The city needs a weak leader

Wed, Mar 10, 2010


Ours is a predictable city. Those of us who have spent a couple of decades (or more) at the foot of Pikes Peak know that:

  • It snows in April.
  • The hail will get your tomatoes in July.
  • Douglas Bruce will submit lunatic initiatives during every election, and some will pass.
  • Residents of the city core feel shortchanged by the suburbs.
  • Residents of the suburbs feel shortchanged by the core city.
  • If editorials in both the Gazette and the Independent support an initiative, the voters won’t.
  • Rowdy nightclub patrons have bothered the powers that be since the late 19th century (source: the memoirs of “Prairie Dog” O’Byrne, who harnessed a team of elk to his carriage during the 1880’s, and drove around town terrifying the respectable folk of Colorado Springs whenever he left the friendly confines of the saloons and brothels of Colorado City…but I digress).
  • When times are good, developers are bad (greedy despoilers of the environment who ignore the greater good of the city!).
  • When times are bad, developers are good (don’t just sit around-despoil the environment and create some jobs!).
  • And in good and bad times alike, we are always in the midst of a leadership crisis.

It’d be easy enough to create a convenient, one-size-fits-all leadership crisis template, just to ease the burdens of future scribes. Here’s a model.

During [a meeting/an informal gathering/an invitation-only event/an exclusive interview/a Facebook post] [name/affiliation] said that the [name of organization] is suffering from a crisis of leadership.

“The [city/county/chamber/EDC/business community] is adrift and rudderless,” said Blank, “we need firm, decisive leadership, or we won’t [reach our goal/recover our lost jobs/regain public trust/get the voters to approve a tax increase]. We’re moving forward, and we’ve formed [name of committee] which will be focused on [words, not actions] and headed by [insert names]. This initiative must and will succeed, because the consequences of failure are [too great/too embarrassing/too insignificant] to accept.

This is not just [one cranky rich guy’s obsession/another annoying do-nothing group/a badly written press release]. This is [a call to action/a good time to drink shots/nothing important, actually].”

History teaches us that the world’s ills have not been cured by strong leaders.

It’s hard to argue that Hitler, Stalin, and Jim Jones were weak and indecisive. Had Stalin been as ineffective as Tsar Nicholas, or had Hitler been as irresolute as Neville Chamberlain, the world might have been spared both the Soviet Union and World War II. The problem at Jonestown was not the cyanide in the Kool-Aid, but the hundreds of unfortunates who drank it. And if Osama bin Laden hadn’t been a charismatic leader, the twin towers might still stand.

So why do we think a “strong mayor” will do anything but make our problems worse? Effective leaders go where they want to go, not necessarily where we should go. With that in mind, I’ll vote for whoever promises to be ineffectual, inattentive, lackadaisical, and indolent. I want a mayor who’d rather party than govern, one who realizes that 90 percent of problems solve themselves, and the other 10 percent are too complicated for any local elected official to solve. I’m trying to think of a good candidate…

Maybe I’ll run.

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8 Comments For This Post

  1. Buddy Gilmore Says:

    Gee John – I was really counting on your vote, but I can see by your criteria you’ll either have to vote for someone else or sit this one out :-)

  2. Kevin Walker Says:

    I would prefer using Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill as examples of strong leadership. At least they won their strength in real democracies where real people voted!

  3. Tim O Says:

    It’s not the form of government but the forms in government. I’ll vote for you John if you buy me a drink.

  4. John Whitten Says:

    We don’t need anybody who hasn’t ever had to make a payroll, hasn’t had to compete in any kind of business, and who has no experience in dealing with the city (and the county, for that matter…). It would also help to have somebody with some history in Colorado Springs.

    The days being an elected do-gooder are over, for now….

    A strong mayor and council structure, with a reasonable paycheck might, at least on paper, attrack some quality folks with a business background.

    While we don’t want to go back to the days of Chase Stone, Jasper Ackerman, and the secret breakfasts where the future of the town was decided, those personalities in an elected position might be exactly who we need. (And if you don’t know who those guys were and what they did here, you don’t know enough about this community to run for office……)

    It seems the initiative for a strong mayor is picking up enough steam to actually pass. But anyone who has studied this issue will tell you the vote is the easy part (exisitng city management has seen to that…..)….it’s the transition that’ll be much harder. The folks who can lead the successful transition are the ones I’d vote for….. and there aren’t many of us around…….

  5. Eugene Finkelstein Says:

    I liked your letter, John. I couldn’t do that if I tried, so I’m slightly jealous. But I do take exception to one thing. I think that it’s the Council’s job, including the Mayor’s, to take the high road and plan for the future, set directions. Do we keep this city with only clean industry, or call centers, or do we go back to mining, et al.

    40 years ago we basically lived under the direction of Golden Cycle (if I have the name wrong, somebody, please correct me). It was a nice quiet town. But during one of the censuses back then, we must have been combined with Pueblo, because we had a Democratic Congressman. I was stationed here at the time for 6 years and I think now that those were the good old days. Why doesn’t who has the time take a look at what made them the “good old days”?

  6. Rick Wehner Says:

    Being a staid, boring engineer where the world is all black and white, I am going to drift into the grey area of ‘philosophy’ and opine that it seems in each period of true crisis, strong leaders evolve.

    Where the hell they all hang out while the crisis is evolving I do not know. Blue Starr Inn, I guess.

    But we are in a crisis period. Serious. And I see so many ‘groups’ forming (with credible people this time) to address areas of deficiency that I feel we are about to go on a roll where progress will be made in developing leaner government and a more stable economy.

    With a lame duck county and city elected group, perhaps nothing more damaging will occur and the new electeds can grab the mop and bucket.

    Now, when do we start the convention center?

  7. BDJ Says:

    A strong leader is needed to combat those that are just as strong, but have the resolve and charisma to try to subjugate the rest of the world and remake it into their Idea of what America is.

    Yes Hitler was strong, but his weakness was his arrogance. The same could be said for the others that you named. Communist Russia was a failure. Jim Jones committed suicide too because he knew that it was only a matter of time before he had to answer for his “deceptions”.

    A strong mayor will not get the “Golden Parachute” severence that all City Managers get when they leave our city’s employment. It is BS and costs our city money that in times like this, is sorely needed.

    He/She will be subject to and answer to the voters of this city.

    There will be accountability – FROM THE VOTERS. Not just a city council that is “weak” itself and typically mired in their self-serving interests.

    A Strong Mayor will prevent this- as long as they are not corrupt or have serious conflicts of interest (and no, I am not talking about Rivera here).

    Yes, a weak leader is safer for those that frequent the halls of our local government and “in-the-know”. This ensures that the city is run in their favor. John would know…

    A strong leader can go where they want to go, but a Real Leader will take us with him.

  8. John Hazlehurst Says:

    I guess that weak leader/strong leader is a meaningless dichotomy. What we need (all attempts at humor aside) is a municipal government led by folks who collectively make apprropriate decisions. Difficult times drive change, but sometimes we need to make tough decisions-and I’m afraid that changing the form of government is akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Looks good, costs nothing, solves nothing. The people who built modern Colorado Springs were willing to take risks, to go for the win instead of the tie, and able to engage the residents of the region in that effort.

    No governmental model is perfect-but ones that emphasize collaboration, cooperative problem-solving, public input, and community buy-in are most likely to succeed over the long run.

    This city is going through a rough patch-but contrast our history during the last 60 years with that of almost any other municipality, and we look pretty good!

    Not sure that introducing the Detroit model of municipal government will make this a better city.