Columns » City Sage

Time for Bach to negotiate

City Sage



Colorado Springs City Council knows how to make sure that the business and nonprofit communities have a miserable holiday season.

Don't just slaughter the poor defenseless turkeys — aim higher! Slaughter the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Regional Business Alliance.

It's appropriate for Council to scrutinize CVB and RBA budgets, but the kind of abrupt and apparently unconsidered cuts we saw last week make little sense, except as a political power play. Strangely, Council President Keith King claimed in an email to Broadmoor CEO Steve Bartolin: "We funded the [CVB] budget at the 50 percent level. We have not cut it."

Imagine your boss telling you that your pay hasn't been cut — just funded to the 50 percent level!

A majority comprised of King and Councilors Helen Collins, Don Knight, Joel Miller and Andy Pico cited concern for ratepayers last week in forbidding Utilities from helping charities or the RBA. Such support, totaling less than one-half of 1 percent of CSU's annual budget, has no impact upon ratepayers. If Councilors were really interested in the welfare of impoverished customers (of whom Knight said, weeping crocodile tears: "I've had people tell me that they can't afford even one dollar more on their utility bill"), they'd continue to support efforts to create jobs and bolster tourism.

What about the CVB? That's where Council hit its stride, cutting the budget of the city's only destination marketing organization by half, from $2.6 million to $1.3 million. It may be that Council will eventually restore CVB/RBA funding, but there are no guarantees. As Bartolin said during his fiery email exchange with King, "You have jeopardized the overall tourism marketing effort for the Pikes Peak Region ... [which will have] an effect on our business and every hotel, motel, attraction and restaurant in our town."

Given that The Broadmoor accounts for nearly a third of receipts from the lodgers and automobile rental tax (the source of CVB funding), you'd think the Feckless Five would listen to Bartolin, but they've ignored him.

So what's to be done? As far as Utilities goes, Council has sole control, thanks to the flawed initiative that brought us the strong-mayor government. The flaws, no fault of those who promoted the initiative, stem from the city's "single subject" ordinance, which limited the measure's scope. So Council can swagger unchecked in this arena, unless exasperated residents launch a recall effort. Possible, but unlikely.

It's best to focus on the Council-approved city budget. Mayor Steve Bach can veto many of Council's changes to his budget (not including the Utilities cuts), but he needs four votes on Council to sustain his vetoes.

That won't be easy. Councilors Merv Bennett, Jill Gaebler, Jan Martin and Val Snider may vote to sustain some vetoes, but not all.

It's time for horsetrading. Bach should meet quietly with the Reasonable Four, one or two at a time to comply with open-meetings limits. With staffers Aimee Cox or Laura Neumann beside him to take notes, Bach could come to a necessarily unwritten understanding with the council minority.

That would have positive consequences. King and his Council majority would be chastened and thwarted. Their plans to remake and restructure city government might come to naught. Bach would be seen as cunning and relevant, able to schmooze and make deals. The business community would know that its friends on Council are far from powerless. Most of all, Bach, Gaebler and the three Council veterans could take the other five rookies to school, thereby bringing them back to the reality-based community.

Can the Council minority sit down separately with Bach and come to an understanding? They're all supple, canny individuals who are comfortable with bargaining. They're not the problem.

This game is Bach's, to win or to lose. As a commercial real estate broker, he spent more than 30 years negotiating deals, so he knows what to do. Yet he seems uncomfortable with the give-and-take of politics, where nothing is ever final, and everything remains on the table.

It's time for Bach to persuade, cajole, charm and compromise. He has to be Bill Clinton, not Rahm Emanuel. He has to accept losses and wins, and move forward.

Can he? Can the leopard change his spots? We'll soon find out.

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