The Housing Lottery: Part 2

By Julia Caulfield

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It’s lottery day for the Longwill 16 and Silver Jack housing developments, and Rebekah Hall is buzzing. At the front of the room is a large golden, metal tumbler, like you’d see for Bingo. Beside it on the table are small red balls, each with a number on it. There are 93 households in the lottery – each with between one and three numbers. That means 193 balls, for 24 units available.

The Hall is packed, and beneath the nervous chatter you can hear as each ball is dropped into the tumbler.

Dennis Andrejko sits in the second row of seats. He and his partner, Shawnna Rice, are hoping to get a unit through the lottery so they can move in together. Rice is at work, but Andrejko took the day off so he could be here.

Just after 12 p.m., Town Council member DeLanie Young calls the meeting to order.

“At 12:02 p.m. I am calling to order the special meeting of the Telluride Housing Authority Subcommittee on September 12th, 2019…” says Young.

Council member Young notes that even if a number isn’t one of the first 24 drawn, that doesn’t mean a household is out of the running. Some lottery winners will decide against a unit, or the finances won’t come through. Young says anyone drawn in the top 30 have a good chance to get a unit.

Several more people provide remarks, and the lottery begins. County Commissioner Hilary Cooper reads out the numbers.

The energy is high. Even for those not in the drawing, you have to remind yourself to breathe.

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Cheers erupt as the first numbers a drawn. But as the numbers inch closer to 20, 24, 30, the mood begins to drop.

Somewhere around the 50th ball being called, Andrejko decides to leave. Just as he steps outside, his number is called for the first time.

“Okay, cool. I guess I just called in the 55th or something…” says Andrejko.

His number was actually the 57th called.

Andrejko adds “I feel like a lot of people were kind of going for the same units. So, I don’t know, 50th, 55th, somewhere in there, it’s a little disheartening, but that’s how it is, I guess. Literal luck of the draw.”

Andrejko says the lottery doesn’t just indicate a need for more housing in the area. He says there needs more housing to buy, not just rent.

“People don’t want to rent. I mean obviously, the crowd in there and the number of people that signed up, people want to live here and own here, and be in this community and be a part of it, for as long as they can.”

At the end of it all, Andrejko’s feelings are still mixed about the whole thing.

“I looked around the room, seeing people cheering in the first handful of ones called. So I’m happy for those people. I’m jealous a little bit too. I’ll be honest. But I’m glad. It’s new families, it’s people that I know have lived here, that are living here,” He says.

Back in the Hall, numbers are still being drawn. But the crowed has thinned. As the final numbers are called, there are only a dozen or so people in the audience. No one is cheering.

And in what seems like a cruel twist, the final number called…is Andrejko and Rice’s.

The full results of the housing lottery will be available on the San Miguel Regional Housing Authority’s website on Friday. Winners of the lottery can expect to begin signing contracts next week.

The Housing Lottery: Part 1

By Julia Caulfield

Dennis Andrejko and Shawnna Rice

Dennis Andrejko and Shawnna Rice

Dennis Andrejko and Shawnna Rice recognize they don’t have the typical housing story in Telluride. Andrejko works at the library, and has lived in town for about 12 years.

Andrejko says,“I am really fortunate in that the first couple years I was living here was only winter. So for four winters I lived in a different place. After that, I currently live in deed restricted housing, and I’m super fortunate that I’ve been able to do that.”

Rice moved to Telluride two years ago and works as the school district psychologist. She’s been in the same house since she got to town.

But now, Rice is losing her housing at the end of November. Plus, she and Andrejko want to move in together. Which leads them to be one of the 93 applicants participating in this year’s housing lottery – 99 applied, but 6 applications were deemed unqualified.

“It’s just stressful because there aren’t really any other options. We don’t really have a backup plan. I have to move out of my place on November 30th. So it’s like, ok, if this doesn’t happen…where am I going to go?” says Rice.

It’s mid-August, and Andrejko and Rice are taking a sight walk of the Longwill 16 project on the west end of Telluride.

The Longwill 16 is one of two new affordable housing projects in Telluride. The other project, call the Silver Jack, is on the upper floors of the SMPA lot, across from the library. In total there are 26 units, although two have been reserved for town employees, which leaves 24 units up for grabs. The units range from single bedrooms, all the way up to four.

To be entered in the lottery, households go through an extensive application process, and provide all kinds of documentation including “past tax returns, or W-2s, or in some instances, people showing that they graduated from Telluride High School.”

Melanie Wasserman, is the Interim Executive Director for the San Miguel Regional Housing Authority, the organization managing the lottery. To be part of the lottery, applicants needed to complete all the paperwork, and submit it during an appointment with the SMRHA. Wasserman says her role at the SMRHA can be difficult. The SMRHA isn’t in charge of deciding the qualifications, they administer the rules decided by the Town.

“On one hand it’s very black and white, and then on another hand, you come across these people, individuals, couples, families, who are just so wonderful and you really want them to end up in housing,” says Wasserman.

After getting all the application paperwork in, it’s mostly just a waiting game.

Rice says, “getting all the application materials was super stressful. Once we were done with our application, then I’ll just be like, ‘ah, okay, we’re done.’ And then we just wait to see if we’re lucky, or not.”

“Then it’s just literally luck of the draw,” adds Andrejko.

For everyone that enters the lottery, that luck of the draw could be the difference between having a home in Telluride, and potentially having to move. Rice says that brings up some conflicting emotions.

