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Off Limits

Nothing comes between me and my minions: An even chillier reception awaited representatives of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility when they tried to meet with employees of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment last week. PEER, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that helps federal and state employees blow the whistle on unethical or illegal activities in their agencies, was nearly locked out of CDPHE headquarters.

CDPHE spokeswoman Cindy Parmenter says her department views PEER "as a group whose avowed purpose is to undermine the management at the agency where they're recruiting employees" and to "dismember governmental agencies." In fact, the organization is forced to sell underwear rather than T-shirts and bumper stickers so that its 10,000 members can sport the PEER logo without being hassled.

Two weeks before the May 12 luncheon, CDPHE associate director Lee Thielen vetoed an all-staff e-mail written by Harlen Ainscough, a CDPHE geologist and vice president of the Colorado Federation of Public Employees, informing his co-workers of the upcoming meeting. The federation resorted to mailing notices and posting fliers on agency bulletin boards, but the fliers were removed when it came to the actual meeting day, and the door to the meeting room was locked. Parmenter says that at that point, the CDPHE was reviewing whether to let its employees meet off the clock with PEER reps on its taxpayer-owned property. After some intervention from the state attorney general's office, the PEER meeting did go forward--but fewer than two dozen employees showed up because of all the confusion, Ainscough says.

"We're very open about what we do, and we try to be very accessible to both the media and the public. We're not in the business of hiding anything," Parmenter insists. But the topic of who gets to meet with CDPHE employees in CDPHE meeting rooms came up at a senior staff meeting earlier this week. "We're reviewing our policy right now," says Parmenter, "and we're going to see what makes sense."

Remember her?: Up in Boulder, the grand jury looking into the slaying of JonBenet Ramsey continues to work at a glacial pace. Meanwhile, the murder trial of James Garner--accused of killing his in-laws and wife, as well as wounding his infant daughter--is well under way in Douglas County. Shortly after the bodies were discovered on January 19, 1998, with visions of the then-thirteen-month-old unsolved Ramsey murder dancing in their heads, Lone Tree officials vowed to make sure their investigation was swift and efficient, authorizing expensive overtime work by the Douglas County Sheriff's Department. But in court on Monday, it was Garner's defense attorney who made unfavorable comparisons to the Ramsey case--noting in particular early, over-eager bungling by investigators that resulted in a Garner interview being tossed out of evidence.

When--and if--the Ramsey case gets its day in court, one key figure won't be around to see it. Leslie Aaholm, the Boulder spokeswoman who hosted then-police chief Tom Koby's hot-tub press conference shortly after the murder and has tended to all press inquiries since, is stepping down after seven years on the job--two and a half of them JonBenet-intensive--and moving to Frisco.

Off Limits is compiled by Jonathan Shikes. If you have a tip, call him at 303-293-3555, send a fax to 303-296-5416, or e-mail denver-editorial@westword.com.

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