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Meet our city’s new mayor

Mon, Mar 8, 2010

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Judging from recent election results, a majority of Colorado Springs voters will support any reasonable measure to cure the city’s ills, as long as the measure doesn’t involve the dreaded “T” word.

That may be why a proposal to change the city’s form of government to the so-called “strong mayor” system has gotten so much traction.

A strong mayor must be better than a weak mayor, right? Strong bodies trump weak bodies, strong minds are better than weak ones, and strong teams win the Super Bowl while weak teams don’t even make the playoffs.

By putting a strong mayor in office, we’ll rebuild our city, put in a real CEO, and he/she will work miracles! Jack Walsh took GE, a faltering legacy manufacturer, and turned it into world-devouring powerhouse-so why can’t we find our own Jack (or Jill) Walsh and let him/her work wonders?

No more quarrelsome council, no more stubborn, unaccountable bureaucrats-we’ll get someone who will crack down on all those slackers and make the streetcars run on time!

That’s fine, I guess, but the city manager form of government has served us well for nearly a century, and, despite its obvious flaws, may be superior to a strong mayor system.

In our present form of government, the mayor has little statutory power. He/she presides over council meeting and has a vote and a voice, and that’s about it. Council is predominantly a policy-making body, with hire/fire authority over half a dozen appointees, including the Utilities director and the city manager.

The mayor is elected at large, and is seen as the city’s leader. To be effective, a mayor must be respected and trusted both by residents of the city and by his/her fellow members of council. Gaining such respect and trust isn’t easy, but many of our recent mayors have managed to do so.

It’s difficult to imagine that Bob Isaac and Mary Lou Makepeace could have been more powerful or more effective leaders in a different form of government. With sure political instincts, patience, intelligence, and generally supportive colleagues, they didn’t merely preside-they governed.

Yet both of them understood that they couldn’t govern without the affection and support of city residents.

By contrast, Mayor Lionel Rivera, although just as smart, savvy, and experienced as either of his illustrious predecessors, has stumbled badly – and not because of deficient leadership skills. Fairly or not, he bears responsibility for the unpopular USOC deal, for the Stormwater Enterprise, and for November’s failed property tax increase. A mayor more sensitive to the times, and to the quirks of our city, might have steered a different course.

A paid, full-time, “strong mayor” wouldn’t need either continuing popular support or the support of a majority of council to govern. Council would devolve into a mere legislative body, whose actions would be subject to the mayor’s veto. Such vetoes would require a supermajority of council members to override.

Elections, as we all know, are not easily predictable. Under the present system, there are enough checks and balances to prevent an eccentric or incompetent mayor from doing much damage. That wouldn’t be the case in a strong mayor system.

And I can easily imagine a scenario that would result in the election of a certain former elected official and activist as the city’s first strong mayor.

Say hello to Mayor Douglas Bruce!

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14 Comments For This Post

  1. Jon Severson Says:

    HAHAHAHAHA! He is the perfect solution isn’t he? He already thinks the city should do everything for free on zero budget so he shouldn’t mind it. This town in general doesn’t want to pay for anything that can make this town grow anyway so it may just be a match made in heaven.

  2. Buddy Gilmore Says:

    Now John, your last two sentences are a bit scary. I don’t plan to let that happen. BTW – check out my blog, which started yesterday. Over the next several months I’ll be discussing thoughts, ideas, and hopefully open up dialogue with other concerned citizens of our city as I make may case to become your next mayor. http://gilmoreforcoloradosprings.blogspot.com/

  3. Jane Young Says:

    You sure like to stir things up :-). I love it!!

  4. Rick Van Wieren Says:

    After fighting the gag reflex that your blog evoked, I realized that it was just a gag, wasn’t it? Please? I can think of no other single person who has done more damage to this city.

  5. John Hazlehurst Says:

    Rick, I’m as serious as a heart attack. The Dougster has a lot of support in our fair city, and I can sure imagine him getting 25-30 percent of the vote in a multi-candidate race, which might be enough to win. Remember, the charter contains no runoff provision, so a plurality wins.