“It’s one of those things where you’re really excited if you get it, but then people who don’t get it that have to move out of town, that’s going to be really sad,” Rice says.

And while the nature of a lottery means some families will win and some will lose, Andrejko says at some point you have to accept that it’s all up to chance.

“It’s not a competition as far as, ‘if I’m faster or stronger, then I can get it’. It’s literally ping pong balls pulled out of the hat or whatever. I think whoever gets it is deserving,” says Andrejko.

After making it through the application process Andrejko and Rice were granted three numbers in the housing lottery. The drawing will take place at Rebekah Hall on Thursday at noon.

Colorado Senator and Presidential Candidate Visits Telluride

By Julia Caulfield

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet

Walking around town during the Telluride Film Festival, you might see a movie star or two. But if you were on Main Street on Friday, you may have also caught a glimpse of a Presidential candidate.

Colorado Senator and Presidential hopeful Michael Bennet was in Telluride for a book signing outside Between the Covers.

Speaking on Main Street as people and trucks rumble by, Bennet says the issues he sees facing rural Colorado and the Western Slope are similar to the concerns he hears from people across the country.

“I think people are deeply concerned about making sure we protect our public lands. That we protect rural infrastructure, like rural hospitals and keep them open. That we make sure rural schools have the opportunity to attract teachers and keep them in their districts. And so those are similar issues that I’m hearing around the country,” says Bennet.

Bennet is currently one of 20 Democrats vying for the Democratic nomination for President. He has not qualified for the upcoming democratic debate in Houston at the beginning of September – qualification is based on a mix of polling and donations across the country. But he says a slow start in the campaign doesn’t worry him.

Bennet says, “We’re really in the early stages of this. I know that the voters of the early states really have not yet made up their minds. They’re trying to figure out who the best person to beat Donald Trump is. Most of us are polling in the single digits, I’m at 1% and I think twelve other people in the race are also at 1%. But if history is any guide, the leading candidates are not the ones that will win. Usually it’s somebody who comes from single digits who ends up winning the race. So we just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

But he notes, if he doesn’t win the primary, or general election, he doesn’t plan on going anywhere.

“If the Presidential stuff doesn’t work out I fully anticipate running again for another term. And I do think that it’s because of the people I’ve had a chance to work with, local leadership, on the Western Slope of Colorado, we have been a really strong voice for Colorado’s values in the Senate when we’ve needed it most,” says Bennet.

Senator Bennet’s current term as Senator is up in 2022. He is currently the only Coloradan running for President. Earlier this month, former Governor John Hickenlooper dropped out of the race and has now announced he will run in the Democratic primary to challenge Republican Senator Cory Gardner next year.

AmeriCorps VISTA Program Brings Young Professionals to Telluride

By Amy M. Peters

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VISTA stands for “Volunteers in Service to America.” These volunteers are part of AmeriCorps, a national service program designed to alleviate poverty founded by President John F. Kennedy. For one year, VISTAs work where they’re needed across the U.S. to support a community organization’s mission and capacity.

Several local organizations – like the Telluride Foundation, Tri-County Health and Sheep Mountain Alliance – are putting VISTAs to work. 

April Montgomery, Vice President of Programs at the Telluride Foundation, says that they’ve managed seven, qualified, smart, passionate VISTAs in as many years.

“You get very high caliber people to do the work that it would cost us to hire a full-time person for. It just seemed like a great idea,” says Montgomery.

The Foundation hires VISTAs who’ve recently graduated from college and then exposes them to as much training, opportunity and experience as possible.

Montgomery says “We have to apply -- it’s a three-year commitment – to have a VISTA.  We have to create an exact work plan. It’s an easy match to have them work on our Strong Neighbors initiative, which is mostly focused around the rural communities of Rico, Nucla, Naturita and Norwood where there are more issues around poverty. VISTA is also very interested in the economic development component of it because that’s the way to eradicate poverty.”

Kody Gerkin, Community Outreach Manager at Tri-County Health Network, says they employ three VISTAs: one in marketing, one in data and reporting and another to assist behavioral health and mobile programs.

Gerkin says, “In general, I think the role of VISTAS is to help strengthen how our programs operate. So they’re behind the scenes, creating work-flows, improving our processes, creating internal mechanisms so that we can do the work that we do more efficiently and really to deepen our impact.”

VISTAs are often motivated to apply to the government program not just to help alleviate poverty but to gain work experience and professional skills.

Like Telluride native Sheamus Croke, who graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2017, and now serves as a Strong Neighbor Initiatives Coordinator at the Telluride Foundation.

Croke works on the West End “Pay it Forward” and “Lone Cone Legacy” Trusts, on food initiatives and on West End trails development.

“I’m not only learning about what these programs do and arguing for them, but I’ve been doing grant reports, grant applications, all things grants. Along with coordination of meetings, pull in resources and pull in all these people from different parties, getting everyone together working for a common goal,” says Croke.

Corrine Cavender graduated in April from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan, and now works as one of the VISTA’s at Tri-County Health. As the Public Health Marketing Coordinator, SHE assists with campaigns, develops marketing materials, generates social media content and tracks and budgets for grant reporting.

While VISTAs are paid a very small stipend, Cavender says poverty is relative.

“They pay is under the poverty line but I have a lot of social determinants that enable me to be successful,” says Cavender.

Mason Osgood, who graduated in 2017 from Trinity College in Hartford, CT, is the first VISTA to work at Sheep Mountain Alliance. He works as a Community Outreach Coordinator and lives in Telluride’s new Boarding House. He says VISTAs are paid enough to get by and live a good life in Telluride.

