“I’m a public servant, and I’m not a public slave.” Colorado DA defends 6 1/2 weeks vacation

Colorado’s 5th Judicial District Attorney Bruce Brown took more than 6½ weeks off work in 2015, an amount far greater than that taken by his senior attorneys and some of his peers.

Brown, elected in 2013 and seeking re-election this year, said the rules spelled out in the district’s time-off policy don’t apply to him because he’s an elected official. He also said he isn’t required to keep track of how many vacation days he takes.

“I don’t answer to anybody within the office,” he said. “The reason why I take time off is because I’m a public servant, and I’m not a public slave.”

Bruce Brown is seeking re-election as attorney for the 5th Judicial District.

While there’s no official record of how much time off Brown has taken over the past three years, a Denver Post review of e-mail newsletters that outline the DA’s weekly schedule indicates he took 33 days off in 2015. During that year, Brown took two full weeks off in June and took another day at the end of the month.

They also show that Brown took 28 days off in 2014.

“I think most Coloradans would consider themselves very lucky to get that much vacation,” said Luis Toro, director of watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch. “It shows that there is no oversight of district attorneys and elected officials.”Advertisement

Said Jon Caldara, president of Denver’s libertarian-leaning Independence Institute: “If I were a taxpayer in Eagle County, I would want more information. … I would think that a DA’s job is awfully demanding, and having him there to steer the ship is important.”

“Not an employee”

Employees in Brown’s district can accrue up to 22 vacation days each year if they’ve been on the job at least 10 years. But Brown said the taxpayers didn’t elect him to be present. They elected him, he said, to oversee an efficient and responsive office, which includes monitoring and mentoring 13 deputy district attorneys.

The elected DA is typically responsible for managing the office, prosecuting cases and working with law enforcement to investigate crimes.

“I’m not an employee,” he said. “I’m the elected district attorney. My responsibility is to make sure the cases are well-prosecuted.”

The only year Brown stuck to his office’s policy was in 2013, when the e-mails show he took 19 days off. But those records also point to two additional weeks — one in June and one in July — when he was out of the office but available via phone or e-mail.

Each of Colorado’s 22 judicial districts handles time off differently for elected officials.

While some district attorneys, including Denver’s Mitch Morrissey, adhere to a set policy regarding time off, many are on their own to determine how much time is too much.

Dan Rubinstein, the 21st Judicial District attorney, said his office doesn’t monitor the number of days off he takes, but he wrote in an e-mail that he’s too busy to spend a substantial amount of time away from work.

“It is best for office morale for the people in the office to think that the boss is one of the hardest-working, lead-by-example kind of people,” he said.

George Brauchler of the 18th Judicial District has taken 27 days off since he took office in 2013, according to his office’s records. The most days he took off in one year was 12 in 2014.

In 2015, when he prosecuted the James Holmes theater-massacre trial, Brauchler took five days off work. So far this year, he has taken five days off.

Brauchler, whose district includes Elbert, Arapahoe, Douglas and Lincoln counties, said DAs of larger offices often have more resources at their disposal.

“But I also think the demands can be bigger,” he said. “I think, depending on the office, people are either capable or incapable of running the office based on what they’ve set up.”

A lack of time-off policies for elected officials is common. Sheriffs and other county-level officials, for example, often don’t have them, said Brian Namey, director of public affairs for the National Association of Counties.

“Those are local decisions,” he said. “It would vary from county to county.”

“I get a break”

The 5th Judicial District, which includes Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit counties, is one of 17 districts that span multiple counties. Brown splits his time between the four counties, sometimes commuting more than 100 miles to work from his home in Clear Creek, he said. In an average week, he said, it’s not uncommon for him to drive 600 miles.

Brown also noted that his job requires him to work outside the constraints of a typical 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, which isn’t reflected in the e-mailed office newsletters that The Post reviewed.

And when the newsletters indicate he took time off, Brown said, he was available to answer work-related phone calls and e-mails. He said he responds to calls from law enforcement around the clock.

