“Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away …”
I thought of that little poem, originally written by Hughes Means during 1899, as I sat through yesterday’s City Council meeting.
For those in attendance, the theory of relativity was amply demonstrated. In council chambers, time slows. Ten minutes of bloviation from a councilmember appears to last longer than two hours of convivial tippling with friends at the Ritz, Sonterra or the Famous. Windy staff presentations about complex issues last as long as a week in law school, and centuries seem to pass before the meetings finally end.
But upon the broad double stairs that lead to our once-grand council chambers, there was definitely a woman who wasn’t there — Stephanie Streeter.
Ms. Streeter, the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, didn’t deign to show up and thank city council for a gaily wrapped gift bag worth around $50 million, courtesy of Springs taxpayers. She sent her COO, the tall and courtly Norm Bellingham, who thanked the city on her behalf.
It seemed a little de haut en bas, a statement of social class that would have been familiar to Harvard grad Hughes Means at the close of the 19th century. Just as Mrs. John Jacob Astor might have sent her maidservant to pick up a little bauble at Tiffany & Co, Ms. Streeter sent her personal assistant to receive the city’s obeisance.
Dunno about you, but if ever I hand over $50 million to anyone, I expect to be thanked personally … unless, of course, I’m handing it over to the IRS.
Meanwhile, as time slowed to a crawl in City Hall, one thing struck me about the recently renovated council chambers: there are no windows.
Or, more precisely, all of the windows are permanently blacked out, presumably for the convenience of TV cameras and audio/visual presentations. What was once a sunny, light-filled room, with views of the city and Pikes Peak has become a dismal cave, a reductive and self-referential environment, the capitol of nowhere.
If councilmembers sometimes seem to operate in a world apart, the room reinforces their isolation and alienation.
A modest suggestion to council: raise the shades, open the windows, let in the fresh air and sunshine, and be reminded, as you sit on the dais, that your decisions affect real people in a real city.
And who knows — maybe, looking out the windows, you’ll see Stephanie Streeter wandering down Nevada Avenue on some sunny afternoon …