  6. Andrew Says:

    Hmmm, yeah.. uh… if Doug Bruce ran, and the people of Colorado Springs elected him, I think I’d have to move forward my plans of leaving this laughingstock of a town. I’ve only lived here for 10 years, and maybe some of this reputation for being cheap predates my residence, but it’s gotten pretty ridiculous. If Doug Bruce had his way, the city government would likely disappear, and we’d end up having to borrow our municipal infrastructure from Woodland Park or Pueblo. I suppose we could also just get swallowed up as a remote suburb to Denver, but any which way you slice it there’s less and less to be proud of living in Colorado Springs lately. We’ve cut off our nose to spite our face, and all most people can talk about is taking aim at our mouth, eyes, and ears.

    Hey – I have an idea! Why don’t we address our budget shortfall by taking a page from Topeka, KS (oops, I’m sorry… I mean Google, KS) and sell the naming rights to our city?!?! Colorado Springs is a very boring name, after all… and it’s not like the actual ‘springs’ themselves are responsible for any tourism revenue or anything (we don’t have any of those fancy hot springs you can swim in – just those fountains in Manitou oozing out that stuff we still allow them to call ‘water’). We should revitalize our ‘Silicone Mountain’ status and become Microsoft or Apple, CO. For that matter, being the conservative capital of the country (or, Little Texas, as I sometimes call us), we could even become FOX News, CO… hmmm, has kind of a ring to it, no?

  7. Bill Elder Says:

    Now John, you know he won’t run because then he would have to take full responsibility for all the damage he causes and no bully in his right mind would do that…. of course I’m assuming he IS in his right mind…. hmmmmm

  8. Verl Says:

    YIKES!

  9. Kidding Says:

    John,
    Does this multi-candidate race account for the mandatory recount vote and expense that would come with a Doug Bruce candidacy? I mean if he should win or lose by less than 10,000 votes, I fear another wasted recall expense.

  10. Jack Donley Says:

    What this community needs is leadership not a new form of government. This community needs a mayor and a city council with credibility that has a demonstrable understanding of this community’s motivations agendas and desires. We need leaders that have not only vision but the credibility and finesse to deal with this community’s belief that all government is greedy, dishonest, lazy and too big. This city does not trust its current leadership. It has bought into the financially convenient seeds of distrust sown and so well nurtured by Mr. Bruce and his like. Those seeds have been fed by ineffective tactics; those of claiming that the sky is falling when it was not, the use of intellectually dishonest (but legal) methods like the “storm water enterprise,” to downright manipulation such as letting the grass die in our parks. Now, even if indeed the wolf has shown up, no one is listening. They just don’t believe anything our current leadership is saying.
    A “Strong Mayor ” is not going to change that. The only thing that will change it is someone who can demonstrate that they are in touch, that they have Colorado Springs best interests in their hearts and have the ability to credibility communicate the state of our city and what our community needs to do to maintain our quality of life.

  11. Buddy Gilmore Says:

    I’m hoping that any other candidates for mayor will do the right thing in a close race. I pledge to you that I will.

  12. Jane Hammoud Says:

    John: You are right on – as is your final scenario. If the City Council is in tune with the City, are visionary and clearly articulate their desired outcomes, they can govern and allow a great CEO (i.e. a “Jack Walsh” City Manager) do her/his thing – with their monitoring rather than interfering along the way. We voters need to be held accountable for electing a visionary and thoughtful council and mayor too!

  13. FactFinder Says:

    Rivera has a twenty year long track record of one disaster after another. And with each episode he has shown an interesting tendency to accelerate the scope of the disaster, complete with totally ignoring what the people really wanted. His single accomplishment has been runaway salaries, which is the cost that keeps on giving.

    The loss of support by the public for him and Vice Mayor Small is also total. If anybody runs their golden retriever against these men, the dog is going to win in a landslide.
    If they win against the dog, you can assume vote fraud.

    Your points about the weak mayor/strong mayor are contradicted by reality. Both Issac and Rivera have been aggressive, controlling leaders. Unfortunately, they have chosen to represent the non-majority of a few powerful builders and one all controlling hotel group. Witness the 24 year delays on opening Pikes Peak to public use, and the near continuous circus with the luxury office space for 20 people at the USOC speaks for itself.

    The solutions to this includes criminal indictments and a new set of leaders.

  14. helen sabin Says:

    A strong Mayor for the Springs? Pros and Cons abound but the greatest one is that the current council has done well for the city. The latest faux pas they made were red light cameras. rather than reduce the amount and size of government, they increase the take to the city by robbing citizens. Will the strong mayor be any different? What can he do the current council hasn’t?