It was, I think, the French diplomat Maurice de Talleyrand, who, accused by a foe of creating an evil and criminal policy, replied gravely: "It was far worse than criminal; it was stupid."
City Manager Jim Mullen's new public-information policy, while probably not criminal, is extraordinarily stupid. It encourages negative stories about the city and, by creating an adversarial and combative climate, discourages positive ones.
For example, I'd like to do a column about the Transportation Department's restoration of a crumbling old warehouse under the Colorado Avenue bridge, which now serves as the Traffic Information Center. But I won't, because I'm damned if I'll kowtow to Mullen and the city mandarins by asking permission to talk to city employees or by submitting questions in writing.
Besides, having spent a few years on City Council, I don't have to go through official channels to get information, particularly negative information. Do I have informants? Did Joe Friday solve crimes?
No, rather than accentuating the positive, let's be a fly on the wall at a recent closed meeting of city planners and engineers, presided over by the man himself -- Jim Mullen. According to participants, Mullen laid down two directives. He told them to speed up the process and spend less time analyzing zone changes and new developments. After all, he told these dedicated professionals, "it's not your job to make the city better." Oh?
And what is their job -- to make the city worse?
Meanwhile, the city manager must have had his copy of Machiavelli's The Prince close at hand the other day, as he gave Chief Lorne Kramer a promotion and a fat raise. According to Machiavelli, there are only two ways to deal with a powerful rival -- either crush him utterly or shower him with honors, thereby transforming him into an ally. When he gave Kramer a paltry bonus and a lukewarm evaluation last year, Mullen obviously hoped that the chief would leave town of his own accord. But he underestimated Kramer's popularity, and, facing a Council edict to keep him or else, Mullen found himself singing Kramer's praises and making him the city's No. 2 honcho.
Clearly, Council wants Kramer to be the front man for yet another attempt to pick the pockets of the long-suffering taxpayers (coming to a polling place near you in April of 2001!). This proposed tax increase will be pitched as being strictly for public safety; indeed, in a recent letter to the G, Kramer opined that the voters would support such a tax increase.
Well, chief, with all due respect, I dunno. Most voters seem to feel that the city ought to fund public safety adequately before they do anything else in the first place, and might look skeptically at such a tax increase.
It's hard to convince the average citizen that the city is in dire financial straits when its elected representatives continue to shell out big bucks to the visitor industry, to the Pikes Peak Hill Climb and to the politically powerful in general. And it's even harder to convince the skeptics when Council throws the World Arena a $3 million bone, by converting a debt into a gift.
Oh well; I suppose that it'll take yet another crushing defeat at the polls before Council realizes that, stupid as we may be, we ain't that stupid.
And if any of you senior officials want to talk to me, please be advised that Independent columnists can only respond to written questions, submitted well in advance of publication.
Former City Councilman John Hazlehurst has not applied to be chief of police in Portland, Ore., despite rumors to the contrary.