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We need a superstar


We need a superstar Imagine a billion-dollar company with a nine-person Board of Directors, none of whom knows much about the company's business.

Imagine that the directors, far from caring about the company, owe their primary loyalty to the company's customers, who just want access to the company's products at low prices.

Imagine that the company's CEO is paid less than middle managers at comparably sized enterprises.

Imagine that the company's health is vital to the prosperity of the Pikes Peak region.

And finally, imagine that the company is locked in a life-or-death struggle to secure access to a vital raw material, without which the region simply will stop growing.

This is good ol' Colorado Springs Utilities, owned by the residents of Colorado Springs and governed by the City Council. And despite the company's overall competence and its success in providing all of us with reliable, relatively low-priced utility services, the company's in crisis. Its board is clueless and defensive, its CEO has just quit, and it's by no means certain that the company will be able to secure and deliver enough water to provide for the future needs of this city.

There are those of us who may think, that's fine. This city's growth -- disorderly, cancerous, unsustainable -- has to stop sooner or later, so why not now? Maybe we could become a model of conservation, sustainability and appropriate resource use. Maybe ... but probably not.

There's a saying among sailors: You sail in the wind that you have, not the wind that you had five minutes ago or the wind that you expect to have five minutes hence. In Colorado Springs, we have an economy that depends upon continued growth. Change needs to come slowly and incrementally, not suddenly and catastrophically.

If, because of the failure of CSU and our elected officials to bring new water to Colorado Springs, we have to adapt overnight to a new reality, it won't be pretty. Expect draconian water conservation measures, the loss of much of our urban forest, declining real estate values and economic stagnation for many years.

So what can we do to help? For one thing, insist that Council make the Southern Delivery System, and water, its No. 1 priority. Encourage members to spend more time with our partners/adversaries in Pueblo and the lower Arkansas Valley. Suggest that they spend time listening carefully to opponents of the project, like Pueblo Chieftain publisher Bob Rawlings.

And tell 'em to stop demonizing Rawlings and his allies. In a recent news release, CSU accused Rawlings of "crossing ethical lines" in his "campaign of misinformation and bullying tactics against Colorado Springs." And what was the "ethical line" that Rawlings crossed? He hired a water lawyer.

But most importantly, we need to insist that Council hire a supremely well-qualified person to succeed Utilities CEO Phil Tollefson. That means abandoning one of our most cherished misconceptions: that such a person will be available for 300 grand or so. Folks, if you believe that, you're smokin' crack. CSU is a billion-dollar outfit, and its boss has to be a superb manager, a canny politician well versed in Colorado water law, and a gracious diplomat able to both steer and defer to his dumbo board of directors.

We need a superstar: a businessman/politician like Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, or Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. They're not available, but if we want that level of competence, we'll have to pay a lot more than 300 Gs.

Will Council have the guts to pay the big bucks and take the political fallout? Doubtful. Old habits die hard, and in Colorado Springs, we've always done it on the cheap. But this time, the low-priced spread may not be good enough.

Meanwhile, there's something bizarrely comforting about New Life Church Pastor Ted Haggard's sort-of candidacy for Joel Hefley's seat in Congress. Just as New Life delivers religion far more effectively than traditional denominations (think Wal-Mart vs. Main Street), so too would Congressman Ted be a far more efficient advocate for his constituents than any other candidate. Haggard wouldn't be the tool of any special interest group -- he is the special interest group.

It's just businesslike politics -- cut out the middleman! And come to think of it, how 'bout Pastor Ted for that vacant Utilities CEO position?


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