Of all the messages that Colorado Springs voters sent City Council in the recent election, nothing came through louder than the blanket indictment of all nine elected leaders for not being, well, good enough leaders.
You haven't been dependable stewards of the taxpayers' money, voters said, and you haven't reacted properly to the economic downturn.
The punishment was severe — not just the defeat of Measure 2C and its property-tax increase, but the passage of Measure 300 with its intent of dismantling some city enterprises, starting with stormwater.
Since Nov. 3, Council has had to dive into finalizing the city's 2010 budget. Some early revelations:
• The city manager's proposed budget that came out before the election did not reflect many Councilors' sentiments, especially regarding public safety.
• Council hasn't stopped looking for obscure ways to save money and maintain certain services.
• And at least one member is assuming more of a leadership role, whether he's in the majority or not.
That "new" leader is Darryl Glenn, clearly feeling empowered by the election's mandates but also just as clearly wanting to help the city find solutions. The 44-year-old Glenn has been on the short end of many 8-1 and 7-2 votes during his six years on City Council, but he's never been opposed in the northeastern District 2 (appointed in 2003, elected in 2005 and again in 2009).
Glenn might not finish his last term, having already announced he's running for the El Paso County Commission seat being vacated in 2010 by term-limited Wayne Williams. No other Republicans have filed, and the far-outnumbered Democrats in northern El Paso County probably will provide only token opposition.
That puts Glenn squarely in the driver's seat. But he's definitely not shifting into neutral for what likely will be his final year on City Council. Instead, the attorney who came from a military family, went to high school at Doherty and then attended the Air Force Academy, is flexing his political muscles and influence like never before in this post-election, budget-crunching environment. He had his ideas ready, and he's pushing them hard.
"We're seeing the evolution of Colorado Springs, right before our eyes," Glenn says. "When you talk to people, there's a great deal of frustration with government in general, and we've seen a backlash, in part because of the economic pressures that many people are feeling in their own lives. ... But I look at this as an opportunity."
No kidding. Glenn suddenly has become a newsmaking machine. He led the vocal charge last week as Council refused most of the city manager's proposed public-safety budget cuts, making sure no currently staffed sworn positions are eliminated from police or fire. He's setting up a mechanism for residents to donate money for community centers, the Pioneers Museum, Rock Ledge Ranch, bus service and more.
Along the way, Glenn threw a surprising curveball, suggesting the city might save as much as $1 million by not allowing police officers to drive their CSPD vehicles home.
"I wanted to be sure people understand that we're looking everywhere we possibly can for places to save money," Glenn says. "And even though we're not cutting those positions in police and fire, we'll still look in those departments for ways to reduce expenses. It was kind of my way of saying the city manager needs to reassure us that we'll continue to look for ways to be more efficient."
That's not to say Council will stop 2010 from being a painful year: "The service cuts people are going to feel are significant," Glenn says.
He also knows Council won't fully support the guy with the new ideas.
"I'm one vote," he says. "I wish I could push four other buttons, but I can't. My feelings are the same as they've always been, but until these election results, I had to spend so much time playing defense. ... We have to build some new coalitions. And we need to bring people on board whom we might not agree with on a regular basis."
Down the line, Glenn says, the city and county should find more ways to share services and operations. But first, as he puts it, there's a lot of work to do.
"We need to start rebuilding people's trust," he says, "and actions speak louder than words."