Can you believe we’re halfway through March? 🗓️⏳ If it feels like time is moving too fast, take a beat with us here in your Friday edition of BRL Today.

Today’s top story from John Herrick breaks down former Boulder City Council candidate Steve Rosenblum’s legal challenge against community organizers, which is now at the state Court of Appeals. The details of the case are Boulder-centric, but its implications go beyond local politics. It’s one of a handful of similar cases now pending in the court. And the attorneys he spoke with say the outcome could have ramifications statewide for defamation litigation.

Also in today’s newsletter: Former FEMA director Michael Brown’s company drops its debris cleanup lawsuit against Boulder County, and the state switches to weekly Covid-19 updates, as cases tick slightly up. Plus Oscar-nominated short film screenings at the Dairy, a St. Paddy’s weekend punk show in Lafayette, and a whole lot more.

Wishing you a most excellent weekend. See you here bright and early on Monday!

– Jezy, managing editor

A frosty view of Green Mountain near the intersection of Kohler and Hollyberry on March 7, submitted by BRL reader Gary McClelland. Got a photo for our Lens on Boulder series? Email us.

Quickly

🌤 Here comes the sun: Highs near 50 today, with partly sunny conditions expected. Temps will tick up over the weekend, but rain chances return to the forecast on Sunday.

⚖️ Marshall Fire cleanup lawsuit dropped: Ex-FEMA director Michael Brown’s company, Demanding Integrity in Public Spending, filed a court brief stating that it “will no longer seek an order from this Court directing Defendants to rebid its contract in a Colorado law compliant bidding process.” According to Boulder County, the “change of position will likely allow the County to move forward with signing the private debris removal contract” as early as March 22. (See our story on the lawsuit below.)

🗳️ New municipal ballot system: City of Boulder residents seeking to collect signatures to place measures on the municipal ballot can now do so using both paper petitions and the city’s online petitioning system, Boulder Direct Democracy Online. The previous policy required choosing one or the other. The change comes after City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde proposed in February a rule change effectively making it easier to place measures on the ballot. City officials said they received no public comments on the rule change and allowed it to take effect on March 13.

🚰 Smelly water in Superior: The Town of Superior said this week that testing at its water treatment plant, which was damaged in the fire, “continues to indicate” that the town’s water meets federal and state drinking water standards. The town also continues to receive complaints about smoky taste and odor issues, which stem from ash being deposited on its raw water storage Terminal Reservoir. The town is taking a number of actions to fix those issues, it says, and notes that home water filtration may be able to remove the compounds causing bad smell and taste. Read the full update here

🔥 Insurance help for fire victims. To assist insured Marshall Fire victims as they navigate claims related to the disaster, the Colorado Division of Insurance (DOI) is asking insurance companies to help survivors on a number of issues related to the destruction. “These efforts won’t fix everything,” said Colorado Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway. “But I view them as a necessary step in helping people to recover faster.”

🌷 Spring in your step: Signs of new life are popping up along Boulder County trails, and you can see and hear them for yourself on a hike with volunteer naturalists. Celebrate the coming of spring and learn more about the sun at equinox on a leisurely, 1.5-mile trek this Saturday, March 19, 1–3 p.m. Location provided upon registration.

🤌 Chef’s kiss: Eric Skokan of Boulder’s Black Cat Farm Table Bistro is among the finalists for the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the mountain region (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming). All finalists in the category are from Colorado.

Top Story

What’s at stake in a former City Council candidate’s First Amendment lawsuit? The implications go beyond Boulder politics

Less than two months after launching his campaign for Boulder City Council last August, Steve Rosenblum, who works in finance, filed a lawsuit accusing a half-dozen high-profile community organizers of engaging in a conspiracy to spread defamatory statements.  

The organizers — many of whom were helping run campaigns for candidates opposing Rosenblum — had published links to an anonymous blog containing statements erroneously attributed to Rosenblum. 

Soon after the statements were taken down, Rosenblum alleged in Boulder District Court that the organizers conspired to spread false information about him to damage his reputation and stop his bid for a seat on the council.

“My plan was to file, [then] hopefully they shut up and I focus on the election,” Rosenblum told the Boulder Reporting Lab in an interview. “I needed to put a stop to it, even if it cost me the election.”

In the end, Rosenblum lost the election. But months later, his lawsuit is just starting to ramp up. 

In February 2022, a Boulder District Court judge ruled the case can move ahead to a trial. Last week, lawyers defending the organizers named in the suit appealed that ruling to the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The legal back-and-forth sets the stage for a court battle expected to carry on for a year or more. The outcome could have major implications for First Amendment protections under a 2019 Colorado law designed to discourage lawsuits known as SLAPP cases, according to lawyers interviewed for this story. 

