Arguing with a man who buys ink by the barrel, Colorado Springs Utilities has paid more than $63,000 in the past year for a public relations consultant whose assignment is to get Pueblo to be nicer to its northern neighbor.
For years, the cities have been at odds over Colorado Springs’ plan to build a 43-mile pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir. Pueblo Chieftain publisher Bob Rawlings, the man with the ink barrels, has opposed the project with frequent editorials and the paper devotes numerous stories in its news columns as well. “The reality is, there’s a newspaper down there that spends a lot of ink covering our issues and a lot of it isn’t correct,” utilities spokesman Steve Berry said. “We felt that it was necessary to seek consultation and assistance from someone objectively familiar and experienced with Pueblo,” he said. Colorado Springs hired Carole Lange & Associates LLC in March 2005 for a contract not to exceed $90,000 annually. Lange was paid $46,715 last year and $16,493 this year after the deal was renewed. Asked if Lange’s work has made a difference, Berry said, “It’s a work in progress. It’s hard to tell. In some cases it has, in others it hasn’t as much as we’d like.” Seven months after Lange was hired, the Pueblo County district attorney and Sierra Club filed suit in federal court over accidental sewage discharges from Colorado Springs into Fountain Creek, which flows into the Arkansas River in Pueblo. The Chieftain has heaped praise on District Attorney Bill Thiebaut for his efforts. Rawlings remains intractable. He said the public relations strategy won’t work because Pueblo residents think of the consultant as simply a hired gun. Rawlings called Lange “a very capable woman” but misguided. “I find it terribly dissappointing that someone who lives in Pueblo would be agreeable to carrying that Colorado Springs message when it’s so detrimental to her home city,” he said. “I don’t think she’s going to have a whole lot of effect down here, because we know she’s just doing this on account of the money.” Lange, who is active in the Pueblo community and has long experience in the utilities industry, said she is simply helping people to make an objective decision. “I believe as a resident here, and I care very much what happens to this community, that a regional approach serves both communities best,” she said. She said she would never accept money to advocate for a position she felt was not in Pueblo’s best interest. “I don’t make enough money to take the grief,” she said. “It’s important for me to see this community flourish. I don’t see any upside in the kinds of approaches that have been taken.” Lange has advised the city on mass communication efforts, including a direct-mail postcard sent to Pueblo residents last fall, part of a $250,000 public education program, largely radio and television, that targeted Pueblo with a lesser push locally. “She’s got credibility,” Berry said of Lange. “Because we weren’t part of the community, we didn’t have that same level of credibility.” The Chieftain’s editorials have said the pipeline project will dry up the Arkansas River. They’ve accused Springs Utilities of polluting Fountain Creek with discharges from a sewage system that’s falling apart. “We’re dealing with a newspaper that since 2002 has printed 400 news articles, editorials and columns on the (pipeline) project, utilities and our community,” Berry said. The utility once paid for an ad in the Chieftain after it was unable to get a letter to the editor published that countered an editorial utility officials thought was inaccurate. In an Oct. 18, 2004, hand-written note to Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera, Rawlings said a city letter was overlooked but if Colorado Springs wants its side of the story published in Pueblo, it should buy an ad. “In that way — and that way only — will you reach all the people who read our critical editorials,” he wrote. In 2002, Rawlings launched a letter-writing campaign to the Pueblo district judge who appointed members of the Southeast Colorado Water Conservancy District, which governs the Pueblo Reservoir and controls many water decisions on the Arkansas River. The campaign was successful in replacing some longtime board members with news ones backed by Rawlings. In an interview with The Gazette in early 2003, Rawlings said he was proud of his actions and that more would be in the offing. “Colorado Springs has done a great job for Colorado Springs, but in doing so they’ve done a despicable job for the valley,” Rawlings said then. “With every ounce of water that’s taken out of the valley, our economy suffers." CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0238 or firstname.lastname@example.org