Year in Review: Hall of Shame
1. Tracy Baker. Arapahoe County's e-mail-slinging, girlfriend-promoting clerk and recorder has earned a permanent place in the Westword Hall of Shame. After more than a year of very public wrangling with his fellow Republicans in Arapahoe County, Baker still refused to go quietly into the private sector.
"I love what I do," he says simply. Well, that makes one.
While there's no denying he's lusty, Baker's avoided at least one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Earlier this year, he turned down the county's offer of $350,000 to just leave. Complaints against him range from his having created a hostile workplace (although he certainly spread some lovin' around with his assistant and cyber-playmate, Leesa Sale), to employee lawsuits over that workplace, to concerns that county business could be harmed. And then, of course, there are those hundreds of electronic messages between Baker and Sale just waiting to spill into the public domain. But Baker, who's still a married man, has remained (mostly) unrepentant, arguing that the hundreds of messages that flew between him and his Gal Friday-through-Thursday were private and should remain so.
After Baker rejected the county's deal, the only option left was a recall, since Baker's an elected official. (Hello, Gray Davis). So signatures were gathered; signatures were challenged; hearings were held. And finally, in mid-December, County Assessor Ed Bosier (the designated overseer) decreed that 37,261 signatories were valid -- which meant that a February 24, 2004, recall election was on. At last estimate, all of the petition-counting and special-election costs (not to mention the fees charged by a private PR firm working for Bosier) could top $500,000 by the time the final ballots are tallied. Baker himself says he's already spent more than $50,000 defending himself and his office. "I'm very proud of my staff," he says.
In an interview with KNCR's Greg Dobbs in November, Baker conceded that the controversy might have disappeared if only he'd taken the settlement and run. "Maybe I am a glutton for punishment," he said.
Gluttony, eh? So we've got him on at least two of the Seven Deadlies -- enough to elevate him to the permanent Hall of Shame, no matter what the outcome of next February's vote.
2. The U.S. Air Force Academy. This once-proud institution flew into a firestorm this year, after Westword's January 30 "The War Within" inspired a barrage of coverage and criticism nationwide. Nearly a year later, the sex assaults at the academy remain a hot topic.
To be fair, there are undoubtedly many graduates of the academy -- most likely a great majority -- who didn't see fit to stumble into a female cadet and begin a grope-athon. Likewise, there were administrators who tried to fix some of the problems. And sure, other military academies may have their share of rapes and misdeeds that go underreported.
But the academy, the youngest of the elite military bastions of higher ed, has long been held up as a wonder, its rolling campus outside of Colorado Springs a shrine to the high-tech future. But the motto over its entrance said more than was perhaps intended: "Bring us men." And inside, the male-dominant culture colored daily interactions, relegating female cadets to permanent, second-class status. Despite talk of honor codes, the message was to keep silent -- or at least to blame the victim.
The person who came to symbolize the scandal was Brigadier General Taco Gilbert, himself a graduate of the academy. His remarks to Westword reporter Julie Jargon regarding a 21-year-old female cadet who was assaulted after drinking with cadets made him the poster boy of the academy's problems. "If I walk down a dark alley with hundred-dollar bills hanging out of my pockets," he told her, "it doesn't justify my being attacked or robbed, but I certainly increased the risk by doing what I did."
Gilbert was removed from the academy in March, as was training-group commander Colonel Laurie Sue Slavec. As was the "Bring us men" motto. "We have seen develop over time a cultural change where women who are victimized lose the confidence they need to come forward," said Air Force Chief of Staff General John Jumper.
Even as the number of assault victims going public continued to climb, real change was hard to detect. A seven-member panel appointed to look at the mess issued a report in September decrying "a chasm in leadership" that "helped create an environment in which sexual assault became a part of life." The group mentioned not only Gilbert and Slavec, but the current dean and an ousted superintendent who was subsequently busted down in rank. It made 21 specific recommendations calling for more oversight and better confidentiality -- but also backed Air Force Secretary James Roche's idea that although the honor code, the bedrock of the system, may be flawed, it is still worth saving.
The academy has yet to figure out how to steer clear of turbulence. Off we go, into the wild blue yonder.