“I’m actually fortunate that I got a good spot – there are actually three other VISTAS who live in the Telluride Boarding House.  Shameless plug: They’ve been a great asset to the community and it’s been an amazing place to live,” says Osgood.

A year-long commitment may not be a lot of time for VISTAs to realize the goals of eradicating poverty and serving as catalysts for change. Tri-County Health’s Gerkin admits that the short tenure can present challenges.

“Right about the time they start hitting their stride – they’re usually young professionals – their term expires with us,” says Gerkin.

Even so, Cavender intends to find satisfaction in her year-long VISTA role.

Cavender says, “We’re working for some pretty heavy social justice. And those aren’t going to be resolved in a year. But just knowing that every day I can show up to work and if I help just one person to do work, I think that’s where I’ll feel satisfied.”

To learn more about VISTA and to apply for positions visit my.americorps.gov.

Former Obama Ambassador Sets His Sights on the U.S. Senate

By Julia Caulfield

Dan Baer

Dan Baer

Candidates running for U.S. Senate in 2020 are making their way around the state. There are over a dozen Democrats running in the primary to challenge Sen. Cory Gardner, and one of those is Dan Baer. Born and raised in the Denver area, Baer is a former ambassador in the Obama administration, was a member of Gov. Hickenlooper’s cabinet. Last week, Baer was in Telluride to meet with voters. KOTO’s Julia Caulfield sat down with him to talk about the importance of empathy in politics, and why he’s running for Congress.

Julia Caulfield (JC): I’m going to start off with an easy question. Why are you running for Senate?

Dan Baer (DB): I’m running, I think for the same reason a lot of people around our state are getting involved in different ways than they were two or three years ago, and I actually think it cuts across party lines that there’s a deep sense of anxiety that the foundations of our democracy are under attack, that we’re not living up the values that our country was founded on, and I think a lot of us have been moved in different ways to get involved in different ways. For me, having represented our country overseas in the Obama administration, as an ambassador for President Obama, I was always proud to be an American diplomat and it’s deeply alarming to see the erosions of our democracy here at home, and it felt like the biggest risk that we face is that we give up on the project, that we give up on staying engaged, and fighting for the progress that we know we need.

JC: Much like the Presidential Democratic race, there are a lot of people running in the primary for this Senate seat. What sets you apart from everybody else who is running?

DB: I think what sets me apart from many of the other candidates is that I’m not a career politician – I haven’t held elected office before – but like many of the people who won House seats in 2018, many of the people who were able to flip swing seats, were people like me, who had a record of public service, particularly in foreign policy or national security, but who hadn’t held elected office and weren’t career politicians, and who were able to raise a Progressive coalition, that were focused on making the changes that we need in order to make our democracy sustainable; but were also able to reach out to disaffected, moderate Republicans who were also disgusted by what’s going on, and Independents and win the votes we need to win the seat.

JC: You’ve touched on some of these big ideas that I think a lot of Democrats ran on in 2018 about our democracy in general, but there are also issues that folks are dealing with on a day to day basis. On the Western Slope of Colorado, healthcare is a big one, and not just in affording your insurance, which is obviously a part, but also in having access to services in general, how do you plan to address those if you become a member of the Senate?

DB: I think it’s really important that you highlight the way that distance and time make challenges that people talk about across Colorado and indeed across the country, like healthcare, they manifest themselves differently in a place let Telluride. And I think one of the things I’ve been focused on in this campaign is, as I’ve gone through the first few months, I’ve been trying to spend more time listening than talking, and one of the ways I’ve done that is by shadowing people on the job and hearing about the challenges they face and obviously healthcare is one of the challenges people raise, affordable housing is another one that comes up. Obviously affordable housing is a problem in Telluride, it’s also a problem on the Front Range. The solutions may look different, but it is a theme that I hear over and over again. I think the most important thing for somebody representing us in Washington to do is to be committed to listening over the long run. Because you won’t be able to provide the kind of nuanced representation, and make sure that when the next major piece of healthcare legislation comes in front of Congress that you are ready to negotiate on behalf, not just be there to cast a vote when the legislation is delivered on your desk, but be there to negotiate on behalf of your constituents if you haven’t been listening.

JC:  You’re from Colorado, from Denver. Through your work in both the Obama administration and the Hickenlooper administration, you’ve lived in big cities, had arguably high profile jobs. Given that background, how are you able to represent people from a potentially very different background from your own?

DB: I think that’s a question that anybody who’s seeking to represent a large number of people in Washington has to be able to answer. When I was at the State Department one of the things that I would do when I was traveling the world on behalf of the U.S. Government is, in every place I went, I insisted that the embassy organize a round table discussion as one of my first meetings with local civil society representatives. And what I found was in those meetings I did much more listening than talking, and I think that’s the kind of approach that you need to take if you seek to represent people in Washington. You know ask me often, does it matter that I’m gay? And I say, ‘obviously it matters to me, but it needn’t matter to the average voter, and indeed the qualifications that I’m running on have nothing to do with that fact that I’m gay or not’. But I do think, that I grew up gay in Colorado in a very different time, it wasn’t that long ago, but it was a very different time, and that speaks to the progress that we’ve seen here. I think when you’ve lived on the other side of hate, you’ve lived on the other side of being left out or left behind, that can produce a number of emotions or sensibilities in you. I suppose it could make you angry, and understandably so, but another thing it can do is help you learn empathy. I hope that the experience that I’ve had in my life – the variety of experience that I’ve had in my life – make me a better representative of people because I know what it’s like to be left out and left behind. I understand that it’s not the same to grow up a fifteen-year-old gay kid in Littleton, and to be a single mother in Pueblo working three jobs, or to be a farmer in Yuma trying to figure out how you’re going to make ends meet with the tariffs, or to be somebody who’s watching a coal mine shut down, I get that those are different things. But I think an attention to the experience and the pain points that other people are feeling is valuable when you’re seeking to do this. As well as an understanding that we’re all in this together, and we have to hang together, and we have to have leaders who are committed to seeing the whole and committed to representing every single Coloradan, including those who don’t vote for them, and I’m committed to doing that.

