Hall of Shame
Shame was the name of the game in 2005. Just when it seemed this state's bad behavior had gotten as low as it could go, the bottom dropped out -- or, in the case of Bob Dougherty, the Home Depot party pooper, the bottom stuck smack in the forefront of the nation's collective, squeamish conscious.
This was the year when Colorado's longest-running scandals got new legs. At the start of 2005, who would have predicted that the University of Colorado's troubles were just beginning? But as it turned out, football-recruiting scandals and Chaucerian interpretations of the word "cunt" couldn't hold a candle to the tempest in a tepee that was Ward Churchill. And at the end of 2005, we were even treated to a surprise guest appearance by Jumpin' Joe Nacchio, who'd returned to town from his cushy New Jersey exile to answer to 42 federal counts of alleged insider trading at Qwest.
In the months between, everyone was minding someone else's business -- and making a lot less money doing it than Nacchio had. The Denver Police Department refused to hand over yet another batch of "spy files," including their surveillance of a Denver couple whose suspicious behavior consisted primarily of watching the cops' suspicious behavior. The FBI was caught spying on a hippie-kid collective whose primary mission was fixing up old bikes. And three locals -- now known internationally as the Denver Three -- were tossed out of President George W. Bush's public town-hall meeting on Social Security reform in March by a still-unknown figure who took offense at a bumpersticker on their car and has been identified only as a "White House host committee staffer." And definitely an idiot.
But most of the bad behavior this year was no secret. It was shameful, it was public, and it was all ours -- until it went national. This place is a dump!
Look out below! In November, Colorado became the butt of the joke when 57-year-old Bob Dougherty of Nederland went public with his very personal trauma.
In October 2003, suffering from a "sour stomach" and desperate to take a load off, Dougherty had rushed into the restroom at a Home Depot in Louisville. Finding the toilet-seat-cover dispenser empty and without a moment to waste, he sat right down -- and discovered he couldn't get up. Someone had covered the toilet seat with a fast-drying glue, which quickly adhered to Dougherty's rear -- and wouldn't let go.
When Dougherty cried for help, store staffers thought it was a prank. "They just let me rot," he complained. But now the joke's on Home Depot, because Dougherty has filed suit against the company and is looking for up to $3 million to assuage his hurt and humiliation -- which included paramedics having to unbolt the seat from the toilet and carry it out still attached to Dougherty as they transported him to the hospital. At one point, paramedics couldn't find a pulse; Dougherty, who already had a bad ticker, claims to be suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
But at least Home Depot didn't accuse him of shoplifting the toilet seat, as it did when a carpenter in Massachusetts mistakenly pocketed a pencil.
Dougherty's rear-guard action made him big national news. "I knew I'd find some way out of this mess," he told Katie Couric. "Males are problem-solvers. You know us guys, we don't need a road map."
No, but one might come in handy the next time you need to swab down a toilet seat.
Before August 29, few people had heard of Michael Brown, a lawyer with friends in very high places. Five years before, Brown had been thrown from his cushy job as commissioner of judges and commissioners at the Colorado-based International Arabian Horse Association, and fell upward to a job as legal counsel with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, then headed by Brown buddy Joe Allbaugh, who'd run George Bush's 2000 re-election campaign. After Allbaugh moved on -- to run a consulting company -- Brown moved up again and became head of FEMA himself. Which was where he was when Katrina hit, come hell and a lot of high water.
Sure, Mother Nature was a bitch this year -- but Brown didn't even put up a fight. While the levees overflowed, he chatted via e-mail with an aide. "Can I quit now? Can I go home?" he asked, as hundreds of thousands of people were losing their own homes. He wrote about finding a pet-sitter, about his on-camera wardrobe choices. "If you'll look at my lovely FEMA attire, you'll really vomit," he wrote about an hour later. "I am a fashion god."
Ten days later, Brownie was out of that job.
He now plans to start a Colorado-based business, specializing in crisis consulting and managing disasters.
