Relying on blind faith instead of hard data no way to run city

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Will the sorry saga of the U.S. Olympic Committee deal ever end?

The city’s plan to mortgage the Police Operations Center and Fire Station 8, and then hand over the proceeds as part of the deal was at best a dubious scheme.

Apparently dazzled by the grandeur of their plans, city officials and their legal advisers never believed that a lawsuit challenging the scheme’s legality would derail the process. Counting on a sympathetic reception from the court, the city seemed to believe that the lawsuit, filed by attorney Lindsay Fischer, would be dismissed, and that the deal would go forward.

However, the court refused to dismiss the suit, making it at least temporarily impossible for the city to sell investors the certificates of participation that were expected to finance the deal.

That’s bad enough, but it’s even more dismaying to learn, as CSBJ reported earlier this week, that the “economic impact analysis” that was the basis of the entire deal doesn’t exist.

Look on the city’s Web site at http://www.springsgov.com/units/communications/8-13homepagestoryinfo.pdf. What purports to be a summary of the report, prepared by David Bamberger & Associates during 2008, is in fact the entire text. The report was not commissioned by the city, but prepared by Bamberger at no charge at the request of Mayor Lionel Rivera.

The document’s conclusions are said to be derived from “Base data from a survey of Olympic and related sports organizations in Colorado Springs conducted by the City of Colorado Springs office of economic development in February 2008.”

That’s fine, but no one at the city knows anything about any such “base data” — or about any complete report. Responding to a Colorado Open Records Act request, city spokesman John Leavitt wrote:

“You requested the complete economic impact analysis prepared by David Bamberger & Associates during 2007, believed to be titled ‘Olympic and related sports industry economic impact Colorado Springs, 2007.’ We do not have the document(s).

“You requested the ‘base data’ for the analysis, from a survey of Olympic and related sports organizations conducted by the City of Colorado Springs Office of Economic Development during February of 2008. We are still researching this request. Our initial review showed no information available, however due to the fact the summary information cites the City as a source for base data we are taking another look.”

It appears that every city official, whether elected or appointed, took the summary at face value. Not one requested a copy of the complete report, not one asked to see the source data, and not one asked what methodology was used. Such credulity almost defies belief, especially since the report was cited time after time by both senior administration officials (notably Assistant City Manager Mike Anderson) and by a majority of councilmembers.

Absent the report’s conclusions, City Council could never have justified such an investment in a notably well-funded national nonprofit organization.

Supported by the administration, a majority of council never wavered in its belief in the report’s accuracy. Like Bernie Madoff’s pigeons, they put their trust in a few pieces of paper, and never asked any questions.

Despite its brevity, does the report accurately measure the economic impact of the USOC upon our city?

We don’t know, and neither does the city. The city has been winging it, preferring to believe a pleasant untruth to a less pleasant truth.

It’s time to set the record straight. It’s time for the city to commission and pay for a complete and transparent analysis of the USOC’s economic impact, to be created by a national firm without a dog in the fight.

Absent such a study, how can City Council cling to its often-stated rationale for backing the deal?

Gentlemen and lady, the emperor has no clothes! There was no study — just a one page summary, unsupported by anything but a signature. On that basis, you propose to invest $43 million in city assets, and to ask community residents to pony up millions more. That’s not acceptable — and you need to fix things right now.

Otherwise, regardless of the outcome of Mr. Fischer’s lawsuit, it’s difficult to believe that the USOC deal can go forward.