Nominee fights back against Council’s ‘chilling effect’

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Those of us who know Nolan Schriner understand four things about him.

• He knows what he’s talking about.

• He’s honest.

• He doesn’t suffer fools gladly.

• He’s diplomatic … but only to a point.

It was apparent that Colorado Springs Council President Keith King and his Council colleagues Joel Miller and Don Knight weren’t prepared for Schriner to take off the gloves.

At Miller and Knight’s behest, Council delayed confirmation of Mayor Steve Bach’s three appointees to the Urban Renewal Authority last Tuesday. President King assented, although noting that he would support all three.

And so it came to pass that URA appointees Schriner, Valerie Hunter and Peter Scoville were summoned to a City Hall conference room earlier this week, there to be interviewed by King, Miller and Knight.

Schriner was first up. The Councilors posed multiple, largely theoretical questions related to the City for Champions proposal. They wanted to know Schriner’s position on the use of eminent domain, on TIF funding versus the use of general obligation bonds, on veiled “threats” of condemnation made by the URA, and so on.

Schriner was noncommittal, refusing to give them the responses they obviously sought. The questioning led to an angry exchange between the councilors and City Human Resources chief Mike Sullivan.

Sullivan pointed out that such questions were not within the purview of the Council approval process, as set forth in relevant ordinances. He repeated what he had said during the aborted confirmation process the week before, noting that such abusive grilling of community volunteers would have a “chilling effect” upon residents applying for city boards.

That didn’t dissuade the three Councilors from continuing to pepper Schriner with tough and provocative questions.

“All we’re trying to do is find out where you stand on these issues,” said King.

“If you find someone better, go ahead and appoint him,” Schriner shot back. “This is pretty obnoxious. In the last 45 years I must have attended 500 Council meetings, and this is the most negative environment I’ve ever seen.”

Schriner had just gotten started.

“Don,” he said, addressing Councilor Knight, “when we were on the North Nevada Corridor Task Force, you implied that you were willing to downzone properties along the corridor. That’s a form of eminent domain, isn’t it? You reduce what an owner can do with his property, and that lowers its value.”

Knight had no response.

A little later, Keith King spoke of making the city more business-friendly.

“We have to create a city that’s fun and exciting, that people want to move to and that’s not happening. We need to do something to make the city stand apart. Your fight with the Mayor makes the city look awful – it’s pathetic.”

– Nolan Schriner

“I’ve worked [as a planner] in lots of cities, and we’re by far the easiest place to do business. That’s not our problem.” Schriner responded. “We have to create a city that’s fun and exciting, that people want to move to and that’s not happening. We need to do something to make the city stand apart. Your fight with the Mayor makes the city look awful— it’s pathetic.”

A stunned King thanked Schriner for his candor. Schriner nodded and, grim-faced, left the room.

Next up, Valerie Hunter. Perhaps chastened by their experience with Schriner, the three Councilors treated Hunter with kid gloves. They thanked her profusely for volunteering, for showing up and for her desire to serve the community. They pitched a few other softballs, and she hit them out of the park. Like Schriner, she refused to commit herself to any particular philosophy or course of action, promising only to learn, consider the facts and vote accordingly.

Did the three Councilors treat Hunter differently because of her sex? To an admittedly prejudiced observer, the answer was obvious; of course they did. Had Schriner been followed by an equally combative middle-aged guy, he would have been raked over the coals.

The takeaway? Council can take solace in Schriner’s final words.

“I’m not going to vote on a particular issue before the URA because I’m influenced by you, or by the Mayor,” he said.

You can bet that the same thing is true of Hunter and the other nominee, Scoville.

And isn’t that exactly what you’d ask and expect of anyone selected to serve on a city board? We’ll see when the entire Council takes up the matter a week from now. I suspect that Council will vote to confirm Scoville and Hunter, but punish Schriner for having the temerity to speak his mind.

If so, that’ll send a “chilling message” to future applicants, anger the Mayor, and infuriate the business community. It’s hard to imagine such an action by any previous Council, but the old rulebook has long since been discarded.

One Response to Nominee fights back against Council’s ‘chilling effect’

  1. Well, that’s one view, John. Another, less cynical view, is that Council is merely doing its job rather than rubber-stamping these nominees, without examining the general philosophies of those appointed by the Mayor. Could it have been done with more grace? Perhaps, but there is plenty of credit to be had for the current state of divisiveness here in good old 6035.

    Jimmie Bensberg
    April 8, 2014 at 1:36 pm