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Public Eye

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A few reflections on the recent election and local politics: What do to with Mary Lou? The mayor, term-limited out of office in less than 24 months, is now a lame duck with behind-the-scenes jockeying to replace her already begun. At least four sitting councilors and a few other civic leaders are quietly (or not so quietly) exploring their options.

City Manager Jim Mullen's days may well be numbered. With the defeat of SCIP-01, along with the election of the Clark (who Mullen has publicly dissed) and her allies, Council may seek a new, less autocratic, less acerbic manager. It is doubtful that our extremely smart and savvy but people-skill-challenged city manager will be able to survive for long. (Unasked for advice to Mr. Mullen: Study Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends & Influence People.)

Which brings us back to what to do with Mary Lou. She is a caring, seasoned civic leader, increasingly rare in this era of term limits. Perhaps Council should appoint her as the new city manager. She is certainly dedicated to our city and well qualified. Former El Paso County Commissioner Terry Harris currently serves as the county's manager. And former Manitou Mayor Dan Wecks now serves as his town's top administrator. And the pay is pretty good, nearly 25 times what she now receives as mayor.

Mayor Bob is back (if he ever left). The former longtime mayor served as honorary campaign chair for both Sallie Clark as well as April 1999 top-vote-getter Ted Eastburn (whose new son, born last month, is named Isaac). More important than his public endorsement is the advice candidates receive at Mayor Bob's knee over drinks at the Ritz or breakfast at the Omelette Parlor.

If both of Mayor Bob's protgs seek his old chair, which will Isaac endorse for mayor in April 2003? Or might he support his former campaign manager, Councilman Lionel Rivera?

At-large candidate Tim Pleasant did so well with minimal name recognition and little money because he was the only candidate loudly articulating voters' disdain for City Manager Mullen and the SCIP-01 measure. Pleasant, a slightly more pleasant version of Doug Bruce, forced voters to critically examine the ballot measure. If Pleasant had not run, SCIP might even have passed.

To most everyone's surprise, Doug Bruce seems true to his word. After he lost his second local bid for a state Senate seat last November and his third consecutive ballot measure flunked at the polls, the anti-government crusader told the Wall Street Journal earlier this year that he was completely through with politics.

The SCIP vote was not an anti-tax message. Instead voters sent yet another clear message: that they will only support well-designed and packaged tax proposals, such as the 1997 Trails, Open Space & Parks (TOPS) sales tax, the 2000 D-11 School District funding proposal, and the first 1998 limited and defined $88 million SCIP package.

Early voting has profoundly changed our electoral process. In the November 2000 election, nearly 46 percent of votes cast were done before Election Day. In April 2001, 48 percent of voters cast their ballots early.

If, as appears likely, the City goes to exclusive mail balloting, Council should mandate that postage-paid envelopes be provided. As direct mail specialists know, the easier it is to respond, the more people will participate.

It is easy to lament the lack of qualified candidates, but what to do about it is a more difficult question. One answer might be to pay Council the same as County Commissioners, $50,000 per year, instead of the $6,250 annual compensation they receive for what is almost a full-time job. While it would add about $400,000 to our annual city expenditures, you get what you pay for. Currently the 90 percent of adults who need to earn a living to survive cannot afford to run, let alone serve on Council.

Councilors also need $20,000 a year for a part-time aide. With no staff at their disposal, our elected officials are too beholden to the city manger and his minions for critical information.

One option would be to provide matching funds to candidates who abide by campaign expenditure limits. Perhaps provide $25,000 in public funds to any candidate able to raise $5,000 in contributions of less than $50. Once again it's an expenditure, perhaps $200,000 every two years. But what is the cost of not having a good number of strong candidates running?

Finally, in the last two City Council election cycles, every candidate the Independent endorsed or recommended (pointing out the best available choice among non-endorsable options) won. Aren't we supposed to be the alternative paper?

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