Businessmen eyeing city government

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City finances, government scrutinized

Two groups of Colorado Springs businessmen are sponsoring parallel, loosely linked projects aimed at re-shaping city government.
Born of skepticism about city finances and leadership, the projects include independent audits of city operations and a push to change the structure of city government.
The Broadmoor hotel CEO Steve Bartolin and businessman Chuck Fowler formed a committee several weeks ago to conduct an independent analysis of city revenue, expenditures and labor costs.
The committee was formed following the circulation of a letter from Bartolin to Mayor Lionel Rivera late last year that suggested changes in city policies and practices could significantly improve the city’s financial position.
“We’re planning to add a number of people,” Fowler said. “We’ve been contacted by quite a few who are interested in participating, and we’ve talked to others. So we expect to get it done very soon. We plan to have a dozen on the committee and to have our own staff as well.”
While Bartolin and Fowler have just begun their work, Nor’wood Development Group owner David Jenkins began a similar effort after last November’s election.
Voters killed off a proposed property tax increase and the council-established stormwater enterprise, and phased out the $25 million annual payment in lieu of taxes to the city from Colorado Springs Utilities.
The results were interpreted by some as a vote of no confidence in city government.
Jenkins hired accounting firm BiggsKofford to audit the city and its enterprises, in order to better understand the city’s fiscal situation.
Former Colorado Springs Housing and Building Association president Kevin Walker, who is a principal in Nor’wood, has been involved in the project.
“We started the BiggsKofford audit last year,” he said, “but it’s on hold for right now, pending final budget revisions.”
Still, the group might help spearhead an effort with other community leaders to change the city’s form of government to a strong mayor system, said Norwood President Chris Jenkins.
A strong mayor system would give the mayor total executive authority and the power to hire or dismiss senior city officials without council approval.
“This is nothing new,” Chris Jenkins said. “People have been batting around the idea of an improved government structure, such as moving to a strong mayor, for years. No one group can move this forward. There’s a conversation that’s going on now, and the broad-based community needs to weigh in.”
Chris Jenkins said Bartolin’s group has also considered changing government.
“It’s an idea that we’re working on,” Walker said. “We’ve talked to many people in the community, and many of them support changing the form of government.”
However, such a change would require an amendment to the city charter, and that would require a vote of the people and enough signatures to place such an initiative on a ballot.
“But anything that goes on the ballot will be tailored to meet the needs of this community,” Walker said. “There are lots of hybrids of the form, so it’s not one size fits all. This is not going to be a Nor’wood initiative, or a Jenkins initiative — it has to be one with wide community support.”
He pointed out that San Diego voters approved a change to a strong mayor system several years ago.
“The change was provisional,” said Walker, “so that if it didn’t work out, it could be changed back to city manager.”
“We’re aware of these efforts,” said Fowler, “but that’s not the focus of what we’re doing.”
The city is cooperating with both projects, and has devoted staff time responding to requests from the groups.
“The mayor sent a letter to Bartolin promising staff support,” said Vice Mayor Larry Small, “and Jenkins talked to the mayor and select individual council members and got their support for the audit. It never came up for public discussion. I thought that it should have been brought to us.”
Small also said that Rivera has spoken to council members about changing to a strong mayor system.
“The way he proposed it, it seemed a little incoherent,” Small said. “He wanted to have eight council members elected from districts and a mayor, as well as a council president, elected at large.”
Council member Bernie Herpin said Rivera had proposed the same structure to him.
“The mayor is pushing this idea,” Herpin said.
Small said the two groups were formed in response to an ineffective and directionless city council.
“We’re suffering from a council that doesn’t want to govern the city,” Small said. “What they’re doing is what we should be doing.”

9 Responses to Businessmen eyeing city government

  1. I agree. We need a full-time mayor who is adequately paid and can make decisions. Colorado Springs has a number of problems that need addressing. On the other hand, it has a number of things going for it. It’s sad to see these advantages going to waste.

    Our per capita income is less than that of people in Denver, and that shouldn’t be so. I own a business here, and I think more can be done to boost general prosperity.

    February 26, 2010 at 8:35 am

  2. I would like Colorado Springs to try the strong mayor form of city government. I think an elected mayor would be more responsive to the citizens than a non-elected city manager. It would give the mayor more power to initiate policies and citizens could support him with reelection or not. The city government today is not responsive to the citizens and does not have their trust.

    Pat Moffat
    February 26, 2010 at 10:52 am

  3. Our City does not understand the difference between Governance and Management. We have LOTS of managers but nobody “Governs.” The fix we need is not another MANAGER, this one elected, but a body of people who actually govern and hold the City Manager accountable. Then, community, you hold the City Council accountable for doing their job well. Good governing leadership is focused on the future and on community values not on trying to figure out how to solve yesterday’s problems. We have a brilliant City Manager. You will not be able to elect a Mayor with her administration experience. The problem is, we don’t have a City Council that GOVERNS. I would bet, if you asked each one of them to write, in their own words, what governance is, (ie. Their job description) you would get as many answers as Council Members. (scary thought?) For those of you investigating governance, I suggest you read Carver’s Board’s That Make a Difference. If you dismiss his work because of what you have “heard” or because of what you learned from a short article, I urge you investigate his model more fully. Those who have studied his theories understand the value his depth of thinking brings to governance and “get” the incredible folly in the ways most governing boards operate. Of course this new governance model requires people who serve on Council to know and listen to their constituents, reflect, hold quality discussions among themselves, make clear, logical decisions, consistently monitor outcomes and hold people accountable, themselves included. Oh, and they might need on- going training (like most people who have jobs). But that is ok because they will spend ½ the time governing using this model than they are currently spending. This seems more sane than electing one smooth talking politician, who happens to be able to afford to run an expensive election, to control our community’s future.

