Former Grand Junction Mayor Bill Pitts (Photo Credit: KREX TV)
By any measure, former Grand Junction Mayor Bill Pitts is a stalwart of the community. A licensed private pilot and resident of Grand Junction for over 50 years, Pitts turned down several lucrative promotions offered to him by his former employer, a big security firm that sold safes, in order to move to and stay in Grand Junction. His company offered him a position supervising sales over the entire west coast, and he turned it down. Later he turned down another big opportunity to manage sales over the entire U.S. midwest region from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. “This is the best place in the world to live,” Pitts says. “I’ve been in every state and over 21 countries, and there isn’t any place better than Grand Junction.” Married for over 50 years and a true booster of the community, by his own calculation Mayor Pitts put in 3.2 days per week into doing City business for the paltry sum of $700 a month, and he did every last duty his mayoral position called on him to do, no matter how small. “Anytime someone asked me to do something extra, give a graduation speech or whatever, I did it, no matter what,” Pitts says. Pitts is also a creative guy, having invented six different useful items that are currently on the international market. One is commonly used locally here in western Colorado: those plastic covers with magnetic edges that you slap over swamp cooler vents inside the house in winter to keep out the drafts. Pitts is also an accomplished businessman who began several local businesses from the ground up and sold them off. One is Security Alarm Company, which he sold to former City Councilor Bruce Hill. Pitts also started the campground and RV park at 22 and H Roads. As a realtor and developer, he started the Fountainhead subdivision at G Road at 25 Road. Pitts was also an active dues-paying member of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce for over 44 years. He helped start Dinosaur Days, was active in Chamber Rangers and other Chamber programs. Mr. Pitts is also a lifelong Republican, and in addition to regularly paying membership dues to the Chamber, he also was a regular donor to the Mesa County GOP.
Bill Pitts is the quintessential, dyed-in-the-wool, patriotic, community-loving Republican Grand Junction resident. But at the May 1, 2013 City Council meeting he announced that after 44 years, he was withdrawing his membership in the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. He also has stopped giving money to the Mesa County GOP.
The Rick Brainard debacle — the ongoing saga of the newly-elected Grand Junction city councilman who pled guilty to criminal assault minutes before being sworn in as a City Councilman May 6 — has led to greater scrutiny of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, the group responsible for foisting Brainard onto the local political scene.
In the decades before Brainard, to the people who even noticed it at all, the Grand Junction Chamber was generally regarded as a well-meaning force in town. Becoming a member of the Chamber was a rite of passage and a feel-good move for businesses, and a way to show support for the community. The Chamber, a long-standing organization incorporated in Grand Junction way back in 1915, typically engaged in helpful and uncontroversial activities like recruiting volunteers to help tutor elementary school kids in reading and promoting its “Blue Band Buy Local” program aimed at keeping local dollars in the area. The Chamber weighed in on policy matters like taxes and fees, but it’s influence wasn’t out-sized. Its political activity stayed in check in part because its 501-c-6 IRS designation limits the amount of lobbying it can engage in. Because it was a relatively helpful, low-key organization, it had few enemies.
All that changed in 2012, when the Chamber stopped being satisfied to simply weigh in on policy issues like every other nonprofit group in town. Suddenly the Chamber started acting like the sober person in the car who needed to seize the wheel from a drunk. The Chamber decided it needed to force its will upon citizens by actually becoming City Council. In 2012, the Grand Junction Chamber turned ruthlessly competitive, devised a winner-take-all strategy, then stacked the deck to make sure it got what it wanted: total control of City politics.
