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Aspen School District, HR director split ways

The Aspen School District announced Wednesday that Human Resources Director Elizabeth Hodges has agreed to resign effective Jan. 31 "with no additional salary or severance payments beyond this date."

The announcement comes after Superintendent John Maloy said Dec. 10 he had placed Hodges on paid administrative leave, which came after the school district's attorneys conducted a background review of Hodges.

The district's examination into Hodges' background began near the beginning of the academic year, around late August or early September, after it learned in July through an anonymous letter that the state of Missouri disbarred Hodges in April.

The Aspen Times, which also learned about the disbarment through an anonymous letter, additionally reported in August that Hodges was served with a grand jury indictment out of Kansas City, Missouri, on May 31, 2016. Her first day on the job as the district's HR director was July 1, 2016, and the school district conducted its initial background check into Hodges in March 2016, Maloy previously told the Times.

She did not reveal the indictment to her school district superiors before taking on the HR job.

Hodges pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of deceptive business practices in December 2016 and this month she completed a two-year probation sentence in Missouri. She was originally indicted for felony forgery, according to court records.

The conviction was the result of her selling a deceased couple's Kia Soul to a dealership without reporting proceeds of the sale in their probate case. As an attorney, Hodges helped the couple with their estate planning.

Hodges also faces fraud allegations in her personal bankruptcy case in Colorado. That case is pending.

The Drop-In: Skiing in a snowstorm with a longtime local

It’s been snowing hard all day in Aspen and up on the mountain and there is no end in sight with snowstorms in the forecast for the next two days.

On today’s Drop-In, we made friends with Tony, a longtime Aspen local, in the gondola and he was kind enough to let us ski with him for the day. Join us as we enjoy the fresh snow, get some good advice from the lift operators and make new friends on a snow day!

Skiing without a helmet? ThinkFirst program reminds riders of the importance of helmets

A few centimeters of hardened ABS plastic is all that kept a tree branch from impaling the back of Lucio Gernetti’s head.

Gernetti, a Vail Resorts employee, survived a high-speed crash while skiing the Amen Trail in Breckenridge on Jan. 6. Gernetti was taken to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, where he needed surgery to repair a broken femur and was treated for a gash on his scalp. But without his helmet, Gernetti could have wound up a human skewer.

“I know myself and I know I’m fearless,” Gernetti said from his hospital bed this past week. “I also know sometimes it can end bad, so I always wear a helmet. My helmet saved my life.”

Stories like Gernetti’s are hard reminders of why it pays to wear a helmet on the mountain.

As part of the National Safety Month campaign for snowsports, the ThinkFirst brain and spinal injury prevention program will have booths at three local resorts this upcoming weekend to educate and encourage skiers and riders to protect their noggin with helmets while following the rules of the mountain.

This is the 11th year that ThinkFirst has hosted skier safety booths in Summit. ThinkFirst is part of the National Injury Prevention Foundation and operates through the St. Anthony Summit Medical Center’s trauma service department. The program seeks to prevent brain and spinal injuries through education, research and advocacy.

On Jan. 19 and 20, ThinkFirst will be hosting booths at Breckenridge, Copper and Keystone resorts, and hosted a booth at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area this past weekend. Aside from educating about skier safety, ThinkFirst also distributes helmets to folks in need with a suggested donation at cost of their purchase value.

Last year, ThinkFirst presented its safety program to 56 ski school classes and 285 children across the four resorts and distributed 218 helmets. ThinkFirst estimates having reached over 10,000 community members over the past year with its safety campaign.

Aside from the safety education booths, ThinkFirst also conducts safety training programs for elementary, middle and high school students in Summit County.

“We educate them about anatomy, physiology, and how their body works,” said Holly Adnan, chapter director for ThinkFirst’s program in Summit. “We also teach them about making smart choices, and that if you have a brain or spinal cord injury, it affects the rest of your life; doctors can’t fix your brain or spine the way they fix a broken arm.”

Younger students are given interactive demonstrations of what brain trauma is like, using gelatin brains to show what the brain looks like and how fragile it is, crashing egg-laden cars to demonstrate the traumatic force brought on by impacts, and dropping melons with and without helmets to show what the impact can do to an unprotected brain.