JC: Before we take off, Telluride as a community, we’re a big fan of music. You, on the campaign trail, I assume are jetting around the state. Is there any music that you can’t get out of your head right now?

DB: We’ve been listening to a lot of Lizzo, who I think is wonderful not only for her music, but also for her voice. I think in a time like this, her voice, first of all, she highlights social justice issues often, and she presents a sense of defiant optimism that I think should be our guiding star right now, so I’ve been listening to a lot of Lizzo.

Barb Gross, 2019 Citizen of the Year, Encourages Community to Give Back

By Julia Caulfield

Barb Gross (center left) with her husband and daughters

Barb Gross (center left) with her husband and daughters

It was a chance encounter that brought Barb Gross to Telluride, and thank goodness for that.

She moved to Telluride in 1984 after meeting the person who would become her husband.

“I was on vacation, getting ready to move back to the east coast, and I was on vacation in Hawaii.”

She met her future husband on the beach.

“I said ‘hey, if you get to San Diego in the next couple days, come look me up’.”

And he did. Gary, that’s Gross’ husband, visited her in California and asked her if she’d give him a ride back to Colorado. To Telluride. The rest you could say is history. Gross did spend a few months on the east coast, but quickly moved back to town.

Gross raised her children here, worked and volunteered, and earlier this summer she was named the 2019 Citizen of the Year by the Telluride Foundation.

“I actually had to sit with it for a couple days to actually process it. I had no idea I was even nominated. I feel really honored. I feel really honored.”

According to the Foundation, the purpose of the citizen of the year award is to “honor individuals who unselfishly make extraordinary contributions to the region’s quality of life.”

Gross has been serving the community for over 35 years. Although her education is in geriatric social work, she began working in Telluride at the Rainbow Preschool.

“We literally competed to who could have the best idea that day, for the kids. It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of work. But I loved every moment of it.”

Elaine Schroedl nominated Gross for the award. They met when their kids were at Rainbow together in the 1980’s and have known each other ever since.

Schroedl points to all the hours Gross has spent volunteering for the community as her reason for the nomination.

“She’s just and extraordinary person. When you hear about people having won the award, or whatever, for years I thought ‘Barb deserves that’. I don’t know anyone more deserving than Barb.”

In the years since leaving Rainbow Preschool, Gross has taken up the role as head of the Angel Basket’s Food Bank in Telluride. In that role, as a volunteer herself, she manages 25 volunteers to staff the food bank, coordinate deliveries with local businesses, and distribute food each week.

But despite all her work, Gross make sure to note that the award really recognizes all the people who work to make the food bank possible.

“I was unloading a truck and there were two people who sometimes come to the food bank, and I said ‘hey can you help me unload this?’ Boom. Stop. Do it right away. So it recognizes a lot of people.”

And at the root of it all, Gross just wants people to take time to volunteer in the community.

“Give back, if you can. Give back to this community and you will get back into your own life. You will feel more involved in the fabric of the community, and you’ll truly – in any way you volunteer – you’ll truly be helping.”

As part of the award for Citizen of the Year, Gross gets $5,000 to donate to an organization of her choice.

There will be a celebration in honor of Barb Gross at the Ah Haa School for the Arts on September 18th.

Colorado State Representative Makes a Bid for the U.S. House

By Julia Caulfield

State Rep. Donald Valdez

State Rep. Donald Valdez

Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District has a history of flipping between Republican and Democratic representation – the seat is currently held by Republican Representative Scott Tipton. But Colorado State Representative Donald Valdez is hoping to move it back to the Democrats. He is one of two Democrats currently running in a primary to challenge the Republican candidate. Valdez currently serves as the Representative for District 62 in the Colorado State House of Representatives, and spent a few days in Telluride this week to talk with voters. He sat down with KOTO News to talk about his campaign and why he’s running.

Julia Caulfield (JC): Thanks for being here and chatting with us today. First question, hopefully an easy one, why are you running for Congress?

Donald Valdez (DV): Well, thank you, Julia. You know, here in rural Colorado we need a voice now more than ever – for rural education, for infrastructure, broadband, but also more importantly is our water. Our water’s precious – all the way from the top peaks on the continental divide, all the way down into our communities and to the agriculture industry. Water is essential. It’s our life blood, not only to us, but also the next generation.

JC: You’re currently serving in the Colorado State House. You were first elected in 2016, and re-elected in 2018. Why are you now making the jump to go from the state legislature to the federal House of Representatives?

DV: You are correct. I am the state representative for House District 62 which covers eight counties … this is essential to get out and voice for rural Colorado, because each and every one of our communities has uniqueness, but also the culture, the history, and the home for so many – whether it be our veterans who we need to advocate for each and every single day. Healthcare needs from young to the very young, and the elderly and the wisdom that they have, we need to gain that and pass it on to the next generation now and engage the next generation to be leaders in our community.

