Off Limits

Mr. Brown goes to Washington--not!: Brooks Brown, the Columbine student who was the subject of Eric Harris's online threats--"All I want to do is kill and injure as many of you pricks as I can, especially a few people. Like Brooks," read one Harris rant--was all set to join in Bill and Hillary Clinton's touchy-feely "Kids and Guns" gabfest aired live on Good Morning America last Friday. "They wanted someone who'd stand up to the president, and that's Brooks," says Judy Brown, Brooks's mom, who is no slouch herself at standing up to authority, including the Jefferson County sheriff.

But the evening before the Brown family's flight to D.C., the network called and said that Brooks had been bumped from the lineup of teens because, as a "witness" in an active investigation, he wouldn't be allowed into the White House. (Never mind that lately the White House has been lousy with witnesses to active investigations--many of them White House staffers.) Instead, Columbine was represented by student Tiffany, who assured the Clintons that she didn't "mean to sound like some hippie or something."

Also showing up on Good Morning America that morning was Robyn Anderson, Dylan Klebold's prom date. But Anderson, who's also considered a witness in the April 20 shootings--after all, she did buy two shotguns and a rifle for Harris and Klebold at a gun show last year--did her interview, her first since Columbine, one-on-one with Diane Sawyer.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Tanner Gun Show, where Anderson bought those guns--"with their money," she told Sawyer. "All I did was show a driver's license"--was unpacking its wares for this past weekend's show at the Denver Merchandise Mart. But in keeping with kinder, gentler, post-Columbine marketing, this version of the Tanner extravaganza was billed as a "hunting and fishing" show. And you could certainly blow away a lot of trout with the firearms on sale there.

Riddle me this: Judging from the media's saturation of Sam Riddle--spokesman for the Shoels family, former campaign manager for lawyer-turned-candidate-turned-lawyer Jeffrey Feiger, current consultant for Secretary of State Vikki Buckley--he's the man of the hour. That's $250 an hour, according to the $10,000-a-month consulting contract he has with Buckley, whose campaign he resuscitated last fall (bringing her from 27 percent in the polls on October 10 to victory four weeks later).

On Tuesday, the blabbing began with a Riddle phone interview with KHOW's Peter Boyles that turned into a stint in the studio. And what the hell--since Riddle was already in the building, he went next door to chat with Mike Rosen on KOA, then caught up with Channel 9 on his way out to yet another interview.

Just two questions, Sam. You do any of those interviews on the taxpayer dollar? (Don't tell us; tell state senator Mike Feeley, who's asked for an audit of your contract with the secretary of state.) And how do you manage to jog in the park, talk on the phone to Boyles and read press clips all at the same time?

Bombing out: Last month Newsweek reported that the Department of Energy had lost track of more than two tons of plutonium. Half the missing radioactive material disappeared from the former Rocky Flats weapons plant during its long and troubled history making plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads. But not to worry: DOE officials believe the shortage was a result of sloppy handling--stuff getting stuck in pipes and tools--rather than outright theft. If that explanation doesn't sound particularly reassuring, consider the story of an equipment supplier who ventured into the plant in the Reagan era. The source asked that his name not be published, but his insights into the way things worked at the nation's wackiest bomb factory bear repeating. "Back in the early "80s, I worked for a company that made electric forklifts," he says. "Rockwell ordered one for Rocky Flats, and we shipped it right out. About three months later, they ordered a new battery for the thing. Well, these batteries just don't run down that fast, so I called them up and asked them what was going on.

"They said it wouldn't run. I asked them if anybody had checked it out to make sure the battery was dead. They said they didn't have anybody who could do that. Yes, they had electricians, but they only worked on AC systems. Yes, they had mechanics, but they didn't work on equipment like this forklift. It was some kind of union standoff. I told them I could send them a battery, but it might not fix the problem. These batteries cost about $4,000, and the problem could be as simple as a blown fuse. I said it would be cheaper to fly me out there to see what was wrong.

"They said they couldn't do that. The forklift was stuck in a restricted area. I told them maybe we could work something out, and they finally agreed to let me come out. So I fly to Denver, rent a car and drive up there. They have me pop the hood and the trunk on my rental, look underneath the car with mirrors, take me through all these searches and checkpoints. They give me a badge that's supposed to change color if I'm exposed to radiation. Finally, I'm standing outside this one building, and the guy in charge of the forklift comes to me and says, 'It's in there. But this is as far as you're allowed to go.'

"I give him this look. I mean, I've come all this way--what's the point if I can't look at the forklift? He looks around nervously and takes me in. Now, there's nothing in this building except the forklift! It's just sitting there in the middle of the floor. I check it out and get it running. It had a blown fuse that cost all of forty bucks.

"So I'm leaving, and they stop me on the way out. My badge is showing that I've been contaminated. Did you ever see the movie Silkwood? There's a scene where they have to decontaminate Meryl Streep, and that's what they did to me. I had to strip down and go through these showers where they sprayed me with this stuff that looks like oatmeal. Of course, after all that, it turns out I wasn't contaminated. The badge was defective."

Bad cop, no doughnut: Last week two local refineries, Conoco and Ultramar-Diamond Shamrock, announced that they'll produce new, cleaner gasolines to try to help clear up Denver's notorious brown cloud. At the same time, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced it would begin issuing ozone advisories during the summer.

The Denver Police Department might want to make note of those developments. Over the last few years, Denver's Green Fleets committee--which since 1993 has been charged with reducing the carbon-dioxide emissions and fuel costs generated by the city and county's official vehicles--has been trying to convince the police department to switch from Ford's bulky, thirsty Crown Victoria to its leaner, more fuel-efficient Taurus. "We'd like to see cars that are used by single officers--a sergeant, lieutenant, captain--all reduced to a Taurus instead of a Crown Victoria," says Denver city councilman and committee member Ted Hackworth, "and that seems to be something that's very difficult for the police to accomplish."

"There's a lot of different sides to the story," says Steve Foute, director of Denver's environmental protection division, who also serves on the Green Fleets committee. There are many reasons why a Taurus is not as practical as a Crown Vic, he says. "If they need to get five people in a car for some reason, the Taurus isn't big enough." Moreover, Tauruses have front-wheel drive, so when cops wreck their cars during high-speed chases, they're extra-costly to repair. "We did buy some Tauruses a couple of years ago to put into the patrol fleet," says Deputy Manager of Safety Tracy Howard, another Green Fleets committee member, but that raised safety concerns for the officers, since "the front seat is closer to the back seat," so the people who were under arrest were closer to the officers. But "the bigger problem, with the mobile computer terminals, radios, shotguns and other stuff that they put in that front-seat area"--Howard made no mention of Big Gulp soda cups--"there's not enough room, physically, to put all of that stuff in a mid-sized vehicle."

Foute says the police have not been resistant to downsizing to Tauruses "when it's appropriate." And, Howard adds, "we have downsized to a great extent the administrative or unmarked fleet. Now we're actually buying Tauruses and Luminas and other mid-sized six-cylinder cars for the non-marked fleets--detectives and other administrative types, command officers who are not in a patrol situation." Ultimately, though, as Foute points out, it's hard to get "some of the police package equipment" into the smaller vehicles.

Get the point? It's brass-tacks time at the Denver Post, as evidenced by the following e-mail sent this week: "To whom it may concern. Please, do not use the third-floor conference room as a resource for tacks. The city desk editorial assistants must post tear sheets every day and the continually diminishing supply of tacks/push pins has been impossible to keep up with. Thank you."

Next week: Stamp out excessive use of staples!

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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