Tag Archive for Longmont Times-Call

Fracking protests: justified and necessary

Editor’s Note: The following OpEd, which appeared in the Longmont Times-Call on December 11, 2012, is reprinted with the author’s permission. In today’s Boulder Daily Camera, Wendy Wiedenbeck, “hired gun” spokesperson for Encana, offered the usual oil and gas industry falsehoods. However, she outdid herself with inflammatory accusations and hysteria. FRL has had several conversations with those who were in attendance at the Boulder County Commissioners’ meeting on December 4, 2012, participants and non-participants in the protest. Ms. Wiedenbeck has intentionally interpreted frustration, fear and anger at her company as a threat to her personal safety. This is propaganda of the worst sort. She has destroyed her credibility, if she had any, as well as Encana’s, if it had any, in one fell swoop. Expect a tsunami of propaganda in the months (perhaps years) to come as the industry fights for it’s state/nation-sponsored privilege to threaten the health of citizens, in Longmont, in Colorado, and around the nation.

1806885996_1d29879109I attended the Boulder County commissioners’ meeting last Tuesday at the Boulder County Courthouse. I was there to put pressure on the commissioners to strengthen the proposed new oil and gas regulations, extend the moratorium to allow time to adequately implement the new regulations, and to consider some way to enact a ban on fracking in our county. I was not, however, a part of the disruptive protests you may have read about or seen on the news.

I’d like to make a few comments about this, though, from the perspective of someone who has been learning about hydraulic fracturing and taking an active stance against it this past year.

First, while I don’t condone some of the hostile actions taken by a few of those involved on Dec. 4, I don’t condemn the intentions and the reasons behind such actions. While some of the disruptions came from people who are not very well informed about the work that has been done by the Planning Commission, the county commissioners and the county staff to try to lay the foundation for better regulations that might eventually help lead to a countywide ban, some of those involved were people who are deeply concerned about the health of their own families, and they are coming from a place of fear, anger and frustration. Fracking is a dangerous heavy industrial process where toxic spills and water contamination are frequent. And it uses vast quantities of water at a time when we are in a serious drought with no relief in sight.

If allowed to continue to steamroll its way through our county, our state and beyond, it will have such a serious impact on climate change that we will reach the tipping point where we can’t undo the damage to the planet within as little as 15 years. And yet our state laws make it nearly impossible for a local community to control whether, when, how or where it gets fracked. While Longmont’s residents were able to vote to ban fracking, that may still be challenged. Boulder County does not have the ability to vote on such a ban at this point.

So I share the frustration and anger about the state of the earth and the sad state of our government. And I recognize that these strong emotions and the passion behind them can and need to be expressed productively and can potentially effect great change. At the same time, there are instances when hostile behaviors and approaches can cause the intended message to get lost and the overall effectiveness of the movement to be undermined. Many of us are working on this issue from a variety of different angles, and most of us are doing it with civility and respect of our fellow citizens.

I encourage anyone who has up to this point remained uninvolved and uninformed to step up your awareness and involvement. There are many good references out there to help you understand the seriousness of this issue and how it will affect every one of us. For starters, if you haven’t already done so, watch the movie “Gasland.” Then, when it premiers later this month, go see Matt Damon’s “Promised Land.” Visit http://environmentcolorado.org/reports/coc/report-costs-fracking for a good overview of the costs of fracking and the environmental damage it is causing. The facts you will begin to uncover will help you understand the fear and frustration that is driving some of the behavior that may be hard to condone, but is based on a real threat to our community and our planet and certainly warrants such strong emotions and concern.

Why censor, Times Call?

Times-Call handcuffs public opinion.

Readers of the Longmont Times-Call might be interested to know that what they read on the Opinion Page is not always what was written by the author. Our guaranteed Freedom of Speech was intended to apply to government censorship. Over the years it has come to mean censorship by anyone. That’s stretching things a bit. Certainly privately owned and operated organizations have the right to determine was is or is not communicated under their names. But newspapers and other media?! Aren’t they supposed to be the Fourth Estate?

Certainly freedom of speech is not absolute. The much-used example of not been free to holler “fire” in a theatre applies. But come on Times-Call. There is nothing in the Letter to the Editor by Ann Kibbey that appeared in the Sunday Times-Call, September 9, 2012, that justifies censorship. And, indeed, it IS censorship. (Censored items italicized in the letter by Ann Kibbey, republished below.) The letter came in under the Times-Call limit of 300 words. So that’s not an excuse. It wasn’t obscene, a personal attack, etc.. All the contents were valid and fair game. So TC — here’s my question for you, “Did you take out parts you didn’t like because you like the targeted oil and gas industry and want to serve as its de facto public relations watch dog?”

We’ll be watching Times-Call — especially over the next two months leading up to the election on November 6. Here’s what will be watching for: Where’s your bias? And how are you displaying it?

Editor, Free Range Longmont

I support the ballot issue that would ban fracking in the city of Longmont, and also ban toxic waste pits within the city limits.  There are way too many unknowns about the impact of fracking on ground water, on lakes, on the air we breathe and the food we eat.  The industrial use of roads in residential areas will cause noise pollution as well as damage to the roads.  The oil and gas companies are claiming that there aren’t any known dangers from fracking.  Anyone who has seen movies like Gasland knows that this is not true.  The oil companies, instead of doing the studies that are needed, just pretend that no studies are necessary.   They equate absence of proof with proof of absence. This is not credible.