JC: The 3rd Congressional District is very large, running from the very northern parts of the state to the southern parts of the state. If you are elected, how do you balance the needs of folks who are living across a very wide range of land?

DV: My current district I cover eight counties and the 3rd Congressional District covers 29 counties from Craig, Steamboat all the way south into Cortez, and Towaoc, and Ignacio, and the dynamics are interesting but we all have the same issues. Economic development is a key issue to continue growth in our communities. With that we need quality and quantity of our water, make sure our soils are healthy, so we continue to grow our food and the agriculture aspect, knowing where our food comes from. Agriculture is a huge, leading industry in the state and the 3rd Congressional District does cover more than half the state of Colorado – but the beauty of the 3rd Congressional District is heaven. The beauty of the majestic mountains, the dynamics of the people, the heritage, the culture, and that’s one of the reasons that I’m running – because we need a voice for rural Colorado. One of the major issues that is affecting our communities is addiction. The heroine, the meth, and the opioids have taken almost two generations, and it’s sad and we need to stand up, enough is enough. We need to get more prevention and education and treatment for those who are battling.

JC: You’ve mentioned agriculture and water as being some of the issues that are really important to you – also education, support for veterans, affordable healthcare, and economic development. These are big issues, some of them are going to be more bipartisan than others, but none of them are small, easy issues to find an answer for. How do you start addressing those issues if you’re elected?

DV: Well, you address those issues one at a time. They’re all issues that affect our communities and affect each one of us, especially healthcare. Healthcare, the cost of healthcare, the cost of prescription drugs, the cost of visiting a doctor, whether you decide to put food on your table or pay for a procedure or surgery that you desperately need to continue to engage and be that persona that you need to work or your livelihood.

JC: Before we leave, I’ll ask a more fun or easier question. I assume you’ve been traveling all over the 3rd Congressional District, and we’ve mentioned that it’s large, when you’ve been traveling in the car or on flights has there been any music that’s really been speaking to you?

DV: The music of the mountains. The mountains keep calling me. And On the Road Again with Willie Nelson, every single day.

Local Recalls Woodstock Experience as 50th Anniversary Nears

By Cara Pallone

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The original Woodstock was held in Bethel, New York, Aug. 15-18, 1969. Almost half a million people were there, including local resident Chris Bonebrake. This August marks 50 years since the original legendary music festival took place, but Bonebrake remembers it clearly.

Well, as clearly as someone who attended the original Woodstock should remember it…

The Sheridan Arts Foundation’s mini Woodstock to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the legendary music festival is this Thursday, Aug. 1, with “Kiss the Sky: The Jimi Hendrix Re-experience.” And Friday, Aug. 2, with “Just Like Janis.”

Doors are at 8 p.m. with the show at 9 p.m. Tickets are $25 general admission and $35 reserved seats in the balcony. Two-day passes for GA tickets are $40. Go to sheridanoperahouse.com for more info.

Jury Finds Mother Guilty in Norwood Homicide Case

By Cara Pallone

59f1e7a4ba07c-59f1e7a4ba0b5Makayla-Roberts-10-and-Hannah-Marshall-8.jpg.jpg

As Deputy District Attorney Rob Whiting stated Wednesday in his closing statements in Montrose District Court: The evidence in this case is clear.

On September 8th, 2017, police responded to a property in Norwood. And on this property, they discovered two dead girls in a vehicle. In connection with those deaths, five adults were arrested and charged. One of those people was the victims’ mother.

Nashika Bramble

Nashika Bramble

The jury decided that Nashika Bramble did act knowingly with respect to her conduct, and that she was aware her conduct would practically be certain to cause a result.

In this case, it was knowing that her two daughters were in a hot car in in with no food or water. And the result, is that they died. 180 pounds of food was found on the property afterward.

Bramble, and African American woman in her late 30s, was convicted of two counts of first degree murder Wednesday. Her sentencing is scheduled for October first in San Miguel County. A change of venue was granted in the case, which is why the trial was held in Montrose County.

What unraveled after the discovery of the bodies of Makayla Roberts,10, and Hannah Roberts, 8, on that Friday, September 8th, 2017 is a bizarre story about a group of travelers who were invited back to the Norwood property where they were awaiting the end of times. The alleged ringleader, a Haitian woman named Madani Ceus, reportedly sent the two girls to a vehicle and told the others to withhold food and water because the girls were impure and it would hold them all back from achieving what they referred to as “light body.”

Bramble’s trial began on the 8th and lasted a week and a half. It took the jury about an hour to hand down a guilty verdict.

Anywhere from a dozen to two dozen people were in the audience throughout the day. Bramble, dressed in a black suit with her hair in braids, swayed side to side at times in her seat and remained outwardly composed when the jury returned the verdict.

While the prosecution argued that Bramble was a person in a position of trust who took part in isolating and starving her children, Bramble’s defense attorney, Harvey Palefsky, argued that the case is about the illusion of free will. He told the jury that Ceus was the only person who had free will on that property, describing her as “evil, vile, a witch, and a master manipulator,” and that everyone had to bow down to her. Palefsky stated that everyone feared her, and that while it may seem ridiculous to us, we didn’t live in that reality.

Yet, as Whiting argued: once her girls were dead and it became apparent that the end of times was not going to take place, Bramble saved her own life. She left the property, got a bus ticket and only when she saw herself on the news did she turn herself in. 

In a video played during the trial, Bramble told investigators that she made the decision to quote: “leave or end up dead.”

