Colorado war memorial panel has met once since 2007
DENVER, Colorado ” A volunteer panel charged with creating a memorial for Colorado soldiers killed in the war on terror has met just once since it was founded nearly two years ago ” and its chairman apparently is missing.
Lawmakers want the chairman, former state Rep. Rafael Gallegos, to resign from the panel. But they can’t find him. Gallegos, a Democrat from the southern Colorado town of Antonito, has refused to answer calls or messages. He lost a primary in August and has retired from public service.
Legislators crafted a bill creating the War on Terror Fallen Heroes Memorial Commission in 2007. Gov. Bill Ritter signed it into law on Memorial Day weekend that year before dozens of war veterans and families of the fallen. The panel was to raise funds and select a design for a memorial in a park near the state Capitol.
So far, 70 Coloradans have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and qualify to be listed on the memorial, according to an Associated Press database.
“There were many parents of the fallen in attendance,” Sen. Mike Kopp, R-Aurora, told Gallegos in a Feb. 23 letter obtained by the AP. “Losing their loved one was excruciating. However, there was some comfort in knowing that their hero’s ultimate sacrifice would be honored. They have a right to question why this government, as represented by the commission you chair, has not kept its promise.”
Kopp said Gallegos has refused to return calls. Gallegos did not return phone messages from the AP.
Dan Dietz, father of a Danny Dietz, a Navy commando from Littleton who was killed in Afghanistan, was appointed to the commission by then-Senate Minority Leader Andy McElhany. Dietz said the panel only met once. He said its only accomplishment was to appoint Gallegos chairman and adjourn with plans to meet later.
“I haven’t heard anything from anyone. We were all supposed to get back together, but no one called,” Dietz said.
Vice-chair Stella Garza-Hicks of Colorado Springs, a former state representative, did not return calls seeking comment. The governor’s Office of Boards and Commissions refused to release contact information for board members Larry Drake of Denver and Gary Neiswonger of Thornton, saying that information is confidential.
In a letter to House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, Kopp demanded that Gallegos resign. But Carroll said he, too, has been unable to find Gallegos. He said lawmakers may have to pass a bill to fire him because there are no provisions for removing members, who serve four-year terms.
“I don’t think I have the power to remove him,” Carroll said.
Ritter, McElhany, then-Senate President Joan Fitz-Gerald, then-House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and House Minority Leader Mike May each picked one commissioner. Romanoff chose Gallegos, who has three years left in his term.