Speakers who have personal experience with brain or spine injuries are brought in for older students. Summit High School alums such as Jeremy Green, who suffered a traumatic brain injury as a teenager, and Carlos Santos, a former SHS football player who suffered a spinal injury, share their own stories of living with those catastrophic injuries.

ThinkFirst also teaches skier safety by drilling students with the Responsibility Code, which governs on-mountain behavior and is meant to ensure safety.

Adnan said that helmets have a 68 percent efficacy rate of preventing severe brain injuries, making wearing a helmet a no-brainer. Regardless, she acknowledges that some people will never wear a helmet.

“Common reasons we hear about not wearing a helmet is because those people claim to be expert skiers or snowboarders, and are really safe out there,” Adnan said. “But we like to remind them that it’s not always about what you’re doing, but things you can’t control, like other skiers.”

It should be noted that helmets do not offer safety all the time or at all speeds; for an impact at high speed, there is little that can save a person from mortal injury. So even with a helmet, skiers should always know their physical and skill limitations.

Women’s ski and march set for Saturday in Aspen

The third annual Women's Ski and March for Decency and Truth is set for Saturday morning at Aspen Mountain and Paepcke Park.

The Aspen event, which is hosted by the Pitkin County Democrats, coincides with women's events going on around the country.

For the past two years in Aspen, hundreds of people have gathered to ski and march.

Those interested in skiing first should meet at the gondola plaza at 10:30 a.m. Saturday to ski Aspen Mountain. After the descent, the group will leave the plaza at 11:45 a.m. to go to Paepcke Park on Main Street.

From noon until 1 p.m. there will be assorted speakers at the park. A march through Aspen is planned after the speakers finish.

City of Aspen dialing in 5G capabilities

It's time for the densification of Aspen, elected officials agreed Monday.

Densification is a key element to enable 5G mobile networks, which is the next generation for wireless communications that city officials expect will land here soon.

And when it does, the city should be ready in terms of technological infrastructure and legalities to regulate providers who will come in wanting approvals for small cells, said Paul Schultz, the city's IT director.

Small cells are essential to 5G networks because they can transmit very large amounts of data short distances, which helps address users' insatiable appetites for more devices and faster speeds.

But instead of large-cell towers mounted on top of buildings or disguised as fake trees, small cells involve more antennas in places like light poles or chimneys, or underground.

When providers like Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile or AT&T come to the city for approval for their small-cell 5G networks, officials will have several elements to consider that are not currently in the land-use code.

So the IT department and Assistant City Attorney Andrea Bryan have been working together to update the code and formulate regulations.

"We are concerned about the aesthetics of them," Schultz said, adding public safety also is a factor. "Quite frankly, this stuff is coming … the FCC is pushing it as fast as possible."

5G will work alongside 4G networks, which is what wireless users rely on today. But as more devices come online — think smart cars — more capacity will be required.

Bryan said the city has received inquiries from providers on what its 5G capabilities and regulations are.

While the city is adapting to the changing landscape, state and federal laws governing wireless providers are shifting as well and mandate that municipalities review applications within a specific timeframe, Bryan said.

"This is coming. When, we don't know, but we want to be prepared," she said. "We think it's sooner rather than later."

Aspen City Council on Monday agreed that 5G infrastructure is a priority for staff to focus on, which Schultz said he expects to be a multi-year process.

"I'm glad it's a priority and that our leadership recognizes the importance of it," he said.

He and Bryan will meet with council in a work session next week on the issue.


Frisco officer-involved shooting near Whole Foods leads to arrest

The suspect implicated in an officer-involved shooting in the Whole Foods Market parking lot in Frisco on Monday night has been identified as 33-year-old Derek Perry Baker of Loveland.

At about 7:30 p.m. on Monday officers with the Frisco Police Department and Colorado State Patrol responded to a disturbance in progress at the Whole Foods, according to an arrest affidavit. Dispatch told the officers that the man, later identified as Baker, told witnesses that he had a gun, and pretended to pull a gun near the cashier stations inside the store.