Importantly, the oil and gas companies have refused to make a complete disclosure to the public of the materials they will use in fracking.  Since it is common knowledge that benzene, a chemical known to cause cancer, is being used in fracking, one can only wonder what chemicals are being concealed.   The oil companies claim that they need to keep secrets for proprietary reasons.  I find this impossible to believe.  They obviously collude with each other in many ways to get what they want, and anyone who showed up at a drilling in progress would have easy access to the materials being used by another company.  It seems, instead, that they just don’t want us to know all the chemicals being used.  In the 1970s, radioactive material was used to generate explosions.  Is this still being used?  We need proof of absence, not absence of proof!  We need full disclosure.  Without it, a ban on fracking is the only reasonable course of action.

Ann Kibbey, Letter to the Times-Call Editor

Hey, Gov! Which mouth are we to believe?

Editor’s Note: Gordon Pedrow served as Longmont City Manger for 18 years prior to his retirement in March of 2012.

Former Longmont City Manager, Gordon Pedrow

I have found newspaper coverage about the recent oil and gas association conference in Denver somewhat baffling. On Wednesday, Aug. 15, the governor spoke at the Colorado Oil and Gas Association’s annual conference. The Times-Call ran articles covering the speech on both Thursday and Friday with these headlines: “Hickenlooper says Longmont drilling rules must be challenged,” and “Gov. Hickenlooper: Drilling regulations need more work.”

It would appear that the governor was speaking out of both sides of his mouth last week.

Out of one side of his mouth, Gov. Hickenlooper outlined a new set of state initiatives to oversee oil and gas operations to create “integrity and trust” in energy development in our state. According to the article, the focus of the initiatives includes: well-bore integrity, water sampling, fugitive methane emissions and setbacks from densely populated areas. He also remarked that public concern about hydraulic fracturing must be addressed.

After catching his breath, the governor then spoke out of the other side of his mouth. At that point, Gov. Hickenlooper threatened to take the city of Longmont to court to quash its recently adopted comprehensive oil and gas drilling regulations. He stated that the Longmont City Council should accept his word that the state rules governing oil and gas regulations have sufficient flexibility to meet the needs of local communities. These are the same rules that, when speaking out of the other side of his mouth, he said must be revised to bring “integrity and trust to the industry.”

Only a politician would even attempt to sell such convoluted logic to the public. There is no doubt in my mind which entity (state of Colorado or city of Longmont) I want protecting the health and environment in my community. The governor threatening to use the courts to keep the elected Longmont City Council from protecting its residents is unconscionable.

Times-Call editorial naive and shortsighted

I am grateful the Times-Call editorial on Jan. 3 voiced the merits of the Longmont City Council’s decision to enact a 120-day moratorium on accepting and processing new oil and gas drilling applications. However, the editorial oversimplified the residents’ concerns and the reasons why this moratorium and the tighter regulations we hope are forthcoming are so important.

First, the editorial states that the oil and gas companies “rightfully argue that chemically charged fluids are pumped deep below the water table, that well bores are lined and that the surface is protected from used fluids” and so, therefore, they say, the fracking process should be allowed (presumably because those factors somehow mean it’s safe). I’m not sure I agree how “rightful” that argument is, but I can say it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the oil and gas companies would make it. Of course they would — they want to drill! I wouldn’t expect them to say there are known and unknown dangers and risks to this process, especially in a heavily populated area. But I certainly hope the City Council and city staff will take those arguments with a grain of salt and pay attention to the mounting evidence that argues differently.

The editorial goes on to say, “They (Longmont residents) have reason to be concerned about groundwater quality, even if the drilling company guarantees it won’t be tainted.” Wow, guarantees it? OK, I don’t know about you but I find that a little suspect. If they truly guarantee it, let them put the money up front that it would take to fix a groundwater contamination, if it were to occur, including all potential costs for health issues, environmental cleanup and lost property values. If they can truly guarantee it, they shouldn’t have any problem putting this money aside before they drill, since there is apparently no chance they’ll ever have to use it.

I believe this editorial was shortsighted and oversimplified. While it talks about the concerns about groundwater quality and a brief mention about property values, it fails to mention all the other concerns that residents “rightfully” have, including heavy truck traffic, noise, lights, vibrations, air pollution, the vast amounts of water that will be taken out of the water supply forever, to name a few.

These are among the numerous issues that I hope the City Council and city staff will be sure they fully understand as they develop new regulations and that they will take all necessary steps to ensure the health, safety and well-being of Longmont residents and properties.

The Silence of the Trolls

Anti-social network I by Maurice Mbikayi

The anonymous 'face' of the GOP

I’ve noticed that ever since the Times-Call went to the Intense Debate commenting system that the overall tone of the comments has improved. Golly. So Free Range Longmont was right? Moderation is important? Whodathunkit?! Nice to see the volume of attack comments drop off sharply and outright lies and smears are being removed. I submit that a better way is to simply not publish them in the first place. Letting the anonymous deaths-heads spew, then removing it is not really the right approach; something I’m certain the Times-Call’s new management knows but ignores because let’s face it, “if it bleeds, it leads.”

I’m also honestly gratified to see the wingnuts using WordPress, glad I could teach them something.

