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Between the Lines

There's nothing like a local election, or some kind of market survey, to tell us what we already know about Colorado Springs.

During the past week, we've had both. First came the 2009 municipal election, followed by the findings of a study done by AngelouEconomics analyzing the city's business conditions and climate.

So for this endeavor, let's take a look at five conclusions from each of the two outcomes, just to confirm many feelings that were out there.

First, the election sent various messages, including these:

1. Most residents don't care about city government. Despite mail ballots that went directly to 196,000 eligible voters, only 70,527 responded. That means 64 percent didn't bother to vote, a clear signal of apathy. Granted, two of the four City Council district races were unopposed, but voters still had four ballot issues to consider. Yet, the participation was poor.

2. Don't mess with TOPS. The city made a strong case for bleeding some extra money out of the Trails, Open Space and Parks tax funding to pay for maintaining other parks than just the ones acquired with TOPS money. Even some longtime TOPS proponents felt the city-sponsored 1C issue was worthy. But the voters still said no, adding to the TOPS win streak. Some believe the measure lost because most TOPS supporters argued effectively about needing funds to purchase more land in a slow market. From this view, though, the voters have said repeatedly they like the TOPS idea and do not want to alter it.

3. The 1A — Jobs Now issue was flawed. That's why it lost, despite all the money behind it. Also, 1A's timing was bad. Voters might have considered extending that small property tax, but only if the money had gone to police and fire, or to parks, and for just five years, not until 2025. Come November, we'll likely see some kind of last-chance issue to salvage that piece of property tax.

4. Those who do vote aren't dumb. Just look at those four ballot issues. The one allowing city enterprises to receive more federal grant money passed by 67-33 percent, while 1A was defeated by 62-38. The other two were close, one winning and the other losing. So voters weren't in an automatic "no" mood. They knew what they were doing.

5. The mayor's race in 2011 looks like a free-for-all. With Lionel Rivera term-limited out then, Jerry Heimlicher has a shot after the six-year City Councilman won a final four-year term through 2013, though his margin over Dave Gardner was tighter than many expected. The race also could include Vice Mayor Larry Small and Councilor Jan Martin, among others. At the moment, though, nobody has enough support to be labeled a strong favorite.

Now, the AngelouEconomics study, which you can read about in Noted (p. 12):

1. Fewer young professionals are staying here. Duh. Better-paying companies have been closing or moving, and those good salaries aren't being replaced. Other Colorado cities are already ahead of us in going after more "green" companies and jobs, but it's not too late for Colorado Springs.

2. Our commercial real estate inventory is aging. That's as easy as driving up and down Academy Boulevard, or realizing that commercial construction has slowed since the better times of the 1980s and '90s.

3. We don't have enough direct flights to other cities. There was progress until the economic downturn. Can't blame this one on anybody.

4. The city faces public and private leadership challenges. Like we didn't know that. We have a splintered local Republican party, divided mostly by intolerance and social issues, but the county Democratic party isn't strong enough yet to take advantage and lead. As a result, our city is viewed as being muddled, lacking consensus or strong leaders.

5. We need a "common vision." Lord knows that doesn't exist in this stagnant environment. Of course, the turnaround starts with finding and encouraging new leaders who can pull people together, gain their trust, make them truly excited — and then convince everyone of what steps Colorado Springs must take to build a more successful future.

But then, if you've been paying attention, you already knew all that, right?

routon@csindy.com

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