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Nipped in the bud 

People sure do like Carrie McCausland.

While Colorado Springs' sustainability coordinator didn't show up to beg for her job at City Council's e-town hall budget meeting a couple weeks ago, many of her admirers did. One after another, for more than an hour, they spoke about her dedication to the environment, to helping youth, and to saving the city money.

Quite a few of the speakers were the type with whom Mayor Steve Bach seems slightly obsessed: young professionals and college students. One Colorado College student, Mel Yemma, noted that McCausland helped her with projects and made her feel connected to the city.

"The sustainability program ... has really given us an opportunity to push our academic interests beyond our schools and into the city of Colorado Springs, where we can see real change," she said.

Since becoming mayor, Bach has made it a crusade to keep young, educated people in the area, noting their importance to economic growth. And he's often cited sustainability as a key factor in hooking that demographic. Yet, when the two positions that made up his "sustainability team" lost the grant that funded their salaries, he decided to not to add them to the city payroll.

Asked if he'd reconsider following the e-town hall, Bach offered a curt, "No comment."

City Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin did ask Councilors to add the two salaries into the general fund budget at last week's budget mark-up, but didn't get enough support for the move. A major factor was that even if it set aside the funds to do so, Council could not legally compel the mayor to hire back McCausland and energy efficiency services administrator Cathy Crawley.

And City Chief of Staff Laura Neumann says the mayor is unlikely to keep the two employees at this point, especially given that the city's eliminated 36 other positions.

"The mayor's office is very supportive of conservation and sustainability," Neumann says. "...He only asks that the department is sustainable in and of itself. And although they have given great statistics about savings and contributions citywide, he wants to make sure we're following the best practices of other cities nationally."

Earning their keep

In past interviews, McCausland, 39, has shown an encyclopedic knowledge of her field, from the latest developments in green building and Utilities infrastructure to the best techniques for urban gardening.

But she's also seemed to understand the more pragmatic concerns. She was quick to justify her role in an economic sense, often reciting statistics about how much money conservation saved. She also emphasized that environmentalism is a way to bring people — especially young people — together.

Thus, she worked often with sustainability directors for the city's colleges and Fort Carson, creating an informal alliance ("We can do it!" News, Oct. 20, 2011). And she was known for helping out with projects at the various institutions, while spreading the word about the city's own program.

Asked for parting words, McCausland returns to pragmatics.

"It's my fear that decisions like this lead to the erosion of people, particularly young people, in Colorado Springs who are motivated to help our community move in a positive direction," she writes in an e-mail.

It should be noted that McCausland and Crawley, who are salaried at $63,099 and $62,160 respectively ($77,999 and $76,910 with benefits included), have more than earned their keep. Just four of their projects — a sprinkling of LED streetlights, upping energy and water efficiency in six city buildings, a supply swap, and updating of old refrigerators — will save the city $173,417 in 2012 alone, according to Jay Anderson, the city's innovation analyst. The bulk of those savings are expected to be ongoing through at least 2015.

What now?

If "sustainability" no longer has its own office and staff, it will be everyone's business, says Nick Kittle, the city's manager of Administrative Services and Innovation. But the program won't be as robust.

"Ongoing and year-over-year projects like education, outreach, etc will likely be truncated, significantly impacted or discontinued without funded staff," he writes in an e-mail to the Indy.

Kittle notes that the sustainability staff has created the city's first sustainability plan, and that all departments will be expected to contribute to the efforts outlined therein. But some speakers at Council's town hall worried that such a strategy doesn't work, because environmental impact is essentially relegated to each department's last priority.

Those folks might be relieved to hear that a last-minute change of heart from Bach is not out of the question.

Neumann says the mayor has asked her to put together a "Sustainability Solutions Team" to make recommendations on how to handle the effort going forward. The mayor's biggest concern, she says, is that the current sustainability operation could expand and create excessive overhead. But if experts recommend a small staff, he might consider keeping McCausland and Crawley.

"[Bach] has charged me with forming this task force," Neumann told Council last week. "It has to be pretty fast because at the end of the year, if it's not funded, we have to part company. I do hope to report back within the next six weeks the finding of this team."

stanley@csindy.com

  • City sustainability office becomes a budget target, despite cash savings and cachet.

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