3. Invesco Funds. Having its name plastered on the side of the new Broncos stadium wasn't enough to save Invesco Funds from having that same name dragged through the mud. "Invesco Funds Accused of Fraud," read one headline. Ouch. Bad enough that Invesco employees once referred to the stadium as "the diaphragm"; now some citizens are wondering if the $60 million Invesco paid for naming rights to Invesco Field at Mile High -- pocket change for a company with $20 billion in assets -- bought Denver an inextricable association with a company that could be brought up on a morals charge.
The sickening headline resulted from the triple play of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar all suing Invesco for shady practices that essentially favored big clients over small ones. Although company officials stoutly denied they did anything illegal and vowed to defend themselves, Invesco is looking as shaky as some of the decisions being made by the Broncos brain trust on the field bearing its name. Things could get sticky (like a tar pit!), and sticky is not where you want to be in the fast-moving world of finance.
4. Metropolitan State College. Is everyone at Metro State majoring in chaos theory? This year, it seemed like it. After president Sheila Kaplan resigned abruptly on June 30 after ten years as head of the institution, a number of other leaders also jumped, leaving behind lots of questions and a major budget crisis. It didn't help that the school paid nearly $500,000 in out-of-court settlements to Kaplan and other top administrators -- or that Kaplan got another $25,000 when a Metro boardmember violated the terms of the separation agreement by making disparaging remarks about her in July.
But at 38-year-old Metro, the stamping ground for some 20,000 students (mostly commuters), the administration isn't the only thing in upheaval. The student government executive committee ousted its second president in a row, after she spoke out against the proposed Academic Bill of Rights. (The student wonks denied that the speech was involved in her ouster.)
And then administrators turned on Metro's one area of undeniable pride, athletics, with talk of putting its programs on the chopping block. Such speculation angered the highly regarded men's basketball coach and an equally top-ranked women's soccer leader and baffled others. Ultimately, the interim president backed off, saying that only the number of out-of-state athletic scholarships would be limited -- even though the two-time Division II national-championship men's hoop team was built on foreign bodies, many from Down Under.
Kaplan recently was passed over for the top slot at San Jose State, but don't look for her to return to Metro. However, losing basketball coach Mike Dunlap -- who turned down bigtime offers last year from the Golden State, among others -- would be a real shame.
5. Gary Barnett. On January 20, 1999, when he returned to Boulder -- where he'd been an assistant under coach Bill McCartney from 1984 to 1991 -- Barnett was still flush with his (relative) success at Northwestern University. The newly crowned CU Buffs coach had been much beloved back in Evanston, Illinois, because the Wildcats had climbed to a number-eight ranking one year, a stunning rise for the perennial Big 10 doormats. Barnett had led the purple haze to two bowls, and he even had his own restaurant near NU, to which he expressed undying love. Then he split.
Back in Big 12 country, Barnett soon had CU's football team heading back into national prominence. But somewhere along the way, the Buffs caught a hoof. And not just on the field.
Last spring, a student made public her charges that she'd been raped at a December 2001 party where CU football players escorted potential recruits; she sued the school under Title IX. This month, a second woman sued, claiming two CU recruits sexually assaulted her during the same party and that "the University of Colorado Athletic Department and football program failed to enact effective reforms," such as curfews or adult supervision. Both suits are pending.
Even if the party problems can't be placed directly at Barnett's muddy cleats, the lawsuits don't help the program's reputation -- or his. Neither did the soap opera surrounding this year's squad, with a disappearing quarterback and grumbling about a lack of team unity. The season ended with a whimper, as the Buffs stumbled to a loss against Nebraska and became "bowl ineligible." But university administrators had already extended Barnett's original five-year contract, so he will be back (unlike his Nebraska counterpart, who was fired after beating the Buffs and posting a 9-3 record), collecting a base salary, deferred pay and various outside endorsements that pay him over $1 million. But another year like this one and it's just possible the Big Buff will proclaim his undying love for the Flatirons -- but begin looking for greener pastures.
6. Mark Paschall. The former state legislator turned Jefferson County Treasurer couldn't stay out of the spotlight this year. Slapped down early for wanting to buy an office SUV, he clashed with commissioners when he added three political cronies to his payroll, cronies collecting a total of $140,000. But Paschall really caught the public's eye with a book (and its emphatic typography) instructing jurors that "YOU ARE ABOVE THE LAW!"
