Secrecy, certificates and the USOC — but no videotape

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The U.S. Olympic Committee deal ended as it began — in confusion and secrecy.

It had been widely assumed that the city would market $31 million in certificates of participation to pay for the deal on Tuesday.

A few minutes before Tuesday’s council meeting began, reporters from a variety of media buttonholed councilmembers, asking for comment. Scott Hente, Sean Paige and Vice Mayor Larry Small all pleaded ignorance — claiming they hadn’t heard anything.

Senior city officials made themselves scarce. Frustrated staffers in the Public Communications office said that neither Assistant City Manager Mike Anderson nor finance boss Terri Velasquez could be reached.

At 3 p.m., The Gazette’s Wayne Heilman went up with the story. Citing no sources, Heilman reported that the COPs had been issued. He gave no details, but he’d clearly been tipped by a source he had reason to trust — maybe a bond lawyer or an investment banker involved in the deal, maybe a city insider, maybe an institutional investor.

If in fact he’d seen the sale reported on the Web site of one of the bond houses which sold the securities, he didn’t mention it in the story — why give your competitors a tip?

That’s what we’re supposed to do, and we all enjoy the competition.

But why the secrecy from the city? Why no news release from the city confirming that the COPs were to be issued that day, and updates as necessary? Why keep policymakers, the public and the press in the dark?

More than a day after the sale had been reported, city officials were still mute. An e-mail from the public communications office confirmed that, as yet, there was no official city statement.

We’ve been covering the USOC and many other city-related stories during the last several years. Sadly, the city is about as open as a convention of Mafia Dons. The city’s motto ought to be one word: “Omerta” — silence.

Requests for information, even of the most innocuous kind, are often met with delay and obfuscation. Many city officials, including Mayor Lionel Rivera and Anderson, do not return calls or respond to e-mails. Others, such as City Manager Penny Culbreth-Graft, either ignore calls or refer them to subordinates, who might or might not be able to speak authoritatively.

Interestingly, the culture of secrecy begins and ends at the doors of City Hall.

Walk a few blocks south to Jerry Forte’s office at Colorado Springs Utilities and it’s a very different story. Forte and his senior managers are available, helpful and open. That’s especially true when they know you’re working on a story that might put CSU in an unflattering light.

Rather than clamming up, they make sure that you have all the facts. The folks in public communications at CSU, unlike their counterparts at the city, know that the lines of communication are open and that their job is to facilitate the flow of information, not stifle it.

Any damage that too much exposure might cost the city is far outweighed by that caused by secrecy. An organization that’s stubborn, mulish and opaque is not one that inspires confidence or affection.

That’s too bad.

Many in the media long for a return of the city’s golden age, when city officials were as amiable, truthful, open and accessible as then-Mayor Bob Isaac. It was a special time.

But as Michelle Phillips said a few years ago, referring to her time as a member of the Mamas and the Papas, “You know how you can tell special times? They end.”