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One more go-round 

On Tuesday, April 12, four City Councilors celebrated (or, in Larry Small's case, missed) their last meeting.

It was a day of plaques and speeches, of slaps on the back and tearful farewells. If it was hard to put aside differences before, the Councilors all seemed suddenly adept at forgiving and forgetting.

Tom Gallagher, who served eight years and lost his run for mayor this year, never got along with Vice Mayor Larry Small, who worked alongside him the whole time (in addition to two years in the early '90s). Their bickering was notorious, especially over the Southern Delivery System water project, which Gallagher thought was flawed, and Small viewed as a crowning achievement.

And yet, when Gallagher spoke of Small on Tuesday, he said that he was impressed by how much the vice mayor cared. As for their rivalry, