Next Wednesday at the Doubletree Hotel, in a room surrounded by people who also want the best for Colorado Springs but can't seem to make it happen, Mayor Lionel Rivera will embark on his final lap as the head of this city's government.
Perhaps it's ironic that, with 10 months still remaining in office, his final State of the City speech comes now. But this has become an annual rite of summer, as civic and business leaders gather to hear the same, increasingly tired message of how wonderful this place continues to be, despite its growing challenges. Yet in fact it's another thinly veiled fund-raiser for the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, and a lunch-hour pep rally without real substance.
Year after year, Rivera has tossed out verbal bouquets, calling us a world-class city and harping on the latest publicity-seeking national magazines that have rated Colorado Springs the No. 3 city in America for some quality-of-life measure. All that, while the effects of economic decline and anti-tax sentiments — not to mention a collapse in public confidence — have dragged the city into a snakepit of despair and aimless meandering.
Yet, despite everything, Rivera still could have been a true hero. What the city has needed most, especially during these past three treacherous years, has been somebody with ideas, spunk and eloquence to help Colorado Springs avoid the sinkholes.
It was, and still is, a perfect opportunity to step forward, rebuild that public confidence and instill a fresh spirit across the city.
Rivera, after 15 years on Council and seven as mayor, cannot pretend to look back at his tenure with a sense of satisfaction, and he should not even imply that the Springs is in better shape now than when he took office. If he tries to do that in his final State of the City address, he'll only succeed in making himself look even more disconnected from reality.
My advice for the mayor: Don't give us the same old sermon. Admit mistakes. Share what you wish you had done differently. Give the next mayor and Council, which will have a majority of new members next April, your ideas on how Colorado Springs might dig out of its current hole.
Start by acknowledging, instead of ignoring as in the past, the real-life gorilla in our midst. That would be Douglas Bruce, the avowed enemy of progress and prosperity. Riding the momentum of his 2009 ballot-issue victories, Bruce is going for the kill in months ahead with more proposals for voters in the November and April elections. Bruce's measures would decimate our state and local governments, once and for all, under the guise of reducing taxes even more and cutting the remaining "waste" out of government.
It's not smart to attack Bruce personally. Instead, Rivera and the rest of City Council must lay out their best arguments against Bruce's actual strategies, detailing the true consequences. At the same time, Rivera should suggest ballot issues for Council to embrace and put before voters in upcoming elections.
First, as long as Bruce is trying to capitalize on his most recent success (which was more of a slap at city leaders than a victory for Bruce), let's resurrect the proposal from last year, brought forward by Indy publisher John Weiss, that would take away much of Colorado Springs' restrictive local version of the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, while retaining the mandate that voters must approve any tax increases.
Also, why not give the voters some city-sponsored alternatives, such as a well-defined special services tax solely for parks, community centers and related facilities? And why not add in a targeted transportation measure that would bring back committed funding for city bus service, seven days a week, returning to pre-downturn levels? It would be helpful if they were tied to property tax as well as sales tax, and perhaps at least one could be.
Mayor Rivera surely has ideas of his own. If so, now is the time to share them, leading into the elections ahead. This is his last shot, but he still has a unique platform. Our city has never needed true leadership more than now.
No looking back, please. Just forward.