A new YouTube video features big-name stars and historical figures soliciting public support for Private Bradley Manning, the military whistleblower who turned over a classified U.S. military video made public by WikiLeaks called “Collateral Murder” that shows an airstrike in Baghdad in which the U.S. targeted two Reuters war correspondents after mistaking their cameras for weapons. U.S. forces killed one of the journalists and injured the other in the strike. After a van appeared and unarmed people emerged and tried to carry the wounded correspondent to the van, the U.S. helicopter crew repeatedly begged for permission to open fire on the van and its occupants. Permission was granted, and U.S. forces killed the surviving correspondent and wounded two children who were sitting in the van’s front seat. Manning also turned over footage showing similar war crimes in Afghanistan. For exposing the truth about U.S. military actions in Baghdad and Afghanistan, Manning was imprisoned in solitary confinement for three years and charged with “aiding the enemy,” a capital crime. Manning’s trial is currently ongoing, and the prosecution is seeking a life sentence for Manning. The video is a project of the Bradley Manning Support Network.
Embattled Grand Junction Area Chamber President Diane Schwenke (Photo Credit: YouTube)
The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce is up to its ears in alligators, and its best proactive strategy is to hope all its self-caused problems will just go away.
Just four days after the April 6 city election, Rick Brainard, one of the Chamber-backed candidates for City Council who won, was arrested for hitting his live-in girlfriend in the face hard enough to give her a black eye. In his official arrest affidavit, Brainard told police he hit her because she “needed to shut her mouth,” a comment that inflamed local citizens and galvanized public opinion against Brainard. The Daily Sentinel withdrew its endorsement of Mr. Brainard and published an op-ed recommending he vacate his Council seat. Community Hospital pushed Mr. Brainard off its board and West Star Aviation fired him from his executive job as Vice President of Business Development. Thousands of people signed an online petition titled “Woman Beating Councilmember Must Go” and citizens angrily picketed the Chamber of Commerce over its tenacious support of Mr. Brainard. When the Sentinel asked the Chamber if, despite his arrest, the organization still supported Mr. Brainard’s presence on Council, Chamber President Diane Schwenke refused to answer reporters’ calls. Instead, in true Sarah Palin style, she issued a response through the Chamber’s Facebook page:
“Mr. Brainard is entitled to due process. It sends an equally wrong message to our children to condemn without benefit of going through a process where we assume innocence until found guilty by the courts. Once that process has happened we will again review our position on Mr. Brainard.”
On May 17 Brainard pled guilty to the assault in Mesa County Court. So does the Chamber still think it is appropriate for Brainard to remain on Council?
Mare Charlesworth addresses City Council about Rick Brainard May 22.
At the Wednesday, May 22 Grand Junction City Council meeting, citizens took advantage of the public comment period to speak out about their feelings about Rick Brainard sitting on Council. Brainard pled guilty in Mesa County Court May 17 to a charge of third degree assault for hitting his live-in girlfriend in the face hard enough to cause a black eye and facial bruising. The assault took place just days after he was elected to the Grand Junction City Council. The Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce backed Brainard as a candidate, and has continued to support him despite the assault, angering citizens. John Williams, an artist and author who lives in the 7th Street historic district and writes about Grand Junction, spoke to Council and said his family has lived in Grand Junction for 50 years, and he knows a lot of people in town. Williams said many citizens are upset about Rick Brainard’s presence on Council and have called for him to step down. “You’ve heard a lot of people in town,” Williams said. Citing Mr. Brainard’s guilty plea in court, he spoke directly to Mr. Brainard told him he “should be a man and step down” from Council.
Grand Junction, Colorado City Councilman Rick Brainard pled guilty in Mesa County Court today to misdemeanor third degree assault for pushing and striking his former live-in girlfriend, Cindy Franzen, in the face April 6. Mr. Brainard’s attorney, Stephen Laiche, tried to enter a no contest plea on the charge, but Judge Craig Henderson said he would only accept a charge of “guilty” or “not guilty.” After conferring briefly in the hallway with Mr. Laiche, Mr. Brainard agreed to plead guilty. Mr. Laiche, trying to get as much leniency from the judge as possible for Mr. Brainard, indicated that Mr. Brainard did in fact lose his job at West Star Aviation as a result of this assault incident and the surrounding publicity. Mr. Laiche called Mr. Brainard as “a 51 year old man without a job.” During the court session, the Assistant District Attorney handed the judge an 8 1/2 x 11,” close-up color photo of Ms. Franzen’s face taken shortly after the attack, showing her blackened left eye and bruised face. The judge held the photo up several times for the court to see during the hearing.