“No one would want to do this job if they were required to do it without having the ability to take breaks,” he said. “When I take time off, sometimes, yeah, I get a break, too.”

In some of his recent cases, Brown advocated the importance of maintaining trust between public officials and the people they serve. In November, he said the task of fostering trust between officials and the public falls on public servants such as himself.

“The integrity of our government rests on the ethics of individuals elected to be stewards of the public’s trust,” Brown said after a case he prosecuted that involved a county commissioner who double-billed for mileage.

Earlier this month, when Brown announced charges against Leadville’s police chief, who was accused of stealing and selling the department’s firearms, Brown said government bodies that lack oversight can prey on the public’s interest.

“We as communities invest so much trust in our public officials, and if people in their heart are not doing the right thing, there’s a lot of latitude to jeopardize public safety or public finances,” he said.


Eric Sondermann, an independent political analyst in Colorado, said news of Brown’s consistent absences over the past several years would reflect poorly in the eyes of the public.

“Optics are everything,” Sondermann said. “It’s not going to play well. The optics of this are poor whether that’s to crime victims or other law enforcement officers or his own staff or the tax-paying public.”

The newsletters don’t distinguish between vacation time, sick leave and family leave. Brown, who said he makes $130,000 per year regardless of how much time he spends in the office, refused to “quibble over the days,” and said people shouldn’t question his work ethic.

“For the most part, the job requires that people put in a lot of sweat,” he said. “I think I set that example.”

Brown added that he’s the “hardest-working DA, most involved and most available who’s sat in this position.”



Arvada Kite Festival attracts about 15,000 people

Perched on the roof of his home in Iraq, 7-year-old Imad Ridha would gaze into the sun for hours as he watched his homemade kite dance around in the wind.

“I used to make it so tiny in the sky,” said Ridha, now an adult.

On Sunday, he watched proudly as his 9-year-old son Ali did the same thing at the Arvada Kite Festival. The annual event brought roughly 15,000 people to the fields at Stenger Soccer Complex.

As eager children and their families ran in circles fighting with the wind and struggling to get their kites in the air, Ridha’s soared. He stood completely still, smiling up at the Spiderman kite he purchased for his son as it sailed over his head.

“It’s kind of an art,” he said. “I was so good at it.”

It’s been a long time since the Arvada resident last flew a kite. He worked as a translator in Iraq before fleeing his home 2½ years ago and settling down with his family in the United States.

“I had to leave everything behind,” he said.

That included his collection of hand-crafted kites.

While he threaded the kite string through his fingers on Sunday, Ridha’s mind traveled back to a time when he would craft simple kites from balsa wood, tape and bags and sell them to his friends.

“I’m thinking of myself at 7 or 8 years old, flying kites on the roof of my house,” he said. “I used to make so many kinds of kites.”

Ali studied his dad’s hands as he attempted to lift a kite of his own into the mild wind. To his frustration, the diamond-shaped flier dived into the grass.

“Why is yours flying?” he said. “Mine keeps crashing.”

Despite his frustration, Ali was impressed.

When Ridha’s string intertwined with a Disney princess-themed kite, he deftly unsnarled the tangle using some of the skills he picked up in Iraq.

“I would fly mine. My neighbor would fly his,” he said. “We’d try to tie them around one another. Then we would pull. It was a competition.”

Other parents at the festival wanted to pass on the childhood tradition to their children. Chris Ketter and his 10-year-old daughter Mia attached their kite string to a screwdriver to keep the line taut.

The idea was inspired by a trick Ketter learned as a kid.

“We used to fly kites a lot,” he said. “I would take my fishing pole and tie a kite to it. Then I could reel it in.”

But for Ridha, flying kites was more than a childhood pastime. “We used to have kites all through the year,” he said. “So many flew kites. Here, it’s maybe only one day a year.”

Though he left the craft of building the high-flying toys in Iraq, Ridha said he hopes his son develops a love for flying kites. Some of his favorite memories are times he spent staring up at the sky.

