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The 2002 Hall of Shame

Let the blame game begin!

Terry Lynn Barton

"I did it," Terry Lynn Barton told one investigator. "It was a stupid thing." And with those words, the 38-year-old U.S. Forest Service employee became one of the few people in the public eye to honestly appraise -- if only for a flash -- their fuelish actions in 2002.

But Barton was no beacon of light cutting through the haze. In a year full of ashes, she still rates top billing for her shameful, flameful behavior. She's now part of Colorado folklore, ranking somewhere near Alfred Packer and Molly Brown, a bit shy of John Elway. Consider that to this day, Chicagoans blame a Mrs. O'Leary (and her bovine accomplice) for carelessly igniting what became the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 -- and never mind that historians hold her innocent.

Smoke, fire, ire: Even single mother Barton's sad tale of divorce and stress didn't extinguish the need to roast someone for the Hayman fire, a 138,000-acre wildfire that took 133 homes and one life and required thousands of firefighters and $39 million to contain. And it didn't help that Barton couldn't stick to one story about what happened on Saturday, June 8, at a campfire ring about 1.2 miles from Park County Road 77. Barton radioed for help at 4:55 p.m. that afternoon, and volunteers from tiny Lake George came to engage the fire. Initially, she blamed criminals in a gold van for starting the blaze that she'd tried to fight on her own, a blond smoke-eater whom one friend called "an awesome girl."

But then questions flared up. What gold van? What criminals?

After first denying that she'd started the fire, Barton blurted out the story that, while on patrol, she'd stopped to burn a love letter from her ex-husband in the ring -- despite a statewide ban on fires. Although she later recanted the "stupid thing" story, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Matsch, himself no stranger to hot issues, ruled that it was admissible. With that defense bridge burned, earlier this month Barton accepted a plea agreement that will give her six years in federal prison. Final sentencing is now set for February.

But Barton isn't out of the frying pan yet. Teller County, which sustained the most damage from the Hayman fire, recently filed a fourth-degree arson charge against her.

So here's a toast to Terry Barton: May she roast in our Hall of Shame. And remember: Only you can start forest fires!

Congressman Tom Tancredo

U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo went to the head of the classless when he took on Jesus Apodoca, an Aurora High School honor student who happens to be an illegal immigrant.

Apodoca's transgression? Trying to qualify for in-state tuition at the University of Colorado -- and talking about his dream to the Denver Post. With that, Tancredo -- who's been doing a slow burn over immigration for years -- moved to full hothead status, suggesting that the INS deport Apodaca and his entire family. The conservative Republican had already angered the White House when he said that President George W. Bush wasn't tough enough on immigration: "The President is not on our side," he'd said, warning that an open-door policy could lead to another terrorist attack, in which case the "blood of the people killed will be on this administration and Congress." But even those who share Tancredo's disdain for the country's immigration policy found it hard to support his attack on the honor student. "I think Tom Tancredo has shot himself in the foot," said former governor Richard Lamm. "This violates people's sense of fairness."

The 57-year-old Tancredo, who says he's "deeply humbled" to be included in the Hall of Shame, insists the Apodaca incident was blown up out of proportion by the media, since he'd merely called the INS to find out what the agency did in such cases. "I wasn't going to call a press conference," he says. "I really wanted to know." Still, the headlines outlining his involvement stoked the flames, and he hasn't backed off from the heat. "The ability to flaunt the laws tells everyone else who went through hell to come here the right way that they're suckers," Tancredo declares.

And the red-hot Tancredo continued to draw fire. He vowed to stroll at the head of Denver's revived Columbus Day Parade -- if its organizers didn't surrender to critics and change the name to some "Italian Pride" theme. And stroll he did, despite death threats, and despite demonstrations by hundreds of protesters who pointed out that Columbus had wiped out the real natives and that everyone else, including Tancredo's Italian relatives, are the true immigrants.

But Tancredo's America First/Fox News-style spouting played well with constituents, and he easily retained his 6th Congressional District seat in November (despite his revelation that he'd likely break his three-term-limit promise next round). Gloating in victory, he taunted Democrats for sending a "retard" or a "retread" -- or "both" -- up against fellow GOP stalwart Senator Wayne Allard.

And Tantrum Tom wasn't done. After being introduced to the evils of gay mentors by Colorado-based Focus on the Family, Tancredo and seven congressional brethren urged President Bush to put the squeeze on the Big Brothers organization and require that it notify parents when mentors are homosexuals. Informed that the organization already offers parents the option of noting any preferences, Tancredo expressed surprise. His position, he clarified, was not anti-gay, but pro-parents' rights.

