physically pushed away from the entrance. The excluded media organizations (including CNN and E&E News, which covers energy and environmental issues) pushed back, and their representatives eventually were allowed into the meeting.
The media acts as proxy for the public in such meetings, which means the public should be very concerned about the intent of such actions.
AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee called barring reporters from the meeting a “direct threat to the public’s right to know about what is happening inside their government.” CNN said, in a statement, “We understand the importance of an open and free press; we hope the EPA does, too.”
Pruitt needs to understand that he works for the American people, not just for a president who is hostile toward the media.
Environmental protection is not a political game. The need to produce the materials Americans use, and to maintain the jobs of those who do that work, must be balanced against the responsibility of not harming, let alone destroying, interdependent ecosystems of humans, other animals and plants.
That’s the purpose of the EPA, not simply to loosen industry from regulation and to undo the work of past presidential administrations.
Coloradoan, May 24, on Fort Collins falling short of its standards by not reporting sexual harassment data:
Fort Collins officials take considerable pride in how they conduct the public’s business, yet they fall short of their typical standards when it comes to tracking and reporting sexual harassment complaints among city employees.
Fort Collins refused to release any information about sexual harassment complaints within its organization to Coloradoan reporters Saja Hindi and Pat Ferrier, who conducted a four-month investigation into the number of complaints filed with local public entities, the results of which were published in the Coloradoan’s May 20 edition.
The investigation and subsequent stories were fueled by public interest in the national #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and growing awareness of a serious workplace issue. The reporters filed Colorado Open Records Act, or CORA, requests for information from nine entities related to complaints a five-year period.
Fort Collins officials said they do not maintain records that discuss or reference sexual harassment investigations. They would not divulge how many complaints have been filed or how many were founded.
The Coloradoan was not looking for names or personnel records - just statistics and findings of substantiated claims. Yet city officials cited CORA - the very law that is intended to shine light on the doings of government - for not providing information.
Yet under that same law, Colorado State University saw fit to release details that it had substantiated six of 12 sexual harassment complaints received by the university since 2013.
Let’s take a moment to laud that level of transparency by Larimer County’s largest employer.
Now let’s talk about why it makes the city’s response all the more galling.
Fort Collins boasts of being a data-driven organization. It keeps track of all manner of information to measure performance in many areas. Yet it was silent when asked about workplace sexual harassment.
When pressed to reconsider the city’s refusal to cooperate, Chief Human Resources Officer Teresa Roche said the city would read the Coloradoan’s stories to see how other municipalities responded before doing additional review of what data it may release.
That’s nonsense. It was not a fitting response from an organization that aspires to be “world class” and known for continuously striving to achieve excellence. Since when does Fort Collins follow others’ lead when it comes to transparency and sharing information with the public it serves?
If we take officials at their word that they don’t maintain records on sexual harassment investigations, a reasonable question would be: Why not?
Surely, the professional managers at the city of Fort Collins realize the importance of providing a safe workplace for its 1,200-plus employees. To do so, they must track behaviors within the workforce so they may respond appropriately to problems.
Fort Collins is not alone in its poor response to requests for information about sexual harassment complaints. Poudre Fire Authority refused to disclose its numbers, as did Loveland Fire Rescue Authority.
Poudre School District, with 4,835 employees, claimed to not have the information. Speaking to a frightening lack of organization, Thompson School District sought $1,500 in advance to cover the cost of an estimated 56 hours of work to compile its records.
Colorado State University, Front Range Community College, the city of Loveland, and Larimer County were more forthcoming, although their numbers seemed low given a recent national survey in which 38 percent of women said they experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
Most employers have formal policies against sexual harassment, although they are not required to provide training on what it is or how to address it.
Public and private entities are not required under law to track or divulge the number of sexual harassment complaints they receive and how many are determined to be founded.
It’s time for that to change. If we are to understand the prevalence of workplace sexual harassment and take steps to prevent it, data collection and reporting should be a prerequisite.
In full transparency, the Coloradoan was unable to collect an accurate accounting of our own employees’ sexual harassment claims from the last five years for this editorial, despite weeks of effort.
We need to change that story. Senior newsroom leadership is aware of two workplace harassment claims that have occurred over the past two years at the Coloradoan, both of which resulted in corrective action.
Moving forward, the Coloradoan will take steps to ensure more robust and complete tracking of harassment claims. Not because we’re required to do so, but because it is the right thing to do for our employees.
In the absence of a legal requirement passed by the Colorado Legislature - which we believe is needed - public entities should begin tracking the number of filed and substantiated sexual harassment complaints on their own and freely report those numbers to anyone who asks.
They shouldn’t wait for others to take the lead when addressing an issue that matters deeply to their workers and the taxpayers who pay them.
Steamboat Pilot and Today, May 23, on Routt County needing more foster families:
Living in a mountain resort community like Steamboat Springs, we can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking life here is all powder days and bike rides up Emerald Mountain, when in reality, our community suffers from many of the same ills that affect towns all across the country. And one of those issues - the need for foster care families - has come to light this past week.
During the month of May - National Foster Care Month - officials with the Routt County Department of Human Services are encouraging area residents to consider becoming foster parents. In a May 14 article in the Steamboat Pilot & Today, Lauren Rising, the county’s foster care coordinator, said there are currently four active foster families in Routt County with two on the way to becoming certified, and there is a need for more.
Statewide, Colorado has more than 2,000 foster families, and an analysis conducted by the Colorado Department of Human Services determined the state will need an additional 1,200 foster families in the next two years.
In Routt County, Rising expressed gratitude for foster families, like the Hozas in Hayden, who have opened their home to foster 11 children through the past 18 years. In an interview, the Hozas pointed out some of the myths surrounding foster care, including the misconception that foster care leads to adoption or that DHS is quick to “swoop in” and take a child out of a home.
Instead, foster care focuses on family reunification, and more often than not, a child is placed in a home temporarily while DHS provides the parents with the support, training and tools they need to care for their own children in a stable and safe environment, and in the best case scenario, the child eventually returns to his or her biological family.
Essentially, it’s the role of foster families to work with DHS to help the families and children in need. For the Hozas, the shortest time they spent fostering a child before reunification was 24 hours and the longest was 10 1/2 months.
Local DHS officials said they have no specific number of foster families they need, but instead, focus on securing at least one foster family in every population center in the county so that when a child has to be removed from a home, they are able to stay in the same school district. Right now, there is need for families in Oak Creek and North Routt, and DHS is also seeking Spanish-speaking families and families who are willing to care for different age children, especially adolescent teens.
The first step to becoming a foster parent is to contact the Routt County Department of Human Services in Steamboat Springs at 970-879-1540. There are no restrictions on who can become a foster parent when it comes to race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. Foster parents need only be 21 or older, pass a background check, complete training, pass a home study and demonstrate a responsible, stable and emotionally mature lifestyle.
The most important prerequisite for anyone considering fostering a child is an open heart and a desire to make a difference in one child’s life. And once a person indicates a desire to become a foster parent, the local DHS office is there to provide resources, support and training.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.