Two views of citizens turning their backs on Brainard at his swearing in ceremony May 6, 2013. Ruth Ehlers is seen in the hot pink jacket in the top photo. (Photo Credit: Demand Rick Brainard Resign Grand Junction Facebook page)
Rick Brainard was elevated to Grand Junction City Council this week amid an unprecedented citizen protest at his swearing in ceremony. As City Clerk Stephanie Tuin read Mr. Brainard his oath of office, 60 percent of the audience stood and turned their backs on him in silent protest — a remarkable showing for a municipal ceremony on a weekday morning in this small, conservative town. Brainard claimed to the media that he was unaware of the protest, but was sweating after the ceremony. In response to a question about the protest from a KKCO Channel 11 news reporter, Brainard responded “You know, it is what it is …My supporters have been steadfast, and I’m grateful for that.” An unidentified Brainard supporter was overheard saying, “All they did was turn their backs. They have a right to do that. I thought they were very civil. Not nearly as obnoxious as I thought they were going to be.”
Grand Junction citizens protest outside the Chamber of Commerce. The blue sign says “GJ Chamber endorses violence.”
Rick Brainard’s election to the Grand Junction City Council and subsequent arrest for assault and harassment have appalled and galvanized City residents, but it’s also raised awareness of a sea change happening in Grand Junction politics right now that would otherwise have gone little-noticed. City Councilman Tom Kenyon alluded to it when he told the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel the day after the election that “This election was very different” from others. “It was very organized,” Kenyon said, “It felt like they were out to get you. They raised a lot of money.”
Kenyon was right. This election was very different from previous local elections. That’s because, thanks to the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, a new group has appeared in town that has vowed to take a “proactive role” in setting local public policy. Translation? That group has vowed to take control of the City of Grand Junction. That group is the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce’s newly-created 501(c)4 political arm, the Western Colorado Business Alliance (WCBA), which exerted its muscle in the last election to seize control of Grand Junction’s City Council.
Grand Junction City Councilman-Elect Rick Brainard (Photo Credit: GJ Police Department)
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel has published audio of telephone calls made by outraged citizens to City Hall about councilman-elect Rick Brainard’s intent to assume office on May 6. Mr. Brainard was arrested April 6 for assaulting his girlfriend — just four days after he was elected to the Grand Junction City Council. In his police affidavit, Mr. Brainard admitting grabbing and pushing his girlfriend, pulling her hair and hitting her “on the left side of her neck/cheek area,” hard enough to cause a black eye. Mr. Brainard’s arrest affidavit (pdf) states, “Rick stated that he slapped Cindy because she ‘needed to shut her mouth.’ ” Citizens have been calling City Hall to express outrage at Mr. Brainard’s intent to take his seat, and asking the City to do something stop him. One caller was angry at Mr. Brainard’s request to Mesa County Court Judge Craig Henderson avoid all of his court appearances. Another caller complained he cannot get a job because he has the same charge on his record, and yet Mr. Brainard will be allowed to serve on City Council. Following are some excerpts from the calls:
“My husband and I voted for this lowlife that is in jail right now. I wish you would ask for his resignation…”
“…Just letting you know that if you keep Mr. Brainard on board, all you are doing is letting the people of Grand Junction know that it’s ok to be a wife beater…”
“The fact that I can’t get a job with the same record, …I’m just curious how it is a man can stay on…I can’t get a job as a CNA or get a CNA license or anything with the same record…”
“If you people keep Rick Brainard on City Council you have everything coming to you that happens. This is only the beginning. I know this guy.”
“I’m calling to express my outrage at Rick Brainard being able to keep his seat after being arrested for domestic violence…”
“I’d just like to register my utter outrage that RB is going to be allowed to still sit on City Council after admitting to the police that he struck a woman for something she said, and I cannot believe the message this sends to the female members of our community…”
“This is not the type of individual I want as part of my City Council. I find it embarrassing…”
Citizens are planning to protest Mr. Brainard at his swearing in on Monday, May 6. Mr. Brainard’s first court date coincidentally is that same morning, just two hours before he is scheduled to be sworn onto City Council.