She was pregnant at the time of her arrest and delivered a child while in custody.

Following closing arguments, KOTO News asked for comments from the prosecution and defense teams.

Deputy District Attorney Rob Whiting commented that he felt his team was able to effectively present the evidence they intended to present over the course of the trial, his first case as Deputy DA involving a homicide.

“Procedurally, disagreement is an inherent part of the system and that’s the point of having two different lawyers. And Judge Yoder is really clear, she keeps things moving, she respects people’s rights and I think all of that was showcased in the past week and a half.” 

Bramble’s defense attorney Palefsky said even when his client wasn’t communicating with him over the past almost two years since her arrest, he continued to work for her, saying it would be unprofessional if he just gave up. Past experiences he commented. have proven the importance of the phrase: innocent until proven guilty. 

“I’ve had enough cases where it turned out, especially with another double homicide, that the guy was not guilty and someone else was convicted. I just realize, I wasn’t there, I don’t know the situation. Look at the Central Park 5. I have a job to do, the DA has a job to do. Hopefully if we both do our jobs, there will be some justice in the case.”

Bramble is the second of the Norwood five to stand trial. Ashford Nathaniel Archer of Haiti was convicted in March on two counts of child abuse resulting in death and an accessory charge. His trial lasted nearly three weeks. In June, he was sentenced to 24 years in the department of corrections, with credit for time served.

Sheriff Bill Masters was in attendance Wednesday, as he has been at most of the court proceedings for the Norwood 5. He commented that it is still impactful for him to be in the audience watching the videos and listening to testimony nearly two years later.

“It certainly is, it’s a case that’s going to be with us for a long time. We’ve spent a lot of time on it, investigating this to the proper degree and presenting it to the district attorney and preparing for trials. It’s going to go on still for quite some time.”

The next trial is for Madani Ceus and is scheduled for four weeks in January 2020. She remains at the San Miguel County Jail.

The remaining two people involved in the case, Ika Eden of Jamaica, is in the custody of the state hospital and has been deemed incompetent to stand trial. And Frederick Blair, the only Caucasian person of the five, was offered a plea deal in exchange for his testimony. Two counts of felony child abuse were dismissed.

He also is currently lodged at the San Miguel County Jail and is scheduled for a status conference on August 29th.

Telluride School District Superintendent Announces Retirement

By Julia Caulfield

Mike Gass

Mike Gass

Mike Gass, superintendent of the Telluride School District, has announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

Gass has been an educator in Colorado for 30 years, and the superintendent in Telluride since 2015. He says getting to work with the staff and students has been a highlight of his tenure in the position.

“Some of the things that continually drive me as an educator is the opportunity to be in such a great place. It’s not lost on me, I love the kids and I love the staff that I work with on a daily basis, and I mean that because I get to actually be in the building; part of that energy that happens in the hallway in the school year; having one of my own kids graduate from Telluride High School is certainly special,” Gass says.

He also notes how special it is to work in a district where the school is a hub of the community.

“I continually look at the quality of people that we get to work with on a daily basis, whether it’s the staff in the building, or the parents in the community, or the governmental support from the Town Council, Commissioners, law enforcement. Everybody plays a role in a school in a community like this, and that’s a pretty awesome place to be,” Gass says.

Gass says one of the main priorities in his final year will be putting the pieces into place that will allow the person who takes his place to be successful.

He also wants to focus on the opportunities the district provides for graduating students who might not be college bound.

“You know, I can’t say enough about our staff and our academic programming. You know, Telluride is a college going machine, but I think one of the things I would hope we work on over the next year – and my successor – what about the kid that isn’t necessarily always headed to college? What opportunities are we continuing to create for them locally that allow them to try college out, or technical school, or get in the work force and be a leader in our community in that way?” says Gass.

After retiring, Gass and his wife plan to move to the Oregon coast, although he says they’re still figuring out what’s next.

“You know, I may jump back in the education game and play some roles that I’ve enjoyed in the past. But we really don’t know, Colorado has been great to us, we’re both Colorado natives and we’re just going to kind of throw it out there and see what happens,” Gass says.

The Telluride School District Board of Education will begin a national search for a new superintendent in the fall. There are three School Board seats up for election in November. Gass notes those members will have a large hand in hiring the new superintendent.

Filmmaker Aims to "Humanize" Politics in New HBO Documentary

By Julia Caulfield

David Modigliani (Photo courtesy of HBO)

David Modigliani (Photo courtesy of HBO)

The 2018 Midterm elections brought many lesser known politicians to the national stage. In his new documentary, Running with Beto, director David Modigliani chronicles then-Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s campaign to unseat Senator Ted Cruz, and become the first Democrat to win a statewide race in Texas in 25 years. K-O-T-O’s Julia Caulfield spoke with Modigliani about the film.

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Julia Caulfield (JC): Hi David, thanks for chatting with me today.

David Modigliani (DM): Thanks so much for having me.

JC: Your film follows Beto from the beginning of his campaign for Senate in 2018, before most people knew who he was, but there were so many new candidates who were running that year. Why did you choose Beto as the subject of your documentary?

