Colorado Springs residents say they are concerned a City Council candidate may have plagiarized some of her responses to various candidate surveys published by local organizations in recent weeks.
Residents living in Colorado Springs District 3 and nonpartisan group Integrity Matters claim Picnic Basket Catering Collective co-owner Michelle Talarico, who is campaigning for the District 3 City Council seat, submitted responses to candidate surveys from civic groups Springs Taxpayers United and Pikes Peak Women using words from other sources that she did not appropriately attribute.
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"I've struggled with whether that is plagiarism or just bad writing, to copy somebody else's stuff and not put it in quotes and make it look like it's your answer. It bugs me," said Michael Chaussee, who has lived in District 3 for 39 years. The district encompasses portions of Colorado Springs' west side, including downtown, Old Colorado City and The Broadmoor neighborhood.
Chaussee, who said he is not a member of Integrity Matters, claimed Talarico submitted a survey response to Springs Taxpayers United on March 3 using the writing of Los Angeles-based blogger Michael Schneider, first vice chairman of the Mid City West Neighborhood Council in that city.
Talarico said Thursday she mistakenly used Schneider's words to answer a question about whether she "supported 'road-dieting' traffic lanes in favor of bike lanes and bus lanes in Colorado Springs."
In a June 27, 2021 blog post titled "Bike and bus lanes are good for people that drive," Schneider wrote, in part, "Today, there is a renaissance of planning for more livable cities. While many in cities may want to, and even need to drive, citizens also want breathable air, streets that are safe enough to cross, a city that’s quiet at night, transportation options, and vibrant, lively communities."
In her March 3 response to Springs Taxpayers, Talarico wrote, in part, "Today, there is planning for more livable cities. While many in cities may want to, and even need to drive, citizens also want breathable air, streets that are safe enough to cross, a city that’s quiet at night, transportation options, and vibrant, lively communities."
As she crafted her response, Talarico said she googled the term "road-dieting" because she wasn't familiar with it. She came across Schneider's writing on the topic and copied it to guide her own response to the survey, she said.
"My full intention was to go back to that space and rewrite an answer that was composed of my impressions of that road-dieting article," Talarico said. "I 100% messed up on the question. ... Anybody who knows me knows that I'm an honest person that, at the end of the day, does far more good for the community than not. It is frustrating for me that I would be painted in a negative light."
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Springs Taxpayers United allowed her to submit a revised response, Talarico said, which the group published to its website.
Chaussee said he didn't agree with that decision.
"When it comes to these forms, what we're really looking for is an independent answer, someone that thinks about the issue and comes up with the right solution. I don't like being able to change it if you've done something wrong," he said, adding that people who plagiarize can face consequences such as being fired from their jobs or expelled from school.
Residents also claim Talarico submitted a response published by Pikes Peak Women addressing her top five priorities for the city budget that borrowed unattributed wording from an Oct. 3 press release from the city announcing the highlights of the 2023 budget.
For example, in a list of bullet-pointed budget highlights, the city includes "$926,000 of increased funding for 15 new sworn police positions that will be added towards the end of 2023, as well as vehicles for positions added during 2022."
In her response to Pikes Peak Women, Talarico wrote, in part, "The truth is that I believe all the priorities identified in the city strategic plan and budget are priorities, but I have (six)." She then lists several bullet points, including "$926,000 of increased funding for 15 new sworn police positions that will be added towards the end of 2023, as well as vehicles for positions added during 2022."
Talarico said she used the city's wording to answer the question from Pikes Peak Women because she considered it public information.
"I don't consider that plagiarism because it's information open to the entire public from the budget," she said, adding that her response was "verbatim what the city says our priorities should be. I agreed with them."
Chaussee believes Talarico also borrowed words from The Broadmoor when she answered an Integrity Matters candidate survey question last month about the city's 2016 trade of Strawberry Fields open space.
In a question asking candidates to explain why they did or did not support the land exchange, Talarico originally responded to Integrity Matters that she did support the land swap "because The Broadmoor has delivered on their promises of fire mitigation, working with (the Trails and Open Space Coalition). They have yet to develop the land that they can."
In a Feb. 27 email to Talarico, published on the Integrity Matters website, Chaussee claimed her wording "is the same wording The Broadmoor has used previously."
Talarico said Thursday she revised her answer to that question, to say she did not support the exchange, because she was misunderstood and "felt like I needed to explain myself a bit better."
Integrity Matters has published Talarico's original response, as well as emails that include her revised response, on its website.
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District 3 resident Ruth Obee said the situation could affect how she votes in the District 3 City Council race.
"I wouldn't call it plagiarism, but I'd call it very sloppy and not an accurate way of reporting something," said Obee, a writer and retired English teacher. "We're looking at all candidates to see how careful they are, how informed they are, how accurately they express their views. Something like this would, in fact, influence how I vote."
Residents also said they are concerned Talarico's use of another person's words without credit could affect how well she is able to lead.
"I want someone that can make decisions for themselves, rather than to use the internet and copy and paste and make a decision that they don't understand the background on or the initial facts for," Chaussee said.
Talarico said Thursday she can represent the district effectively. The most important part of the job, she said, is talking with and listening to residents.
"My No. 1 goal is to listen to the constituents and be the best I can be," she said. "Did I screw up? I obviously did, but I don't think I have any conflict in being able to represent the constituents of this area. I think because they know me so long, living and recreating in this area, owning a business in this area, being on so many boards in this area, I feel like they trust me to talk to me about different issues and problems."
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