    Jane Hammoud
    February 26, 2010 at 12:29 pm

  4. At least some decision would be made! I think that is one of the largest downfalls of our current city government. We allow them to not make decisions and allow ourselves to get in our own way! There are some issues, actually almost all issues that people aren’t going to agree on as a whole, but with a strong mayor we would have the opportunity to be pushed forward and decide our identity, rather than letting other people tell us who we are. We shouldn’t be the second hand city to Denver!

    Sean Holveck
    February 26, 2010 at 1:33 pm

  5. And the people demanded a king to rule over them…

    This whole problem is because people keep electing worthless council members. Elect some quality, civic-minded people to sit on the council and most of these complaints start to go away. The city manager answers to the council, who in turn are supposed to answer to the people. The problem is the people are not holding their council members accountable for their destructive behavior, so what makes people think the story would be any different with a strong mayor?

    Quit voting for selfish, destructive politicians and things will start getting better on their own.

    February 26, 2010 at 1:49 pm

  6. Many of the above have mentioned the reasons that I habve in mind for this city. I am concrned at the present time that, not only is the council creating problems for us but the EDC, or whatever it’s called now, is part of the problem as well.
    Look at where we were in 2005, as far as good paying jobs were concerned and the ability of the city to bring in clean, hi-tech companies to town and say look at what we’ve got here. Didn’t I read recently that someone said Call Center jobs were good jobs. They are, and I don’t mean to degrade them at all, but are they in the same ball park as hi-tech paying jobs.
    My son used to work for a telephony company in Phoenix, but first he got mved from testing to the Call Center and then out the door, when their business structure and ownership was supposed to change, but it didn’t. He was rehired. Then business got bad and he was laid off again. And that’s where he still is. But he’s making a new life for himself because of his background and not only devleoping the “stuff” but using it as well,
    I definitely would not like to see a Caesar as Mayor who would answer to no one but himself. He could ruin this town in no time flat, and I mean worse than it already is. I’m not into city politics but it seems to me in th past that those who were in banking and real estate we should have looked at hard and long before they were elected. I’m sure there are other career fields that would be of concern,as well, but in the recent past, those fields have been hot in this city. Did anybody on the Council forecast the state the city would be in when things began to turn bad in 2007?
    You want a leader? Look at any of the retired senior officers in this city. They’ve been trained to lead and to think of where their service was going in the future. How did they come up with all the firepower and is still the best in the world today? How many have been working in the civilian world after they retired? How many are not greedy and venal? You are overlooking a great resource.
    How will a new council be selected when their terms don’t run out at the same time? And I do suggest cleaning house from top to bottom. There may be some ones you want to keep, Re-elect them to the new council. Keep you City Manager as your continuit. Give him/her a new focus and a new charter and let him be your need for continuity bettween what was before and what is tocome. That’s what I’m for.

    Eugene Finkelstein
    February 26, 2010 at 4:49 pm

  7. And may I add my appreciation and thanks to those business owners who have stepped up to the plate and are attempting to resolve a very bad situation. Even if they are accused of selfish interests, we will all benefit from a healthy, intelligently governed city!
    Thank you all.

    s. martin
    February 26, 2010 at 6:47 pm

  8. Citizens in this community are inherently distrustful of anyone with ties to development. Even if the ideas are good ones, if they’re being pushed by anyone related to development they will likely not survive the ballot. Chris Jenkins and his Norwood friends should already know this. Citizens in this community are also very used to getting their elected reps to serve at dirt cheap wages, and there never seems to be a shortage of candidates willing to take on the job. Just look at the number of serious contenders who are already lining up for a run in the next mayoral election, which is still more than a year away.

    Changes in our form of city government need to come from within city council. Unfortunately, the sitting council is not the council that is going to sell change to anyone, no matter how much merit the idea of a strong mayor form of government may have (safe to say at this point the community trusts its current elected “leaders” less than they trust developers). How many decades has this idea been floating around anyway?

    February 26, 2010 at 10:12 pm

  9. Let’s see: strong mayor/administrator–high salary;
    adversarial City Council with its own staff to counter-balance the mayor’s view—more high salaries
    politically appointed department heads to help the Mayor with the political agenda–more money and political pressure on staff

    career deputy department heads who really know the management of municipal operations–more high salaries

    employees clamoring for a civil service system and/or unions to protect them from the political pressures of a political mayor/chief administrator and department heads

    HOW IS THIS BETTER FOR COLORADO SPRINGS? Let’s follow Jane’s suggestion and elected a Council who governs through policy formation while leave the staff to manage and implement.

    February 28, 2010 at 3:40 pm