An ordinance designed to help Colorado Springs police crack down on illicit massage parlors, a decrease in utility rates and the disbanding of the city’s Human Relations Commission were prominent among several items discussed at the Wednesday’s city council meeting.
The board originally drafted an order to repeal legislation that created the Human Relations Commission in 2010, effectively disbanding the group. But Councilor Wayne Williams has tabled an amendment to the new ordinance, suggesting a review and ‘reimagining’ of the commission over the next six months.
The commission was meant to be a liaison between city leaders and community members, engaging with officials and encouraging inclusive policies. But Speaker Delia Armstrong-Busby said that in a growing city, the commission must operate under a larger entity, such as the mayor’s office.
“The city council is not set up to manage the (needs of) the commission,” Armstrong-Busby said. “I really feel like we need to go to the mayor’s office where there will be more staff to help us operate.”
Commission member Rachel Stovall agreed that the commission could work more efficiently, but opposed disbanding.
“We need a human relations commission in whatever form we can create,” Stovall said. “Our citizens need to be heard, to be educated and to have better relations with our municipal government. Surely we can find a better solution than dissolution.
Yolanda Avila, who served as a liaison for the commission, said she hoped it was not disbanded because of public pressure over a proposal that would install gender-neutral toilets in public places.
“I was very disturbed that (the disbandment) came to the fore after a recommendation for gender-neutral bathrooms and how that was perceived,” Avila said.
Williams asked the city attorney’s office for help in drafting an amendment to the ordinance. The amendment read, in part, “The City Council, in conjunction with the City Administration, intends to study and reassess the need for a board or commission to advise on matters related to community development and human relations over the next six months.”
“I don’t think (the commission) is working as intended right now,” Williams said. “That doesn’t mean there aren’t significant issues, and that doesn’t mean we don’t care about those issues. But we have to find a better way.
After approving Williams’ amendment, the council voted, at least temporarily, to disband the commission.
Acknowledging that everyone in the board room needed some good news, board chairman Tom Strand called for a presentation from Colorado Springs Utilities.
Tristan Gearhart, director of planning and finance for CSU, announced lower gas costs for homes and businesses. In order to “represent the current state of natural gas system revenue requirements,” CSU will reduce its natural gas rate from 69 cents per hundred cubic feet to 45 cents. A typical residence should see a drop of about $14.50 on their monthly gas bill starting May 1. Lower rates will mean thousands of dollars in savings for area businesses, Strand said.
Councilor Nancy Henjum warned that the market has been volatile in recent months and the savings could be temporary.
“The prices we’re looking at right now are really high,” Henjum said. “We’re hoping we don’t have to come back in a quarter or two and raise gas prices, but it’s a possibility.”
“It’s going to be a suspenseful vote, I’m sure,” Strand joked before the resolution passed unanimously.
The council also voted unanimously to pass legislation that law enforcement officials say will make it easier to track illicit sexual activity at massage parlors across the city.
The order will require massage businesses to provide an owner’s name and address through the state’s business registration process, making it easier for police to track down the person responsible for illegal activity. said Scott Whittington, commander of the Colorado Springs Police Department’s Metro Vice, Narcotics. and intelligence division. The proposed licensing requirements would also require contact details for all owners, criminal background checks and licensing records of message therapists to be kept on site.
Whittington said the new requirements would provide essential assistance to police investigators, who typically put in more than 350 hours of work on felony cases. Police officials estimate that 25 to 30 massage parlors in the city offer illicit sexual services.
Aurora has enacted similar legislation, with positive results, officials said.
Councilman Dave Donelson said the CSPD, city attorney’s office, city clerk and council tried to make the licensing process as painless as possible for massage therapists, but acknowledged that there might be some growing pains in the first few months.
“(We) got feedback and tried to tweak it as much as possible…to make it massage therapist friendly, so to speak,” Donelson said.
The new ordinance will take effect July 1 and practitioners must have their license by September 1, officials said.