For those who were watching the special meeting Tuesday afternoon of the El Paso County commissioners and the Colorado Springs City Council, in person or on TV/computer, you saw an amazing — even memorable — display of local politics in action … or perhaps that should be inaction.
For three hours in the Council Chambers at City Hall, the two groups (all five commissioners and five of the councilors) along with contingents representing Mayor Steve Bach, the county and the Pikes Peak Stormwater Task Force addressed the sole purpose of hashing through details of the proposed countywide stormwater ballot issue.
There’s your first hint that something wasn’t right: Bach chose not to attend, instead sending Chief of Staff Steve Cox to play the bad-guy role.
Bach should’ve been there. He should’ve felt compelled to be there. Others who have his ear should have pushed him, hard, to be there. It was too important to miss this one.
Others in key leadership roles, plus many key staffers, showed up. And guess what? They did what they were supposed to do, methodically working through their differences and coming up with compromises.
But as the afternoon wore on, it became obvious a confrontation was inevitable. Cox kept implying Mayor Bach had to have his way on the issue of governance for a regional stormwater authority, being able to (a) appoint some members and (b) choose anyone he wanted, such as experts in stormwater, and not just picking from City Council. That demand got no traction with commissioners or councilors, and the lines were drawn.
When the moment of truth came, Cox was asked if a deal could be struck. His answer: Bach had to win this one, or he would not support the ballot issue.
Nobody was about to give in, and suddenly we saw the unforgettable part of the day as frustration spewed in every direction. This was no secret alliance, either. You could go to meetings for decades and never see Sallie Clark, Keith King, Amy Lathen, Darryl Glenn and Dennis Hisey all at their eloquent best, expressing their total distaste for making so much progress on such an important matter — then seeing it all jeopardized because one person was too entrenched and stubborn to attend, much less negotiate or consider giving an inch.
There was Glenn, rarely so outspoken in his first term as a commissioner, openly chiding Bach and City Council for not being able to settle their differences, and ordering them to do just that before any future gatherings. There was King, after being nitpicky, calling it a “great meeting” and applauding the fact that everyone had to give a little, but admitting it might go to waste over Bach’s intransigence “and not being part of the solution.” And there was Lathen, recalling how Bach had been invited to many meetings but missed out on “one of the most collaborative processes I’ve seen.”
But the standout was Sallie Clark. Before the others jumped in, she simply took off her gloves and fired the first verbal salvos, full of indignation.
“If we’re going to work this out, all the parties have to be at the table to collaborate,” she said, saying it was no help for Cox to come “and not be empowered” to compromise. As for Bach’s message via Cox that stormwater governance was a deal-breaker, Clark firmly said, “That’s not collaboration. That’s an ultimatum.”
She actually came across as … mayoral. After being in Denver earlier, Bach surely had to be watching from somewhere. Too bad. He should have been there to hear it in person — and respond.
We don’t know what this outcome will be, though obviously the lack of cooperation is on the verge of stopping stormwater from being on the November ballot. Earlier in the day, the commissioners had created more hard feelings by saying the proposed stormwater fee would have to be cut (by a figure that likely would amount to 18 percent) for them to approve it for the ballot.
That was yet another slap in the face to the Stormwater Task Force, which spent two years amassing lists of needs, projects and recommendations from engineers and other experts, only to see all that work undermined at the end for what would appear to be politically driven reasons.
And now, once again, we’re left with the prospect of a massive amount of work by dedicated residents possibly going down the drain, with nothing to show for it and with Pueblo turning more impatient by the minute.
Colorado Springs, and El Paso County, deserve better than this. If nothing else, we deserve elected officials who will work together.
We almost had that on Tuesday. All except one.