Hugh Carey, a photographer for the Summit Daily News, was inside the store with his girlfriend when the commotion began. Carey said they witnessed Baker enter the store and throw an "air-punch" behind the back of an individual walking away from him. Carey said that Baker then walked to the cashier stations, and though he couldn't hear what was being said, that's when panic appeared to set in.

"In the cashier's area people starting jumping, like jumping out of the way," said Carey. "There were raised voices that I couldn't understand, and one woman who was sitting a few tables from us ran out of the store, knocking over a chair. She said something about somebody with a gun in the store."

It was at that point that Carey and his girlfriend left the store, and saw patrol vehicles arriving on scene. A store manager at the store said he and his employees are not able to comment on the incident.

Once officers arrived on scene, witnesses directed them to a silver Chevrolet Impala in the parking lot. Officers yelled at Baker to stop, and he returned a profanity before driving off, according to the affidavit. Officers were able to box Baker in using their patrol vehicles, and exited their cars with weapons drawn due to report that Baker may have been armed.

According to the affidavit, Baker allegedly kept driving forward toward one of the officers, who fired two shots through the windshield. At that point Baker yelled that he was shot, and stopped his vehicle. Officers pulled him from the car and handcuffed him.

Baker was shot in the left forearm, and medical personnel arrived on scene shortly after to provide treatment. The report notes that Baker seemed "confused and unaware of his surroundings" following the shooting. He was transported to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center and later released into police custody.

Baker has been initially charged with three felonies, including attempted vehicular assault, menacing and vehicular eluding. He also was charged with disorderly conduct. District Attorney Bruce Brown noted that as details continue to emerge from the altercation, the charges could be modified in the coming days. The District Attorney's Office typically has seven days to file charges, but Brown said they might ask for an extension.

"Because of the complexity of this case, the likelihood is there will be numerous interviews and forensic testing," said Brown. "This type of incident takes several weeks to reach final conclusions. We'll look at if from every possible perspective, and we will file charges in a fashion that reflects those determinations."

Frisco Police Chief Tom Wickman said that he couldn't comment in detail about an ongoing investigation, but said that the officer who discharged his or her firearm has been placed on leave pending the investigation by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

A CBI spokesperson said that investigations into officer-involved shootings typically involve a number of witness interviews and forensic examinations of the scene, a process that can take days or weeks.

Baker is scheduled to appear in Summit County Court on Jan. 22.

New Year’s intentions

How are those resolutions going? Break any yet?

The annual tradition of New Year's resolutions has been going on for a few weeks now, as millions across the country aim to drastically change some part of their daily routine in an attempt to better themselves.

The reasons that we all do this seem to be a bit arbitrary, generally following the line of thought that a new year seems as good a time as any to eat less, stress less, fight less or work out more. A good idea, if a little difficult considering it follows the holidays, one of the most stressful and indulgent times of the year.

If you ask me, finding a week to take off work in the depths of May so you can focus on changing a habit or two might be more effective, but I haven't tried.

That's beside the point. Many set resolutions for this time, establishing lofty ideals to follow through in the hopes that eventually you'll forget you had to force yourself to turn over this new leaf in the first place. Unfortunately, most fail at following through in their resolutions. Studies in the past few years show that around 80 percent of people break a resolution by February.

And therein lies the problem.


When someone says, "I will work out three times a week," or "I want to stick to this diet consisting of Central European foods that don't contain the vowel E," they create this concrete line of obligation. You do, or you don't. Either you do end up going to the gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or you don't adhere to your diet when your neighbor brings over an incredible trdelnik.

People don't live by these hard lines, at least when dealing with things in everyday life. And, once you have broken a resolution for the first time, it's easy to just cut it off entirely and not continue with the positive task of trying to improve yourself.

So, instead, for this year, I'm trying something else. I'm setting intentions for the new year.

Now, in full disclosure and at the risk of playing into stereotypes, I admit that I shamelessly stole this from a podcast I listen to. But it really stuck with me.

Rather than saying, "I will exercise every other day," try something like, "I intend on taking care of myself and improving the way I treat my body."

