Ambled down the street last Friday morning to attend the dedication of the new/old City Hall at the corner of Nevada Avenue and Kiowa Street. Toured the facility, listened to the self-congratulatory speeches of our local politicos, oinked down a morsel or two of free food, schmoozed with the power people and power people wanna-bes.
Afterward, perusing a lengthy press release from the City touting the event, I was struck by certain omissions (and at least one unfortunate inaccuracy -- a reference to the Robert M. Issac Municipal Court Building. We don't know about Issac, but wasn't Bob Isaac the mayor for 20 years?)
Anyway, as you might expect, the virtues of the restored building were touted -- how magnificent! How historic! How wonderful for our downtown! As were the virtues of our elected leaders -- how foresighted! How respectful of the past! How eager to interact with the citizenry! And, of course, the virtues of the project itself -- how wonderful! And how thrifty!
According to the City, we're saving a whole bunch of money on this l'il deal. The City claims that, now that Council and the city manager have relocated to their new digs, employees can be moved from rented space to the partially vacated administration building at 30 S. Nevada, saving a cool 100K in annual lease payments. True enough, but, as Paul Harvey might say, here's the rest of the story ...
Renovating the old City Hall also cost a cool $5.3 million, which the City borrowed, using an arcane financing technique that spared them the inconvenience of asking for voter approval, as the charter mandates. That money wasn't free; annual payments will amount to in excess of $400.000. Moreover, the city tore down an adjacent building (The Udick Building, valued at over $400,000 by the county assessor) to provide parking spaces for the politicos. Far from saving money, the City has actually incurred a bunch of debt, and destroyed an asset worth half a million bucks.
Now, we could rant and rave about the City's chicanery and duplicity, but it's not as bad as it may seem. There were, after all, plenty of reasons to renovate that noble old pile of bricks; the problem is that the City, in its maidenly modesty, doesn't think that we the people can be exposed to the unvarnished truth. So, as a public service, I've prepared a pseudo press release about the reality behind the old/new City Hall renovation that will, I hope, serve as a model for the way that our City could, if it dared, communicate with its citizens:
For Immediate Release
From: Mayor and Council
First, we want you to know just how pleased we are to be leaving the City Administration Building. Most of us were stuck in airless, windowless little offices -- not exactly great for our self-esteem! And, as you may recall, we only get paid $6,250 per annum, not much for what amounts to a full-time job. Given that, when we (or, rather, the city manager) figured out that we could borrow a few million, renovate the old building, have a City Hall of our own, and fabulous offices to boot, of course we were all for it!
And, from the city manager:
I am absolutely delighted to get Council out of the administration building. There's nothing quite as irritating as elected officials who make friends with rank and file employees, and then start asking them a lot of impertinent questions. Now that Council is safely sequestered in their own cute little building, I can limit such inappropriate contacts! And finally, we know good and well that you constituents would never have voted to restore/renovate this wonderful building. So what are we supposed to do; let it crumble? Sometimes you just do what you know is right, regardless. Thank God we figured out how to do it; now we've got, preserved for posterity, a magnificent building, a link with our history, and a far better place for the heart of city government than that little office building on South Nevada.
All joking aside, we've now got a City Hall worthy of a real city -- even, dare we say it, a world-class city.
While I was there, hobnobbing with the power people, I ran into newly elected Manitou Springs Mayor Marcy Morrison, whose goals for Manitou's City Hall are a little more modest -- she's trying to scrounge up some carpet (second-hand would be fine!) for that wonderfully rickety old structure.
Marcy, call Mary Lou! Maybe the City has a roll or two left over ...