DM: Like many great things in life, it comes back to baseball. I play on a sandlot baseball team in Austin, Texas, and in the spring of 2018 the De Amuletos de El Paso showed up, and they had a center fielder with a name I hadn’t heard before, who happened to be a U.S. Congressman. I was playing first base and he hit a single, and he told me he was running for Senate. I had been looking for – really since the 2016 elections, feeling the way we dehumanize each other through politics, and how much that causes us to, kind of, tune out – and I was looking for a story that might re-humanize it, or make it feel accessible in some way. So, when Beto spoke to the crowd during the seventh-inning stretch, in his dirty uniform, and brushed his sweaty locks aside, he certainly looked like somebody who could hold the camera and be the star of a movie, but it was really when he talked about the idea that he was going to go to every single county, even the most conservative that Democrats had long written off, that he was going to run without any PAC money, that kind of experiment in democracy was really exciting to me, and felt like a story that would be worth following and that would be an exciting thing to capture and then put out in the run-up to the 2020 cycle, certainly long before we would have imagined that he would be a candidate for the presidency.

JC: Campaigns are obviously fast moving, they can be a bit of whirlwind, especially getting towards the end. But it was really clear that you wanted to catch some of those moments of calm, with his family, playing basketball, why was that an important aspect for you to show in the film?

DM: I think it’s so much of what we don’t see. You know, it’s not life and death like it is in the military, but there is some similarity in the sense that when someone serves the public, the whole family serves, the whole family sacrifices in some way. Beto was home about two days a month for about two years. So their family sort of navigated that experience. It felt relevant to me in terms of showing what it’s really like to run for office. It was also exciting to me to show people who were new to politics, and no one is newer to politics than kids! I think seeing the democratic process through eyes sort of takes us back to that first blush, first experience with this whole process, and maybe allows an audience to view it in a different way.

JC: As a historical spoiler alert, Beto lost his race in 2018.

DM: It’s true! Spoiler!

JC: I assume that as you’re filming, you’re starting to think through the process of what the story is going to be, what the narrative arc is going to look like. Did that change once the election happened and you found out he had lost? Or were you playing in a way that you were able to easily change between a win or a lose for the arc of the film?

DM: You know, Plan A for this film was really, that he was likely to lose. We knew that Ted Cruz had won the 2012 Senate race by 16% and that a Democrat had not won statewide in Texas for 25 years, so there was a real sense that this was a long-shot; and then he went and made it close, went and made it really close. But we were always prepared to tell a story in which the candidate was going to lose.

JC: There have always been movies, and documentaries, and TV series about politics and politicians, but right now it really feels like we’re living in a moment where following politics is almost a national pastime. Do you think your film adds into a narrative that almost treats politics as entertainment?

DM: It certainly does feel like politics is more central to our conversation, and I think that a lot of it has become controversy driven, click-bait entertainment, infotainment, and I think there’s also a way in which the news covers politics by treating the rest of the country and the viewing audience as pundits. You know, “what are people saying about this or that,” that’s a big part of what drove me to make this film; to get back to the real human experience of politics, and getting beyond that click-bait, surface level. As opposed to the real work of knocking on doors, the real conversations that are had between people, and the real emotional experience of volunteering or being a grassroots activist, of allowing yourself to believe in something larger than yourself; making yourself emotionally vulnerable and really seeking change in this country.

JC: Well, David, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today.

DM: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed the conversation.

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That was David Modigliani talking with K-O-TO’s Julia Caulfield about his new documentary, Running with Beto. The film is available now on HBO.

Lawson Hill Parking and Transit Center Officially Opens

By Julia Caulfield

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The Lawson Hill Parking and Transit Center at Society Turn officially opened on Wednesday.

A small group of Telluride, Mountain Village, San Miguel County, and Colorado Department of Transportation officials met to celebrate the event on the warm morning, with only wisps of clouds in the sky. It’s a little different from when Nina Kothe, Administrative Assistant for San Miguel County, and David Averill first discussed the idea several years ago.

“When we came out here it was a blustery November day, and I remember standing over the hood of her car with a concept drawing and we’re holding them down so they didn’t blow away,” says Averill, Executive Director for the San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation.

Back then, he was working for the CDOT. On a work trip to the area, Kothe brought Averill to lot by the Conoco to share her idea for upgrade.

According to Kothe, the area has always been a parking lot, but the County didn’t have enough money to even pave it. She thought there could be some funding from the state.

“It just turned out there was some money available in a pool, it’s called SB 228, that had to be used for transit. So it was almost like perfect timing, and there were no what they call “shovel ready” projects on the Western Slope except for ours, so we got the money,” says Kothe.

The timing of the project is something Mike McVaugh, Director for District 5 of CDOT, also notes at the ceremony.

 “This is only the second transit project to be completed in the state [with SB 228 funds], the first in Region 5, so we feel really good that everyone was ready, that timing was right, to really pull this together and take advantage of funding that was available statewide and we have this wonderful project here today,” McVaugh says.

San Miguel County got around $1.5 million of State funding to update the lot, although Kothe notes that they came in under budget.

The lot at Society Turn has been used as a parking lot for years, but now, the new transit center has around 120 paved spaces. It’s a stop for the Galloping Goose, SMART buses, and the Bustang Outrider. There are restrooms, and even several charging stations for electric vehicles, all powered by solar panels. Kothe says she hopes both locals and visitors alike will take advantage of the extra parking.

“The hope is really that people, even locals, they might opt to park here and hop on the Galloping Goose to get into town, because then they also don’t have to worry about parking in town. But mostly we envision it as a transit center for regional transportation, and maybe even a transfer station where people might get off a bus that’s come up from Montrose…and hope on a bus that will then take them up to Mountain Village,” Kothe says.

The Lawson Hill Parking and Transit Center officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony on May 29th, and bagpipes to mark the occasion.