But one thing they just refuse to get is that anonymity is cowardice. They attack and attack yet whine that they’re afraid if they use their real names they’ll be targeted. I got one name for ya: Gabrielle Giffords. The real extremists in America are the heavily-armed far right and the attacks keep happening. During Bush’s second campaign, people were getting shot too – and the MSM had to be horsewhipped to talk about it. Now the wild-eyed tax cutters have put a knife to the throat of every Social Security Recipient, been identified as the perpetrator and the ‘guard dog’ media is cowering and wetting the rug rather than raising the alarm.

Robert Scoble has this to say:

The Real “Authenticity Killer” (and an aside about how bad the Yahoo brand has gotten)

March 7, 2011 By

Steve Cheney has never written something that so pissed me off than the blog he wrote today stating that Techcrunch’s switch to Facebook comments has killed authenticity.

Here’s the rub. He used his real name.

Strike one about why he’s wrong.

But then he wrote this line “Face it, authenticity goes way down when people know their 700 friends, grandma, and 5 ex-girlfriends are tuning in each time they post something on the web.”

Hello! Name one person on the web that doesn’t use Google or Bing. One. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Hint, your 700 friends are on Google. Your grandma is on google. Your five ex-girlfriends are on Google. My ex-wife is on Google.

Thinking back over my 46-year life I’ve only read something more wrong a few times.

Not to mention I worked with an executive at NEC who got fired for something he anonymously wrote on a forum (a racist post). Someone figured out where the IP address came from and sent the post to his boss, who quickly fired him. Being truly anonymous and untrackable on the Web is very difficult.

So, what’s going on here? Why is it causing people to lose all perspective on EVERYTHING?

These “authenticity is dead” people are cowards.

See, where I ONLY post opinions I’m willing to sign my name to, lots of people are actually cowards and just not willing to sign their names to their mealy-mouthed attacks.

So I think I’m in pretty good company when I say that the people of Longmont should look closely at who’s saying what and why all the people attacking independent news are wearing masks. They aren’t the Lone Ranger*, that’s for sure. The political landscape is pretty flat around here, a few simple observations should make it clear to any citizen that the muddy tracks around the internet lead to a very small group with an obvious agenda. If the person talking to you isn’t honest enough to tell you their name what’s your assurance they’re telling you the truth?

* more like alone and deranged

What’s up, Times-Call?

Still playing at power in his shrinking web?

Somebody over there is on a mission. Is that you, Deanie? I understand that you’re still in charge. While I’ve seen much that I would describe as improvements since Prairie Mountain became your boss. I suppose we won’t really see a “change we can believe in” until your time is up at the newspaper.

Back to the issue of the moment.

It appears that certain members of the Longmont community have hired you, reporter in tow, to serve as their lobbying firm, or at least their publicity agent. Come now, don’t scratch your head. It’s your first real flashback to the old Times-Call ways since the paper changed hands. (By the way, where’s dad?)

OK, OK, here it is. Or should I say, here they are?

“Push on for Longmont-based district”
Three local layers have joined the call for a state panel to put most of Longmont into a single state House district when new maps are drawn for the Legislature’s House and Senate. (John Fryar, 07/17/2011)

“Local lawyers urge adoption of a Longmont-based House district”
Three local lawyers have joined the call for a state panel to put most of Longmont into a single state House district when new maps are drawn for the Legislature’s House and Senate district (John Fryar, 07/16/2011)

“Longmont-area critics of current legislative map take beefs to reapportionment panel”
A contingent of Longmont-area residents urged the Colorado Reapportionment Commission on Monday to correct last decade’s mistakes in creating state House Districts (John Fryar, 7/12/2011)

“Longmont Chamber of Commerce complains about House boundaries”
The Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce has urged the Colorado Reapportionment Commission to include most of Longmont in a single House district in the state Legislature (John Fryar, 7/12/2011

“Reapportionment panel hears from Longmont-area critics of legislative map”
A contingent of Longmont-area residents urged the Colorado Reapportionment Commission on Monday to correct last decade’s mistakes in creating state House districts (John Fryar, 07/12/2011)

“Reapportionment panel charged with remapping state legislative districts”
The 86,270 people counted as living in Longmont in the 2010 census have once again made the city too large to fit within a single Colorado House district. (John Fryar, 07/08/2011)

“Longmont chamber may seek a voice in redrawing political boundaries”
Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce members are looking into possible ways to ensure that this community’s interests will be considered when congressional and sate legislative districts are redrawn(John Fryar, 01/08/2011)

Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Some of these are duplicates.

Yep. Times-Call wanted to be sure you didn’t miss it; so on some occasions they posted the article online on two separate days with two different titles and IDs.

Lest you think there is some groundswell of support for the Chamber/Longmont-one-seat agenda, keep in mind that those who showed up to “testify” at the Colorado Reapportionment Commission are Chamber members and/or sympathizers, as are the emailing “three local attorneys,” one of which is the Chamber president (Rick Samson).

It has been pointed out to the Chamber that Longmont is much more than the Chamber and its member businesses. But that’s a Chamber irrelevancy and is only given lip service when the Chamber is otherwise embarrassed.