Or, instead of, "I will write 1,000 words per day," say, "I intend to put more focus on creative outlets that I enjoy."

When you take away the enforced limits of a specific resolution, you can allow yourself to make incremental steps toward a change or goal. You're able to move within your intention, finding ways to adjust your routine slowly and increasing the chance that you actually develop new habits.

And, it takes away the strain of failure.

If, one day, you don't quite live up to what you were intending, you can try again tomorrow, as humans do.


Eagle County Dems plan Feb. 5 forum, vote to fill Ryan’s seat

EAGLE — On Monday, Jan. 28, Eagle County Commissioner Jill Ryan will begin work as Gov. Jared Polis' executive director of the Department of Public Health and Environment.

For Eagle County Democrats, an equally important date is Sunday, Jan. 27. That's the effective date of Ryan's resignation, which means the clock starts on a 10-day window on Jan. 28 to name her replacement.

The appointment will come at a special meeting planned Feb. 5.

According to Eagle County Democrats chair Joy Harrison, Colorado Revised Statutes outline the procedures for county commissioner vacancies and the short timeline is just one of the rules. C.R.S. also stipulates that the vacancy is filled by central committee representatives from the political party of the resigning commissioner.

"After confirming members' eligibility to participate on the vacancy committee, our draft procedural rules were prepared and circulated by email to Eagle County Democrats Vacancy Committee members for approval," said Harrison. "Vacancy committee member responsibilities include reviewing all candidate applications and attending the official vacancy committee meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 5. At that meeting, committee members will cast votes for the candidate finalists until a majority vote for a single candidate is completed."

The rules themselves were the first issue up for debate by the Eagle County Democrats. The vacancy committee officially approved the procedures Monday.

Candidate eligibility

According to a state statute, candidates for the vacancy must reside within the boundaries of Eagle County Commissioner District 1. The legal description of the district can be found at http://www.eaglecounty.us.

Additionally, Colorado State Democratic Party regulations state that the candidate must have been a registered Democrat for a period of one year prior the vacancy appointment and shall meet the requirements for running for the office in the next general election. Further details regarding eligibility can be found at http://www.eagledems.org.

"Applicants are requested to submit a letter of interest, a resume outlining qualifications for the position, and written answers to three questions," Harrison said. "The questions will be developed by officers of the Eagle County Dems and posted on the Eagle County Dems website."

Application materials should be submitted by email to eaglecodems@gmail.com.

Information concerning the membership of the vacancy committee will be published on the Eagle County Dems website. Candidates will be provided with committee members' contact information after they submit their application materials.

"Candidates may contact committee members directly, but the committee members will have discretion regarding their individual correspondence/communication with candidates," Harrison said.

The deadline for emailing the application materials is 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23.

Candidate forums

Before the vacancy committee makes its appointment, two candidate forums have been scheduled. While the public can attend the forums, there will be no public comment at the sessions.

The first forum is planned Wednesday, Jan. 30, at the Eagle County offices in El Jebel. The session will begin at 5:30 p.m.

The second forum will precede the Tuesday, Feb. 5, appointment vote. The forum will be held at the Colorado Mountain College Edwards Center and will begin at 5:30 p.m.

"Forum format and questions will be determined by the officers of the Eagle County Dems," Harrison said. "The public is invited to observe, but may not participate."

At the conclusion of the candidate forum, nominations and nomination acceptance speeches will be given, after which the vacancy committee members will vote to appoint the new Eagle County commissioner.

After the nomination process is done, vacancy committee members will vote by paper ballot in an "exhaustive voting process." That means that at the end of each round of voting, if there is no candidate with a simple majority, the candidate with the lowest vote total will be removed from the ballot for the next round. The voting process will continue until there are only two candidates. The winner will be the candidate who collects a simple majority of votes on the final ballot.

The Eagle County Dems have established a list of procedures for the vacancy committee deliberations. The procedures, frequently asked questions and additional information can be viewed at the party's website, http://www.eagledems.org.

Aspen airport outreach process begins in earnest

Pitkin County commissioners took the first concrete steps Tuesday in a yearlong community outreach process that will determine the future of Aspen's airport.

