Sassower: Play nice, Council & Mayor

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Let’s assume that the strong mayor and the nine members of the Colorado Springs City Council are here to stay for a while. Let’s also assume that the city’s legal team cannot quite sort out their lines of authority. These assumptions do not warrant, in themselves, the kind of childish behavior we have been observing in the past few months.

Grow up and try to do your jobs! Otherwise, take your toys and go home to play alone.

This is a city, after all, not the school yard. Instead of figuring out who is right and who said what to whom, instead of laying blame on this incident or that slight, perhaps we should outline our expectations.

Start with the strong mayor: You should manage city administration, oversee the police and fire departments and be the city’s chief promoter. Make the city bureaucracy the best it can be, being both business-friendly and citizen-friendly, treating the taxpayers as stakeholders. Whether filling potholes or collecting sales-taxes, all city employees should become models of courtesy and genuine care, ensuring that we are all served fairly and well, and if possible, with a smile.

As for the nine council members: forget whatever you used to do and how you deliberated about every little issue twice monthly. There are professionals who can take care of the day-to-day operations, while you should divide oversight responsibilities among you to ensure direct engagement. Here are nine areas of focus:

Parks and recreation: budgets, facilities, operations, programs

Roads and infrastructure: potholes, zoning, public transportation

Real-estate holding: what is owned, leased, bought and sold, budgets

Tourism and marketing: city facilities and the Visitors and Convention Bureau

Sports (including USOC): bike tours and trails, city leagues, Sky Sox, arena

Utilities (until sold): deep understanding of operations, budgets, and planning

Urban Renewal Authority: site selection, bonds, future planning

Finance and budgets: details of every department needs and expenditures

Education: school districts (consolidated?), higher education, Air Force Academy

If each council member focused on one area and reported monthly to the others what’s going on in his or her area, then everyone would be better informed and make decisions more rationally.

Council members can decide among themselves who’ll do what, as long as they keep the real estate guys away from real-estate matters to ensure avoidance of conflict-of-interest voting (do they recuse themselves now?).

Assume you don’t like these nine areas; please put forth others. For example, should there be one dedicated to the military or one to the downtown? Assume you don’t like one person being the leader in one area, then double up and have two members cover certain areas. This is a minor adjustment compared to nine members pretending to be experts or involved or even knowledgeable about all the areas on which they regularly vote.

This isn’t that complicated from a business stand-point: the CEO oversees everything, but in large organizations delegation of responsibility makes sense. One cannot expect the mayor, strong or weak, to really manage well such a large organization without division of labor and without the collaboration of council.

Just because council members don’t see the mayor as their “boss” for obvious reasons (they were elected to their positions to represent constituents), isn’t sufficient ground for turning this city into a malfunctioning operation that might scare potential newcomers.

Perhaps we don’t want the Chicago/Daley model of a strong mayor, but Chicago’s garbage was collected and streets were plowed when it snowed (Jane Byrne served only one term because of snow-plowing problems). Our city doesn’t collect the garbage and rarely plows. So, perhaps our governance model should be different.

We have local experts who might help with this, and I don’t mean the scores of therapists who can help in group therapy to find what ails these ten elected officials. Do we really want to hear about their potty-training or childhood traumas? Let’s hope not.

Instead of psycho-therapists, UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak, who specializes in organization management, and whose own experience running a large institution that has different constituents (including tenured professors she cannot fire), could be helpful. If she is unavailable, perhaps someone with expertise similar to hers can be of service.

Getting elected is one thing — it’s a beauty or popularity contest of sorts. Being an effective public official is quite another. If any of our Elected Ten wants our respect, they better earn it on the job. Their past got them elected, but it’s the present that we must judge: It’s their work right now that matters to us.

Who knows, if the Elected Ten get their act together, we might rightfully aspire to compete with Austin, Texas and Portland, Oregon as one of those second-tier great cities.

Raphael Sassower is professor of philosophy at UCCS. He can be reached at rsassower@gmail.com See previous articles at sassower.blogspot.com