For several years, but especially in recent months, the lack of unity and decisiveness among Colorado Springs' elected leaders has made the area look bad — steadily eroding the public's trust.
But our surrounding cities don't have such a problem. Last week, leaders from Fountain, Monument, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls and Woodland Park gathered for a lunch at the Hotel Eleganté, sponsored by the Colorado Springs Business Journal, to talk about the region's issues.
Sadly, no elected officials from Colorado Springs or El Paso County made it there. Some would've learned a lot about decorum, open-mindedness and shared vision. For example:
Rafael Dominguez, Monument's mayor previously on the town council, served 22 years in the Marines and has spent eight years since in program management support for a defense contractor. He knows better than to lean heavily on Colorado Springs or the state, saying, "It's up to the smaller municipalities — if we want to play with the big dogs, we have to reach out to them."
Dominguez says he appreciates being on good terms with Springs Mayor Steve Bach. But when the subject turned to stormwater, Dominguez said firmly, "Government's inability to lead ... that's a problem."
Lorrie Worthey, just re-elected as Green Mountain Falls' mayor, talked about dealing with the Waldo Canyon Fire and subsequent floods — not to mention rebuilding the town hall, destroyed by arson — since taking office in 2012. She knows first-hand the value of working with neighboring cities, living with "a public works department of one person." And she made sure everyone knew that despite being small, her town understands the need for some kind of bigger stormwater plan.
Fountain Mayor Gabriel Ortega, who first put in seven years on that city's council, is a special-education teacher in real life and understands dealing with the military. But while he admits that "a cut in anything would be a huge detriment, and we're doing what we can to remain vital to Fort Carson ... we also are working hard to bring in businesses that aren't tied to the military."
As for stormwater, Ortega quipped, "Fountain gets it first. ... But the fact our region doesn't have any kind of stormwater plan, it's a necessary evil, something we need to take care of."
Carrol Harvey, Woodland Park's unofficial acting mayor since David Turley's recent resignation, works as a senior operations analyst for a defense contractor. But her years on WP's council, and planning commission before that, make her a clear-minded interim leader, as seen via this view of the military: "Let's not put all our chickens in one basket. There will come a time when some of our installations are going to close. We have be ready for that."
Then there was Manitou Springs Mayor Marc Snyder, an attorney who has held elected offices for a decade. Where others felt they had to tread carefully, Snyder was blunt.
"I've seen a lot of change in the Colorado Springs city government over the past 10 years, and it's been very frustrating," he said. Recalling past decisions made by the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, he said, "I felt confident those decisions would be carried out. But it's not that way now" because Mayor Steve Bach controls operations, not City Council.
Snyder says he's on good terms with Bach, but...
"The inability of the two branches of government to get together and go in the same direction is crippling this community, and I include the county in that. If it was up to me, I'd lock them all into a room and not let them out until they agree to play nice and work together. ... In Manitou, we're tied together at the hip with Colorado Springs, and I'll be honest with you, the biggest threat to us, despite the fires and floods, is the failing of Colorado Springs."
He went on, talking about the need "to build a community for the future, not for us." And when everyone finished, the crowd applauded.
They were encouraged to hear straight talk from regional leaders who know the region better than many better-known locals who wither in the spotlight. In fact, we should listen to those outside voices more often.