“I remember one time at night, and I attached my kite to my bed on the roof,” he said. “I went to sleep, and when I woke up, it was still flying.”


Bernie Sanders rally at Colorado State University draws 6,500

FORT COLLINS — Sen. Bernie Sanders’ event at Colorado State University Sunday gave supporters a chance to rally around the Democratic presidential candidate before going to bat for him on Super Tuesday.

Many who turned out for the rally will vote in Colorado’s caucus for the first time in hopes that Sanders will secure a bid for the presidential nomination.

“I feel like this is a rare opportunity to support a rare candidate,” said Sanders supporter Lindsay Gray of Fort Collins, who will make her caucus debut Tuesday.

The Vermont senator used the campaign event as an opportunity to urge young voters to become politically involved.

“Colorado can play an important role in leading this country forward in a political revolution,” he said. “Everybody in this room knows that real change never occurs from the top on down. It always happens from the bottom on up.”

Much of Sanders’ speech was directed toward young voters. He touched on topics like inequality, unemployment and student debt.

He underscored his his plan to make public colleges and universities tuition-free, telling the crowd that anyone who’s qualified for a degree should be able to pursue one.

“It is not a radical idea to say that every young person in this country who has the ability and desire and qualifications should be able to get a higher education regardless of the income of that family,” Sanders said.

“We should be encouraging our people to get all the education they need, not discouraging them,” he said.

The possibility of free tuition is what will CSU student Claire Calloway to the polls on Tuesday. She said affordable education shouldn’t be considered a privilege.

“It’s something we need,” Calloway said. “It shouldn’t be only for the wealthy.”

Sanders delivered a similar message about health care, addressing his strategy for implementing a single-payer healthcare system.

“We should join the rest of the industrialized world … in saying that healthcare should be available to all people,” he said.

Littleton resident Kit Gray said she’s been volunteering for the Sanders campaign by canvassing neighborhoods to support his position on this issue, though she didn’t register in time to vote in the caucus.

Gray said under the current system, she spends 70 percent of her income on medical expenses.

“I’m disabled from health issues,” Gray said. “It’s the single-payer system that takes off that burden. It’s important to have a candidate with my best interests in mind.”

Sanders’ messages about race and inequality resonated with Adhiraj Pathak, a CSU student from India. Pathak said he’s nervous about the possibility of a Republican taking over the White House.

“The Republican Party has been led by Trump, who is trying to ban all foreign people even though this country relies on people who are foreign,” he said. “(Sanders) is aware that minorities are as important as non-minorities.”

The rally drew more than 6,500 people and nearly filled CSU’s Moby Arena. Supporters began lining up at 7:30 a.m. for the main event, which kicked off at 7 p.m.

Sanders used the rally as a platform to regain momentum ahead of the Super Tuesday contests in 13 states and one territory.

He took a hit in the South Carolina primaries on Saturday, when Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton sailed to a commanding victory. She narrowly beat Sanders in both Iowa and Nevada while Sanders handily won the New Hampshire primary.

The candidate urged voters to make their voices heard, a message that was echoed by Westminster resident Beth Bevans, who will vote this week’s caucus for the first time.

She called upon young voters to turn out at the polls.

“My hope is millenials come out en mass and vote,” she said.

Clinton calls for inclusivity

Former president counters Trump’s slogan with phrase: “America never stopped being great.”

COLORADO SPRINGS — Bill Clinton preached inclusivity at a Sunday rally for Hillary in Colorado Springs.

His fervent 45-minute speech focused on the Democratic front-runner’s experience as a politician, calling her a “human change-maker.” He asked voters to support her in Colorado’s March 1 caucus.

“The great challenge is to get America back to inclusive economics and inclusive politics,” Clinton said. “Hillary says to do this we have to tear down all the barriers keeping us from sharing the future.”

Clinton drummed up support for his wife’s presidential campaign, playing to the predominantly college-aged crowd by touching on topics like student loan debt, immigration reform and gun laws.

