Springs City Council: A culture of indecision

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What happens when a dysfunctional law meets a dysfunctional city government?

Once it became clear that because of the arcane TABOR ratchet, the city would, absent voter approval, be required to refund $600,000 dollars in “surplus” revenue, city council swung into inaction.

Apparently incapable of deciding how best to use the revenue that they may or may not be able to retain, the council instead demanded that every city department head give them his/her recommendations.

That’s a waste of management time, an especially rare commodity in this era of straitened budgets and a stripped-down city workforce. If the council is incapable of deciding the matter, let the city manager do it.

In theory, the City Council is the policy-making body not only for the city, but for Colorado Springs Utilities and Memorial Hospital. The aggregate budgets of these three entities exceed $1.5 billion. So while $600,000 may seem like a lot of money, it represents about one-thirtieth of 1 percent of the council’s total budget responsibility.

No responsible board of directors of any substantial company would spend time on such a relatively insignificant matter. Rational corporate governance empowers middle managers to make decisions, and frees the board to determine policy and direction.

Unfortunately, such dithering has become the city council’s defining characteristic. Unlike their counterparts on the County Commission, who moved swiftly to reduce expenditures before the great recession, Mayor Rivera and a majority of council have allowed themselves to be distracted by sideshows.

Some of these are an inevitable consequence of democracy. Medical marijuana policy, for instance, may seem important for the moment, but it’s just today’s passionate distraction.

Today’s significant city issues include SDS and utility rates, the fate of Memorial Hospital, city governance and how to create a sustainable city funding structure.

Let’s give the council credit where credit is due: no doubt conscious of its own limitations, it has passed the buck on all four.

Sustainable funding? Form a committee, wait for a report, do nothing. City governance? Let Dave Jenkins and Kevin Walker take care of it. Memorial? Appoint a commission, hire a consultant, wait for a report. SDS and utility rates? Leave it to Jerry Forte and the gang!

It’s all part of what Clarissa Arellano, the government affairs director at the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, so memorably termed the local “culture of indecision.”

It may be that council members are just tired, cynical and fed up. That’s understandable, since when they’ve actually made decisions the results have been disastrous — the USOC deal, the Stormwater Enterprise, and two abortive attempts to raise property taxes.

So perhaps we shouldn’t blame them for dithering. Having learned some hard lessons during the last few years, they’re just playing out the string, waiting for next April.

Let someone else do it.