Grand Junction citizens march and protest outside the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce
The fortunes of the Grand Junction Colorado Area Chamber of Commerce are sinking this week alongside those of embattled councilman-elect Rick Brainard, an executive at West Star Aviation in Grand Junction, who faces criminal charges for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend during a domestic altercation April 6. Grand Junction Police arrested and charged Mr. Brainard just four days after he won election to the Grand Junction City Council. Appalled citizens have been marching, chanting, holding rallies and organizing phone banks to protest Mr. Brainard assuming his seat on Council. This week outraged citizens picketed the G.J. Chamber, which continues to stand steadfastly behind Mr. Brainard. Just days ago, Mr. Brainard resigned from the Chamber’s board, but the Chamber still backs him. Adding to the Chamber’s woes, this week, the City of Grand Junction voted to yank its $6,000 membership in the Chamber, saying the Chamber has changed from an economic development organization into an overtly political group. As if losing the City’s lucrative membership and being targeted with loud protests by Grand Junction citizens wasn’t enough, this week thieves targeted the Chamber stealing a number of copper backflow devices said to be valued at thousands of dollars. To top it all off, an alternative Chamber of Commerce announced its debut this week in town: the Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce, with dues that are a fraction of the GJ Chamber’s dues, making the Latino Chamber far more accessible to smaller businesses.
Grand Junction City Councilman Sam Susuras, who may be subject to recall along with Rick Brainard, who was arrested for assault four days after being elected to Council.
As the first civil union in Mesa County was taking place across town in Grand Junction, Colorado, verbal fireworks flew at the last meeting of the sitting Grand Junction City Council. In a surprise move, Council voted 4-2 to drop the City’s membership in the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, which has continued to support embattled councilman-elect Rick Brainard. Brainard was arrested on charges of third degree assault and harassment after allegedly pushing and hitting his live-in girlfriend in the face just four days after he was elected to office April 2. The arrest has outraged the community and galvanized a grassroots effort to keep Brainard from taking his seat on Council. In a recent TV interview in his own defense, Mr. Brainard called citizens who oppose him “an uninformed lynch mob,” and insisted he will take his seat despite the charges. His statements further inflamed citizens, who have vowed to recall him as soon as the law permits it. The City has said a recall effort will cost taxpayers $45,000. Citizens against Brainard have conducted rallies and marched outside the Chamber of Commerce building and City Hall wearing black and white “No Brainard” T-shirts and “wife beater” undershirts that say “Domestic Violence is a No-Brainard.” Several businesses vowed to quit the Chamber if Mr. Brainard is sworn in and the Chamber continues to back him. The City of Grand Junction for many years was a “Chairman’s Circle” level member of the Chamber — the most expensive membership the Chamber offers, at a cost to taxpayers of $6,000 per year. Councilman Jim Doody noted that the Chamber has also created a 501-c-4 (lobbying) group specifically for the purpose of influencing local elections, but did not disclose how much it spent influencing the last election.
The saga of embattled city councilman-elect Rick Brainard continues to unfold in Grand Junction, Colorado as citizens continue to pressure Brainard to resign his seat on City Council. Brainard, 51, won election to the Grand Junction City Council on April 2, but on April 6 was arrested on charges of third degree assault and harassment after admitting to hitting his live-in girlfriend in the face in a domestic dispute. Brainard said in a police affidavit that he struck his girlfriend because she “needed to shut her mouth.” His remarks have drawn the ire of the community. Most of the sitting city council members signed a resolution calling on Mr. Brainard to resign his seat. The local paper, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, endorsed Brainard prior to his election, but rescinded its endorsement and published an editorial calling on him to reject his seat on Council. The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce also endorsed Brainard for office, but has so far refused to pull their support for him, saying he is “entitled to due process.” Brainard served on the Chamber’s board. Mr. Brainard so far has vowed to take his seat on Council despite the furor. He is scheduled to be sworn into office on May 6, coincidentally the same day that he is supposed to make his first court appearance in his assault case.
