Thwarted several times in their attempts to turn Rebel Hill into a permanent shrine with thirteen giant crosses honoring the victims of the Columbine massacre, Steve Schweitzberger and Greg 'Road Warrior' Zanis were back in Clement Park on Friday to at least create a permanent record of their mission for Light Force TV, a Houston-based Christian network. But Foothills Park and Recreation District officials, who have had enough of the crosses -- and of Schweitzberger and Zanis -- stopped the reenactment cold and backed up its order with Jefferson County Sheriff's Department deputies.
"The plan was to set up the original thirteen crosses with a gap between them for the two that had been destroyed," says Schweitzberger, the outspoken father of a Columbine student and a former Denver mayoral candidate. Even at 8 a.m., there were park maintenance workers on hand preparing the area for Monday's school opening, and "I told Greg that we might as well get official permission," he continues. "So I asked, and they said, 'For now, the answer is no, but we'll get back to you in half an hour, after we talk to [Foothills Park and Recreation chief] Bob Easton.'" But then Easton also said no -- and soon after, one, then two Jeffco deputies showed up.
The first deputy "told us we could be arrested if we wanted to, and I said I didn't want to go there," Schweitzberger says. "My message to the kids has to be that when authority tells you to stop, you should and then go back and deal with the policy on another day." While he was showing his respect for the Man (not to be confused with the Man from Galilee), the crew from Light Force and several Columbine students were already on the hill filming -- without crosses and without Zanis (an Illinois carpenter who's put a lot of miles on his truck since April).
"The deputy told us it was like a mall, which has the right to refuse service to anyone," Schweitzberger adds. "But my question is, if the park was not closed to the public that day, why was it closed to Greg Zanis and Steve Schweitzberger?" After all, Gerry Schnackenberg, a reverend at St. Philip and St. James Episcopal Church, plans to sit -- or find volunteers who will sit -- on Rebel Hill every day this school year with his own giant cross, Schweitzberger points out. And in fact, a picture of Schnackenberg carrying his cross down Rebel Hill blessed the cover of the Rocky Mountain News on Monday.
The difference, explains Easton, is that Schnackenberg "didn't do any permanent placing of anything, was gone after a couple of hours and left quietly," while Schweitzberger and Zanis "create controversy and conflict." He adds, "My understanding is that they wanted to reinstall the crosses in the park, and we have had a degree of controversy over this issue. Our response was that, no, you do not have permission to do that." Not now, and certainly not then, when the park was already fully permitted for the entire weekend because of the crush of media and others expected at Columbine when students returned to school August 16. (Some portions of the park were off-limits to everyone, while US West installed more phone lines for the event.)
But even once the park is empty, Schweitzberger and Zanis won't be allowed to erect their crosses on Rebel Hill, says Jeffco sheriff's sergeant Phil Domenico. "At the last meeting I went to, Bob [Easton] mentioned that he doesn't want the crosses in the park at all. He said to me that if they get them in there somehow, like in the middle of the night, they will be torn down immediately the next morning."
"The whole saga of the crosses, quite frankly, we've gone through about five times already," Easton sighs. "They knew what the answer was going to be before they asked the question. Enough is enough."
Meanwhile, back at the ranch
It's not that Gregory Bach doesn't like his neighborhood -- "I live in Highlands Ranch and I love it here," he says. It's just that he knows the inner-city dwellers he'd like to attract to his furniture store might make a joke or two about Denver's best-known symbol of sprawl, white flight and conformity, one that even rated its own photo spread in National Geographic a few years back. So when Bach recently placed an ad in the Rocky Mountain News and Westword touting his shop, Gregory's Contemporary Design Center, he used this slogan: "The only reason to visit Highlands Ranch!"
The ad attracted attention, all right...from Shea Homes, the owner of Highlands Ranch.
In an August 12 letter addressed to Gregory's -- and ominously copied to three Shea Homes executives and Glenn Beaton of the Gibson Dunn & Crutcher law firm -- company lawyer Jeffrey Donelson defended his client's good name: "Shea Homes is the successor to Mission Viejo Company, which together have owned and continuously used the 'Highlands Ranch' trademark since 1978," the letter begins. "The public associates this mark with Shea Homes' (and formerly Mission Viejo's) products and services and attendant good will.
"Your advertisement implies that Gregory's is located within Highlands Ranch, when in fact it is located north of County Line Road (and thus outside the boundaries of Highlands Ranch). Your actions violate applicable federal and state law.
"Beyond the locational issue, your advertisement's derogatory nature and negative connotations regarding Highlands Ranch are unwelcomed and offensive, not only to this office but to the approximately 59,000 residents of Highlands Ranch (many of whom I suspect you have done business with in the past, or hope to do business with in the future).
"Please discontinue your use of this advertisement or similar advertisements immediately. Should this advertisement or a similar advertisement appear again, Shea Homes reserves the right to take appropriate legal action."
Cheryl Haflich, a spokeswoman for Shea, says that while the company sends out a letter every time a business uses the Highlands Ranch name without its permission, this is the first time Shea has objected to an ad as 'offensive.' "We take pride in the development and the years of hard work that have gone into turning Highlands Ranch into the beautiful community that it is," she adds, apparently with a straight face.
Shea's letter made Bach laugh -- at first. "I read it and thought it was a joke. I didn't mean for it to be derogatory," he insists. "The connotation is that many of my clients and customers make the reference that Highlands Ranch is very far away to drive...If I have to put in 'near' so that it says 'The only reason to visit near Highlands Ranch,' then so be it."
Meanwhile, he has a few more words for the execs at Shea Homes: "If you have such low self-esteem that you believe any reference to this point is negative, then we apologize for you feeling that way, too."
Hacks and flacks: If you've never heard of Larry Green or Aimee Sporer, then you're not paying attention -- to the local news, anyway. The same goes for radio yakkers Peter Boyles and Tom Martino and ink-stained scribblers Woody Paige and Dick Kreck -- all among Colorado's best-known media types.
But are they among the state's most influential?
We'll find out in September, when TJFR Group releases its list of Colorado's hundred most influential journalists (or whatever passes for one in this state). The Denver-based company, which was founded by a former Wall Street Journal business reporter, is now interviewing its picks. And although the designation will no doubt flatter at least a few who make the cut, the goal is not to boost already-inflated egos but to make money...and influence the influential news-gatherers.
For twelve years, TJFR has been getting the scoop on scoopers and then selling the information nationwide to corporate execs, public-affairs pros, investor-relations people and anyone else who does battle with the fourth estate. "We know journalists," the company brags on its Web site. "A lot of other companies can tell you a phone number, or where to send a press release...But we also believe that there is so much more to know about the movers and shakers of journalism."
Like where they went to college, how many kids they have, and where and when they've worked in the media. Earlier TJFR efforts focused on national-level journalists, providing PR people with critical information -- at about $60 a pop -- that could be used by a cagey interviewee to schmooze an interviewer into refocusing a story in a more positive direction. And TJFR's been successful enough to earn a critical story or two from business publications that didn't appreciate the attention being turned on their own reporters.
But will the same tactics work in Denver? If you want to get the goods on a local journalist here, all you need to do is drop by the Denver Press Club and bend a few ears -- and your elbow. That way, you at least get a beer.
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 [email protected].