Like much of the "dirty work" inside Colorado Springs city government during the past two years, the announcement of Mark Earle's sudden ouster as aviation director at the airport came as a simple release last Friday afternoon, clearly intended to avoid big headlines and negative reaction going into a weekend that started Spring Break for much of the area.
The administration of Mayor Steve Bach has handled enough of these "resignations" to make them look like happy farewells, totally cordial, complete with glowing statements of mutual respect and appreciation.
Sorry, not buying it. Earle's removal looks and smells like yet another rendition of other quiet departures: Richard Myers as police chief; Pat Kelly as city attorney; Lisa Bigelow as budget director; Nancy Johnson as head of Parks, Planning and Public Works (assistant city manager before that); Terri Velasquez as finance director, Kathryn Young as city clerk, Ann Crossey as head of human resources; Dave Krauth as principal traffic engineer; Sue Skiffington-Blumberg as head of communications, Dick Anderwald as land development review division manager, and many more — at least 25 now, and counting.
All had been considered assets to the city, some (including Earle) more valuable than others — until Bach was elected mayor. But instead of playing the hand he was dealt, Bach has chosen to cast aside many top people, giving them severance packages that seem to prevent them from talking publicly.
Earle is the latest example. It doesn't matter that he has years of success in the airport business. Never mind that he built highly positive relationships with the Air Force in leasing much of the airport for Peterson Air Force Base, and the Army dealing with Fort Carson's many deployments in the past decade. Nobody seems to care that Earle had been superb at securing federal aviation grants, saving money to pull off major improvements, and helping cultivate the airport business-park concept with major defense contractors.
That wasn't enough for Bach. As the mayor put it in an interview with the Gazette, he wanted Earle to be more aggressive in courting more airlines and service. Earle felt justified with his softer approach, given how volatile and treacherous the airline industry could be. It wasn't his fault that Frontier had to give up the planes being used between here and Denver to its parent, Republic Airlines.
And was it Earle's responsibility that Southwest Airlines never has wanted to add service here, especially after committing so heavily to Denver? For the record, even during better economic times, former Mayor Lionel Rivera made it a top priority to pursue Southwest — to no avail.
Three months ago, Earle spent much of an afternoon talking about the airport's struggles in the post-recession airline market, but also its newest renovations.
In his decade as the airport's aviation director, overseeing the city enterprise, Earle had endured many ups and downs. He was proud of finishing the airport's new facelift — expanding the area and facilities for security, enhancing the aesthetics with new "gateway" ambience to greet incoming passengers, and upgrading the main concourse's concessions with Bristol Brewing Co. becoming the bar/restaurant alongside Denver's Novo Coffee. But he also knew the airlines could make changes at any time, and Frontier drove that point home in January by deciding suddenly to end its service between the Springs and Denver, followed by plans to leave altogether in April.
For that, Earle became the scapegoat. At 57, he has a good enough reputation to find another job somewhere — which will only be enhanced by his agreeing to advise the city, and interim director Dan Gallagher, for the rest of the year. But Earle wanted to be here for the long haul. He believed the improving economy would lead to added air service in and out of Colorado Springs, and the business and consumer public having more money to spend on travel.
Yet, because the mayor has a different view, Mark Earle is out of here. And he's getting one of those nice severance deals, so we won't be finding out what he really thinks.
This is wrong. And it's not what city residents thought they were getting with the strong-mayor government. Was our city so bad that the only solution was a top-level housecleaning?
Or, to put it another way, who's next?