Columns » Outsider

Time for a regime change



Quick, what crazy Middle Eastern country does Colorado Springs most resemble? The answer's easy; it's Iran, where fundamentalist mullahs, who control part of the government, seek to impose their will on the pragmatic reformers whom the people elected to office.

Like Iran, we've got divided government. On the one hand, our City Council consists of eight council members and a popularly elected mayor, all chosen in nonpartisan elections.

On the other hand, the El Paso County Commissioners are largely chosen by Republican party bosses, and elected from districts that give disproportionate weight to rural/suburban voters.

Is it any wonder that four of the five mullahs are unresponsive to voters/citizens, and absolutely sure that they know best? And is it any wonder that City Council members are astounded and furious, as the commissioners go merrily ahead with their plans for a new jail and courthouse addition?

Never mind that building these gobblers will put county taxpayers in hock for a quarter of a century, and strip money from crucial services. Never mind that the voters decisively rejected a new jail, and that the need for an expanded courthouse, in the form proposed by the mullahs, is at best problematic.

Commission Chairman Tom Hoffman, leader of the Gang of Four (other members include Ed Jones, Chuck Brown and Duncan Bremer), does not care what you or I might think. As Rhett said to Scarlett: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Folks, we need regime change. Lawsuits, recalls and political action committees are fine, but we need to change our form of government. As this column has stated a dozen times, it's time to start the process of ending divided government in Colorado Springs, and forming the City and County of Colorado Springs.

It won't be easy, and it won't happen overnight. We may not manage to reverse the jail/courthouse decisions, but by creating a single efficient and responsive city government, we can build a solid foundation for our city's future.

Look, for example, at the City and County of Denver. Over the last two decades, it has become one of America's great cities, largely because of the powerful and visionary leadership of Denver's city government, run by a mayor and council.

Sure, you can argue that Mayors Federico Pea and Wellington Webb benefited from a strong economy, a supportive business community, and tax-loving voters, and you'd be right. But most importantly, Pea and Webb were, as popularly elected mayors, the undisputed leaders of the city.

They had real clout, the ability to marshal public opinion and make urbanist fantasies real.

Look at Denver International Airport, at the new library, the expanded and renovated park system, the football and baseball stadiums, the reborn warehouse district, the convention center, the soon-to-be expanded art museum. Absent a strong, purposeful city government, none of these projects would have made it off the drawing board.

In Colorado Springs, by contrast, we're crippled. The city and county governments are often at cross purposes, as this latest debacle so vividly illustrates.

Moreover, having two overlapping city governments, with departments that mirror and duplicate each other, makes absolutely no sense. That's one of the reasons that our sales tax burden in the city is so high; we pay not only city sales taxes, but county taxes as well. We pay through the nose for public services that are often substandard.

So what do we do? We allow rural El Paso County to go its own way. A new City and County of Colorado Springs might incorporate most of urbanized El Paso County, from Fountain to Manitou, subject to voter approval. The creation of such a city/county entity would have to be approved both by the State Legislature, and by a statewide vote.

The first step is easy. Contact your City Council members, and ask them to refer this question to the city voters in next April's election: Shall the City of Colorado Springs become the City and County of Colorado Springs, pending the results of a city-funded feasibility study?

If it passed (and my guess is that it would by an 80-20 margin), then the City would have a popular mandate to begin the process.

In any case, almost any change from the current system would be an improvement.

And who knows? Maybe Ayatollah -- excuse me, I meant Commissioner Hoffman -- and his junior mullahs will at least learn some political table manners. They might start by emulating their colleague Jeri Howells, who's accessible and responsive, and believes in respecting the wishes of her constituents.

Nah, not a chance ...


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