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Colorado Springs councilwoman's news profile helps Kansas City neighbors track her down

March 24, 2015 Updated: March 24, 2015 at 4:05 am
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A 2013 Colorado Springs City Council meeting features Helen Collins at center in this Gazette file photo. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

Residents in Kansas City, Mo., have been trying to reach Councilwoman Helen Collins about some property she owns in their neighborhood.

That got a lot easier recently when her name popped up in a Google search providing news reports about a recall election and troubles with the Colorado Springs Independent Ethics Commission.

Collins owns two apartment buildings, each with seven units, in the Independence Plaza Neighborhood, which is on the western side of the city and the state. The president of the neighborhood council there says the property is a menace, and he wants Collins to clean it up.

In recent years, Independence Plaza residents have tried to make changes in their neighborhood including chasing out drug dealers and sprucing up properties, said Tom Ribera, president of the Independence Plaza Neighborhood Council.

Collins bought the apartment buildings in November 2012. The brick buildings are directly across from a neighborhood park. Ribera's concerns are that there is no evidence of a property manager on site, tenants come and go and the buildings are falling into disrepair. He believes the lack of attention to the buildings has caused a safety concern.

"We've reached out to the owner (Collins) to see if she can get a grip on this," he said. "We can deem it a menace to community. That is one aspect we are considering."

In recent weeks, Ribera found Collins through an Internet search that brought up stories about her recall election and her troubles with the ethics commission. He said he sent a letter with his concerns about the property to Collins, the Kansas City assistant city attorney and The Gazette.

Kansas City records show that the city has investigated property violations on Collins' buildings including peeling, cracked, blistered paint; litter, trash, refuse, rubbish; rank weed and unattended growth and failure to register a rental dwelling. It is unclear if fines were levied. Kansas City municipal inspector Marja Bailey, who oversees complaints and inspections, could not be reached for comment.

Ribera said there also have been police calls to the property. Kansas City Police Department Community Interaction Officer Jason Cooley, assigned to the neighborhood, could not be reached for comment.

"We are at the point of several violations on the property," Ribera said. "If I don't hear from her, we will have to deal with it - if I have to go to court."

Collins on Monday said she didn't know about the complaints in Kansas City. She added that complaints are sent to the media before they are sent to her, and she declined further comment.

Meanwhile, the city's Independent Ethics Commission met behind closed doors Monday to discuss the claims against Collins. An attorney, Jane Feldman, representing the commission, said she could not comment on the closed-door meeting.

Collins faces an ethics complaint that alleges she participated in a real estate deal with tax-limitation author and felon Douglas Bruce, which helped him avoid payment of a nearly $7,600 court judgment he owes the city.

The complaint was brought against Collins by the Colorado Springs City Attorney's Office, and the ethics commission found that the complaint was within the panel's jurisdiction and wasn't frivolous, and therefore should be investigated.

Collins has not returned numerous calls from The Gazette seeking comment about the land deal with Bruce, the complaint or the commission's investigation. She did provide to The Gazette a copy of a March 16 letter she wrote to the ethics commission which she wrote that the complaint against her has no merit but instead was part of an effort to get her recalled. She also asked for more time to determine if she wanted to hire a lawyer to fight the complaint.

In December, three District 4 residents launched a recall effort against Collins, citing their concerns about her opposition to a November ballot measure to fund a regional stormwater initiative. A separate group that assisted in the recall, Colorado Springs Government Watch, has alleged that Collins is too closely tied to Bruce - the author of Taxpayer Bill of Rights who in December 2011 was convicted on state charges of tax evasion, filing a false return, failing to file a return and attempting to influence a public servant. Bruce served 103 days in jail and was released.

Voters in District 4 will decide a recall election April 7. If they vote to recall Collins, the City Council will appoint a District 4 council representative for residents in the southeast area of the city.

Back in Kansas City, Ribera said that his neighborhood council and the police community interaction program have been successful in working with other businesses and property owners to beef up security, erect no trespassing signs and keep the properties looking nice.

"We will help her in any way we can," he said. "We will do what we have to do. We are working hard to get the area cleaned up. We are remodeling homes, trying to get the area back on its feet."

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