Thursday, December 8, 2011

He moves in mysterious ways

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2011 at 5:16 PM

Exactly six months after taking office as the city’s first strong mayor, Mayor Steve Bach has finally assembled his management team, and identified his key advisers (at least of some of them!). Interestingly, there’s a big difference between the two.

On election night, Bachs business acumen was touted as his most important strength.
  • File photo
  • On election night, Bach's business acumen was touted as his most important strength.

Want one of those interesting, reasonably well-paid jobs in the city administration? Judging from Bach’s non-legacy hires, you’d best be female, relatively young (35 to 50 something), and extraordinarily competent. Think Donna Nelson, Cindy Aubrey, Aimee Cox and now Laura Neumann, whom Bach just hired to be chief of staff/chief administrative officer.

Or maybe you’d like to be an unpaid volunteer adviser, heading one of the recently formed “solutions teams.” Be a guy, a geezer, successful, and a longtime civic leader. Think Chuck Murphy, Richard Skorman, Dave Munger and Robert Shonkwiler.

These four men, and the groups that they head, are charged with rethinking downtown (Murphy), the parks (Skorman), city streetscapes (Munger), and the transit system (Shonkwiler). The mayor wants to see specific action recommendations by March of next year, so we can hope that none of these efforts will turn into the multi-year exercises in futility that have so bedeviled our city over the past few years.

Remember the various charter revision committees, the Sustainable Funding Committee, the original Memorial Commission? Wasted time, wasted effort by dozens of smart engaged volunteers who worked for months and saw their recommendations ignored, discarded or mocked.

We’ll see — but it’s encouraging that Bach has reached out to the business/progressive community. Few would have expected that Murphy, Skorman and Munger would become key advisers to Bach’s new administration, especially after the bitter runoff between Bach and Skorman. Shonkwiler, a successful Boulder real estate developer/investor who moved to the Springs a few years ago, is somewhat more conservative than the other three, but just as smart and results-oriented.

But here’s the question of the day: Why Laura Neumann? She’s been in the Springs since 2004 managing the Cheyenne Mountain Resort, a 316-room hotel/conference center on the city’s southwest side. She has no experience outside of the hospitality industry, and, before joining the city, had worked for the same company (Benchmark Hospitality International) since 1987.

The answer may lie in the now-famous letter that Broadmoor CEO Steve Bartolin sent to then-Mayor Lionel Rivera and members of City Council nearly two years ago. In it, Bartolin noted that city labor expenses were ruinously high, suggesting that any private business is a similar situation would soon go broke. That letter led to the formation of the City Committee, a group of business leaders that spent many months analyzing city finances, and searching for ways to deliver services more efficiently. Their ideas have deeply influenced Bach, and he may have been struck by the similarities between city government and the hospitality industry.

Each must depend upon large, diverse workforces to deliver services efficiently every day to demanding consumers. Each depends upon customer satisfaction to stay in business (or, in the case of elected officials, to stay in office). And each, particularly nowadays, is under pressure to deliver the same or better services for less money.

Neumann also fills two requirements that Bach outlined in his campaign. He said that his chief of staff/COO would come from the private sector, and have recent experience managing and turning around a major enterprise. Neumann’s reputation in the community is superb, but the city is a strange, complex tangle that has, like Topsy, “jest growed.” Will her lack of public sector experience be a fatal flaw? We’ll see.

If Neumann’s appointment is wholly understandable, moving former fire chief/interim chief of staff Steve Cox to the newly created position of “chief of Economic Vitality and Innovation,” at an annual salary of $182,000, is more questionable. Suppose that Bach had said during the campaign that, “Oh, by the way, I’m going to create a new job with an annual salary of around $200,000 to oversee economic development and I’m going to hire the Fire Chief to do it.” In that case, we might be writing about Mayor Skorman.

True, the position won’t require much new money, since the mayor is ending the city’s annual contribution to the private Economic Development Corporation — but what does Cox know about economic development?

A lot, according to City Councilor Tim Leigh, who pointed out that Cox’s deep understanding of city bureaucracy makes him ideally suited to cut through red tape and help both new and existing companies expand or build new facilities.

Besides, as one local businessman snarkily observed, “The Fire Department is one of the biggest bottlenecks in the development process — they have to approve every development plan, and they take their sweet time doing it, so maybe he can do some good.”

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