by Pam Zubeck
If you poured honey over the entire meeting room at the Regional Building Department, you couldn't have made the atmosphere any sweeter.
City and county officials spent the first hour of their joint meeting Wednesday evening throwing kisses to one another and promising collaboration to A) save taxpayers money through better cooperation, and B) provide better and more efficient services to taxpayers through better cooperation.
The first meeting of the City Council and the Board of El Paso County Commissioners since September 2009 also featured a lot of sugar from officials with the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp, who were given a seat at the table with elected officials.
Commission Chair Amy Lathen noted that while elected officials won't agree on everything, she was glad to see everyone willing to bring matters to the table for discussion.
Commissioner Darryl Glenn, a former City Council member, said while on the city panel he often felt frustrated that more collaboration wasn't taking place between the two boards.
"A lot of problems can be resolved by picking up the phone and saying, 'Hey, here's what's coming up.' This isn't an effort to consolidate the city and county," he said. "Our goal is to come up with efficient ways to serve this community."
Commissioner Sallie Clark said while elected officials have been characterized as "dysfunctional families," the city and county already cooperate on a number of projects, such as regional building rules and fees, facilities management and law enforcement special investigations squads.
"If we're going to get anything done, we have to focus on the positive," she said.
After dinner provided by the Chamber, the officials got down to business and established three committees to work on specific issues:
Economic development policy: The city already has one, so the ball is in the county's court on this one. The county has no policy.
Centralized call center: This would create a single help number residents could call for any kind of government service, including to report a pothole, find out how to apply for food stamps, or get a street light turned on. The call center then would forward calls tot he appropriate office.
Animal control: The city and county have separate contracts with the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, both of which are due for renewal in January.
In working on those issues, the committees were instructed to apply these questions:
1. How will this make us more efficient?
2. Will it save or cost money?
3. How does this improve service to the citizens?
Council President Scott Hente said he thought the meeting was "OK," but didn't seem to be sold on the notion that relations had been reinvigorated. "I think it's a better start than it would have been if we never met," he said.
Council President Pro-Tem Jan Martin was a bit more optimistic.
"I think everybody felt it was a good place to start," she said. "But we've had these meetings before and they never went very far, so it's going to be up to all of us that we follow through and work on these specific areas. As we have successes, people will feel better about what we're working on.
"The real difference I saw was the change in commissioners and City Council," she added. "We had some personality conflicts previously and those are gone now, so it is a fresh start with a fresh tone."
In the past, city and county officials have sparred over control of Pioneers Museum. They've also been at odds more recently on the Copper Ridge shopping center proposal — the city approved it, the county didn't.
The city will host the next meeting, scheduled for June 15.