🐪 Welcome to Wednesday and the first day of Black History Month! Let's dive right in.

  • Today's weather: Warmer, thankfully. Sunny with highs near 41°.

Today's newsletter is 918 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Denver's watchdog and the public

Denver's independent monitor Liz Perez Castle. Photo: Esteban L. Hernandez/Axios

Denver's new law enforcement watchdog says she wants to work closely with the people keeping her accountable.

What's happening: Liz Perez Castle was confirmed as Denver's independent monitor in January following a lengthy search to fill the role. Castle is a former public defender who most recently worked as a defense attorney in Denver.

  • The monitor is a civilian position overseeing public and internal complaints made against the city's law enforcement agencies.

Why it matters: Castle starts the job as police and community relations are thrust back into the national spotlight following the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols by Memphis officers.

Driving the news: Castle told Esteban in a recent interview she plans on combining feedback from law enforcement agencies and the public to make policy recommendations involving training and other policing methods.

  • She said she's already met with Denver Sheriff Elias Diggins and Denver Police Chief Ron Thomas about collaborating more with the public.

What they're saying: Local police reform activist Alexander Landau, who runs the Denver Justice Project, said Castle is the right person for the job because she envisions her office collaborating with the public — which he said the previous independent monitor did successfully.

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2. Meth contamination challenges local leaders

A man lighting a crystal meth pipe. Photo: Shannon Morris/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Denver metro leaders are wrestling with ways to address and prevent costly fallouts from meth contamination in public places.

Why it matters: Heavy meth use in metro Denver is hurting its users and limiting people's access to public services. At the same time, it's costing cities — and taxpayers — hundreds of thousands of dollars to deal with.

Driving the news: Arvada Library closed indefinitely Saturday after testing revealed traces of methamphetamine that exceeded state safety levels — the region's fourth library to close for similar reasons within a month.

  • Denver Public Library isn't testing for meth contamination because crews clean the buildings daily and bathrooms are monitored by staff, the city says.

State of play: Denver's health department is now working with industrial hygiene contractors to formalize its cleaning protocol into a policy, which should be finished in "the next few weeks," agency spokesperson Emily Williams tells Alayna.

Meanwhile, Boulder's central library — the first to test positive and close in late December — has already shelled out $188,000 in testing and cleanup efforts, says library spokesperson Annie Elliott.

  • The city has since reopened its main branch without upholstered furnishings or access to public restrooms and computers.

Keep reading ... the other side

3. ✊🏾 CU Boulder's CAAAS Center

Reiland Rabaka, director of CU Boulder's Center for African and African American Studies. Photo: Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado

CU Boulder's new Center for African and African American Studies will host a grand opening today — the first day of Black History Month.

Driving the news: The center resides inside Macky Auditorium and is referred to as "The Cause" due to its acronym CAAAS.

  • Professor Reiland Rabaka, its founder and director, said the center will provide space for research, arts and student services. It was started through a collaboration of faculty and students.
  • The overarching goal is to increase public awareness and understanding of African and African American scholarship opportunities in Colorado and across the Rocky Mountain region.

What's next: The grand opening runs from 3:30-6pm. It will include remarks from Rabaka, Chancellor Philip DiStefano and CU President Todd Saliman.

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4. Mile Highlights: Pain at the pump

Fuel pumps at a Kum & Go gas station in Colorado Springs. Photo: Chet Strange/Bloomberg via Getty Images

⛽ The temporary closure of Colorado's only oil and gas refinery has led to a spike in gas prices in the state, which industry experts warned could happen. (CPR)

⚖️ A federal judge has awarded $10.5 million to the family of a Denver woman who was killed after a metal gate swung open at Arches National Park in Utah. (Denver Post)

🚗 State lawmakers are proposing a measure that would make stealing any car a felony punishable by one to three years in prison. The bipartisan effort is prompted by a jump in auto thefts across the state. (Colorado Sun)

🚲 Denver's e-bike rebates sold out within 20 minutes yesterday. The next round of rebates goes live March 28. (Denverite)

🌟 Denver Nuggets guard Bones Hyland — who's rumored to be on the trade block this season — has been named to the 2023 NBA Rising Stars Game. (NBA)

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5. 👋 Say hello to Sean Payton

Sean Payton prior to a game against the Atlanta Falcons. Photo: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos are hiring Sean Payton as their next head coach, according to ESPN.

  • Payton, who coached the New Orleans Saints to a Super Bowl victory in the 2009-10 season, will replace Nathaniel Hackett.

What to watch: Payton's top task will be getting quarterback Russell Wilson to resemble the player Denver had in mind when they traded three players and five picks for him.

🏈 Our thought bubble: Welcome to Denver. We, too, hope you can maximize Wilson's potential and return us to the winning ways we expect.

More details on the deal

6. 💘 Where to dine on Valentine's Day

Fresh ceviche and margaritas from Toro in Denver. Photo: Courtesy of Toro

Valentine's Day is just two weeks away. Yeah, it snuck up on us too. 😬

What's happening: If you want to kindle the romance without burning dinner, we rounded up 14 Denver restaurants (see what we did there?) featuring special offerings to celebrate with your sweetheart.

  • Pro tip: Make your reservations ASAP.

Noisette in LoHi will offer a $125 three-course dinner, featuring live langoustine with sea urchin cream and filet mignon with bordelaise sauce. Reservations.

Duo in North Denver will serve a four-course dinner for $90, with highlights such as a trio of West Coast oysters, wild mushroom cavatelli and bison short ribs. Reservations.

Goed Zuur in Five Points is hosting an $80 four-course dinner, featuring tasty meats and cheeses, plus $60 drink pairings of sour beer — their specialty — or wine. Date night specials are also available on Saturday, Feb. 11. Reservations.

See 11 more

Our picks:

ğŸŽ¥ John is sad reading this story about the end of the Warren Miller film era.

💪 Alayna is feeling proud and honestly pretty great after finishing Dry January and these two 30-day workout challenges.

ğŸ¤Ž Esteban has this song on repeat because it provides a nice dance break during the day.

Thanks to our editor Ross Terrell and copy editor Bill Kole.