You probably have noticed that Colorado Springs has been back in the news again. One more time, national media are spotlighting us as Exhibit A for how cities are hurting across America.
We can respond to the negativity in two ways.
There's the Gazette approach, condemning the messengers — recently none other than the New York Times — for the "pack media" attack embarrassing the Springs.
Or we can take the real-life view: It's the truth. Deal with it.
Our city has craved the national spotlight and boasted loudly about stories and rankings that have made us look good. Now that we're suffering, we want outsiders to leave us alone.
We can't have it both ways. Our only choice is to take the punches now, figure out how to escape this mess, and start working on how to recover. When (some would say if) we achieve that, the positive image will return.
But not soon. Not with all of our problems, from weed-infested street medians and reduced bus service to darkened streetlights, closed swimming pools, still-endangered community centers and, lest we forget, the potholes.
Colorado Springs arguably is crumbling before our eyes. Yet, our city leaders, elected and hired, appear overly cautious as they consider what comes next. Privatizing a community center and some pools, or finding a new model for the Pioneers Museum, are small-change items. They won't solve our core problems.
This week, the Council began hearing more hopeful projections about 2011 revenues. But city staff responded by talking about using any windfall to replenish the city's rainy-day fund. There was a little talk about possibly restoring services, thanks to Vice Mayor Larry Small, but it was far from enough.
Mayor Lionel Rivera and four others on City Council, all in their final year before leaving in April 2011, appear more likely to hand off the city's problems to their replacements. Interim city manager Steve Cox, a nice guy with good intentions, is trying to keep the budget balanced and City Hall operational. But he has no idea about his own future, with ballot issues looming that could change our form of government.
Given all that, residents wonder who's really in charge. They still don't have confidence in city government. They need firm direction from elected leaders — not in 2011, but now.
If any term-limited councilors (Small, Tom Gallagher, Randy Purvis) are planning to run for mayor, they should say so and start sharing their visions. Darryl Glenn, of course, is shooting for county commissioner and an $80,000 pay raise. But if any others (Jan Martin, Scott Hente, Sean Paige) are thinking about it, now is the time to show their mettle as well.
Colorado Springs faces the possibility of two strong-mayor ballot issues in upcoming elections. One is being pushed by Douglas Bruce, who apparently would run for mayor — God help us — if his version prevails. (And it's never smart to assume he would lose.) The other, supported by respected civic figures, still lacks a vital ingredient.
How can the masses support a strong-mayor concept, no matter how sensible, without knowing who might fill that role? Nobody likes the thought of Rivera, or someone like him, having more power. But we don't like asking voters to decide every touchy issue or expenditure, either.
We need someone to take command of the plane, because we're on auto-pilot, locked in a holding pattern. We need to know who wants to become our next mayor, and what they are thinking. We need to start a new dialogue, addressing which services must be restored first. And it must come from anyone with a credible interest in running the city, strong mayor or not.
A few candidates have announced for the April 2011 election, most notably Dave Munger and Brian Bahr, but the field remains open: Hente? Martin? Paige? Richard Skorman? Sallie Clark? Others?
While we're at it, let's stop overreacting to how national media portray us.
Instead, let's start talking about, and listening to, the men and women who want to lead our city out of these troubled times.
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