Embattled Grand Junction, Colorado City-Councilor-Elect Rick Brainard
On Tuesday, April 3, Rick Brainard, Vice President of Business Development at West Star Aviation in Grand Junction, Colorado was celebrating his election to City Council. On Saturday, April 6, he was arrested, put in a yellow jumpsuit and thrown in jail on charges of third degree assault after he admitted to police that he pushed, shoved, and struck his live-in girlfriend in the face. In his police affidavit, Brainard first denied the altercation, then said he had to strike his girlfriend because she “needed to shut her mouth.” That admission has inflamed citizens and last week a hundred people rallied at City Hall demanding Mr. Brainard not take office. Sitting Grand Junction City Council members have sent Mr. Brainard a letter to asking him not to assume office amid his legal flap, saying the case is embarrassing the City. The City is legally powerless to keep Brainard from taking his seat on Council, and despite the public pressure, Brainard has vowed to assume his seat on Council. If he does, citizens have vowed to start a recall effort. The City Clerk estimates a recall would cost the City about $45,000. In the meantime, the matter has gotten coverage across the U.S., including in Denver, San Francisco and Seattle, and an online petition demanding Mr. Brainard’s resignation, titled “Woman-Beating Councilmember Must Go,” has gone viral. As of 3:00 p.m. Sunday, April 21 the petition had 13,731 signatures and the number is growing at the rate of several thousand more a day. Even worse for Mr. Brainard, his mugshot now appears on MugShots.com.
Camden County, New Jersey gun buyback program brought in 1,137 firearms. Photo credit Tim Hawk, South Jersey Times
Laws to regulate guns just don’t work. At least that’s what many prominent Republicans say. In the mean time, the U.S. is awash in guns, judging from the piles of them turned in at buyback programs across the country. While it is unclear whether these programs actually reduce gun deaths, they do prove one thing: Americans have more guns than they know what to do with. Add to this emerging technology that, when gun nuts perfect it, will allow people to manufacture guns using 3-D printers, and we may be so deep in trouble we’ll never dig out. This distribution method will make it completely impossible for government to regulate who gets a gun and who doesn’t. Gun owners and pro-gun legislators repeatedly tout the portion of the Second Amendment that talks about their right to bear arms, but universally ignore the part indicating gun owners are expected to be part of a “well-regulated militia.” All these factors point to one conclusion: the time may have already passed when we could realistically regulate guns to any desired effect.
Mugshot of Grand Junction City Councilman-elect Rick Brainard
Richard Brainard, one of the newest members of Grand Junction, Colorado, City Council, was arrested early on the morning of April 6 on charges of third-degree assault and harassment after he allegedly got into a physical altercation with his live-in girlfriend. Brainard was just elected to City Council last Tuesday, April 2. Brainard’s girlfriend, Cindy Franzen, told police she dated Brainard for eight months and moved in with him last November. She said a physical altercation occurred in the bedroom, over text messages Brainard received on his phone from his former girlfriend. Franzen says Brainard pushed her into a dresser several times and pulled her hair, and grabbed her face and arms. She said Brainard later hit her in the face with what she believes was an open hand. It is unclear what the alleged incident means for his membership on Grand Junction City Council. He is Vice President of business development for West Star Aviation, Inc., in Grand Junction, and belongs to the G.J. Chamber of Commerce Board. He was also endorsed by the Grand Junction newspaper, the Daily Sentinel.
Chart showing the growth of militant “patriot” anti-government groups in the U.S.
