More often than not, as the calendar turns into a new year, we glimpse ahead and envision how events (such as elections) and groups (such as City Council) might affect our world.
That might be a common way to approach a session of crystal-ball gazing. But as 2011 looms, we need to look through a different prism.
In 2011, for Colorado Springs, it's all about certain people — how they think, how they act, how they lead, how they respond. And, of course, how they influence our lives.
To label the next year with simple adjectives such as pivotal, crucial or even treacherous seems insufficient. That's all understood, in advance. We're about to embark on a new form of city government, producing an entirely new power structure. We'll be dealing with new people in vital positions, all around us.
Who are these people? In some cases, they're recognizable. In others, we don't even know yet; they'll be filling roles either left vacant by others or created by circumstances.
With that as the springboard, let's look at 11 important people for 2011 in Colorado Springs, fully acknowledging that others might join the list as the year moves along.
1. Our first strong mayor. We probably won't know who this is until May 17, after a runoff election. But in order to have a chance, every candidate has to produce and articulate a true vision. After taking office, that person will face the precarious duty of instantly putting the right people into the right places, while adjusting to a new kind of relationship with city staff. We simply cannot afford to choose the wrong leader.
2. City Council president. Longtime Councilman Scott Hente will emerge as a senior presence for his final two years in office, and he almost certainly will try to earn his colleagues' vote as the city's first Council president. Jan Martin, assuming she wins a second at-large Council term in April, is another possible candidate. The reasoned guidance of an established leader who will run meetings, including when Council sits as the Utilities Board, and control the discussions will be essential.
3. Chief of staff. This person might take on roles we've long associated with a city manager, right down to dealing with the media and public. Or, if the mayor really is that "strong," this individual could simply become a head of operations. Regardless, the chief of staff will inherit a high-profile, well-paid supervisory role in everyday city operations.
4. Doug Price. OK, you have no idea who he is. But if that's still the case next December, it could mean trouble. Price is moving in from Washington, D.C., to oversee the city's convention and visitors bureau, and he brings new expertise and concepts. His resources will be limited, but his influence could be immediate.
5. Colorado College's next president. With Dick Celeste leaving in May, it might be premature to place too many expectations on his replacement. But as influential as Celeste has been, CC's next president still must deal with important issues from the start, including security for students. (Meanwhile, it'll be interesting to see what Celeste does next, and whether it's at the local or, perhaps, state level.)
The familiar faces
6. Sallie Clark. As the county commissioners adapt to their own different members and uncertain finances, it creates an opportunity for Clark to step into a more authoritative role. Nobody works harder as an elected official, but now Clark could offer more new ideas and leadership, both sorely needed. Or she could jump into the mayoral race, which would change that equation. She's also rumored as a possible legitimate challenger to U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn in 2012, but that primary campaign would have to start early.
7. Joe Garcia. Wait, you say, the new lieutenant governor doesn't live here. True, but Garcia did for many years, and as recently as 2006. He's in the best spot of anyone to defend Colorado Springs' interests — especially in business and higher education — within the administration of new Gov. John Hickenlooper.
8. Pam Shockley-Zalabak. As the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs chancellor, Shockley-Zalabak has guided the school through a period of impressive growth, and has reached out to the community more than many of her peers elsewhere. But with almost 10,000 students and student housing filled to capacity, as the state struggles to continue funding higher education at the same level, new strategies will be imperative.
9. Scott Blackmun. Entering his second year as the U.S. Olympic Committee's CEO, Blackmun has momentum at the national and global levels. But the USOC still has work to do in mending its fences with the city — not its leaders, but its everyday people. It might call for a bold, symbolic gesture, such as helping find support to create a dramatic, prominent display of the Olympic rings near downtown, close to Interstate 25, for millions to see.
10. Susan Edmondson. She's the most respected leader within the city's arts scene, which is facing more difficult times and potentially far-reaching decisions. There's no obvious path to follow, just the need for good instincts moving forward, and Edmondson has the respect of everyone in helping maintain the presence while cultivating the future of visual and performing arts in the city.
11. Steve Cox. He's "only" the interim city manager, with his days numbered before returning to his former job as fire chief. But as the city faces a transition period filled with unknowns, Cox could have a lasting impact — first by holding the staff together, then by helping City Council set the stage for that strong mayor, and finally helping the new mayor make many inevitable changes.