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Colorado Editorial Roundup


A sampling of recent editorials from Colorado newspapers:

The Denver Post. Oct. 8, on the time required to release the Aurora theater shooting response report:

It took more than two years for the release of a report on the emergency response by Aurora first responders to the theater shootings — a needless delay for such vital information.

The report released Wednesday outlined more than 80 recommendations for improvements to how police officers and fire officials respond. Specifically, the report urged better — and faster — communication and coordination.

Aurora already has implemented many of these recommendations, but the report will be useful to law enforcement and emergency agencies around the country.

Why the delay? Both prosecutors and defense attorneys fought the report's release, citing the gag order in the case against suspected shooter James Holmes.

The gag kept the review from being launched until May 2013, almost a year after the incident, though the report was centered on the response and not the investigation.

No one wants to foul up the Holmes case. But the overly broad interpretation of the gag order was not in the public's interest. It is clear now this report includes valuable information, solely focused on making the public safer.


The Gazette, Oct. 9, on defined pension contributions for public employees:

The city's settlement of a lawsuit with the Colorado Public Employees' Retirement Association became official this week, ending a two-year battle. It was a fight worth having and, given the entirety of the settlement, the city emerged with a valuable deal.

The conflict involved $185 million that sat in escrow. At the end of the day — when all the numbers are crunched — the City Council ended up saving between $16 million and ?$19 million (present value) that may have been lost had the settlement gone another way or the battle not been fought. Over time, the cost of ongoing liability for "excess benefit" pensioners would have only gone up at large expense to the community.

Trouble began after the city entered a lease agreement that turned over Memorial Health System to University of Colorado Health. It's an extraordinary arrangement for Colorado Springs that includes a new branch of the university's medical school and a state-of-the-art children's hospital.

Lease payments, including a $259 million down payment, fund the Colorado Springs Health Foundation. Of the $259 million, $185 million was set aside to pay for what was believed to be Memorial's potential debt to PERA for pension liabilities.

When Memorial became part of University of Colorado Health, it left the PERA system. City officials argued the hospital was up to date with its obligations to PERA and should not have to pay what the pension owes former Memorial employees going forward. Though the argument may have merit, the ramifications of allowing this precedent, for an already troubled pension, were probably too severe for the courts to seriously consider.

PERA said the city not only owed, but it owed more than the $185 million that was set aside. PERA wanted $190 million. It also wanted the city to continue holding the bag for employees who had been earning "excess benefits" that cannot be paid directly by the pension.

Excess benefits are paid to high-wage earners, such as former hospital administrators and medical specialists, who earned benefits that exceed the pension's legal cap. Those benefits have traditionally been paid by city government, with reimbursements to the city legally coming from PERA. That's why city government, without the lawsuit and settlement, could be holding the bag for up to ?$19 million (present value) in payments.

Under the agreement, PERA received its full $190 million. But it also agreed to incur the substantial liability that it wanted the city to assume. Sure, it would have been good for Colorado Springs to keep the entire $190 million city government believed it did not owe. But as the lawsuit dragged on, it became increasingly apparent the city could lose.

The ordeal serves as another cautionary tale about defined-benefits pensions for public employees. Big promises are made, for political gain, which must be kept regardless of what the future may hold. At least the city fought a good fight and reduced potential the damage.


Steamboat Pilot & Today, Oct. 8, on the future of newspapers:

This week has been designated as National Newspaper Week, and here at the Steamboat Pilot & Today, we acknowledge this occasion by pausing to assess the state of our rapidly changing industry and take a closer look at our profession.

Evaluating where the newspaper industry has been and where it is headed are not easy tasks. And at times, predicting what the future of newspapers looks like can be daunting for the most educated industry analysts as well as those working on the front lines.

The recent news that Digital First Media, second largest newspaper company in the country, has placed all 236 of its newspaper properties, including the Denver Post and 13 other Colorado newspapers, up for sale is sobering and it is cause to reflect on the state of our industry.

Digital First's announcement definitely rattled the foundation of an industry that continues to search for new ways to navigate the changing digital landscape, and the news definitely added fuel to the ongoing debate of whether or not the printed newspaper can survive in this day and age.

But even with the uncertainties raised by Digital First Media's recent decisions, we remain bullish on the future of community newspapers like the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

The difference between Digital First's future and the continued success of the Steamboat Pilot & Today can be equated to the difference between a large group of newspapers controlled by Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund, and newspapers owned and operated by a family-run company. It's an important distinction, and one that has served Steamboat well during the newspaper's long history here — first with the Leckenbys and now under the watch of the Simons family, which has owned the Pilot & Today since 1994.

The Simonses are invested in this community and in the practice of community journalism. They excel at it, and they run a company that provides the resources, support and innovation needed for newspapers to survive and thrive.

And we believe a strong newspaper remains valuable to the community it serves.

Newspapers like ours occupy a peculiar place in society. We are both a community institution and a business, and we must balance both interests in a way that allows us to grow and prosper without affecting our commitment to unbiased and fair news coverage. We couldn't do what we do without the continued support of readers and advertisers who keep us strong, and we're always looking for new ways to meet the needs of both.


The Denver Post, Oct. 5, on national park entry fees:

One of the traditions established with the national parks system is the notion that they should remain a place for the common man to enjoy. You don't have to be rich to experience some of the most breathtaking places on the planet.

And that's how the parks should remain.

Initially, we had concern about a National Park Service plan to raise entry fees at 131 of the 401 properties it manages, including Rocky Mountain National Park.

But if the proposed increases reported by The Denver Post's Jason Blevins are enacted, they won't be burdensome.

Entry fees at Rocky Mountain National Park, which now charges $10 per person for seven days, would increase 50 percent. At Great Sand Dunes National Park, which charges $3 per person for a week, the charge would increase 150 percent.

Those are not huge fees considering the breathtaking beauty one experiences in these parks. And given the federal budget cuts and maintenance backlogs at parks, it's clear the service is having difficulty paying for park needs. Some 90 percent of paved road surfaces in the parks system are in "fair" or "poor" condition, according to the park service.

The National Parks Conservation Association says four years of budget cuts have resulted in an 8 percent reduction in parks' operating budgets. The construction account, the association says, has been cut in half.

So it's not surprising that park managers would look to increase fees, last raised in 2008. And yet, there must be a commitment to keeping entry fees affordable.

Frederick Olmsted, who designed many of the nation's most well-known parks, wrote in 1865 that the choicest scenes were being monopolized by the very rich. Unless government interceded, he argued, "all places favorable in scenery to the recreation of the mind and body will be closed against the mass of the people."

Though the forces at work today may be different, the challenge of safeguarding access remains the same.


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