Geezers stump for strong mayor

Fri, Mar 26, 2010


The campaign to change the form of government in Colorado Springs has begun in earnest.

“Citizens for Accountable Leadership”, the brainchild of Colorado Springs developer David Jenkins, sent out a press release yesterday announcing that Chuck Murphy, Andy McElhany, and Mary Ellen McNally would chair the group, which so far has seven announced supporters.

Norwood exec Kevin Walker, the group’s spokesman, said that the seven are ‘just a start,” and that they’d be announcing “60 or 70 more names” in the near future.

In a phone conversation, Walker said that the group’s finances and operations would be transparent and aboveboard – no secret funding streams, no sinister, hidden agendas.

The three co-chairs are people with long experience in Colorado Springs politics and business – and I do mean long! Murphy has been here since dinosaurs walked the earth, meaning almost as long as I have.

McNally & McElhany, with 50 and 30 years in our fair community, are comparative newcomers. Their contributions to this city rank with those made by any three living residents of Colorado Springs, which means that we ought to sit up and pay attention to what they have to say.

Given my own tenure in this community, which precedes World War II (or was it World War I?) I can without (much) offense give the group a new name: Geezers for Change!

The geezers are, according to the group’s website, “…dedicated to researching and developing a proposal for changing the Charter of the City of Colorado Springs to allow an accountable and visionary Mayor to be the Chief Executive of the City!”

As a congenitally suspicious, mildly cynical journalist/ex-politician, a few caveats occurred to me.

– Do you have someone in mind to become our visionary, accountable mayor? Bob Isaac is dead and Mary Lou Makepeace has a less stressful, more rewarding, and better paid job. To whom will our city turn its lonely eye? Not Joe DiMaggio-and I don’t think that Rich Gossage would want to end his career running a minor league city.

Accountable? A strong mayor, answering to the voters every four years, would be far less accountable than are elected officials in our present system. Presently the mayor is, in effect, the chairman of the city’s board of directors. The city council hires a chief executive, the city manager, who in turn hires the folks who manage city departments. Council functions as should an ideal corporate board-meeting frequently, demanding accountability from the manager and his hires, and continually monitoring the city’s financial status.

But in a strong mayor system, the mayor hires and fires, and runs the city with an iron hand. Council’s function is strictly legislative-they would have little power to override or second-guess the mayor’s executive decisions.

If in fact the voters elect an experienced, competent, and visionary individual to be the city’s mayor, everything might work out just fine.

But suppose they don’t? Like it or not, we’d be stuck with some doofus for the next four years. And, although the Three Amigos might not like to think about this inconvenient fact, Colorado Springs voters have always had a certain affection for eccentric doofuses. Think Charlie Duke, Betty Beedy, Doug Bruce, Cheryl Gillaspie, and Tom Huffman. You could even make a case that some of our present elected officials belong in this exalted company-and that one or two occupy seats on the council dais. That’s ok, as long as the majority is sane.

– Visionary? Was President Bush a visionary leader? Is President Obama another? Most of us would agree with one, and disagree with the other – depending upon our political orientation. Perhaps our great, quarrelsome nation needs strong, visionary leaders, but do we need the same thing in our small, quarrelsome city? Maybe competent administration would suit us better than visionary change.

– Who benefits? In the present system, power is diffused among the mayor and eight council members. They serve staggered eight-year terms, so the voters have a say every two years. No single interest group has ever been able to elect a slate of candidates and thereby control the council, but it’ll be a different ball game with a strong mayor. Elect your guy/gal, and you call the shots. Everything would be on the line in a single election, and you can bet that the elections would be nasty, cynical, and well-financed, just like Chicago. Whoever wins would be in someone’s pocket, and it wouldn’t be yours or mine.

– Who’s going to do the, like, actual work? Someone has to run the city, and it won’t be the chief politician, regardless of his/her powers. The mayor will have to name a chief operating officer, who will have the same functions as does the present city manager, albeit with little actual power. Will Steve Cox (and by the way Steve, congratulations!) or someone of equal ability be comfortable in that role? Is responsibility without power all that attractive?

Sorry, guys, but I’m a little skeptical. But I’ll shut up, if you’ll just agree to a friendly little intra-geezer competition. I’m calling you out: Chuck, Andy, Mary Ellen, Acacia Park, noon, April 1st, shuffleboard! Winner takes all…

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7 Comments For This Post

  1. sharon berthrong Says:


    You may be a geezer – I won’t argue with you – but you are sharp and have brought up some good thoughts. We all need to think about these, and probably many more, before we endorse this endeavor.
    Thanks John.

  2. Jason Says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more on this matter. A strong mayor system sounds a lot like dumping all of our eggs into one basket every four years. Pick the wrong basket and you’re just along for the ride.

  3. Rick Wehner Says:

    This is an opportunity to create a leadership position where one is actually held accountable for progress or the lack of it, rather than a system where blame is spread among 9.

    We still have available the recall process.

    We have had negative progress for 8 years. This is an effort to see in place a person who will be expected to perform rather than smirk. Progress.

    This initiative will get my vote.

    The only problem: Sallie Clark. She runs, another dry spell of no progress and bad national press.

  4. Jane G Says:

    Amen, John. From one ol’ Geezer to another.

  5. John Whitten Says:

    What we need around here is somebody who has:

    -had to make a payroll;
    -made, and be accountable to, a budget;
    -paid taxes, with nothing to show for it;
    -been accosted on Tejon Street by drunks
    -been in town longer than ten years;
    -actually knows who some of the city fathers were back when the town actually ran;
    -would show restraint when overhearing some city water department staffers laughing about the water rate increase while lunching at Mckenzies…..
    -understands exactly what a conflict of interest is, and isn’t….
    -knows &^%$ when they hear it..
    -never owned a slum rental property, or stored a used car or old washing machine in their yard; and
    -has never done, or financed, a real estate development.

    Unfortunarely, those folks are out trying to run successful businesses in what is now the Obama economic era (‘all show, and no go….”).

    The strong mayor spot may actually attract otherwise competent folks after their previously successful business konk out from the cost of the revolutionary health care plan…

  6. John Hazlehurst Says:

    Whitten, I like your list! Only problem-it would appear to exclude yours truly. and I’ve been doing pushups, ab crunches, and weights every morning, just so I can qualify as a “strong mayor,” should the opportunity present itself…

  7. Victor Says:

    God help us all.

    A strong mayor that is hired or fired every years without a GOLDEN PARACHUTE IS better than what we have now.