Takes one to know one.
For over a year, Silvia Johnson had been the most desperate housewife in Arvada, holding countless parties in her home on a suburban cul-de-sac for students from Arvada High School, which her oldest child attended, and where the party favors included alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine. And, in the case of a half-dozen males ranging in age from fifteen to seventeen, sometimes sex with the hostess herself.
Which might be the stuff of plenty of Mothers-We'd-Like-to-Fuck movies, but it's also a crime, as cops pointed out after one of her young pals spilled the beans and Johnson finally came in for questioning. She'd never been very popular in high school, she told them, and she just wanted to be liked by the kids. She wanted to be a "cool mom."
In November, Judge Peter Weir sentenced her to a very cold thirty years in jail -- a stiff sentence heavily weighted by the fact that Johnson had given her daughter meth for a little before-school pick-me-up, but not even taking into account an incident in which Johnson let a fourteen-year-old kid drive her car -- resulting in a crash that landed Johnson, two kids and the future NASCAR star in a world of hurt.
"A cool mom provides a safe environment for her children and their friends," Weir said at sentencing. "You provided drugs. A cool mom provides advice and guidance. You provided beer and hard liquor. A cool mom provides love. You provided sex."
In a year spilling over with accusations of predatory sexual behavior by priests, coaches, principals and playground supervisors, Cool Mom tops the list of Mothers We'd Like to Lock Up. And she also rates a footnote in the annals of feminism: No one can say that the law uses a double standard when sentencing female perps.
In January 2005, Ward Churchill was the least of CU's worries. The tenured professor, head of the school's ethnic-studies department, had a shaky academic and ethnic pedigree, but he was also popular with students. Any public notoriety stemmed from beating his own drum at Denver's annual Columbus Day shenanigans, when Churchill and the rest of the state's usual activist suspects would protest the genocidal explorer, get arrested and then get off.
But then came a scheduled speaking engagement at Hamilton College, which inspired a student journalist to actually read the essay Churchill had written immediately after 9/11, "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens," which seemed to equate victims of the terrorist attacks with Adolf Eichmann.
CU had already survived accusations that its football program used sex and alcohol to recruit attractive prospects, had survived President Betsy Hoffman's ill-advised definition of the word "cunt" as a "term of endearment" in a deposition in the Title IX lawsuit charging CU with a sexually hostile environment. But that was nothing compared to how hostile everyone got over Churchill's continued employment at Colorado's flagship educational institution.
On TV with his buddy Bill O'Reilly, Governor Bill Owens called for Churchill's "termination." Instead, it was Hoffman who finally gave up the ghost, resigning the post of president in favor of a quiet, calm job on the CU faculty. Where Churchill is still among her colleagues, despite accusations that he plagiarized both artwork and educational achievements, and with his own legal actions pending against the university.
If anyone's still there.
The University of Colorado headed our 2004 Hall of Shame. But as 2005 winds to a close, there's almost no one left to kick around there besides Ward Churchill. The recruiting scandal took down athletic director Dick Tharp and chancellor Richard Byyny last year; continued hostilities claimed Hoffman this past spring; and in December, the last of the four horsemen of this particular apocalypse, Gary Barnett, was finally out.
Barnett resigned four days before a state audit of the CU football program was released, taking a fast $3 million with him. According to his most recent contract, signed in 2002, Barnett could have lost his $2 million retention "incentive" for any number of sins. Say, for example, tossing money meant for a football camp at women's shoes. Or tossing a woman employee aside when she accused one of his players of sexual assault. Or tossing off a throwaway line to the media about how female kicker Katie Hnida wasn't just "awful," she was "a girl." But none of that affects this deal.
In order to finally get Barnett out of the way, CU tossed him a $3 million bone.
But at least that means we won't have him to kick around in next year's Hall of Shame. Gary Barnett is permanently retired from this spot.
If only we could say the same about Barnett and college football.
Better luck next year.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Westword's biggest stories.