If you like that Longmont has TWO Colorado House representatives instead of ONE, if you want to keep it that way, if you think that your voice is every bit as important as the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce, then the Reapportionment Commission needs to hear from you, too. You can reach them by email at: reapp2011@state.co.us

GOP bills don’t help businesses — DEM bills do

Colorado State Senator Lois Tochtrop

GOP ‘pro-business’ bills would not really have helped business
On June 26, the Times-Call ran a story titled “GOP: No progress with biz regs,” which suggested Democrats stopped several bills Republicans claimed would “help business.” This story came just days after the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce recognized Democrats for their pro-business efforts.

The story failed to mention that these extreme Republican bills wouldn’t have “helped business.” They would have helped a few lobbyists while threatening Colorado’s state budget.

One example was a bill by Republican Sen. Mike Kopp that would have crippled the bipartisan Joint Budget Committee, a hard-working group of legislators, three Republicans and three Democrats, whose mission is to balance the budget with shrinking revenues, meet the need to educate our kids, comply with unfunded federal mandates and run our law enforcement, judiciary and prison systems.

This uninformed bill by Sen. Kopp would have replaced the Joint Budget Committee with a non-elected (read: unaccountable) group from the business community. The reason this poorly reasoned, poorly written legislation didn’t survive is because it was fatally flawed.

The article also claimed a bill by Republican Sen. Shawn Mitchell was “pro-business.” The truth is Sen. Mitchell took Kopp’s feeble effort and drove it to the absurd. Mitchell’s legislation would have given a small group of business people the ability to veto legislation. This scheme makes a mockery of representative government, a fact that was lost on Mitchell.

The Denver Metro Chamber got it right when it praised several pieces of Democratic business-friendly legislation from the 2011 session. We passed bills to lessen regulation on business, but we killed extreme political grandstanding efforts in favor of real solutions to help business and put people back to work.


Business, Labor, Technology Committee

Astroturfing on steroids

Many masks, one voice.

Baseball and Monsanto gave us AstroTurf, a brand of synthetic carpeting designed to look like natural grass. But now the term has been re-branded for a much more cynical purpose.

In the political and corporate world astroturfing is a form of advocacy in support of an agenda designed to give the appearance of a “grassroots” movement. The practice is used widely by corporations to hide their agenda from the public and convince observers that “it’s the people” clamoring for an outcome.

The Tea Party, if not originating as such, was usurped by corporate interests to help recapture Congress and legislatures for the Republican Party. The Tea Party is now under the control of Americans for Prosperity, a front group started by oil billionaire David Koch and Richard Fink (a member of the board of directors of Koch Industries).

Money and an absence of moral principles have allowed organizations to develop highly sophisticated efforts. Covert and overt operations are typically organized by political consultants and often in coordination with opposition research, which is usually undertaken to uncover information that can be used to damage an individual or group opponent.

A new form of astroturfing is now taking hold. Not only commercial entities, but also governments, participate in this exceptionally technical Internet activity.

After writing about astroturfing, George Monbiot, of The Guardian (UK), was contacted by a whistleblower. This individual “was part of a commercial team employed to infest internet forums and comment threads on behalf of corporate clients, promoting their causes and arguing with anyone who opposed them.” What he and Monbiot revealed is a shocking eye opener. It shows how far corporations, and governments, will go in their propaganda wars.

Political hackers obtained emails from HB Gary Federal, a US cyber-security firm. Free Range Longmont has written about them in connection with a U.S. Chamber of Commerce surreptitious sabotage campaign.

“The emails show that:

— companies now use ‘persona management software’, which multiplies the efforts of the astroturfers working for them, creating the impression that there’s major support for what a corporation or government is trying to do.

— this software creates all the online furniture a real person would possess: a name, email accounts, web pages and social media. In other words, it automatically generates what look like authentic profiles, making it hard to tell the difference between a virtual robot and a real commentator.

— fake accounts can be kept updated by automatically re-posting or linking to content generated elsewhere, reinforcing the impression that the account holders are real and active.

— human astroturfers can then be assigned these ‘pre-aged’ accounts to create a back story, suggesting that they’ve been busy linking and re-tweeting for months. No one would suspect that they came onto the scene for the first time a moment ago, for the sole purpose of attacking an article on climate science or arguing against new controls on salt in junk food.

— with some clever use of social media, astroturfers can, in the security firm’s words, make it appear as if a persona was actually at a conference and introduce himself/herself to key individuals as part of the exercise … There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas.’”

The U.S. government, through the U.S. Air Force, has tendered companies to supply this software requiring that it 1) appear to originate in nearly any part of the word, 2) provide its astroturfers with “randomly selected IP addresses that can be changed daily and mixed with traffic from users outside the organization, and 3) enable different astroturfers to look like the same person over time.

At the corporate and government level, this software creates armies of organized trolls whose intentions are to misinform, mislead and propagandize readers.

But amateurs, without benefit of sophisticated software, have found ways to accomplish similar objectives at the local level. Local astroturfers need only multiple email addresses and multiple screen names and they are off and running.

The Longmont Times-Call comment streams to its online articles reveal that local conservative radicals are also trolling with the intention of communicating that Longmont is a homogeneous community of rightwing fundamentalists. Analysis of writing styles, frequently appearing phrases, obsessions with certain expressions and areas of concern make it abundantly clear that only a few are posting, but under many screen names.

Even in the absence of computer-assisted astroturfing, there are organizations who train their adherents in blogging the pre-determined political objectives and their “talking points.” In fact, it was one of the stated purposes of Denver’s Coalition for a Conservative Majority.

