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Longer term limits? Really? 

Between the Lines

Someday, after Colorado Springs escapes these economic hard times, there's a book to be written. We could call it Pikes Peak Is a Bust: Our Worst Mistakes (1985-2010), with each chapter focusing on different missteps of the past generation.

My first scene would have to be from 1986, when I interviewed super-developer Frank Aries as he sat in his bathrobe and underwear in his Broadmoor-area home. (That memory still hasn't faded.) He was describing his gargantuan plans for Banning-Lewis Ranch in eastern Colorado Springs: more than 20,000 acres of homes and commerce topped by the Olympic Hall of Fame, an IMAX theater and the U.S. Space Foundation headquarters. He pulled off a $240 million loan, the city began helping with annexation, and the U.S. Olympic Committee even staged a groundbreaking ceremony.

Then came the savings-and-loan collapse, turning our city into a foreclosure mecca. And the Springs was stuck with the Banning-Lewis annexation that still sits largely undeveloped — though it certainly has influenced development of the multibillion-dollar Southern Delivery System water project.

The book would chronicle Douglas Bruce's escapades, starting in the late 1980s with the California attorney gobbling up distressed properties for a song and renting them without making repairs, lucrative enough to keep him here permanently. Soon came his city Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, and you know the rest.

But the book continues, with the area never acquiring funds for a bypass freeway or rebuilding I-25 interchanges that were rated immediate priorities in the early 1970s. Also, tax-increase proposals that were suicidal, and on and on.

Now we have more for this manuscript. El Paso County's commissioners, with public confidence in elected officials at its lowest, are asking voters for extended term limits, giving all elected county leaders and the district attorney up to 12 years in office, instead of eight.

In adding this to a November ballot already stuffed with devious and/or foolish proposals, commissioners have made no secret of their blatant conflict of interest.

How blatant? It would take effect in 2012, meaning three sitting commissioners — Sallie Clark, Dennis Hisey and Amy Lathen — could serve an extra four years. Another term-limited commissioner, Wayne Williams, happens to be running for clerk and recorder, so he might have 12 years in that office.

With no public input, late in the process, those four voted to put the measure on the ballot. That doesn't pass any smell test known to man. (The fifth commissioner, Jim Bensberg, made it 4-1, not wanting to overload the ballot.)

Clark insists commissioners are just hitting their stride when their eight years end, and they need that long to work effectively on state-level issues. That's funny, since state legislators only get eight years. Clark also says constitutents wish she could run again. Granted, she's a popular local leader. But should one person influence an entire county to change term limits?

Lathen has told media that many other counties have upped term limits, but we're told many of those had more to do with such hard-to-fill offices as coroner, surveyor or assessor. Regardless, there's not enough hard data to call it a state trend that El Paso County should follow.

So I asked Democrat Michael Merrifield and Republican Peggy Littleton, battling to replace the term-limited Bensberg in the central District 5.

Merrifield: "It seems incredibly self-serving for these commissioners to put it on the ballot and have it apply to them. If they proposed changing the limits but without any of them being able to take advantage, that would be totally different."

Littleton: "First and foremost, I am a public servant. ... I am not a career politician, and personally am not in favor of extending term limits."

It's not surprising that the candidates might be skittish. Especially when voters can smell a conflict of interest from miles away.

It might not demand a full chapter in that book — unless the backlash helps other anti-government issues prevail. But when this idea of extending term limits goes down in flames on Nov. 2, it should be noted for posterity.

routon@csindy.com

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