When Mayor Steve Bach ran for office last year he sorta/kinda pledged to serve only a single four-year term. Such pledges are common enough in the heat of a campaign — tell the voters that you're not a career politician.
Once the election's over, sensible politicians never mention it again.
Instead, you quietly tell intimates that you find the job challenging, and that you may be open to another term if circumstances warrant. Doing so wards off potential challengers and enhances power to implement your agenda.
A mayor who may remain another seven years is far more formidable than one who may leave in three. A mayor whose planning horizon extends until 2019 can accomplish far more than one who tosses himself to the curb in 2015.
So what about Bach — will he stay or will he go?
Judging from his slow, meticulous and carefully conceived restructuring of city government, he expects to run for re-election in 2015. Recall that he's the city's first "strong mayor," exercising power once divided between transient City Council majorities and equally transient city managers. Some feared that Bach would immediately fire every senior manager and replace them with unqualified local ideologues.
Instead, he moved incrementally.
City veteran Steve Cox, who had served as fire chief and interim city manager, was Bach's first chief of staff/COO. During the next year, virtually every senior manager left, but no "Saturday Night Massacre," no mass firings, no jarring realignment of priorities.
That caution served Bach well, especially when the Waldo Canyon blaze swept into Mountain Shadows. Police Chief Pete Carey and Fire Chief Rich Brown were new to their jobs, but not to the city. A short-termer in a hurry might have made disruptive hires, opting for newbies intent on shaking up the two departments.
Yet the Carey/Brown appointments were outliers. The latest city org chart lists 18 senior management positions, nine currently reporting directly to the mayor. Aside from Brown and Carey, only six worked for the city when Bach took over last year, just three in their current positions. Two of those three, presiding municipal court judge HayDen Kane and aviation director Mark Earle, supervise self-supporting city enterprises.
Bach's new team is dramatically different from that which his detractors (maybe even his supporters!) might have predicted. It's overwhelmingly female (by my count, women hold five of seven important managerial/policy-making positions) and younger than in previous years.
Only one, interim planning director Kyle Campbell, came to his/her position with an agenda. Campbell was expected to reduce the powers of certain senior employees who had long been at odds with the development community, and he did so very efficiently — he fired them.
Similar changes are afoot across the organization. Fleet privatization, outsourced snowplowing and increased reliance on private contractors (see p. 14) are the consequences of imposing standard practices from the business world on local government.
Governments traditionally have relied on the "only too much is enough" model. If a streetlight on every corner is good, why not streetlights in the middle of every block? If watering parks three times a week is good, why not five times? If 70 neighborhood parks make citizens happy, wouldn't 140 make them twice as happy?
That model died with the recession. Bach's team isn't waiting for the recession to end — they don't think that it ever will. They see a future of flat revenue and increasing costs. Trimming services and reducing costs are one way to deal with the future. Another is to re-set government priorities.
"Don't you think we go about things backward?" Bach asked on Friday after the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. "Go to a City Council meeting, and it's all about little things right now, not about big things in the future."
Bach has seven years at most to shape his legacy — and, unlike his predecessors, he'll have to do it without the ever-expanding revenues that drove their signature projects. Bob Isaac's airport, Mary Lou Makepeace's parks, Lionel Rivera's USOC deal — goodbye to all that.
Mayor, it's your move. Good luck ... as long as you don't want any new taxes!
Editor's note: John Hazlehurst (firstname.lastname@example.org) is working with Mayor Bach on a project to build a new Pikes Peak Summit House.