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.

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Ernie Tucker
Contact: Ernie Tucker