Columns » Outsider




Here's the image: Tens of thousands of voters are sitting around their kitchen tables, poring over the ballots, trying to decide who and what to vote for.

This is surely the foundation of our democracy. And even though we may not think much of the choices available, we can be comforted by the fact that all of the aspirants to elective office appear to take their prospective jobs pretty seriously. In other words, no matter how smart they are, at least they'll show up at the job site.

Don't be so sure. Let's use our own Colorado Springs City Council as an example. According to local Sierra Club honcho Jim Lockhart, who attended a recent budget hearing during which the Pikes Peak Highway budget was discussed, turnout ranged from awful to abysmal. The meeting opened with only Mayor Makepeace in attendance. After a while, three of her colleagues drifted in: Lionel Rivera, Sallie Clark and Margaret Radford. Midway through the meeting, Makepeace and Rivera decamped, leaving only Radford and Clark.

So out of nine dedicated public servants, only four showed up to that particular presentation at all, and none stayed for the entire meeting. Well, you might say, surely the other five must have legitimate excuses for playing hooky.

But, as a wise woman once told me, let's listen to the music, not the words. As a candidate, you may be all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but once elected ... well, things look a little different. For City Council members, the pay is derisory ($6,250 a year), the job demanding, the meetings interminable.

It's tough to ditch the twice-monthly formal Council meetings, but as for the rest ... well, you don't have a boss. So no one's going to dock your miserable pay. Besides, you'll feel entirely comfortable as a slacker, once you absorb the culture that permeates most elected bodies.

It's a culture of grievance, as in, "We work long hours for little pay just because we love our community/school district/county/state/country.

"If the people knew how many hours a week we put in/how much preparation we have to do/how devoted we are to constituent services/how we put (choose one) kids/the taxpayers/the voters/public safety/the environment first, then they'd understand why (choose one or more) we miss meetings/are never in our offices/don't return phone calls/don't have e-mail [this category reserved for Congressman Joel Hefley]."

So rather than get mad at the five no-shows, we should be glad that two of 'em stayed for nearly the entire hearing.

And what about the presentation itself? According to Lockhart, the City is grudgingly complying with the court order that requires them to mitigate the continuing environmental damage on Pikes Peak.

As you may remember, that damage was found to have resulted from highway maintenance practices, wherein the City dumped hundreds of thousands of tons of gravel into the mountain environment. And why? Because they refused to pave the road and thereby inconvenience the gearheads who race up the mountain in the one-day-a-year Pikes Peak Hill Climb.

The City appears to be less than enthusiastic about fixing the mountain, and they certainly don't want to pay for it. That's why this year's budget includes a quarter of a million or so in legal fees, to support the City's crackpot lawsuit aimed at getting the Forest Service to pay for the work.

Colorado Springs leases the highway corridor from the Forest Service so, according to the city attorney, since the City's maintenance practices were so damaging, it's the Forest Service's fault, and they should pay! Try that one on your landlord, next time you trash your apartment.

Meanwhile, I hope that all of you pro-tax progressives noted that the G lined up -- at least somewhat -- behind the Indy in supporting the City's latest "risky tax scheme" (as Al Gore might have said).

I guess we'll find out in a few days how much clout the combined newspapers actually have; out of respect for my editor (the peerless Cara DeGette), not to mention the G's editorial page editor (the equally peerless Dan Njegomir), I refuse to speculate. However, if the voters fall into line, I'll buy you both multiple martinis at a certain Tejon Street bar.

And finally, isn't it comforting to note that the ever-vigilant city-owned Colorado Springs Utilities is combating terrorism by closing some of the Pikes Peak reservoirs? There's no credible reason for doing so; Utilities, which never wanted to open the reservoirs to the public in the first place, is simply taking advantage of our current national hysteria.

But look on the bright side -- at least we know that those hooky-playing Council members didn't go fishing.

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