So if you are inclined to read the online comments to published articles, use a healthy dose of skepticism. What you think are many, may be only a few. What you think is spontaneous, is likely pre-planned.

Astroblogging, I’m afraid, is here to stay, and will probably become more commonplace. However, there’s nothing that can replace true grassroots activity for legitimacy. There, at least, you know that you are talking to a natural person.

Builders, Baum Squad to kill Affordable Housing Program

The following is a presentation given before the Longmont City Council on April 5, 2011.

The council communication on inclusionary zoning and affordable housing is extremely disturbing.

I examined the chart on page 36, particularly those Final Recorded Plats that were NOT highlighted in Yellow.  These have some probability of being built over the next 18 months.  I focused on those that still have designated affordable units.

Boulder Creek Builders has two of these plats – Kingsbridge and Village at Creekside.  Kingsbridge has 10 designated affordables, Village at Creekside has one.

The Boulder Creek website states, “The Kingsbridge community in Longmont has exceeded sales expectations, garnering 25 net sales and 15 closing in 2010.  Kingsbridge ranks second in gross sales and fourth in net sales for all …townhome communities in the 11-county area, which includes Longmont…. Boulder Creek Builders is number one in all of Boulder County…for total Sales.”

Boulder Creek bought Village at Creekside.  The houses planned are smaller than those already built yet comparable prices expected are higher.

Yeager Farms by Markel Homes has 6 affordables out of a potential build of 53 homes.  According to their website, their prices range from $300,000 to $450,000.  They state, “In the 1990’s, our company gained prominence in the high-end, semi-custom single and multi family niche.…Markel Homes has endured the cyclical nature of Colorado’s homebuilding industry.”

Fox Meadow by Sopris Homes has platted 102 homes in the price range of $560,000 to $810,000 and 5 affordables.

Two other builders with a total of 8 affordables I was unable to locate on the web.

The evidence of this research indicates that these builders do not need a moratorium on their affordable set aside.  They may WANT it; but they do not NEED it.

But Longmont NEEDS affordable housing stock and it NEEDS its affordable housing fund replenished for other affordable programs that do not have a new-construction set-aside.

This moratorium will effectively kill the Affordable Housing Program for the next 18 months.  And I suspect that it is a precursor for terminating the program later.

The information infused into the public consciousness about the Affordable Housing Program through comments on the Times-Call website and perhaps to you in phone calls and emails is erroneous and often totally based on ideology.

As elected representatives, you have a non-partisan responsibility to assist the citizens of Longmont.  That responsibility does not extend to padding profit margins for builders or fattening commissions for realtors.

Please let the better angels of your natures reject a moratorium on a program that is one of the most valuable programs in stabilizing the greater community of Longmont.

Times-Call – on a diet

Bloated and struggling, the Times-Call appears to be on a diet

The weight loss has been slow and subtle so you may not have noticed. And, of course, many of you who read Free Range Longmont stopped subscribing to the Times-Call years ago. You may or may not even visit the local “fishwrap” (as one of our editors frequently describes it). Even the online version has lost weight, with the notable exception of the persistent posters who live in an alternative universe.

A trek through the Larimer County website shows no change in ownership. The Loveland Politics blog, a veritable gossip website at least about the Lehmans, suggests that Media News Group may have even walked away from the deal.

However, there are signs of Singleton both in print and online. One method Dean Singleton, CEO of Media News Group, uses is to piggyback his reporters. That’s now more visible at the Times-Call. Another method is to reduce the representation of print articles in the online version of a paper. This, too, is happening with some degree of frequency by the Times-Call. And even when an article does appear online, it may not be the complete article.

And, of course, the paper is getting skinnier – as in the number of pages. The number of Times-Call reporters is dwindling. And if it weren’t for Associated Press, McClatchy Newspapers, Bloomberg News, and an assortment of syndicated columnists and editorials and other borrowings from assorted newspapers, the Times-Call would be even skinnier.

The freebies it receives in the form of letters to the editor and guest opinions plus the inanity that shows up on T-C Line also fill local space. Local obits round things out, but, hey, they are paid for by the “next of kin.”

Such is the story of a hometown newspaper whose diet has gone sour.

The Times…, they are a changing?

Is time running out for the Times-Call?

Rumors abound lately that the Longmont Daily Times-Call newspaper is about to be sold. Those in the know are mum about the matter. But there’s enough to suggest that, indeed, the Times (or the Times-Call) they are a changing.

The newspaper business has not been fairing well. According to the Newspaper Association of America, daily newspaper readership peaked in 1984 at 63.3 million. By 2008, daily circulation had dropped more than 20 percent to 48.6 million. Since 2000, newspapers have also seen a precipitous decline in advertising revenues. A University of California Davis study reports that advertising revenue, adjusted for inflation, was lower in 2008 ($38 billion) than in every year since 1975. According to the study, figures for 2009 are likely to be similar to those of 1965.

Faced with changes of this magnitude in the newspaper publishing business, the 2008 $20 million investment made by Lehman Communications Corporation and Western L, LLC (also a Lehman company) in the Longmont Printing Center in Berthoud is likely a severe financial drain.

