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Mayor’s counsel meeting: transit money, shorter meetings and Drake

Wed, Jun 20, 2012

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For anyone willing to sit through an hour and a half’s worth of elected officials talking about serious subjects, there were some unexpected rewards at the Mayor’s counsel meeting this morning.

In the rarely explored arena of things that might actually make a difference, both Mayor and Council came up with worthwhile ideas.

Mayor Bach complained at length about the state department of transportation’s tendency to short change the Pikes Peak region. He noted that the current memorandum of understanding between CDOT and the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments calls for the region to receive somewhere between 7 percent (CDOT’s interpretation of the MOU) and 9.3 percent (the city’s interpretation) of state transportation funding. Doesn’t matter which interpretation rules, because the area only gets a little more than 4 percent.

That’s because, according to the mayor, CDOT no longer believes that strict regional guidelines apply. In these times of straitened budgets, the organization allocates funding according to overall state priorities.

Curiously, the Denver metro area still gets its full proportional allotment. Had our region received its putative fair share, we’d have another $22 million annually to fund state highway projects such as the I-25/Cimarron interchange.

“If we’d had our share,” said Bach testily, “that interchange would already be built.”

Why don’t we get the funding?

State bureaucracies are often murky and opaque. Decision making is diffused, constituencies overlap, politicians do their thing, and it’s hard to figure who’s in charge.

CDOT is governed by an 11-member transportation commission appointed by the governor. Each commissioner represents a specific group of counties. Five of the 11 represent counties within the Denver/Boulder/Fort Collins/Greeley super-metro, while two others represent various counties along the western I-70 corridor, including Clear Creek, Summit, and Pitkin. Given that the urbanized northern Front Range has five of 11 commissioners, the commission would appear to have a built-in bias.

The Pikes Peak region has a single commissioner, Les Gruen, who represents El Paso, Teller, Park and Fremont counties. Les is competent and knowledgeable, and adamantly insists that he and his fellow commissioners don’t favor any one region over another.

Maybe he’s right, but it’s possible that the system is structurally biased in favor of our neighbors to the north. Former Mayor Bob Isaac complained about it, as have many elected and appointed officials over the years.

And consider this: if the northern super-metro has consistently led the funding pack, then the area has that much more critical infrastructure to repair/rebuild/replace.

Bach has a straightforward solution to our problem: alter the makeup of the Transportation Commission. Give our district another seat on the board.

Might work, if the politicians can be persuaded to make the change. We’d finally have enough clout to make deals with the commissioners who represent Pueblo, the Western Slope, and the non-Denver, non-ski area parts of the state.

Meanwhile, we can be sure that the mayor will pester Governor Hickenlooper, PPACG, and CDOT in the hopes of getting some relief. We won’t get $22 million, but any increase would be welcome.

After decades of enduring seven, eight, 10 and 12 hour meetings, and listening to convinced partisans on either side of important issues drone on interminably, Council is finally doing something about it.

They’re thinking of separating the time for public comment from the formal meeting where action is taken. Comments might be taken in a separate meeting by a three-member committee of councilors. For example, three councilors might do oil & gas, three Memorial, and another three utilities governance. Instead of being dazed, confused and sore-butted, councilors could consider public comments at their leisure.

Still, I’ll miss the dysfunctional spectacle of it all. I did my time; I sat through endless meetings; I cast votes in a blur of fatigue and resentment – so why shouldn’t they do it too? You got elected; you got to be a big shot, so pay your dues! Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

And finally, a comment from Councilor Lisa Czelatdko, ruminating over the Drake Power Plant, that’s worthy of Yogi Berra in his prime.

“We need to take an in-depth look,” she said, “at regulatory regulations.”

 

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