Clinton said Hillary would bring sense to the gun rights debate, likening current laws to driving without considering safety. “It’s like saying there’s a constitutional right to travel. Please don’t have a speed limit. Don’t have a seat belt law.”

Clinton also challenged Republican positions on immigrants and Muslims. “What about all the dreamers who are terrified if the election goes the wrong way and DACA will be repealed?” he said. “Let’s welcome the dreamers.”

He called the relentless assault on Muslims “a terrible mistake.”

“It’s wrong, and it’s dangerous,” he said.

The event, which was the second Clinton attended this weekend in Colorado, drew approximately 1,050 students and community members to Colorado College’s Edith Kinney Gaylord Cornerstone Arts Center.

Several dozen people crowded around open doors attempting to hear what Clinton said. Colorado College Campus Safety Director Maggie Santos said “several hundred” were turned away.

People started lining up for the rally at 7 a.m.

Hana Wasserman, a Colorado College student, was first in line. She said she came to support Hillary Clinton because she thinks she’s the most qualified Democrat. “It’s important to be educated,” she said. “There’s so much Bernie fandom that people don’t understand why Hillary is the best candidate.”

Wasserman noted that Colorado College’s campus is teeming with support for the Vermont senator who is Clinton’s rival for the presidential nomination. She said Hillary’s experience as a politician sets her apart.

“There’s a lot of Bernie Sanders supporters on this campus, and I hope they are able to be rational in their decision when they vote.”

Clinton edged out Sanders in Nevada’s caucuses on Saturday, seizing momentum heading into the Feb. 27 South Carolina primary.

Sanders supporter Sophia Pray came because she was curious about what the former president would say. The Colorado College student said she was interested in issues like education and healthcare.

“I’m mainly a Bernie supporter, so I’m kind of looking to be bribed,” she said.

Colorado Springs resident Rozanne David attended the rally mainly out of concern for the future of her great-grandchildren.

“I want them to have opportunities to get education without a huge amount of debt,” she said.

David also said she was distressed about the lack of trust between law enforcement and the public, which Clinton touched upon in his speech.

“People don’t trust each other,” she said. “We need to have some coming together.”

Clinton kicked off the rally by poking fun at Republic front-runner Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.

“We don’t need to make America great again,” he said. “America never stopped being great. We do need to make America whole again.”

(Featured on front page with jump to story inside paper)

Teams face off in Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition

In a room illuminated by the glow of eight laptops, a sudden and swift breach of cybersecurity sent a team of computer scientists spinning into action on Saturday.

“Our network is down,” said Laura Wilkinson, a Brigham Young University senior. “They took a bunch of our systems down.”

Wilkinson and her team of techies won the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, a battle for cybersecurity waged among teams from colleges and universities across the region.

Each team built a commercial network, like a small company or government agency, based on a scenario generated by competition officials. The teams were responsible for protecting and maintaining Internet services for their respective companies.

Teams earned points by keeping their businesses running and fending off attacks staged at every turn by a group of professional computer hackers.

The competition prepares students to combat the cyber security threats professionals encounter every day, said Evan Anderson, who led the hackers.

“We try to emulate real-world threats,” Anderson said.

Defense technology company Raytheon sponsored the competition, hoping to foster the future of cybersecurity.

“We’re really trying to invest in the next generation,” said Raytheon software engineer Cedric Macadangdang. “This competition highlights the top talent. It’s helping to develop the workforce.”

Macadangdang said the need for cyberdefense increases every day. “Cyber is a growing need,” he said. “All this data is out there and needs to be protected. Our systems in the workforce can’t keep up with the threats coming through.”

Eight teams — four from Colorado schools — competed in the cyber battle, which began Friday at Regis University’s Denver Tech Center Campus.

The Brigham Young team had the most points by the time the competition came to a close Saturday afternoon.

They will advance to the national competition in San Antonio — an event likened to “the Super Bowl of college cyber competitions,” in a competition news release. The national finals will take place April 22-24.

