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Outsider

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Let's see: City Council passes an ordinance forbidding convicted felons from serving on Council. Controversy erupts. Council backtracks, as in "Nobody told us what was in the ordinance that we just voted on!" At this writing, the intrepid Richard Skorman has promised to introduce an ordinance repealing Council's previous action, which, according to the members of that august body, they didn't actually mean to do. A nice little made-for-TV docudrama here, with a number of roles already cast:

The Rev. Promise Lee, as the fully rehabilitated felon, now a community leader of national stature!

Council member Linda Barley as the scheming incumbent, willing to use any means to keep a powerful opponent off the ballot!

Mary Lou Makepeace as the cunning mayor, able to keep her colleagues from actually reading the ordinances that they vote on!

Richard Skorman as the fearless crusader, ready to cast off the shackles of ignorance, and fight for what's right, true, and impeccably liberal!

Leon Young, as the wiliest politician of all -- how much does he really know?!?

City Attorney Pat Kelly and City Clerk Kathryn Young -- innocent victims, or did they weave the cloak of deception???!!?

The whole brouhaha is just as enjoyable, meaningless and content-free as the lead article in the National Enquirer. I'd love to believe that there was some kind of fiendish plot to keep Promise Lee off the ballot, but it just doesn't make sense. Linda Barley's no fool; she'd be a lot more likely to encourage Promise to run, and hope that he'd split the anti-incumbent vote with Sallie Clark, thereby giving Linda another four years in office.

And as anyone who has had the misfortune to spend a few years in government will tell you, mistakes are made. It's entertaining to think that City Hall is full of remorseless schemers who'd be right at home in Saddam Hussein's Iraq; alas, 'taint so. When governments screw up, it's usually because of sloth, carelessness, inattention or incompetence, not because of any malign intent.

But while we enjoy this little soap opera, let's think for a moment about the barriers that make it extraordinarily difficult for anyone to run for local office, convicted felon or not.

Here's what it takes to run for City Council:

You have to gather 100 signatures of registered voters on a petition supporting your candidacy (no sweat!).

You have to fill out a bunch of paperwork, and fully disclose your financial condition (overdue on your credit cards, are you? Hmmm).

Now you're a candidate. No support from the business/real estate/El Pomar iron triangle? Too bad; because there are no local campaign finance restrictions, your opponent may be able to raise as much money as he or she needs with a phone call, while you pitifully beg family and friends for a few bucks.

Miracles happen; you're elected anyway! Now, you get to spend 20 to 40 hours a week making policy for an enormously diverse, complex, and far-flung business enterprise that we call the City of Colorado Springs.

What you do is vitally important to every citizen of this city; that's why the power people are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure the success of their chosen candidates. And that's why Council members only get paid $6,250 annually -- to keep out the riff-raff.

So it looks like you'll have to quit after all. It's simple; the de facto barrier of campaign finance combined with the de jure barrier of Council pay means that no one need apply who is not a prosperous, business-friendly conservative. In other words, everyone who needs to work for a living is automatically disqualified, as is everyone unwilling to kowtow to the present power structure. What this means, of course, is that we're not electing our peers; we're electing our bosses.

Can this be fixed? Of course it can; Council could simply enact stringent campaign finance limitations, which would dilute the power of special-interest groups, then ask the voters to approve a charter amendment raising Council salaries to, say, that of County Commissioners ($55,000 or so).

Will they do it? They'd love a few more dollars, even though they see themselves as selfless volunteers, serving the city at great personal sacrifice.

But remember, starting a rancorous debate about campaign finance and Council pay would interfere with Job One: Raise Sales Taxes Right Now!

And you better vote for those taxes; after all, if Council members are ready to pay a few hundred extra bucks for that new BMW, why shouldn't you pay a little more for that '94 Corolla? Remember, it's for your own good.

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