Forget Muslims. In 2013, America’s biggest terrorist threat is from “Patriot” groups, those radical militias and anti-government groups whose members think the federal government is conspiring to take away their guns, destroy their liberties and pave the way for a global “one-world government.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the only group that tracks the growth and activities of American domestic hate groups and extremists, the re-election of President Obama coupled with the president’s pursuit of gun control legislation has led to explosive growth in the number of anti-government conspiracy groups, which in turn has dramatically increased threat of domestic terrorism. The number of right wing anti-government groups in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2012, the fourth year of explosive growth in this increasingly militant sector of the U.S population. In 2012, the SPLC counted 1,360 so-called “Patriot” groups — an increase of 813 percent since just 2008. On March 5, 2013 the SPLC sent a letter to Department of Justice Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano warning of the threat. The SPLC wrote a similar letter in 1994 to then-Attorney General Janet Reno warning of a growing threat of domestic extremism. Just six months later, Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City federal building in the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in the nation’s history at that time. SPLC reports that over the last few years, law enforcement officials have discovered and thwarted numerous terrorist plots being formed within the militia subculture, including plans to spread poisonous ricin powder, attack federal installations and murder federal judges and other government officials. The same day it sent its letter to the DOJ and Department of Homeland Security, the SPLC issued its 2012 report on the anti-government movement. The SPLC’s website also has an interactive, state-by-state map of hate groups currently existing throughout the U.S., with their names, locations and the objects of their hatred.
Magpul Industries of Erie, Colorado, which makes and sells high-capacity ammunition magazines, has declared war on Colorado over a gun safety bill currently moving through the state’s legislature. HB 1224, currently in Colorado’s House of Representatives, would limit high-capacity magazines to 15 rounds, and add a more restrictive 8-round limit for shotguns. Magpul makes 30-round magazines. Magpul threatened to move its business out of state if the bill passes. The House then voted to amend HB 1224 to allow Magpul to keep making its high-capacity magazines and selling them in other states, but that wasn’t enough for the company. Magpul launched an Internet-based campaign to flood the state with high-capacity, military-grade magazines and weaponry in advance of a vote on the bill. Magpul posted a cold-war style ad on its Facebook page announcing that the company will sell up to ten 30-round AR or M4 ammunition magazines per customer directly to Colorado residents, and will expedite shipping for a discounted price of just $5.00. The ad shows a little girl with pigtails, smiling and reaching up to catch 30-round gun magazines as they are dropped, airlift-style, from an airplane. The copy reads, “In the battle for Colorado Freedoms, support for second amendment rights is being delivered by Magpul Industries Corporation. Fielded in the millions by US and its allies since 2007, the PMAG is the magazine of choice for those defending freedom and democracy around the world…Now, with the ability of Coloradans to purchase new standard capacity magazines in jeopardy, Magpul Industries is working to supply as many as possible to the good people of Colorado. Similar to the Berlin Airlift, the Boulder Airlift will bring much-needed gun supplies to freedom-loving residents trapped inside occupied territory.” In addition to high-capacity magazines, Magpul also makes rifle grips, buttstocks, rifle sights, gun mounts and other gun-related parts and accessories. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has said he will sign the bill if it makes it to his desk. Colorado has a history of gun massacres, including the Aurora Theater massacre in 2012, the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, and the Chuck E. Cheese massacre in 1993, also in Aurora, Colorado, in which a gunman killed four restaurant employees.
The NFL showcases brutality and player collisions in its promotions, while minimizing the human toll it takes on NFL players’ health and safety
As of January 23, 2013, the National Football League (NFL) is facing 199 lawsuits filed by a total of more than 4,000 retired professional football players who suffered head injuries while playing for the NFL. In June, 2012, the lawsuits of about three thousand of those injured players were consolidated into a single Master Complaint (pdf) which charges that the NFL was negligent and committed fraud because it was “aware of the evidence and risks associated with repetitive traumatic brain injuries…but deliberately ignored and actively concealed the information” from players and others involved in NFL football. The lawsuit says that to promote the game, the NFL glorifies the brutality and ferocity of NFL football by “lauding and mythologizing the most brutal and ferocious of players and collisions,” while simultaneously fraudulently representing that getting hit and putting big hits on others is a badge of courage, and does not seriously threaten one’s health. The suit charges that to heighten this belief and further promote football, NFL Films, a PR instrument of the NFL, creates and markets videos that focus solely on the hardest hits that occur on the fields.