The team from Colorado State University came in second.

Regis University sophomore John Stauffer said the experience is an asset to anyone trying to break into the cybersecurity field. “It’s a condensed version of what you would experience in the real world,” Stauffer said. “It’s great exposure just to have your name out there.”

Denver family honors departed loved ones at St. Patrick’s Day Parade

At the corner of Blake and 17th Streets, a Denver family enjoyed the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade for the 32nd year in a row. But this year was different.

As the bagpipes wailed and the step-dancers jigged, the Kelly family threw an Irish extravaganza in memory of a brother and sister who were dedicated to celebrating the holiday.

Barbi Kelly, who died of cancer in 2007, and Tom Kelly, who died of cancer in January 2016, took pride in their St. Patrick’s Day traditions. The brother and sister were known for bar-hopping in a Winnebago with friends and family as the parade wound through the streets.

Those memories were the centerpiece of Saturday’s celebration for their friends and relatives.

“We do this to honor them, honor our heritage and honor friendship,” said Dan Kelly, their brother. “It’s not just about partying — it’s the memory of our family.”

While other parade spectators donned shiny green necklaces and other festive costumes, the Kellys wore vials containing the cremated remains of Tom and Barbi around their necks. They pinned photos of the brother and sister to their shirts.

The occasion could have taken on a bittersweet tone for the Kellys, who said goodbye to Tom a little more than two months ago. But there were no signs of sadness as they doled out pints of beer and watched the floats roll by.

“This is absolutely a celebration,” Dan said. “I hope to be in one of these vials one day. I want my kids and nieces and nephews to do the same thing. That’s just what family does.”

The family, which has Irish roots, laid out a spread of hot dogs, hamburgers and, an original creation, corned beef burritos. But, Dan said, the feast would be incomplete without two items — Goldfish crackers and cupcakes that had been tipped over and disfigured.

“Barbi was always showing up to places with Goldfish and cupcakes that she had made and gotten all messed up,” he said. “That’s why our cupcakes are tipped over.”

Anywhere from 350,000 to 400,000 attended the 2016 Denver St. Patrick’s Day Parade, according to parade officials. As spectators took in the spectacles of the event, the Kellys were focussed on each other.

“Sometimes all you do is see each other at weddings and funerals,” said Kathy Kelly, Dan’s sister-in-law. “That’s not us.”

Celebrating their Irish heritage was also at the center of the party. Kathy said everyone who came to watch the procession and rejoice in Irish culture was part of a big family.

“The Irish culture is very important to us,” Kathy said. “This is about family who is here and family who isn’t.”

Colorado Home and Garden Show builds business connections for vendors

Vendors sowed seeds of home improvement at the 2016 Colorado Garden & Home Show, which kicked off Saturday and lasts until Feb. 21.

The event is a marketing marvel for more than 600 companies that filled the Colorado Convention Center in Denver to showcase a variety of products ranging from garden tools to window treatments.

“For a lot of the businesses here, it’s the only marketing they do all year,” said Jim Fricke, executive director of the Colorado Garden Foundation. “They use it to jump-start their companies and meet customers.”

Laura Heath, owner of Town & Country Landscaping, said the show put her company on the map. She’s been exhibiting her landscapes there since 2005. This year, her company was responsible for the 5,500-square-foot entry garden.

Heath said most of her clients can be traced back to the home and garden show.

“Each garden show provides about 90 percent of our business for the year,” Heath said. “If it’s not from the garden show, it probably came from a previous show.”

Steve Sparhawk, president of DeckTec Inc., said the show helps him stay in touch with his clients. This marks his 24th year exhibiting at the show.

Sparhawk said he invested around $25,000 in his slot at the show but eventually expects to make a full return on his investment.

“This event fosters referrals,” Sparhawk said. “It’s a great way for me to reconnect with our existing clientele and meet new people.”

For other vendors, the show is about reaching a lot of people with similar interests.

