After standing for 15 minutes toward the end of Mayor Steve Bach's neighborhood meeting last night, Dr. Mary Harrow finally got her chance.
She started by demanding the mayor's resignation, in light of the the treacherous evacuation of Mountain Shadows where she and 344 others lost their homes to the Waldo Canyon Fire.
"We weren't evacuated at all," Harrow said. "It was a huge mistake. Two people died. In my profession, when two people die, you know what happens."
She also wondered how City Council President Scott Hente's house survived when homes all around it perished.
The mayor took umbrage, saying, "I think our people did everything they could to save every home. Our people did everything humanly possible to save what they could."
When Harrow pressed the issue, Bach offered her a private meeting. "Let's make an appointment with my assistant. Let's answer your questions. I want more of a chance to listen to you."
It was the most controversial moment during the 90-minute meeting at Eagleview Middle School, the place where homeowners gathered in late June to visit the burn area after the fire swept through the subdivision.
Bach began the meeting acknowledging the loss. "All of you had to evacuate with very little notice," he said. "I think about that every day. A couple in Mountain Shadows didn't make it out. It could have been much worse."
But he said the tragedy showed how resilient the community can be. He called it the best cooperative effort in his 45 years here.
Bach's chief of staff, Laura Neumann, outlined the city's budget for 2013, saying the top priorities are nurturing an environment for job creation; transforming city government from the council-manager form to the strong-mayor form; and building community.
Speaking to roughly 200 people, a good share of them middle-school students, Neumann flavored her remarks with school-related terms. She spoke of the city's reserve fund as a "savings account," labeled the city's revenue as an "allowance," and talked about "report cards" the city uses in measuring performance. She pledged the city would seek feedback from citizens quarterly on how it's doing, but didn't say how.
Among the top achievements in the 2013 budget:
• Restoring evening bus service.
• Re-lighting all city streetlights by Thanksgiving. (She didn't explain how, but officials told the Indy earlier that the money for this year's expense comes from
the city's reserve fund savings within the department.)
• Creating neighborhood health clinics at fire stations where people can obtain services, such as diabetes testing to save money.
• Care of neighborhood parks.
• Adding police and firefighters. More police will be deployed in high-service areas, such as South Nevada Avenue, the southeast area of the city and downtown.
• Stormwater improvements, which we will further explain in another blog.
Bach seemed notably deferential to City Council when asked by retired City Attorney Jim Colvin if he would propose a charter amendment that would place the mayor, not Council, in charge of Springs Utilities. (Councilors Brandy Williams, Val Snider and Tim Leigh were on hand at the meeting, among more than a dozen other local officials.)
"I intend to not bring forward any charter amendments to the April ballot," Bach said. "City utilities does report to City Council, not to the mayor. In terms of accountability, I need to look at my own shop, honestly."
He said he holds every department accountable to performance measures, adding, "l hope that's a model that can be adopted by various entities in the city."
Bach also honored Bob Cutter, a businessman whom he asked to head of Colorado Springs Together, a nonprofit agency aiding the Mountain Shadows recovery effort.