Tom, it’s high time to do the right thing

Filed under: Hazlehurst |

I’ve always rather admired City Councilman Tom Gallagher.
The first time I met him, back in the early 1990s, I was serving on council and Tom came before us one day with a complaint.
He was struggling then — living in a rented trailer in a down-at-heels mobile home park on the west side. He was concerned, and angry, because the home-built sewer system in the mobile home park repeatedly backed up, fouling his home and those of his neighbors.
Colorado Springs Utilities refused to help, saying that the owner of the mobile home park was responsible. Too bad, CSU said, but there’s nothing it could do.
The various city agencies that might have taken action to remedy the situation hadn’t done so, for good, sufficient and properly bureaucratic reasons.
Meanwhile, Tom and his neighbors had to deal, on an almost daily basis, with problems that no resident of Colorado Springs should have to endure.
Appearing before council, Tom made those very points. He was neither particularly articulate nor comfortable — but he was polite and determined to prevail.
He did.
Shamed by Tom’s simple statement that poor folks, who work hard, pay taxes and pay for utility services, are just as entitled to working sewer systems as are people living in Broadmoor, we instructed city/utilities staff to take responsibility and solve the problem.
I came to know Tom better during subsequent years, and was delighted when he was elected to council. I suspected that he’d be energetic, compassionate and effective.
So when, ironically enough, my own basement (and those of half-a-dozen neighbors) was flooded with sewage, thanks to a blocked main sewer line, it was nice to know that at least one elected official would be deeply sympathetic to our plight.
That’s why it’s so dismaying to see Tom involved in a blatant conflict of interest, one which, if it continues, warrants his removal from council.
Tom works for developer/entrepreneur Mark Morley, who owns land around Brush Hollow reservoir, a small impoundment north of the Arkansas River, a few miles upstream from Pueblo.
Both Morley and Tom are principals in H20 Providers, a company which has filed an application with the Bureau of Reclamation to withdraw water from the Arkansas at Brush Hollow.
Nothing wrong with that — except that Colorado Springs Utilities has filed an identical application — and, as a council member, Tom is a member of the utilities board.
It’s hard to imagine a more obvious conflict, and harder still to imagine why Tom doesn’t realize that his position is absolutely untenable. As his colleague Jerry Heimlicher wrote recently:
“Gallagher … will sit on the utility board and discuss strategy for Colorado Springs Utilities to use in obtaining the purchase of land, the rights to survey and the rights for a pipeline to cross private and public lands, in relation to the Southern Delivery System project.
“His knowledge of these negotiations and of the direction given to the CSU management puts him in a position to benefit his employer and himself — as a member of the management team of H20 Providers — from inside knowledge.”
But Tom lamely claims that there is no conflict, employing transparently specious reasoning. It may be that Morley’s interest in the Brush Hollow withdrawal predates that of CSU, but so what?
Tom should recuse himself from all SDS-related votes, and not participate in closed council sessions when council discusses such matters. Failing that, he ought to be removed from council.
And as one who wishes him well, I only hope that he comes to his senses and does the right thing.
Meanwhile, the Democratic political earthquake is still claiming innocent victims. Well, maybe not so innocent — after all, we’re talking lobbyists.
Up in Denver, the uncounted legions of fixers, political consultants and lobbyists who grew fat and sassy during four decades of Republican control of the state legislature are suddenly irrelevant.
With a Democratic Senate, Democratic House and Democratic governor, who wants a Republican lobbyist?
No one, according to Denver lobbyist Kristen Thomson, a former Democratic activist.
Speaking from Washington, Thomson, greatly amused, told us that “The session hasn’t started yet, but Democrats are definitely in demand. In fact, a lot of lobbyists are coming out of the closet and claiming they were actually Democrats all along!”
“The Republicans who can work in this environment are the ones that have always been bipartisan, who have worked across the aisle with the Dems,” she said. “The ones who were vicious, highly partisan operators aren’t going to be able to function.”
That may be very bad news for us right here in Colorado Springs.
Our city, as we all know, has a grotesquely distorted image throughout the nation, and even in our own state. The majority of folks up in Denver, and throughout Colorado, see us as an island of craziness in a sea of sanity. When they think about the Springs, they don’t think about Colorado College, or Pikes Peak, or the Fine Arts Center or The Broadmoor — far from it.
They think about Ted Haggard and Doug Bruce, about Doctor Dobson and his rigidly ideological protégés at the legislature and about dreary suburbs populated by vacuous right-wingers whose idea of fun is Thursday night Bible study.
That’s not who we are — but that’s what they think.
In the halcyon days of yore, when Colorado Springs Republicans had real clout in the legislature, we didn’t have to worry about our image — but times have changed. And, like it or not, we have to change with them.
If the city, the Economic Development Corp., the Housing and Building Association, and the Chamber of Commerce think that they can do business as usual in Denver — and even in Washington — they’re in for a surprise.
The vital interests of our city are at stake, and unless we hire lobbyists who are on friendly terms with our state’s new power brokers, we’ll suffer.
Indeed, the Democratic takeover might be a blessing in disguise.
Now, for the first time for many years, our city leaders don’t have to kowtow to the loonies in the legislative delegation to get things done. They don’t matter anymore. The people who matter, like Pueblo’s Abel Tapia (who as chairman of the Joint Budget Committee is arguably the second most powerful person in the state), are moderate Democrats.
So here’s a gentle suggestion to our power players: guys and gals, drive on up to Denver, get off at the Broadway exit, head north to the Capitol, park, walk right in and ask to talk to some Democrats.
Nowadays, they’re easy to find.
John Hazlehurst can be reached at John.Hazlehurst@csbj.com or 227-5861.