“These shows bring a lot of people from areas we service into one place,” said Scott Bondy, marketing director for Vivax Pros, a painting, roofing and solar installation contracting company. “People are getting ready for spring. They’re starting to visualize their projects.”

This is the Colorado Garden & Home Show’s 57th year. The show has a 400,000-foot sprawl, and guests can stroll through more than an acre of professionally landscaped gardens.

That’s where Elizabeth resident Michele Lathrope was drawing inspiration for her home projects.

“We just bought a new home, and we’re looking for some landscaping ideas,” Lathrope said. “We’ve seen a couple of great ideas, and we took a lot of pictures.”


Audio Critique

NPR ran this piece about synthetic marijuana Nov. 11.  The story explores an emerging drug that has grown in popularity among low-income youth. The drug is made from tea leaves, grass clippings or other plant materials and has been known to send people into psychotic episodes and seizures.

The story does a nice job of incorporating a lot of different voices. The reporter speaks with drug users, medical professionals and experts. There isn’t a ton of natural sound, but the story doesn’t really lend itself to that kind of audio storytelling. The listener can hear ambient noise from a cafe at the beginning, where one of the sources works.

The story also contains a combination of dialogue between the reporter and the sources, and voiceover, which is used to fill in gaps and provide additional information that the soundbites leave out.

My only complaint is that the script seemed to have been written for the eye instead of the ear. When the reporter speaks with several of the sources the listener hears them speak before they are introduced. To me, this format works better for a written story.

Video Critique

Mother Jones investigated Animal Planet’s show, Call of the Wildman, after the show was accused of animal cruelty. Their story, which had a written component and an original video report, explained the accusations and unveiled some of the questionable behind the scenes shenanigans. The written story, though thoroughly reported, isn’t as enlightening as the video.

The video is its own entity, separate from the written story. It can stand on its own or work supplement the piece. An “anchor” guides the viewer through the issue. He explains what the show is and where it went wrong, using actual footage that aired on TV, as well as some unaired footage.

The video does a nice job giving an overview of the issue with Animal Planet. It’s extremely engaging, and the anchor is charismatic and well-spoken. It’s only flaw, from my perspective, is that it seemed one-sided. There are no sources that are involved with the show or with Animal Planet. The only characters clearly didn’t coming to the network’s defense. That being said, it does avoid false balance if the allegations turn out to be true, and Animal Planet loses the lawsuit.

Motion Graphic

National Geographic’s Food Truck Nation illustrates the rise of food trucks in the U.S. Incredibly simple designs convey a number of facts about the costs associated with opening this type of business.

The animation does a nice job of communicating facts in an engaging way. It places the food truck phenomenon inside the context of modern dining by highlighting how social media has helped foodies track down trucks and allowed truck owners to advertise their businesses.

The designs are cohesive throughout the animation. All of the elements look like they belong. One of the issues I ran into when attempting to conjure up a motion graphic was that each new section I created looked completely different. Nothing fit together. Food Truck Nation is packaged nicely and uniformly.

This motion graphic uses text sparingly, which I appreciated. The voice over tells the story, and the animation supplements it.

Mapping critique

The New York Times two-part series about the North Dakota oil boom combines written and multimedia storytelling. The blend of thorough reporting, photography, video and graphics paints a complete picture of what life in rural North Dakota is like and the politics that govern it.

Part one — The downside of the boom — has an interactive map of oil and wastewater spills in North Dakota. The map is easy to use and the data it presents is simple and digestible. A second map shows the sheer number of oil wells and underground lines that connect fracking operations. Both maps are navigable through clicking or scrolling. Part two — Where oil and politics mix — contains a map that shows the gradual transformation of North Dakota’s landscape. The map includes text that narrates the changes.

Both parts of this story present information in a simple, linear template. Each time the reader scrolls, a new multimedia element appears alongside the written story. It’s an effective template for readers who want to delve into a complicated topic over a longer period of time than they would just skimming a story.