As an alternative to publication in the Times-Call, in 2009 the City of Longmont investigated the possibility of placing its notices of ordinances and other official actions on its website with hard copies at select locations around the city in order to reduce city expenses. Dean Lehman appeared before council on several occasions to plead the case to continue publication in the Times-Call. However, that change would have required either modifications in state legislation or a local ballot measure. No further action was taken; and as a consequence, the Times-Call saved some of its advertising revenue.

In February, the Longmont Ledger reported that the bank that holds the loan on the Longmont Printing Center demanded a cut in debt. These demands resulted in the consolidation of three weekly papers in Louisville, Lafayette and Erie into a single weekly now known as the Colorado Hometown Weekly.

The quiet layoffs, attritions and consolidations over the past two years seem to be inadequate to stem the financial stresses on the Times-Call in this declining economy struggling towards an uncertain recovery.

It is well understood in the Longmont community that the Lehmans and their newspaper have carried the water for those in Longmont with long-standing economic and political interests, whether or not these interests have been in the best interest of the community as a whole.

Should the Times-Call change ownership as rumored, it is hoped that a new publisher will demand a healthier distance between the paper’s management and editorial staff and Longmont’s “special interests.” More substantive and investigative reporting would also be welcomed. These changes would likely boost the paper’s circulation and advertising revenues.

The History of Longmont Times-Call and the Lehman Communications Corporation

Edward and Ruth Lehman and others formed the Times-Call Publishing Company on January 30, 1957. Their vision was astonishingly ambitious. While their primary purpose was to publish a newspaper, they also planned to become publishers of journals, magazines, books and other literary works. Their original Articles of Incorporation even indicate that they hoped to acquire licenses or franchises for “operating AM or FM radio stations, television transmissions or any other means of transmission or communication…” On February 1, 1957 they purchased Longmont Times-Call.

Over the years, there were numerous mergers and acquisitions. In May 1967, the Times-Call merged with the Loveland Reporter-Herald and in 1978 it purchased the Canon City Daily Record. On December 30, 1986, the three publishing companies (Times-Call, Loveland and Royal Gorge) became Lehman Communications Corporation, a Lehman-family company.

Lehman Communications continued to grow. In 1985 the Times-Call added a Sunday edition and became a seven-day-a-week newspaper. In 1988 it doubled its size to 22,500 square feet. The Louisville Times, Lafayette News and the Erie Review were purchased in June of 1997 and in 1998 the Times-Call converted to morning delivery.

As the Loveland Reporter was growing into larger facilities, land in Berthoud, Colorado, was purchased (1993) in anticipation of a potential new printing facility. It wasn’t until 2007 that the decision was finalized to build the Lehman Printing Center in Berthoud.

Documents filed with the Larimer County Recorder indicate that on June 10, 2008, the Ruth Lehman Trust sold the vacant land to Western L, LLC for $429,393. Western L is managed by Ed Lehman. On August 1, 2008, Western L borrowed $6,686,987 from Wells Fargo. The Deed of Trust matures on August 15, 2013.

To secure the loan Lehman Communications became Western L’s tenant, agreeing to lease the new facility annually for a basic rent of $990,000. Lehman Communications is responsible for “additional rent” by assuming all other expenses in connection with operating, maintaining and securing the facility. Its 10-year lease began on February 1, 2009 and has a five-year extension option.

The 60,000 square foot facility with its state-of-the-art equipment is an investment totaling about $20 million with loans from Wells Fargo, Lehman Communications and Ed and Dean Lehman.

Addendum 12/1/2010 in response to comments

There were a number of “sources” for this article.  They were sufficient number, variety and credibility to justify presenting the matter for public consumption.  However, because much is riding on the outcome of the sale of the Times-Call, “facts” were left intentionally vague.

The irony is that the precise reason for the Lehmans’ financial stress, the construction of the new printing facility, is the reason that the paper is attractive to a potential buyer.  In published reports Dean Singleton has expressed a desire to upgrade the printing capabilities of his papers, and clearly the Berthoud Printing Center will do that.  It also was designed for future expansion.

This writer expects no panacea from the new owner.

Singleton has flirted with outsourcing some newspaper functions, but apparently has abandoned that approach in favor of consolidating staff, as one commenter alludes.  Whether the Lehmans have trimmed enough staff that additional cuts will not be necessary remains to be seen.  Whoever is left standing or assigned from other Media News Group papers, it is hoped that they will be able to report on Longmont issues without the spoken and unspoken editorial bias of Ed and Dean Lehman.  That, too, remains to be seen.

Singleton has been appropriately described as rabidly anti-union.  Since the Times-Call is not unionized, this will not be a factor should the purchase occur.  However, Singleton’s stance on unions undoubtedly influences his political perspectives.

Singleton appears to be somewhat eclectic in his political endorsements, having contributed to both Republicans and Democrats.  His expressed opinions indicate that he prefers seasoned politicians over newcomers because of the political clout that comes with seniority.  He rubs elbows with conservatives such as Philip Anschutz and moderate Democrats such as Bill Ritter and John Hickenlooper.

Profiling Singleton without knowing him, it appears that he is motivated by power as much as by money, if not more so.  One breeds the other in a chicken/egg manner.

Reports indicate that he envisions a new “model” for newspapers in the digital age, one that expects consumers to pay for part of their online coverage.  This is already the case with the Times-Call.  Local readers must subscribe to the print edition for some of the coverage, particularly the Opinion Page.  Singleton’s model is no sure thing for the newspaper industry, but he certainly is not timid, either in his vision or his acquisitions.