The Tom-Tom club beats on. One minute he's willing to call out U.S. troops to patrol the borders ("Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe we should have open borders. But at least we should have the public debate"); the next he's collecting donations for another illegal alien, a sick boy in need of a bone-marrow transplant ("I'm stunned that [my involvement is] newsworthy. I was touched like anyone else," he says). His public stance does not preclude private feelings, Tancredo proudly notes.

A salute to Tancredo's internal combustion engine -- and the return of mandatory "Native" bumper stickers on all cars.

John Oglesby

Denver parking czar John Oglesby played with fire and got burned. This past January, recognizing a chance to capitalize on Denver's self-proclaimed status as a "world-class city," the man with the plan decided to raise meter rates, extend meter hours, expand metered areas and crack down on parking scofflaws.

Unfortunately, he forgot to get tough with his own bad self, and when reports emerged that Oglesby had threatened underlings for leaking confidential information to the mayor's office, had arranged for five of his own parking ducats to disappear and was still on the payroll of a California company that sold the very parking meters he was pushing for the city, Mayor Wellington Webb began to contemplate a new use for the Denver boot. In the meantime, Stephanie Foote, manager of the Denver Department of Public Works, parked Oglesby beneath a deputy manager.

Soon, Big John -- who was once captured by a TV camera, waddling from his car and attempting to greet one of his ticket tormentors -- was put on paid leave while various investigatory bodies probed his behavior. But when Oglesby finally resigned in September, it was without fanfare. Or charges.

Still, the man with the expired career left his legacy. Downtown shoppers who now have to come up with two bits for every ten minutes of parking know they've been Oglesbyed.

James H. "Buster" Snider

Let's give a hand to an old vice cop whose fires are still stoked. Retired Denver policeman James "Buster" Snider was seventy years old when he was caught soliciting sex from an undercover policewoman last February. Yes, that Snider -- the same firebrand who once set a department record for writing 112 traffic citations during a weekend shift. And the same burnout who was fired in August 1984 when a woman accused him of raping her in his patrol car after a stop. Snider, who claimed the vehicular collusion was consensual, was acquitted by a jury in that case -- but his firing by the city was upheld. And after twelve years of legal wrangling over a civil lawsuit, Denver settled with Snider's victim for $75,000.

In this year's incident, Snider said he was looking for help with his lawn business -- in February! -- when the woman asked him for $20. "I thought she was asking me for some money, and she said nothing about doing anything sexual," he said, insisting that he was joking when he told the woman he'd give her $40 to go to bed with him.

Instead, Buster was busted...again. In June, he quietly pleaded guilty to a charge of soliciting prostitution. He was ordered to pay $529 in fines and court costs and given a deferred judgment. If he stays out of legal trouble for six months, the charges will be dropped.

Anyone out there want to write him a ticket?

Koleen Brooks

Take Koleen Brooks -- please! But just don't take the red-hot redhead too seriously.

"Everyone knew I was a stripper fifteen years ago," said the then-mayor of Georgetown. "Half the town came down to watch me." But Brooks's problematic exposure went much more than skin deep.

This past winter, Brooks became embroiled in criminal charges that she'd lied about an assault on her enhanced person. The picturesque mountain town reeled after its chief executive claimed she was attacked on February 16 as she was returning home from her Dare to Be Different salon. For proof, she displayed scratches on her arms and neck from an unknown object wielded by an unknown assailant. The incident was another skirmish in the war the old guard had been waging against the mayor since her election in 2001, Brooks claimed. And when investigators found her complaint groundless and charged her instead, Brooks claimed she was the victim of a conspiracy that included local police and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

The 38-year-old Brooks was ousted in an April 2 recall election amid charges that she'd returned to form and bared her breasts at a local watering hole, had created a hostile working environment and made unsubstantiated allegations against town officials.

Down but not out, Brooks was later touted as press secretary for Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Ralph Shnelvar, on a fax sent to the media on Brooks's letterhead: "Defender of all that is right...and having fun doing it!" But Brooks stalked off from an August 9 press conference on the steps of the State Capitol, where Shnelvar had hoped that she would doff her shirt, exposing photos of his opponents -- Governor Bill Owens and Democrat Rollie Heath, "two real boobs" -- on her chest.

Brooks was happy enough to strip down for Playboy, however, and her lack of other assets was laid bare during a brief gig as a fill-in radio DJ. Her Web site, www.koleenbrooks.com, showcases the tattooed platform of the self-proclaimed "political pinup" (a members-only section promises hotter pictorials) while also trying to raise money for her defense against a felony charge that she tampered with evidence in connection with the assault. Her next hearing in that case is January 6 in Eagle County.

That legal session may help determine if Georgetown burned Brooks -- or if Her Dishonor was just blowing smoke.

