Let us consider the delicious absurdity of the ongoing saga of … Tejon Street striping!
In case you’ve missed it, let me bring you up to date.
El Paso County, for reasons best known only to our august county commissioners, ripped down an unprepossessing office building on South Tejon and erected a parking garage on the site. Upon completion, the city re-striped the formerly four-lane street to two-lanes, and added bicycle lanes.
Enter the county commissioners, complaining bitterly. The very idea! What arrogance! The temerity of the city, to imagine that it can actually implement the long-debated Downtown Action Plan, which called for just such a reconfiguration! Don’t those know-nothing city bureaucrats realize they can’t mess with the county? It’s our way or a striped highway!
So our five overpaid commissioners summoned hapless city employee Craig Blewitt to their chambers, bloviated for a couple of hours and sent him on his way, presumably chastened by the fearsome wrath of the commissioners.
Of course, it wasn’t even a tempest in a teapot — the commissioners’ writ extendeth not to South Tejon, never mind that they own a parking garage.
It was just another example of our sometimes bizarrely dysfunctional city/county governments, whose overlapping jurisdictions, duplicate departments and feuding elected officials might be fun to watch, but not fun to pay for.
Let’s see — the county runs the county, and the city runs the city, but the city’s in the county, and most of the county is in the city … so who’s in charge here?
No one, and everyone.
The city has a big building downtown with a bunch of bureaucrats staring at computer screens — and so does the county. The city has police — and the county has sheriffs. The city has a parks department — and so does the county. The city has a transportation department — and so does the county.
We have, in effect, two competing fiefdoms, often performing parallel tasks, each nourished by plenty of tax dollars, and each reasonably efficient, taken in isolation.
You don’t have to be a Harvard MBA to figure out that our local governmental structure, which might have made sense a century ago, is clumsy, antiquated and expensive.
It’s hard to believe that consolidating city/county governments wouldn’t increase efficiency, reduce costs and enable the hapless citizenry to get more bang for its tax dollars.
But you’ll never hear elected officials at any level call for such reforms. A cynic would say that they just want to keep their jobs, but that’s not the only reason.
Our present system of government is deeply embedded in the Colorado Constitution. For Colorado Springs to adopt Denver’s model, and become the city and county of Colorado Springs, would require not just a city-wide vote, but a statewide referendum.
Local voters, the legislature and Colorado voters would all have to sign off on the deal.
And what about the deal itself? How would the new city/county government be structured?
Would the new commissioners/council members be paid $6,250 annually, as are council members, or $75,000 (including bennies) as are commissioners?
Partisan or non-partisan elections? And what would happen to the rest of the county? Would we just split it up among neighboring counties?
What we’d be looking at is a politician’s nightmare — an angry, contentious process with lots of players, lots of potential losers and no clear winners — except the taxpayers, who aren’t paying attention.
Machiavelli observed four centuries ago that reforms are always difficult to enact, since potential losers know what they might lose, while potential winners might not even believe that they’ll gain anything — so reforms are strongly opposed and weakly supported.
Ours may be an archaic, inefficient, clumsy contraption — democracy as designed by Rube Goldberg — but it works amazingly well, given its inherent faults.
Imagine a 140-year-old house, originally well-built, but patched together through the years by lousy carpenters, sleepy plumbers and drunken roofers — which, amazingly, still holds together. Sure, you could renovate it, or tear it down … but that’d cost good money, maybe a lot of it, and you might not be any better off in the end.
Might as well leave well enough alone!
Meanwhile, I ran into my pal, the Seasoned Political Observer, at a Denver event last weekend, and was treated to some definite opinions about the November elections.
“Let me tell you, (Bob) Beauprez’s toast. The polls are moving in the wrong direction, and (Marc) Holtzman gave the Dems the best Christmas present ever — Bothways Bob! Remember when Dickie Wadhams stuck the ‘lawyer/lobbyist’ label on (Tom) Strickland, and (Wayne) Allard won the election — and all he had to do play the veterinarian card, and pose with sick puppies — not bad! Ritter’s gonna cruise.”
What about Congressional District 7?
“I don’t see how (GOP nominee Rick) O’Donnell can win — he wrote some dumbo policy statement for (Newt) Gingrich back in ’94 saying we had to get rid of Social Security — not privatize, get rid of! He says he was only 24 — he’s changed his mind. Let me tell you, in politics you’d be better off coming out for kiddie porn than coming out against Social Security”
And Congressional District 5?
“You know, (Doug) Lamborn’s gonna get elected. All he has to do is keep his mouth shut, and repeat one word every five minutes — Republican, Republican, I’m a Republican. Who knows, maybe he’ll do OK — we’ll see.”
But November no longer interests the SPO as much as April 2007, when the Colorado Springs mayor’s seat and five council member positions will be in play.
“(Mayor Lionel) Rivera’s weak, and (Jerry) Heimlicher and (Larry) Small are too old to wait — it’s now or never for ’em. And Darryl Glenn probably thinks he can do an Ed Jones — be the African-American conservative, and outflank ’em all on the right. And (Scott) Hente’s a good guy — he’d be a good mayor, but he’s a liberal — and a developer. He’ll get smacked on both sides. Maybe they’ll all run and Rivera will sneak in again. But let me tell you, I don’t know who’s gonna give him money — he burned a few bridges with that [congressional] campaign.
“And if they all run, then four council seats will be vacant. You oughta run — I hear they actually give council members an office, and a laptop, and their very own phone — don’t you want to sit through those meetings and get paid peanuts?”
Nope. Been there, done that — and I can’t afford to work for nothing.
So, I asked, why don’t you run? SPO looked at me in amazement.
“Hey, I love to go to the zoo — but I don’t want to move in with the monkeys.”
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 634-3223, ext. 241.