The Citizens Rule Book promotes the jury-nullification theory (Laws? We don't need no steenkin' laws!) with advice like this: "YOU ARE ABOVE THE LAW! As a JUROR in a trial setting, when it comes to your individual vote of innocence or guilty, you truly are answerable only to GOD ALMIGHTY."
Oh, and maybe Jeffco District Attorney Dave Thomas, who criticized Paschall for handing out the book from his country office. Paschall's defenders, however, point out that he displayed the books under a sign that stated, "Please take one with my compliments (not paid for at taxpayers' expense)."
Still, taxpayers were paying for the county Web site, on which Paschall tried posting political endorsements -- before Jeffco commissioners told him to back down. Who knows what's next? Bad behavior is a cherished tradition in this county, though; it produced Hall of Shame favorite John Stone, Jeffco's former sheriff. So Paschall's got some big shoes to fill.
7. Rick Stanley. Misunderstood advocate for the right to bear arms. Beacon of constitutional truth. And now, inmate of Adams County Jail. Following months of repeated alarms and alerts to his posse that his arrest was imminent, the armed activist was taken into custody after a short chase on October 18 by members of Denver's SWAT squad and federal agents. The former Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate (platform: gun rights and nothing but gun rights) had been arrested last year for openly wearing a .357 revolver at a Thornton community event; he was later convicted. After an appeal failed, Stanley took matters into his own hands -- skipping a sentencing review and sending what prosecutors described as threatening notes to two of his judges. Now Stanley, who's set to serve time in Denver after finishing his stint in Adams, faces two felony counts of attempting to influence a public official; he has two dates in court early next year.
From behind bars, Stanley (somehow) continues to transmit the Stanley Scoop, his electronic missives. "I am currently an inmate in the Adams County Detention Facility," he says in a recent e-mail, "and I am here charged with two rules violations. The alleged major charge is 'failing to lockdown in a timely manner when ordered.' Section 2B of the ACDF Inmate Rules exonerates me of this charge stating, 'lockdown means you will go inside your room or to your means, you will go inside your room or to your cot and remain there until told otherwise.' Nowhere in the 'inmate Lockdown Rule Section,' does it detail in the rules that an inmate lock themselves in, or even close the door. Deputy Dominguez, my accuser, admitted in his report, that each time lockdown was called for, Stanley was in his room (cell), each time a warning was given to him. The alleged minor charge is Failure to obey a direct, 'lawful' order of a staff member."
Sigh. Many paragraphs later: "I follow the rules," he says. "I have been cooperative in all 'lawful orders' given to me, and I have conducted myself in a manner of one who adheres to the rules in the inmate handbook. While I am used to unlawful treatment from the Adams County law enforcement and judicial branch of government, these actions are wrong, as is my incarceration here for exercising my Constitutional right to openly carry a weapon openly anywhere in Colorado, as well as filing a pleading with the courts, petitioning judges for redress of grievance and free symbolic speech rights. I am a political prisoner, denied my freedom and liberty for the crime against the state of -- 'EXERCISING MY CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS...'"
You can lock him up, but you can't shut him up.
8. Daryl Gardener. There have been plenty of pro-sports jerks in this town. But it takes someone special to make "that little man up there" seem sympathetic.
Where to begin? A guy accepts a $5 million bonus as part of a seven-year, $34.8 million contract to play football, then hurts his hand in a late-night pancake dust-up before the season even begins. He misses some games, and then, when he returns, he plays so poorly that Coach Mike Shanahan suspends him right there and puts together a low-light reel to show the team. Rather than leave bad enough alone, the 6'6", 295-pound refugee from the Redskins goes on a tirade on KRFX with DJs Lewis and Floorwax.
"Right now, I have to believe it was a sabotage for me to react, in order for them to suspend me for the year, or for conduct detrimental to the team," Daryl Gardener told the radio audience. "It was a setup, because things weren't quite right." Then the "little man" quote (about Shanahan) netted the eight-year veteran another suspension, this time for two games -- and a loss of some $600,000 more in salary -- before the cruel end came.
To no one's surprise, Shanny gave him the rest of the year off so that he could get treatment for a "non-football illness" and unspecified personal issues. "I'll let them stay with him, and I'll respect that," Shanahan said. "I'm hoping the best for him and that things get taken care of."
The player's agent affirmed that the issues weren't drugs or alcohol. Hmmm...maple syrup, maybe?
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