Update: Former FEMA director, criticized for his response to Hurricane Katrina, sues Boulder County for its handling of Marshall Fire

Update on March 16, 2022 at 4.10 p.m.: Michael Brown’s company, Demanding Integrity in Public Spending, filed a court brief stating that it “will no longer seek an order from this Court directing Defendants to rebid its contract in a Colorado law compliant bidding process.” It will instead seek to conduct “brief depositions” of county commissioners and the committee involved in evaluating the debris removal companies. According to Boulder County, the “change of position will likely allow the County to move forward with signing the private debris removal contract” as early as March 22.

Boulder County officials will head to court on March 18 to defend their decision to hire a private contractor to clean up toxic ash and debris from properties destroyed by the Marshall Fire. 

The legal snag in the post-fire response comes after Michael Brown, the former FEMA director for George W. Bush, who resigned amid intense criticism over his handling of Hurricane Katrina, alleged in a complaint that the county violated open meeting laws when it decided to award a bid to DRC Emergency Services, LLC. DRC, based in Galveston, Texas, specializes in disaster recovery. 

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BRL Picks

🌼 Spring forward. Tomorrow marks the beginning of the Boulder County Parks & Open Space Spring Adventures program. Participants are invited to answer a series of clues for a chance to win prizes by getting outside and exploring one, two or three of Boulder County’s family-friendly parks. Clues and instructions are available on the Spring Adventures website.

🎞 Short film program. Catch up on this year’s Oscar-nominated documentary short films, with screenings all weekend at the Dairy Arts Center’s Boedecker Theater. Showings kick off at 3 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 4 p.m. on Sunday. (And be sure to mark your calendars for next week, when they’ll be screening shorts in the live-action category, leading up to the Academy Awards on Sunday, March 27.)

☘️ St. Paddy’s Punk Rock Sunday. Want to cap off St. Patrick’s Day weekend with some live music? Head to The End Lafayette on Sunday for a three-band punk rock lineup featuring locals Pilot the Machine at 6 p.m. and Caustic Soda at 7 p.m., with Seattle-based trio Tres Leches rounding out the bill at 8 p.m.

📸 Say cheese. Slots are available for free mini photo sessions on Sunday at Chautauqua Park with photography company Shoott. Book a 30-minute shoot with a professional photographer, free of charge, and you’ll receive a digital gallery of more than 40 photos — with no minimum order size or obligation to buy. More info (including other dates and locations) here.

COVID Updates: March 18, 2022

  • 72 daily new cases (7-day avg.) 🔺Up 68% over preceding 7-day avg.
  • 7 patients hospitalized with Covid (7-day avg.) Down from avg. of 40 since July 2020.
  • 54% percent of ICU is occupied. Down from avg. of 71% since July 2020.
  • State switches to weekly updates. In a change that began on Wednesday, Colorado is now updating its public-facing hospital data dashboard and associated metrics weekly instead of daily. “This reporting cadence provides CDPHE sufficient data to track important COVID-19 trends over time during this stage of the COVID-19 response.”

What We’re Reading

📖 ‘Power line trails.’ Hundreds of miles of new transmissions lines are set to be installed across the state in the coming years to help transition to renewable energy. “Piep van Heuven, a lobbyist with Bicycle Colorado, sees the build-out as a unique opportunity to add new ‘power line trails’ across the state.” [CPR News]

📖 Colorado ski area closures. Looking to hit the slopes before the season ends? Recent snowfall could extend skiing for some resorts, but here are current projected closure dates across the state. (Eldora’s is April 17.) [Denver Post]

ICYMI from BRL

🚌 ‘Where are the buses?’: Boulder neighborhood built for public transit could lose services. Depot Square Station was once the heart of Boulder Junction Transit Village, a fast-growing area designed for public transit. But after RTD cut services due to Covid-19, its future as a “transit-rich neighborhood” is unclear.

🇺🇦 ‘It could have been me’: A Ukrainian-American in Boulder County watches war unfold from over 5,000 miles away. Longmont resident Valeria Schweiger talks about processing grief, stress and fear as violence engulfs her native Ukraine.

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– The BRL Team

Jezy J. Gray

Jezy Gray was the former managing editor of Boulder Reporting Lab. In addition to years of writing on the culture, politics and history of my home state of Oklahoma, he was the final editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Voice, a local bi-weekly newspaper where I led a small but mighty team of journalists to regional and national honors in feature writing, diversity reporting, LGBTQ+ coverage and more.