Yesterday upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away
— William Hughes Mearns, 1899
At Monday’s meeting of the Pikes Peak Regional Stormwater Task Force, “the man who wasn’t there” dominated the meeting.
City Councilmembers Jan Martin, Val Snider and Andy Pico were there. County Commissioners Amy Lathen and Dennis Hisey were there. Diann Butlak, John Cassiani, Robin Roberts, John Poyzer and Richard Skorman were there.
Mayor Steve Bach wasn’t.
He might as well have been Lord Voldemort, he whose name must not be spoken.
One speaker praised the cooperation of city staff and the “legislative branch,” and noted that the “executive branch” had not been part of the conversation. Another spoke of “the administration,” and another of the “mayor’s office.”
No one dared utter the B-word.
Separate subteams reported on engineering issues, flood/fire funding and possible governmental structures for a regional stormwater authority. The breadth and depth of the presentations made one point perfectly clear: Regional stormwater problems can’t be solved with go-it-alone efforts by any one governmental entity. Fire and water aren’t bound by jurisdictional boundaries, quarrelsome elected officials or personal grudges.
Butlak, Poyzer and Carol Baker of the engineering subteam emphasized that without city cooperation and involvement, the task force can’t effectively function. They recommended that the task force be staffed by a full-time professional who would detail “the hundreds of moving parts” needed to develop an effective plan.
Former councilor Richard Skorman presented the emergency subteam’s report, which focused on wildfire mitigation in the wildland-urban interface.
“For every dollar you spend on mitigation,” Skorman said, “you save $500 in post-fire spending.” He offered sobering statistics on the possible effects of flooding from the Waldo Canyon burn scar.
“If we get a 10-year flood event there,” he said, “it’ll be equivalent to a 100-year event. We can expect 100,000 tons of sediment to come off the area. That’s 10,000 truckloads.”
“We all know what will happen if we do nothing,” Skorman continued. “It’ll be Waldo Canyon many times over.”
Following Skorman, Cassiani discussed potential governance structures. Talk about inside baseball. Do we need a fee-based authority, with all property owners billed based on impervious surface, or a sales tax-funded entity such as Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority? A fee-based drainage authority (C.R.S. 29-1-204.2) could own and operate a Water Activity Enterprise (C.R.S. 37-45.1-103), which would be exempt from Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights limits.
Leave that to the lawyers, and let the task force focus on the voters. Without their approval, the debate will be over.
The volunteer-driven task force has performed heroically during the past year, but it’s time for Mayor Bach to get on the bus. A famously tough negotiator, Bach has shown no sign of abandoning his go-it-alone philosophy.
Cassiani portentously announced that he planned to meet with the mayor in early August, accompanied by “one or two” others to discuss city involvement in a regional plan.
Commissioner Lathen was skeptical.
“We were told just a few weeks ago that the solution is not collaborative,” said the county’s Iron Lady, “so now we have to figure out what to do. We don’t want to waste anybody’s time.”
Butlak was more blunt.
“There’s a hole in this doughnut,” she said, “and we can’t get rid of it until April of 2015.”
Yet despite Mayor Bach’s obdurate refusal to sign on to a regional plan, City Council has the nuclear option — those nine elected officials can do the deal without him.
The city charter gives Council broad authority over land use, and absolute authority over Colorado Springs Utilities. Nothing prevents Council from crafting an intergovernmental agreement with El Paso County and other municipalities and presenting it to the voters in 2014. Bach could only fume and fret, since the charter does not permit him to veto land-use decisions by Council.
Will Council do it? Probably not.
“You might be able to do it,” said an amused Andy Pico, “but it would be politically infeasible. You couldn’t get the voters to approve (any new tax or fee) if the mayor opposed it.”
Is Pico risk-averse? No. The former fighter pilot made 346 successful carrier landings. Pico knows that Council can’t bypass Bach, but Bach’s plan has to be approved by Council.
Earth to Mayor Bach: You’re losing altitude! Abort! Return to base! You need flight lessons…