Tracy Baker

There's a special spot in the Hall of Shame for the truly shameless, and that's where a bust of Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Tracy Baker belongs. Baker's affair with Assistant Chief Deputy Lisa Sale gave rise to a complaint that the clerk's office was a hostile working environment, which in turn led to the county commissioners hiring a private investigator to assess the situation. The probe dug up sizzling electronic exchanges between the pair on county equipment, as well as questionable expense-account items and the fact that Baker had bumped his paramour's salary from $22,280 to $63,100.

When commissioners publicly urged Baker to step down before the November election, he maintained that those officials had no business poking their noses into his private business. (The paged messages "are not e-mails, and that's the difference," Baker e-mailed Westword, apparently with a straight face.) The Republican, facing only token Libertarian opposition, easily retained his office, capturing nearly two-thirds of the votes in the GOP stronghold.

Because Baker's an elected official, he can't be fired.

Knowing this, the plucky Baker (did we mention that he's married?) turned the tables, filing notice that he intends to sue both county and state officials for libel and slander because of their investigation into his, er, dealings with his assistant. "I think it's time for me to get my word out," he said, declining to offer any specifics other than his determination not to fire his assistant/lover, regardless of recent revelations that she failed to disclose on her government job application that she'd embezzled more than $25,000 from her previous employer.

"I'm very proud of my staff," Baker told Westword.

And Arapahoe County's very tired of it -- but no recall election can take place until at least six months after Baker's new term begins in January. In the meantime, Adams County District Attorney Bob Grant is looking into possible criminal charges -- including allegations that Baker eavesdropped on commissioners in executive sessions.

Yes, Baker's the hottest topic in political circles right now. But while he may be feeling the heat, he's not about to put himself out.

The Colorado Rockies

Sadly, the entire Rockies organization deserves a good roasting.

Unlike the Denver Nuggets, who seem suspended head-down in quicksand, the Rockies were once a source of civic pride, a measure that Denver had made it into the last outpost of pro sports. With balls sailing out of classy Coors Field, the Blake Street Bombers caught national attention.

But then the Rockies hit the rocks. Slowly, attendance declined in inverse proportion to salaries -- and management did little to overcome the swoon. Instead, in the club's tenth year, they chose to ban backpacks, fire a popular manager mid-season and only too late peddle sour, underachieving gazillionaire Mike Hampton in a deal that may have the team actually paying part of his salary to beat them in the future.

Clearly, general manager "Dealin'" (or is that "Reelin'"?) Dan O'Dowd and owners Jerry McMorris and Charlie and Dick Monfort, should be looking for some relief -- and not just for the pitching staff. But after a much-needed trade of big-salaried Larry Walker fell through, there seems little hope that the current leadership will turn the club around.

Unlike those lovable losers from Chicago, the Cubs, whose wait-till-next-year tradition continues because of generations' worth of loyalties, the Rockies have no reservoir of fan affection into which to tap. Even as water levels drop in reservoirs and aquifers around the state, this team's reserves are being drained. The Rockpile could soon be nothing more than rocks.

If the purple posse leaves town, one word of advice: Don't let the turnstile hit the doughy Dinger in his plush spiked tail.

Joe Nacchio

Eternal, infernal Hall of Shamer Joseph Nacchio may be gone, but he's far from forgotten by the state he left behind -- and the 22,000 former employees and countless investors he left bereft. "I'm very much into my legacy being to build a great company that will be good for my shareholders," the one-time AT&T exec said when he became head of that blue-light special, Qwest. "You do good for customers, good for employees and good for share owners, you ought to be happy."

And when you do bad by all of them, you have to hold your annual meeting a thousand miles away from your hometown headquarters, as Qwest did in June when its execs met in Dublin, Ohio. But that maneuver wasn't enough to save Joltin' Joe, who was finally ousted a few weeks later and slunk back to his big new mansion in New Jersey.

Nevertheless, angry customers, investors and congressional investigators have maintained their interest in Nacchio's communications breakdown. For instance, the California State Teachers' Retirement System recently sued Qwest, claiming the company and others used fraudulent practices that cost the fund $150 million; the suit names both Qwest founder Philip Anschutz and Nacchio, alleging the latter pocketed $228 million through insider trading. New Jersey has also sued Qwest and its former exec, claiming that misconduct led to stockholder losses. And the complaints and condemnations continue to pile up.

When Qwest president Afshin Mohebbi finally leaves on December 31, the last of the Nacchio Scheme Team will be gone. So there's no time like the present to grab your cell phones and headsets, raise a middle- finger salute and scream, one last time, "Joe, glad to see ya go!"

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