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City vows to listen to the people 

In an effort to convince voters to pony up as much as $85 million for capitol improvement projects, the City Council is adopting a new approach to doing business.

It's called "collaborative leadership."

Led by Boulder consultant David Chrislip, members of the City Council were joined by an exclusive group of business and community leaders during a retreat this Tuesday in Manitou Springs.

Chrislip was paid $250 an hour to lead the discussion on the concept of "collaborative leadership," which he said would be important if the city hopes to pass any additional bonds or taxes next year for capitol improvement projects.

Chrislip, of Skillful Means Consulting Company, claims in his literature that the broad purpose of his work is "to build civil society." The consultant -- who said he was an old pal of Mullen's from when the two participated in an Outward Bound school several years ago -- has also used his model of collaborative leadership to apply to Missoula, Mont., Phoenix and Denver.

Much of the morning retreat was spent outlining the critical details of this new way of thinking, including the nuances between "process" and "content" experts and the importance of "collective credibility."

In other words, the government officials spent the morning hashing over the intricacies of working together.


The "unusual" voices

Utilizing a model that outlined what he called the "principals of successful collaboration," Chrislip said the key to successfully convincing people to embrace their city government is to engage the "unusual" -- as well as the "usual" -- voices of the debate.

"The city needs to be thinking about a new style of leadership," said Mullen. "We are all together, we are all interdependent."

However, despite the talk of inclusion, the sounds of any "unusual" voices were mute on Tuesday. Absent from the discussion were low-to middle-income citizens, neighborhood groups, spokespeople from the city's minority African-American, Asian and Hispanic communities, military representatives, labor groups or educators.

Neither were members of the local media specially notified of the council retreat, which was held in Manitou Springs (although the meeting time was posted as required by law). And, former mayoral candidate Sallie Clark was the only neighborhood activist present.

Instead, a select group of business and community leaders were invited to join in -- including representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, the Economic Development Corporation, the local realtor's association, two major developers, an insurance executive, representatives from the Fine Arts Center and the Smokebrush Center. The mayor's pastor, Gerald Trigg of the First United Methodist Church, also attended.

City manager Jim Mullen said that Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace selected the majority of participants, which Mullen claimed was a broad representation of the community.

Members of the city council tallied their own thoughts about engaging both unusual and usual voices in a new era of leadership in Colorado Springs. Councilman Richard Skorman said, "people have to let go of their egos." Councilwoman Linda Barley urged, "we need to cast the net wide to engage broader sections of the community."


Dire straits

During the afternoon, after Chrislip departed, the City Council and staff got down to the nuts and bolts of identifying the city's pressing needs -- including infrastructure, public safety and art.

Much of the discussion was led by Police Chief Lorne Kramer, who last year was also appointed deputy city manager. Kramer will be spearheading a public safety ballot initiative in April, 2001.

A decade worth of tax limitations, combined with rapid growth and an end to a sales tax in the 1990s, have left Colorado Springs in dire straits for basic infrastructure costs, city leaders say.

In April, 1999, voters approved the sale of $88 million in bonds for nine selected capital projects as part of the Springs Community Improvement Plan.

On Tuesday, SCIP co-chairs Lou Mellini and Nancy Lewis said the city still has a $425 million backlog in capital improvement needs. They have targeted $85 million for additional transportation, drainage and public safety projects that the city will seek in voter funds next year.

Noting "a serious degradation in public safety services in recent years," Kramer said the police response rate has deteriorated by 22 percent in the past three years -- from eight to 12 minutes. In addition, the number of snowplow drivers has declined as city streets have grown by 518 miles.

"It's about money, pure and simple," said Kramer "We no longer have the ability to pay for needed public safety services. Going on the ballot is the only alternative left us."


All or something

Kramer said the city is leaning toward pursuing a sales tax, though "nothing has been decided." A one-cent tax, he said, would generate $500 million over 10 years, "enough to accommodate all of SCIP I and II and all public safety needs."

City leaders also talked about the possibility of fashioning a single ballot package that would combine public safety, capitol improvements and public art. Mayor Makepeace argued for this type of single initiative collaboration.

"It would symbolize the kind of world-class city we want," she said. "If we address these needs singly, we'll just have a bunch of competing tax items."

But Councilman Skorman and neighborhood activist Clark argued that it's a risk to put multiple requests in a single initiative.

"We're not providing the basics as it is," Clark said. "There's a limit to what government should do, and I'm hearing people say they want basic services provided."

Skorman agreed. "Voters want specific, nuts-and-bolds capital improvement and public safety projects," he said. "A collaborative ballot package would risk everything losing."

"Whatever we end up doing," warned EDC president Rocky Scott, "we absolutely have to make voters perceive this as something other than just another thing the government wants."

This time, the city hopes their collaborative new way of thinking -- including engaging unusual voices -- will do the trick.

For details on the SCIP II projects, check out the city's Web page at www.colorado-springs.com/SCIP

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