Students Collect Thousands of Dollars on Local Scholarship Night

By Cara Pallone

The Telluride High School class of 2019 is one of the largest, if not the largest with 78 students.

For years, local donors have been supporting seniors with financial contributions as they pursue their next chapter of education. This year was no different, but as Principal Sara Kimble explained to the audience at the Palm Theater during the annual Senior Awards Night Wednesday, some students, mostly out of consideration for others, opted not to apply for any scholarship, or to apply for only one or two.

 “We are grateful for these students….”

With Telluride High and Mountain School seniors dressed in their caps and gowns on stage, there was no shortage of emotional moments as donors walked up the mic, congratulated the class of 2019 and introduced their scholarships.

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Dozens of certificates were handed out by community organizations and nonprofits, businesses, individuals and families.

Donors ranged from restaurants to hotels to foundations and memorial funds, like the Abel Palmer Memorial Scholarship was awarded by Himay and Cedar Palmer, who lost their son and brother, respectively, in an avalanche two winters ago.

“Abel was a long hauler…”

The Abel Palmer Memorial Scholarship award went to Anna Wright, whose father Gabe Wright, died in a backcountry incident the same winter as Abel. 

Other memorial scholarships were awarded in honor of the late Elaine Fischer, Glider Bob Saunders, Gus Guest, Cody Simonian, Nic Kyle, Kevin Doyle, Jane Miller, Sally Siegel, Hoot Brown and others. Organizations that doled out scholarship funds ranged from Telluride Aids Benefit to True North Youth Program. Mountainfilm to Film Fest, from the Elks Lodge to the Masonic Lodge to Rotary to the Placerville Volunteer Fire Department. The San Miguel Educational Fund, that’s KOTO’s governing board, awarded its own scholarship to Maya Ordonez, who was in radio club her freshman and sophomore years of high school and plans to attend the University of Chicago to study molecular engineering.

The ski resort and San Miguel Power Association awarded scholarships, along with a host of others.

A senior parade will take place around 12:30 Friday on main street. The commencement ceremony for the class of 2019 will follow at 2 p.m. at the Palm Theater. Telluride TV will live stream the event. The keynote speaker is former postman Jim Looney.

The Salutatorian is Wynton Brown. Co-valedictorians are Will Jansen and Spencer Keating.

Ticket to Ride

By Cara Pallone

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Have time, will travel. That was the theme Wednesday at Telluride Regional Airport, where 16 lucky people got a free round-trip ride to Denver aboard a Dornier 328 jet.

The promotion was to hype the new first-ever daily commercial jet service into TEX. Last week, Colorado Flights Alliance invited members of the public to pack their bags and be at the Telluride Regional Airport by 11:30 sharp on May 15th for the chance to be selected for a last-minute spring getaway to Denver. Ten people would be chosen to leave that very afternoon and return within a week. 

You didn’t have to tell Himay Palmer twice. When he learned almost simultaneously that they were giving away free jet rides to Denver and that Arapaho Basin Ski area was extending its season, Palmer packed a bag.

“My friend told me about it so I picked up one of the papers and it said be up here. There was only 16 of us so they took the whole bunch. I feel like a jet setter.”

While Palmer had specific plans to get in a few late-season spring skiing turns, there were those who didn’t know they’d be going on a trip at all, until they were actually going. Take friends Patrick Shehan and Marcus Smith, who went to the airport for the ribbon cutting ceremony welcoming the inaugural jet into TEX and found themselves about to board said jet.

As Palmer explained, there was room for more than 10 and so six additional passengers were invited to take the trip, even though they carried nothing but wallets and cell phones. Well, and champagne glasses, which seemed to be encouraging their spontaneity.

“We were coming to support the Telluride Tourism Board and hang out for the launch, and they said, you guys are on it if you want. So we’re going to Denver for the night.”

Colorado Flights Alliance rolled out the red runway carpet Wednesday in honor of daily commercial jet service coming to TEX. The service is through Denver Air Connection with United Airlines.

The first jet left DIA at around 11:45 a.m. and landed in Telluride less than an hour later.

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Once the jet was safely parked on the tarmac, aviation, government and tourism officials all gathered in front of the aircraft to pose for pictures, offer speeches and cut a big giant ribbon, including Colorado Flights COO Matt Skinner, describing it as a milestone in air service for the Telluride region. 

“It’s great to see a jet on the tarmac…”

But the real excitement was back in the airport, where the 16 passengers were now on their second or third glasses of champagne as they waited to board.

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As for whether any of these folks would ever buy a ticket to ride, most said yes, under the right circumstances. A one-way ticket costs about $200 and a round-trip flight will run jet setters around $400 to $450, according to a search of dates on denverairconnection.com.

Take Dan Enright, who read about the promotion in the paper and decided to use his final couple days off during the off season. He has a cousin to stay with in Denver, was planning on seeing a show and was grateful to be on the flight.

But would it be worth the cost for him to purchase a ticket in the future?

“You know, in a special occasion, perhaps...”

The Dornier travels 400 to 450 miles per hour; total air time is 40 minutes. If you needed to get to Denver in a pinch, it would certainly be the quickest option.

The Denver-air connection flights will operate year round with the exception of two seasonal breaks in spring and fall. The introduction of Denver Air Connection means there’s competition at the airport now. This is the second commercial option; Boutique Air was introduced at TEX in late August 2018 after Great Lakes airlines, which previously offered commercial service, folded.

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For more information, go to denverairconnection.com or united.com.