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Heimlicher shares his anguish 

Between the Lines

He left Colorado Springs six months ago, consumed by mixed emotions despite knowing deep down that he was doing the right thing for himself and his wife.

From his new home and slower-paced life more than 1,000 miles away in Tennessee, the Internet allowed him to let go slowly. He could scour websites each day and glean a clear picture of what was going on in the shadow of Pikes Peak.

Then, personal business forced him to make a return visit last week. Nothing leisurely, just a few hectic days back in the city he still loves.

Except that this wasn't a joyful return for Jerry Heimlicher.

The retired Ford Motor Credit executive, who served six years on City Council before resigning last fall to move back to his hometown, flew home to Memphis last Friday feeling more wistful than ever. His comfortable suburban surroundings now only add to his frustration.

Six months, and so much had changed. Not for the better, either.

"I must admit that driving around Colorado Springs for the past few days was not a pleasant experience," Heimlicher says. "The litter, overgrown medians and general look of the city were depressing. Living in a city like we do now, where we pay higher property taxes, shows me how responsible elected folks can use the money wisely to provide a look and feel of the community that says, 'We care about our town' when visitors drive through.

"The attitude of the folks we met with during the two days in Colorado Springs was down, to say the least. They were particularly down about the way the city is looking, and how things they had taken for granted were now dearly missed."

Heimlicher, a moderate Republican, has no problem with the Springs' low property taxes, but says "there can be a 'too low.'

"The taxes should be sufficient to provide the base community that will make everyone proud to live there and visitors envious. But I can assume that if this continues, the companies that are there now employing folks will have other communities come calling."

He knows how this message will go over. He's all too aware that residents who lost trust in City Council will rip him for leaving and then speaking out. But that doesn't stop Heimlicher from appealing to anyone who might listen.

"I hope that someday, the people who sit on their butts and leave the voting to the Doug Bruce crowd and the no-tax people will wake up and demand at the ballot that the city will provide basic services," Heimlicher says. "The folks that moved to Colorado Springs did not move to a community that looks like today's."

Heimlicher also has skeptical thoughts about the campaign to change Colorado Springs to a "strong mayor" form of government.

"The idea of a strong mayor is not the issue that should be on the ballot as a highest priority," he says. "It should be a vote to determine how much the people are willing to support their community government to function and provide basic services and recreation. Having fund drives for citizens to pay for fountains, mow parks and plant flowers is a two-edged sword. One edge is that it shows pride and promotes bonding, while the other side says we don't care enough about where we live to have a welcoming, beautiful community.

"A strong mayor will be powerless to do anything about what is wrong with the city without funds to correct problem areas. The folks that vote are saying they do not want a clean, safe community, in the name of idolizing Mr. Bruce and his followers. The folks that do not vote are saying they don't care what the community looks like."

Trust me, this is not Heimlicher scolding the city in a condescending way.

"I still care about Colorado Springs," he insists. "I just want folks to wake up and smell the roses again. It is not about a form of government. It is about caring enough about your community to vote. Then, if more vote and it stays the same, we can at least say that is the will of the majority, not the will of the few who follow Mr. Bruce over the edge of the cliff.

"What a wonderful place Colorado Springs was — and can be again."

routon@csindy.com

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