Douglas Bruce doesn't intend to quietly learn the ropes as a freshman county commissioner. It's more his style to grab the ropes and twist them as hard as he can. And if his fellow board members roll their eyes, so be it.
"I didn't come here to be stared at," he said in an interview conducted in his new county office. "But I'm no shrinking violet."
Elected to represent the eastern part of El Paso County on the Board of County Commissioners, Bruce has been at the center of controversy since taking office last month.
He's refused to divulge his Social Security number in hopes that his $63,000 salary can be given tax free to Active Citizens Together, a political advocacy group he founded. He's also pressed for -- and won -- the right to allow Carolyn Myers, his campaign manager, to work in his office as a volunteer assistant.
"I don't see the need for a personal assistant," said Commissioner Sallie Clark. "We're elected to be directly accountable to the citizens who elected us."
"If Commissioner Bruce wants to assign part of his salary to charity, he has to do it ... with after-tax dollars," said County Attorney William Louis, whose office has already spent more than $1,000 researching the tax matter. The county is barred by the state constitution from directly donating to charities.
Controversy is nothing new to Bruce, who wrote Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR) -- a 1992 amendment to the state constitution that caps government revenues. But as a politician, Bruce has quickly gained the reputation for belaboring even the smallest issues. He's chided staff for spelling errors, grilled them over consent items on the board's agenda and refused to take part in commemorative resolutions.
"We went three hours one day with the consent items," said County Administrator Terry Harris, referring to housekeeping matters usually resolved before board meetings. "It's making the public rather angry."
"These little tiny things," Clark said, "distract us from getting the big things done and we waste a lot of staff time on them." She said the county has bigger issues to deal with -- balancing the budget, the problem-plagued jail system -- than Bruce's antics.
But Bruce isn't thinking small. He wants to reform the county government's structure, eliminating some volunteer citizen's boards to save money. He also wants to halt construction on the new district courthouse to prevent the county from incurring debt without voter approval. He is involved in city politics, proposing a ban on abortions at Colorado Springs city-owned Memorial hospital, among other measures.
And with four years as commissioner ahead, the current ruckus over Bruce may be just a taste of what's to come.
"There's a lot of things I want to change," Bruce said about his work with fellow commissioners. "But I don't want them to O.D. -- that means Over Doug."
-- Dan Wilcock
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