In a two-hour discussion, commissioners hammered out the basic structure of three subcommittees that will look at various aspects of the project, and a fourth overall "visioning committee" that will put together recommendations from those groups and present them to the county board.

"It's a community airport and it's up to the community to help us determine the future," Commissioner Patti Clapper said.

The county has received permission from the federal government through an approved environmental assessment to revamp both the runway and the aging terminal.

Proposed plans for the airport include relocating and widening the runway to accommodate a projected new class of regional jets that are quieter and more fuel efficient but have larger wingspans than the airport can now accommodate. Officials also have presented plans for a new 60,000- to 80,000-square-foot modern terminal to replace the current, somewhat ramshackle 47,000-square-foot building.

Together, those two projects are currently estimated to cost between $350 million and $400 million.

However, no decision on either of the two projects has yet been made.

Though federal officials are wondering what Aspen is waiting for, the county board and airport officials want to make certain the community's wishes for the airport's future are taken into account through a robust public process before any decisions are made, said John Kinney, airport director.

And that's where the airport community committees will come in.

The airport and county advertised for community volunteers for the four committees in October and received 116 applications, Kinney said. County staff initially recommended having 20 to 25 people on the main committee and 10 to 15 people on each of the three subcommittees.

However, that would mean culling the number of applications and leaving out some people who want to participate in the process, said Jon Peacock, Pitkin County manager. County staff was, in the end, not comfortable with leaving people out, so they recommended increasing the size of the committees.

Commissioners were not happy excluding from the process people who want to take part, though they also acknowledged that larger-sized committees cannot get as much done and likely won't be able to study issues in as much depth as smaller-sized committees.

The idea of the smaller committees ended up winning out, though commissioners also decided not leave anyone out of the process, either. That will mean shuttling those who are not chosen for one of the committees to a fourth subcommittee that will act as a focus group for the other committees should they want to test out ideas before presenting them to the general public.

In order to choose who will be on each committee, commissioners will each rank their choices and county staff will assemble the committee assignments based on those rankings, Peacock said.

The ideas proposed by the various committees will be presented to the public over the next year, then provided to commissioners by the end of the year. The committees will meet approximately every other month, Kinney said.

Commissioners also decided to allow committee members to choose a chairperson and vice-chairperson during the first committee meetings. Board members debated whether to simply designate the leadership roles, though Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury's suggestion of allowing the various committees to do so in an effort to get them more involved in the process won out.

The committees are likely to be named by early February.

The main group that will oversee the entire public outreach process will be the Airport Vision Committee. Under that will be a committee focused on the airport experience for customers, while another committee will deal with technical aspects of the project and another will focus on "community character."


MRA rescues a skier and snowboarder from Willow Creek Basin near Snowmass Ski Area

A skier and snowboarder had to be rescued from West Willow Creek basin near Snowmass Ski Area after getting lost off the backside of Snowmass Ski Area on Monday. The two men separated after getting lost to try to find their way back in-bounds but were forced to call 911 around 5 p.m. Because the two separated, Mountain Rescue Aspen had to create two search areas and find each man individually.

A 20-year-old from Asheville, North Carolina, and a 22-year-old from Utica, New York, were able to relay their latitude and longitude via text to emergency responders. MRA arrived in Snowmass soon after the call, split into three teams and went into the field with the assistance of Snowmass Ski Patrol around 6:30 p.m.

The 20-year-old was able to reach the edge of the ski area, where he was located by ski patrollers and taken to safety, though the second man was still missing. Then, at around 8:30 p.m., the 22-year-old was found by a search party nearly a mile from the ski boundary. He was then transported to Elk Camp on a snowmobile with the use of headlamps. It was about 10 degrees outside when he was found and all parties were off the mountain by 10 p.m.

The men had taken the Cirque Poma lift up, hiked over to the Hanging Valley Wall and dropped into the backcountry. The Pitkin County Sheriff's Office and MRA reiterated skiers and snowboarders should be responsible when skiing outside of the ski boundary as avalanche conditions are still "moderate" and snow evaluation is recommended before venturing out of bounds.