What's more disheartening: watching a City Council meeting in person or following it on your computer? The flickering images on the monitor are bearable, in the sense that reruns of really bad TV shows are bearable — think Gilligan's Island, Fantasy Island or Mysterious Island.
But live, up front and personal? You get the feel of the room. It's sour, defeated and angry. Meetings drag on interminably, as Council President Keith King allows — encourages! — Joel Miller and Don Knight to consume hours of Council's time considering eccentric and irrelevant agenda items.
Much better on TV — call it Island of the Damned.
If Councilors were the only folks suffering from these self-inflicted wounds, we wouldn't much care. Unfortunately, we're among the victims. King and co-conspirators have transformed City Council into a dysfunctional mini-legislature. Subcommittees of councilors solemnly meet to investigate various issues and transmit findings to colleagues. Meetings are preceded by pre-meetings — the meeting before the meeting. (No, I'm not joking.)
Upon taking office last year, King declared that his No. 1 priority was to get Council its own attorney. That's not a goal — it's a salvo in a quarrel with the mayor. It's procedural, not substantive. Since then, we've become the D.C. of the Rockies, where petty scheming trumps expansive dreaming.
But the past need not be determinative. Here are a few suggestions for Mayor Steve Bach and Council, in the spirit of Rodney King's plaintive lament: "Can we all get along?"
Mayor Bach: Make a stormwater deal. Council isn't buying your city-only proposal, so it won't be on the ballot. Declare strong support for the regional initiative and settle for a meaningless Council promise to support a local Community Improvements Program initiative in the future. You'll be seen as gracious and collaborative, a good place to be as the 2015 city elections approach. While you're at it, throw Council a few more bones, and make nice! Heed the words of 19th-century humorist Josh Billings: "A puppy plays with every pup he meets, but an old dog has few associates."
Council: Stop sniping, forget eminent domain, don't put divisive charter changes on the ballot — and shorten the meetings. Work on real things, such as ...
• City Auditorium. There it is, under your noses across the street. It's your responsibility. Work with the mayor and fix it up. We know you don't much like the proposed downtown stadium. That's OK. But it's not OK to continue a generation of neglect to an iconic city building.
• Martin Drake Power Plant. Open your eyes, get some independent advice, and make a decision in the city's long-term interest. Hire Bill Nye (he's in town this week for the Space Symposium) to give you a one-day seminar on global climate change. If afterward you think that Drake should continue to inject 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide annually into the atmosphere, the coal industry will be delighted. Sing along with Tennessee Ernie Ford: "I owe my soul to the company store."
• Stormwater. If Bach gets on the bus, welcome him, work with him, and help rally city voters to support this new county property tax (oops, I mean impermeable surface fee). You've done a good job here so far, so let's not blow it.
• City infrastructure. The mayor's right — it's a mess. Sit down with him and figure out what to do about it. We've run out of Band-Aids. Entropy, in the form of expanding potholes and crumbling buildings, is winning.
• South Academy, North Nevada, West Colorado, East Platte — thoroughfares in trouble. Get in your cars and drive around the city. Do the same in Denver. These problems don't fix themselves. You can help.
• Don't force community leaders like Joe Raso, Doug Stimple, Chris Jenkins and Susan Davies to drop everything and run down to City Hall to deal with your tomfoolery. Instead, get to know them and benefit from their wisdom and experience.
Heed the words of this familiar quote, usually misattributed to Mark Twain or Will Rogers. (See, you've already learned something.) It's another from Josh Billings: "The trouble with most folks isn't so much their ignorance. It's knowin' so many things that ain't so."