by Pam Zubeck
UPDATE: A clearly agitated chairman of the Utilities Board, Scott Hente, just got in touch with us after reading Schuck's comment that Council has been "sitting on their asses doing nothing."
"I've been gathering information for nine years," Hente says. "I've never seen him come to one meeting. This is ridiculous. They swear allegiance to TABOR [the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights that caps governments' revenue] and then do end runs around it, but then we have huge electric bills.
"I'm pissed at the ignorance of this community," he went on. "I don't give a damn anymore [about maintaining decorum with community leaders like Schuck]. They won't be honest with the community that we need to raise taxes. They want to sell out one of our community assets with an intrinsic value they'll never understand. Then it's gone forever and we pay higher rates forever."
Hente got off the phone once, then actually called back to say: "If the [Greater Colorado Springs] Chamber and EDC shares his thought that we're sitting on our asses, then maybe I'll sit on my ass this budget cycle and forget to give them the subsidy they get through Springs Utilities," he said, referring to the $260,000 Utilities gave to the Chamber and EDC last year. "I'm sorry. This is what's wrong with this community."
———————————ORIGINAL POST THURSDAY, SEPT. 20, 3:29 P.M.——————————————
Local developer and school privitization advocate Steve Schuck showed up as promised to a meeting he called at Penrose Library this afternoon to discuss how to value Colorado Springs Utilities' electric department.
Those who showed up include: Local businessman Jerry Biggs, developer and attorney Ralph Braden, City Councilors Merv Bennett and Tim Leigh, businessman Bob Cutter who's leading the Colorado Springs Together Waldo Canyon fire recovery center, developer Doug Quimby, businessman and unsuccessful mayoral candidate Richard Skorman, developer Chris Jenkins and consultant Kevin Walker. Gazette editorial page editor Wayne Laugeson was invited but I didn't see him arrive, though Schuck said he expected him to attend.
Oh yes, Mayor Steve Bach showed up escorted by a Colorado Springs Police officer, who stood outside the door after Bach went in.
Feeling like a stalker, I waited outside the Carnegie Room at the library to see who would show up. Soon, Schuck himself walked up and we had a three-minute conversation, during which he denied me entrance to the meeting. Which was no surprise. This was an invitation only event.
"I just had a two hour lunch with Jerry Forte [Springs Utilities CEO]," Schuck said. "He's glad we're having the meeting. I get the sense you think there's something nefarious going on. We're not here to talk about what to do. We're not here to determine what the ultimate resolution ought to be, only what the next step ought to be. Had the council done a month ago what they did yesterday there would be no reason for this meeting, but they didn't."
Schuck was referring to Council's meeting Wednesday as the Utilities Board during which board members directed their Utilities Policy Advisory Committee to study selling the electric utility. The panel will report their findings in May. Council also had a 90-minute discussion about studying the decommissioning of coal-fired Drake Power Plant in lower downtown, a move pushed by Bach to make way for a sports stadium. The Jenkins family owns property adjacent to Drake, by the way.
The Council has voted to install pollution control technology on Drake developed by home-grown Neumann Systems Group, a decision opposed by some who want Drake out of the picture faster than it would take to pay off the scrubbers.
Schuck resumed: "They've [referring to Council] been sitting on their asses doing nothing, taking positions against, without any information. Even Jerry says if we could sell it for $2 billion, we could pay off the debt and put $1 billion in community coffers. Why wouldn't we want to do that? I don't know if we can."
Outside the library was a small band of protesters who oppose selling the utility, because then the community wouldn't be able to decide what to do with Drake, protester Eric Verlo said.
"This is clearly undemocratic," Verlo said of the meeting, adding he suspects Schuck chose a public place for the meeting to call attention to what the influence brokers are up to — selling a public asset to "get out from under its [the city's] economic woes."
Schuck promises to share information from the meeting, so we'll update if we can find out more later.