The holding company, Affiliated Media Inc., emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this year.  Singleton remained at the helm but with 89% of the privately-held company in the hands of his lenders.  That split was in return from a debt reduction from $930 million to $165 million.  The stock arrangement allows Singleton to retain voting control and the selection of the majority of the board of directors.

William Dean Singleton
AP – Chairman; MediaNews Group – founder, CEO

NEWSMEAT Power Rank: 442

Election Picks: 7 wins, 2 losses

$500Special interest


Times-Call endorsement of Tancredo no surprise

Some of the candidate contributions by the Times-Call ownership from 1989 to 2008.

Tancredo, Tom (R)$9,500
Bush, George W (R)$8,000
Campbell, Ben Nighthorse (R)$6,400
Robinson, Shannon A (R)$6,000
Beauprez, Bob (R)$4,750
Thune, John (R)$4,500
Brown, Hank (R)$4,400
Allard, Wayne (R)$4,110
Musgrave, Marilyn (R)$4,000

Data provided by OpenSecrets.org.

Trading one addiction for another

If you'll swallow alcohol, you'll swallow anything

I can’t remember exactly when I first heard it, or who said it, but it was so to the point that I never forgot it: “The only thing worse than a recovering alcoholic is a born again recovering alcoholic.”

My best guess is that it was a close friend who in the 80s was a 25-year recovering alcoholic. Fortunately, he was not “born again” and had the depth and insight to recognize not just the addiction that he broke and fought against each day (as he would describe the true state of a recovering alcoholic), but the fundamental nature and condition that forever drives an addict.

What brings this to mind is a column by Kathleen Parker, “Hi, my name is Glenn, and I’m messed up.”

Given that I find Glenn Beck potentially certifiably insane and waste as little time as possible on what he says and does, I was unaware of his “history.” As I read Parker’s piece, the discovery that Beck has a history of alcoholism and drug addiction provided one of those “a hah” moments where not only does the subject come into focus, but so does an entire range of others with “troubled” backgrounds who have gravitated to religion, and specifically evangelism.

Parker begins by saying that “the real meaning [of Beck’s tent-less revival] may have been hiding in plain sight.” The event had all the elements of a 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous program wrapped up in one event. But as is the case with so many recovering addicts, “taking others along for the ride…is also part of the cure. The healed often cannot remain healed without helping others find their way.”

And that’s where the “born again” evangelical Christianism comes in. They are compelled to “save” the rest of humanity – whether or not humanity wants it or needs it.

With the benefit of 60+ years of life experience behind me, I could appreciate Parker’s observation that “it seems that people talk about God all the time these days.” As a transplant to Longmont, I remain stunned at the number of letters to the editor that appear in the Times-Call that are little more than a religious sermon, not to mention the amount of coverage the Times-Call devotes to religious issues in its coverage.

Parker wrote that even in the heyday of Billy Graham, “…most Americans could get through 16 or so waking hours without feeling compelled to declare where they stood on the deity.” Coming from the relatively conservative state of Indiana, I can attest that in fact this was the case during my first three decades in that state – at least by comparison to Longmont and Colorado.

Those with an addiction often trade one addiction for another. Or if they have more than one, keep the other. My friend was well aware that he was and always would be an addict, so he made a choice. He continued to smoke, even though it would eventually contribute to his death.

But some recovering addicts get carried away with this “higher power” thing. They transfer their addiction to “God.” If you delve into the backgrounds of many evangelicals, you will find a history of alcohol or drug addiction. The leaders behind the Heaven Fest event in Longmont in July readily admit their histories of addiction. Since they were saved – presumably by God – they have a compulsion to inflict their new-found addiction on all others. They even felt compelled to devote 24/7 prayer days to members of Longmont’s city council. Presumably they were praying for these council members to be instruments of God as they defined him.

So far we still have no formal religion test for holding public office, although that may soon crumble if we as a nation don’t get a grip on ourselves. And because it’s about religion, no one dare find fault with the obsessions of evangelicals. Or so it seems. But it’s no accident that freedom of religion and freedom of speech occur in combination in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. You do not need permission to challenge, criticize or analyze. It is your right.

So as you run across the Glenn Becks of the world, applaud them for the demon they have conquered, but remind them that even God can become an addiction, if not a demon, if they allow it.

Longmont power brokers launch perpetual electioneering

Same hammer, different beat(down)

Longmont has, for decades, been governed in the interest of a few select individuals and companies. This long-standing oligarchy remained successfully unchallenged and comfortable until the fall of 2007.

The first hint of trouble for these power brokers occurred when the citizens of Longmont rose up against the annexation of the LifeBridge 350-acre project south of Union Reservoir. A petition for a referendum to reverse a Longmont City Council ordinance had never before been successful, so it was not initially taken seriously. But the signature-gathering effort produced almost one-third more signatures than were required to place the matter before the voters in a special election.

On the heels of this success, the citizens of Longmont elected a council majority with a view to a different future.

When the new majority took legislative and legal action to block Firelight Park and the LifeBridge project from annexation into Firestone, all-out war was declared on what they referred to as the Benker Bloc (after former City Council member Karen Benker) or the Bloc of Four. These properties and developments were owned by members of city power brokers, chiefly developers and real estate special interests, many of whom are also members of LifeBridge Christian Church.

