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Secrecy reigns in the Springs

City Sage

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As some readers may recall, I wrote a weekly column in these pages from 1997 to 2006. Lured by Colorado Springs Business Journal editor Mike Boyd's promise of a high-paying job in the romantic, fast-growing world of full-time journalism, I spent nearly five years at the CSBJ.

It was a special time. But special times end.

A couple weeks ago, I decided to leave and see where fate might take me.

Fate e-mailed. Independent executive editor Ralph Routon suggested that during this city election season, I write a weekly column and blog a few times a week.

In 68 days, we'll elect a new mayor (barring a runoff), and as many as seven new City Council members. For the 30 folks running for various offices, time's a-wastin' — yet few have mounted publicly visible campaigns.

Steve Bach's mayoral campaign has signs up. Brian Bahr is on the radio and has put up signs, some of which drew complaints. It appears some were placed on property belonging to a prominent Bach supporter, who has demanded their immediate removal.

Of the 14 candidates for five at-large Council seats, only Sean Paige has made much of a splash. Blessed with the ability to play the media, our city's "accidental and reluctant" politician inked an op-ed for the daily on Sunday. Predictably, the Gazette failed to note Paige was once its editorial page editor.

Most candidates attended a private "City Committee" briefing Saturday morning at El Pomar Foundation's Penrose House. That committee, formed last year by Broadmoor CEO Steve Bartolin and downtown businessman Chuck Fowler, has spent nearly a year studying city financials. Some results were shared Saturday.

But the public and media were barred from attending. Each candidate was allowed to bring one appropriately credentialed hanger-on, provided that he/she had no affiliation with the ink-stained weasels of the Fourth Estate.

According to some attendees, the presentation was almost as lengthy, tedious and incomprehensible as the city budget itself. Most candidates suffered in silence, offering neither question nor comment. I suppose that we in the media should be grateful to be "excused" from such a deadly meeting, particularly one beginning at 7:30 a.m. Still, it seems both bizarre and unreasonable that this de facto campaign event took place behind closed doors.

Think about it. The City Committee's stated goal has been to shed more light on the city's finances — to make the city's budget more transparent, and to help both elected officials and voters make informed decisions. Yet on Saturday, it filled a room with political novices, and shut the door. By doing so, the committee made it clear to these dewy-eyed wannabes that real power is exercised in secret, with no place at the table for media and public.

That's not what our prospective leaders ought to be learning. Rather than getting out of bed like obedient children and kowtowing to the powerful, they should have spent their morning studying recent history. They might have examined the ill-fated U.S. Olympic Committee deal, which was secretly negotiated by Mayor Lionel Rivera and senior city administrators.

Those now-discredited leaders found closed meetings and backroom deals convenient. They wanted to keep negotiations secret and avoid embarrassing questions, nasty second-guessing and ill-timed revelations. They were the grown-ups — we were the kids. The resulting debacle might have been averted had city leaders trusted their constituents and abandoned their code of secrecy. They didn't, and we're stuck with the bill.

The City Committee is a private entity, with every right to host a closed meeting and invite whomever they choose. It may seem inappropriate, even hypocritical, but so what? That's not our problem.

Our problem is with the candidates. If they had any doubt about the propriety of the event, they kept it to themselves. After all, powerful folks were underwriting this dog-and-pony show, and even political novices know it's unwise to offend the powerful. So most came, and others who didn't explained previous commitments via RSVP.

That's too bad. It would have been refreshing if just one of the invitees had declined to attend on principle ... but it was not to be.

I suppose it'd be naive to expect them to do so. As any politician knows, principles are like mustaches — best gotten rid of before the campaign.

hazlehurst@csindy.com

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