What is the Regional Leadership Forum?

The Regional Leadership Forum made headlines last week when the Colorado Springs City Council tapped it to sort out requests to lease Memorial Health System.

But what — and who — is the Regional Leadership Forum?

It’s a private, volunteer group comprised of business and community representatives from the city’s most powerful organizations that has assigned itself the task of leading initiatives that no one is directing.

Its chairman, Phil Lane, director of the Operation 6035 economic development plan, said the forum is a “natural outgrowth” of that project.

Operation 6035 is a consultant-led plan to invigorate the Springs economy, a component of which is enhancing community collaboration. Lane said the Regional Leadership Forum is the Springs’ answer.

Only board chairs, vice chairs or past chairs of the Springs’ most influential business organizations can be part of the RLF.

So far, the organizations represented are the Economic Development Corp., The Chamber of Commerce, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, The Downtown Partnership, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, the El Pomar Foundation, the Sports Corp. El Paso County, the City of Colorado Springs, the Colorado Springs Philharmonic and the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (COPPeR).

Last year Lane said he hoped to grow RLF’s representation to more than 100 organizations, but new memberships are not currently being offered.

“Our membership is neither open nor closed,” Lane said. “Right now, we think we have all the members we can handle. When we started this, we looked at groups that had 100 members — and we’re just not to that point yet.”

A definite strength of the RLF is the deep pockets of its members.

Lane was the last in a long-line of family CEOs to run a local 72-year-old Pepsi distributing company that sold to Pepsi Bottling in 2008.

Also included in the RLF is Nor’wood developer Chris Jenkins, La Plata developer Doug Quimby and El Pomar COO Dave Palenchar.

“We have to raise money for the projects,” Lane said. “So it makes sense to have the leadership from a wide variety of groups.”

The RLF spent most of last year creating a charter, which outlined six of the area’s best assets and is now seeking projects to develop, Lane said.

The projects are all part of the RLFs economic vitality strategy it hopes to convince the mayor and City Council to support.

Much of the RLFs project work was put on hold until after November’s municipal election, Lane said, so the group could educate both mayoral City Council candidates.

“We were ready in December,” he said. “But we thought we should wait, with the new strong mayor and all the interest in the election. We wanted the chance to educate them about what we wanted to do, about economic vitality.”

Lane hasn’t yet met the city’s new economic vitality specialist Donna Nelson, but says she’ll be included in RLF plans.

That vision means harnessing the city’s strengths, amateur sports, the Rocky Mountains and the strong military presence.

“We believe we can use these things, and grow the city,” Lane said. “We already have a strong educational system, a highly educated workforce. We need to leverage those.”

“We really have to identify projects — and this is what we’re working on — projects that don’t have a natural home anywhere else,’ he said. “We’re not stepping on the toes of the PVG (Peak Venture Group) or the Chamber. We want projects that don’t fit anywhere else.”

So far, the forum has been juggling two projects, the attempt to bring a Colorado University medical campus to town and COS Rocks, a young professional-driven image strategy for the city.

Work on those projects took a backseat last week when city council asked the RLF to sort through requests to lease Memorial Health System’s assets from the city.

The RLF will work with the task force — which now has three members of the RLF — and Mayor Steve Bach’s office.

The task force plans to tap expert insight to develop the RFP.

“None of us have that experience, so we’ll hire someone,” he said. “We might also add a few doctors or other health care experts to the panel.”

The RLF has to work fast to find a decision.

City council gave it a December deadline to return with a proposal from the organization that will become responsible for the municipal hospital.

Voters will then decide in 2012 whether to endorse the RLF’s decision.

Those busy negotiations won’t necessarily be open to the public.

Because the RLF is not a government body, it isn’t subject to the open records or open meetings act, but Lane promises the public will be fully apprised of the work.

“They might not get to read the minutes, but we’ll keep them — and the task force — updated on the process, he said.

That privacy doesn’t seem to bother former Council member and small-government advocate Sean Paige, who is normally a vocal proponent for open, pubic government dealings.

“I’m in favor of anytime, anyone wants to stand up and take leadership,” he said. “We’ve already seen private groups, like the City Committee, stand up in our own financial troubles. We’re going to see more of these in the future, I think.”

Paige said there will be plenty of opportunity for vetting.

“There will be layers to make sure no one group runs off with the process,” he said. “I think we need some business acumen addressing this issue.”

It doesn’t bother Councilman Tim Leigh, either.

He believes the RLF is the right group to take the lead on the issue that has been debated for the last18 months.

“They can vet ideas, make decisions, push it forward,” he said. “That’s the genesis of the forum. And, I think, it makes them the right group for the Memorial RFP.”

Leigh noted, though, that the RLF is subordinate to the task force, which reports to City Council.

“They are going to take a good, unbiased look at this,” Leigh said. “And then they’ll make a recommendation.”

Regional Leadership Forum

Operation 6035 — Phil Lane, chairman

EDC — Doug Quimby (La Plata) and Steve Helbing (Wells Fargo)

Chamber — Bill Hodgkins (Boeing) and Mike Jorgenson (Red Nolan Cadillac)

CVB — empty after the departure of John Washko

Downtown Partnership — Chris Jenkins (Nor’wood Development Group)

USOC — Mark Jones (USOC community relations)

UCCS — Pam Shockley-Zalabak (Chancellor) and Martin Wood (vice chancellor/COO)

El Pomar — Dave Palenchar (COO)

The Sports Corp. — Tom Osborne (CEO)

El Paso County — Jeff Greene (administrator)

City of Colorado Springs — Steve Cox (mayor’s chief of staff)

Philharmonic — Nathan Newborough (executive director)

COPPeR — Christina McGrath (executive director)