My thoughts on the mayor’s speech

Wed, Jun 3, 2009


One of the few perks available to the Mayor of Colorado Springs is, one hopes, a speechwriter. 

If not, Mayor Lionel Rivera would have been obliged to labor late into the night to produce many thousands of words of flat, turgid prose. If he did, my sympathies!  And if he didn’t, speaking as one with a demonstrated ability to churn out flat, turgid prose, my sympathies go to the folks in the city’s public communications department. 

I missed the speech – so I can only assume that the official trascript of the mayor’s remarks is accurate. 

It’s interesting for its impotent, complaining tone.  Let’s ignore the bizarre shout-out to the estimable Mike Moran, or the fawning tribute to the Independent’s Adrian Stanley, and try to summarize the speech’s content in four very short sentences.

City good!  City broke! Pay up or else! That means you, Mr. & Ms. Taxpayer!

With minor variations, Colorado Springs mayors have delivered the same doleful news since 1981, when I arrived back in town.  The city has been strapped for cash in good years and bad, in sun and  rain, in summer and winter, year after year, decade after decade-and somehow we keep on muddling through.

But our Mayors complain-and that may be because the position they occupy is virtually powerless.

Under the city manager form of government, Mayor & Council can only make policy, not execute it.

The nine-member council hires a handful of senior managers, including the city manager, the utilities director, the city attorney, the city clerk, and the auditor-and that’s it.  Those managers, in turn, run the city.  They hire, they fire, and they execute policy according to their interpretation of Council’s policy directives.

Tha Mayor has no more power than any other member of Council.  He or she cannot, except through persuasion, negotiation, and compromise, fashion policy and direction for the city, and hire folks to carry out those policies.

The council selects its appointees by majority vote-and they owe no more loyalty to the Mayor than to any other councilmember.

That’s why every Mayor in recent history has looked enviously at Denver’s chief executive, who actually runs the city.

Denver has a so-called “strong mayor’ form of government, which grants the Mayor the kind of power that we associate with chief executives-the power to hire and fire, to create budgets, and to, if necessary, run roughshod over a comparatively powerless city council.

Since Tabor was first enacted locally, as a charter amendment during 1991, the mayor’s position has devolved from impotence to irrelevance.  Like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, the mayor is powerless…unless we take Eddie Murphy’s advice, given to the spouse who had just caught him “in flagrante ” in the famous SNL skit.

“Who you gonna believe??!! Me-or your lyin’ eyes?”

<-Back to

, , , , , ,

7 Comments For This Post

  1. Dick Burns Says:

    The City clearly needs to put a Charter amendment on the ballot so we can restore some accountability to City Council. Right now, we’ve got the tail wagging the dog. Don’t like the City Manager? Tough! She can’t be recalled because she’s not elected! Bureaucrats-R-Us!

  2. Jolly Rogers Says:

    I was particularily annoyed because the speech was clearly written by committee in a lame attempt to cowtow to major constituents. The Mayor touting the impact of Sports Tourism while failing to mention the impact of Cultural Tourism, which brings in significantly more income, is just plain out of touch. With a mayor like Lionel, thank God we have a City Manager-run local government.

  3. sharon berthrong Says:

    my goddess, aren’t you glad you didn’t have to sit thru it!

  4. John Whitten Says:

    OK…all those in favor of a new city charter, say ‘aye’…….. the response could be deafening.

    From the “glass is half full” department, be glad we didn’t have MayorLionel in a strong Mayor position…..just think about how much trouble we’d be in…..

    Instead, we have pothole problems, park problems, hospital problems, problems ad nauseum, all created by tax and revenue shortfalls because the economy stinks, but mostly because the voters of Colorado Springs (aka taxpayers…) are stupid and won’t approve tax increases……

    And it’s not the fault of the City Manager, et al., because they just do what they’re told. And it’s not the fault of the City Council, because they can blame the taxpayers (aka voters). Around and around….I get dizzy, and confused, just watching the finger pointing. Maybe Council should hire another consultant to tell them they’re making everybody nuts…..

    The Mayor continues to promote the USOC deal, even in the face of overhwelming skepticism. One can only assume there were so many business cards printed up for Council with the ‘magic rings’ on them, that they’d hate to get rid of them.

    Maybe Bank of America, GM, and Home Depot pulling out of the USOC sponsorship family will make a no rent headquarters look pretty good…… as if it wasn’t a good enough deal already…..and keep the folks at Boulder and Union interested in a deal…..

    The rumor on the street (only the best kind…..), is that MayorLionel wants to try for a County Commissioner job….OK, all those in favor, say “Aye’…in this case, the silence could be deafening……

  5. Trevor Dierdorff Says:

    A strong mayor form of city government is absolutely the way Colorado Springs must go. How much better could our city be if we had a unifying vision. This city has outgrown its form of government and that if like Denver we had a full time Mayor (with authority) then perhaps this city would have something and someone to get behind.

    I think that at least part of the answer to our mutual frustration may be to have a Mayor’s office as a full time leadership role for this community. The City Manager can continue the operations work of running this city, the City Council can continue to make the weekly decisions that need to be made, but neither of these provides vision, leadership and direction like a mayor would. Our mayor could also be the diplomat that could heal relationships with our neighbors to the south of the city with issues like Piñon Canyon and the Southern Delivery System. The caliber of leader that we need to move this city forward will not come at a price of $500 per month. It will require a six figure salary and a support staff.
    Lon’s April 3rd editorial about the lack of a visionary in this city was dead on.
    I was at the state of the city event this week and while it was a good event, it was the same old rhetoric. As John said “City good! City broke! Pay up or else!”.

    My fellow citizens of this city need to get off of their no tax high horse and look at the good that could be done in our community with a few more dollars. Our city needs to be better about managing its resources and TABOR needs to be repealed. Oh yea, and we need to change the city charter so that a visionary leader can become Mayor and make a difference in moving us forward.

    Status quo has to go!

  6. Hunter Willis Says:

    Trevor is dead-on. We expect the mayor and city council to work to run the city but all the power rests in the hands of city manager — who is not accountable to the voters (as previously stated).

    Take this into account: Sarah Palin made over 100 times more in salary as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska (population: less than 10,000) than the mayor of Colorado Springs (population: nearing 500,000).

    Ask yourself: is there something wrong with that picture?

    Let’s change the charter now and give the voters the right to hold those accountable who make poor decisions.

  7. Rita Wisniewski Says:

    I think that it is a disgrace that our Mayor or our Commissioner never said anything in support of the Trooper who lost his life defending Pennsylvania. The last time I heard we were still a part of Pennsylvania. I feel very deep for all the loss of life of our Phila Officers and as an Officers mother I know the fear and pain that goes with the job. I feel that our Mayor should have had the flags flown at half mast in memory of this young man