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Outsider

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Last Tuesday's marathon City Council meeting made it perfectly clear who runs things around here.

Not the working-class folks who live in the Mill Street neighborhood. They can make a lot of noise, but, in the end, they don't have many votes and their right to the quiet enjoyment of their properties is not one that the City Council needs to respect.

Not the solid citizens who volunteer their time to serve on the Planning Commission. A 5-1 majority last August against the proposed mega-shelter cuts no ice at the Council dais.

Not the good government folks (most of 'em Democrats, liberals, neighborhood advocates, and such) who were appalled by the whole scheme.

Not the Mayor and Council, who abused themselves, city staffers and a couple of hundred hapless citizens by holding a meeting that lasted until 3:40 a.m. Did they think that, in so doing, they were furthering the public weal?

Not Sarah Jack, Deb Mitguard and assorted folks who support the mega-shelter. True, they may have won the battle, but only because they were guided by a Higher Power, namely:

The El Pomar Foundation.

Say it again; El Pomar, to a degree unprecedented in any other city in America, pretty much calls the shots in Colorado Springs. City officials are literally at their beck and call; major policy initiatives, especially those that involve shaping the community's future are DOA unless approved by El Pomar.

Want proof? Let's look at some defining events of the last few years.

1991: El Pomar, by making a multi-million dollar gift to Focus on the Family for the purchase of a site for their new headquarters, brings Focus on the Family to Colorado Springs. In so doing, they help a then-struggling economy and tilt local politics even further to the right.

1990 to present: El Pomar embraces the idea of the El Paso Greenway/Confluence Park and makes it clear that city funds for such a project would be supplemented with El Pomar grants. City officials eventually persuade the voters to dump $10 million-plus into creating Confluence Park.

1997: The Colorado Springs World Arena, largely funded by El Pomar, with substantial contributions from local residents and city and county government, opens for business. Although few charitable foundations use their resources to build sports arenas, El Pomar thought it appropriate to do so.

2000: El Pomar agrees to fund the proposed homeless mega-shelter, on the apparent condition that it be located at the designated Mill Street site.

Why so? Because it nicely dovetails with El Pomar's long-term goals for the city: the creation of Confluence Park, the eventual construction of a Convention Center and the renaissance of downtown. Getting those feral homeless men off downtown streets and safely tucked away behind the power plant will make these goals easier to achieve.

And, as state Rep. Marcy Morrison pointed out in testimony before Council, the homeless in Colorado Springs are shamefully treated; the new shelter is designed to help people who are faced with overwhelmingly difficult personal crises.

Is there something wicked about all this? Not at all; these policies are the product of years of careful deliberation by a commendably civic-spirited group of people -- El Pomar's trustees. You and I may not agree with them, but their sole purpose is to benefit the city, the region, and the state, not to line their pockets or to advance any particular agenda.

But because El Pomar has chosen an activist role in our community, and because they are, in effect, a shadow government, we need to urge El Pomar to be more open, more diverse, and perhaps a little less overbearing.

Take a look at their picture at El Pomar's Web site at http://www.elpomar.org/ default.html. The Board of Trustees resembles a bunch of bankers: solid, cautious, conservative, middle-aged, and very well off.

Maybe they ought to expand the board, and bring in some new blood, people who aren't as tied to the traditional establishment and who might be willing to question the Foundation's core policies. How about feisty young activist Dan Fosha or Internet privacy guru Barry Fagin? And wouldn't El Pomar benefit from Frank Whitworth's good-humored wisdom? And if you want trustees with a clear-eyed understanding of the way the world actually works, choose a newspaper reporter. Just stay way from ex-politicians, retired businesspeople, and three-star generals.

And would it be a Cinderella fantasy to ask El Pomar to use its power wisely?

Just think: next time Council meets late into the night, wait till the stroke of midnight and watch El Pomar turn 'em into eight mice and a pumpkin.

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