Council – time for an early ROI assessment

As this version of the Colorado Springs City Council approaches its one-year anniversary, it may be time for a quick performance assessment.

It should be simple enough. At the mischievous suggestion of a prominent local businessman, we’ll use metrics generally accepted in the corporate world — those that the Council majority cited as they quizzed officials of the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Regional Business Alliance last fall.

In determining whether revenues from the Lodgers and Automobile Renters Tax should continue to be allocated to the CVB and the RBA, Council wanted to know:

• What’s the return on investment? Would city dollars be better spent elsewhere?

• How do you measure performance? How do you know whether you’re doing a good job?

Given that City Councilors are paid the less-than-princely sum of $6,250 annually, it’s tempting to conclude that the city is getting good value. But let’s get a little more granular — their salaries aren’t the only costs.

Council occupies our historic City Hall. We’re still paying off the $6 million borrowed to renovate the beautiful old pile of bricks a few years ago. And when the building was renovated, the city bought and demolished an adjacent historic building so that councilors could have their own private parking lot. Council also employs a half-dozen full-time staffers, not to mention creating thousands of hours of work for other city employees.

Other costs include tens of thousands of productive man-hours lost by city residents obliged to attend Council meetings to protect their interests.

Paid or unpaid, Council costs plenty. And that’s OK — we all understand that representative democracy isn’t free.

Return on investment is a function of who makes the investment. And it may be that targeted investments by special interests take precedence over the interests of the larger community.

Turning to campaign contributions, it’s clear that the big winners are the coal industry and Colorado Springs Utilities employees. Those two groups were significant supporters of rookie Councilors Keith King, Don Knight and Joel Miller, who unseated Brandy Williams, Tim Leigh and Angela Dougan.

As a result, all serious talk of closing Drake or privatizing CSU’s electric generation operations came to an abrupt halt — a great return for those investors.

On the other hand, key members of the Broadmoor mafia who invested in King’s council campaign took it in the shorts. Far from being a reliable partner, Council President King has opposed their interests. He’s done his best to derail the City for Champions initiative, as well as cannily manipulating rookie councilors to achieve his own ends. ROI: less than zero.

As the city’s legislative body, Council has undone the actions of its predecessors by withholding (or attempting to withhold) funds from the CVB, the RBA and dozens of local charities that were modestly supported by Utilities.

In another case, Council agreed to provide utility services to a retail complex just outside the city limits, thereby depriving the city of any potential sales tax revenue from the development. Previous negotiations with the administration over sales tax givebacks had broken down. Bach blamed Council for selling out the city, while Council blamed Bach for his inability to cut a deal with the developer.

Ignorant meddling or thoughtful policy-making? You decide.

Yet measuring city government performance isn’t all that difficult, according to former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut, who helped evaluate our city for the Urban Land Institute.

“Cities either move forward or regress,” he said. “There’s no middle ground.”

Council gets a failing grade. At Council’s initial retreat last May, the King-led majority identified its No. 1 priority: to have their own attorney. That’s not a soaring vision — it’s a turf battle. Nine months later, they still don’t have their own attorney, but they eventually succeeded when City Attorney Chris Melcher resigned in disgust.

In Council’s 2014 strategic plan, one sentence stands out: “Define and establish full legislative role of City Council and identify complementary Charter changes.”

No happy warriors with grand plans, no sweeping vision of a rich tomorrow, no shared journey to a gleaming future — just lawyers, lawyers and more lawyers.

It’s hard not to think of Shel Silverstein’s ABZ Book, a 1961 parody of children’s primers.

“Do you want to go to the wonderful far-off Land of Oz,” he asked, “where the Wizard lives and scarecrows can dance and the road is made of yellow bricks and everything is emerald green? Well you can’t, because there is no Land of Oz and there is no tin woodman and there is no Santa Claus!!”

Maybe someday you can go to Detroit.

4 Responses to Council – time for an early ROI assessment

  1. “Cities either move forward or regress,” he said. “There’s no middle ground.”

    In this case, regional leaders find “that middle ground” or run the risk of driving the area into insolvency.

    Would it be prudent, rather than to assess blame, (for which their is plenty) to accept that strife and conflict are part of the regional DNA that has existed for years – – and now is time to find out how to resolve it so the region can move forward?

    We welcome your input, comments and suggestions in our upcoming “Trust and Confidence in Local Government Survey for 2014″ if you care to join in with our growing team of survey respondents.

    Richard D. Wehner
    February 18, 2014 at 12:44 pm

  2. This City is a joke and desparate for real leadership. Jill Gaebler is a moron and her only legacy will be talking about goats and being a flip flopper.

    Dale Heeven Jr.
    February 19, 2014 at 10:56 am

  3. We have a city council that reflects it’s constituency well: fractionated, opinionated, obstructionary, and stuck in the past. Meanwhile, money, talent and young people move to other parts of the front range.

    We have the city council we deserve.

    John M
    February 20, 2014 at 1:59 pm

  4. maybe time to start a recall campaign?

    peter miller
    February 25, 2014 at 6:40 pm