From that point forward there was a fierce determination to reclaim Longmont for the interests of the few, rather than the many. The rhetoric talked about “taking back Longmont.” The current mayor’s wife Stephanie Baum even had a blog with that name.

The first front in this war was the Longmont Times-Call. The conservative politics of the Times-Call has never been a secret. (See “Is there a bias? You tell me.”)

Out of hours of council discussion on a variety of topics, the Times-Call published a constant drumbeat of strategically chosen topics prominently placed above the fold with headlines chosen for their negative implications. Quotes within articles continued its derogatory objectives, and slanted coverage was given to positions that the paper opposed.

Letters to the editor were selectively placed to enhance the political position of the Times-Call and of those in the community and on council that it supported. Opinions of the community were further manipulated by the timing of OpEds solicited and printed.

The Times-Call hammered mercilessly on the “Benker” council.

After the November 2008 Democratic mandate at the national level, conservatives recognized that they could be headed for a permanent minority. At the local level, the heavy artillery appeared from both within and outside Colorado targeting the swing community of Longmont.

Operatives and their money came from D.C./Virginia, Montana, and from the Tom DeLay organization, Coalition for a Conservative Majority, who made no secret of its focus and targeting.

Scott Gessler, Republican candidate for Secretary of State, manufactured a lawsuit against the city and its Fair Campaign Practices Act. The LFCPA established sensible contribution limits and provided for greater transparency and disclosure. Only 19 words were struck from the Act because of the court’s temporary restraining order.

The Times-Call created a political improvised explosive device of its own with its court challenge of council executive sessions for legal advice on the annexation lawsuits—knowing full well that council actions were legitimate.

These strategies and tactics were very effective in agitating the public.

Rabidly anti-environmental and property rights absolutist organizations like Western Tradition Partnership (WTP) and Coloradans for Economic Growth bankrolled the attack campaigns during the 2009 election season. The winning candidates claim they had neither connection with, nor knowledge of, the activities of the WTP front organization Longmont Leadership Committee. If you believe that, then I have some beachfront property along the Gulf coast you might like to see.

Upon election, the new majority needed no other votes than their own to force settlements of these lawsuits, effectively using taxpayer dollars to reimburse campaign activities that placed them in office. The $182,000 dispersed to their endorsers to “settle” the lawsuits give a whole new meaning to publicly-funded campaigns. ($100,000 to LifeBridge/Firestone, $68,500 to the Longmont Realtors Association and Western Tradition Partnership plaintiffs and concealed donors, and $13,500 to the Times-Call.)

The incredible irony is that Mayor Baum and his troops have claimed and continue to claim that citizens’ free speech rights have been violated by the LFCPA. Given the content of the mailers that Longmont voters received from Longmont Leadership, that would be humorous if it weren’t so deplorable. The new majority has voted to dismantle the portions of the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act that provide for the most transparency, accountability and enforcement that is free from political influence.

The new council and those it represents want opposing speech squelched. They floated a balloon that popped when they sought to limit and rearrange the timing of the Public Invited to be Heard section of council meetings.

However, the best way to silence opposing voices is to remove them altogether from the council where their views receive a weekly airing. And that’s exactly the objective. The remaining three council members have been targeted for extinction. Sarah Levison received the opening shot across the election bow by blogger Wrongmont Rodriguez in the Times-Call on May 22nd.

The objectives, the strategies, the tactics are now exposed. This cat is out of the bag! The community will no longer stand for a repeat of the politically deplorable behavior from the take-back-Longmont crowd that has occurred since the 2007 election. Elections do, indeed, have consequences.

$$$: How to win an election without really trying

The following is the complete version of a Letter to the Editor in Longmont Times-Call on July 14, 2010. The italicized portions were omitted by the Times-Call.

Everything has a price - but should it?

“Money. It doesn’t grow on trees, can’t buy you love, and the love of it is the root of all kinds of evil, filthy lucre, so why is there so much of it in our local elections? I should think that everyone wants their candidates to be transparent in each and everything they do, especially when it comes to who, how, and where they receive their money from.” So says a writer in a recent article on Free Range Longmont, Longmont’s “progressively better news” source.

Recent letters to the editor have commented on several articles at www.freerangelongmont.com on the subject of money in Longmont’s last mayoral and council campaigns, articles that should have been written by Longmont’s local paper-if it had any interest in investigative, analytical reporting. For when financial rocks are turned over in Longmont, what lies underneath is never pretty.

Compare those who spent the most and who had the most spent on their behalf with those who won the office, and the connection between money and politics becomes vividly apparent.

Those who won the election and their supporters spent $82,519. Those who lost spent $21,454, a ratio of 4 to 1. In order to gain their votes, the winning candidates and the groups who supported them spent $2.33 per vote compared to $1.03 per vote by the alternative candidates.

When the well-funded candidates (and those secretly-funded through 501c4 organizations) claimed their majority, something interesting occurred. Three lawsuits brought by their endorsers were settled–for a total of $182,000. That’s not a bad return on an electoral investment. And it gives a whole new meaning to publicly-financed campaigns.

If you have a special interest before the city, spend enough money, conceal your contribution and identity, the collective “you” can effectively buy an election and the results you seek.