The time has come to ask some difficult and uncomfortable questions about Keith King.
The City Council meeting of Tuesday, July 22, was a particularly sad and dispiriting spectacle, magnifying questions about King’s leadership as Council president.
King allows — even encourages — Councilors Joel Miller and Don Knight to make lengthy political speeches from the dais. He exerts little control over the meetings. He didn’t reprimand Miller for accusing City Attorney Wynetta Massey of unethical behavior, when Massey’s alleged “ethical lapse” consisted merely of authoring a legal opinion that provoked Miller’s ire.
King often seems baffled by Council proceedings, clearly misunderstanding statements made by staff, city attorneys, residents addressing Council, and even by his colleagues. He lacks command of the substance and intent of matters that come before the group.
I’m not the only person to have noticed King’s apparent inability to do his job effectively. It has long been the subject of discussion among those of us who frequently attend Council meetings or watch regularly via TV or computer.
One conservative activist had an interesting take on the situation.
“I’ve always thought that there was a ‘bad Keith’ and a ‘good Keith,’ ” he said. “Good Keith has worked tirelessly to improve education for 20 years, with a lot of success. Whatever you might think of his politics, he’s done admirable things. Bad Keith is a ruthless political operative, the nastiest of partisans. But Bad Keith was there to support Good Keith.
“Now, I don’t understand him. It’s maneuver for the sake of maneuver, seeking power for no goal. It’s sad.”
When King ran for Council in 2013, he did not specifically reveal that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2010. Noticing that King exhibited visible symptoms, the Independent’s Pam Zubeck asked him whether he was so afflicted.
King said yes. Here’s what Zubeck wrote:
Parkinson’s is a motor system disorder, which stems from the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Primary symptoms are tremor of the hands, arms, legs, jaw and face; stiffness of the limbs and trunk; slowness of movement and impaired balance and coordination. Progression of the disease varies.
“It has not disabled my ability to accomplish what I want to accomplish,” King says in an interview, adding the symptoms are under control through medication.
To assure the disease won’t interfere with his Council duties, King submitted to cognitive tests last week, he says, and reports, “I tested totally normal. I passed them with flying colors. I’ve never hidden [the diagnosis].” He also provided two letters from physicians.
Dr. Richard Vu writes in an April 9 letter that King has a “mild” case that’s been under “excellent control,” adding, “Mr. King’s Parkinson [sic] disease will not in any manner affect nor interfere with his service and performance as city councilman.”
Dr. Laurence Adams, with Colorado Springs Neurological Associates, says in an April 11 letter that King was diagnosed in November 2010. “You have very little motor abnormalities, limited tremor, limited rigidity, fairly normal gait and balance at this point,” Adams states in the letter to his patient, and adds, “you have absolutely no evidence of cognitive impairment.”
While the neurologists’ opinions seem persuasive, they omit an important, obvious fact.
King is now 66. While many sexagenarians appear as healthy, vigorous and cognitively capable as they did 20 years earlier, appearances can be deceptive.
Many corporations have formal or informal policies that require senior executives to step down at 65, or even sooner. That’s not irrational prejudice at work — old age often brings diminished capacity.
Parkinson’s also may accelerate age-related decline. But it really doesn’t matter whether King’s actions have a diagnosable origin.
I had the privilege of serving on Council for six years with the late Robert Isaac. “Mayor Bob” was informed, in control, decisive and fair. He ran meetings crisply and effectively, and never allowed politics to influence City Council’s deliberations.
When Isaac resigned in 1996, he privately cited a simple reason: He no longer felt that he could effectively lead Council and the city that he loved. He was 68.
At 73, I know that I’d have a tough time being the presiding officer of an elected body. I can ride my bike 80 miles over four mountain passes in this weekend’s Copper Triangle and write reasonably coherently about city issues — but run a Council meeting? Keep track of dozens of agenda items? Be on top of all the issues that might come before Council? Bring warring factions together for the good of the city, and command the respect of all, regardless of faction or party?
There comes a time in life when you have to recognize, however reluctantly, that you can no longer do the job you love.
That time has come for Keith King. For his sake, and for the city’s sake, he should resign from Council.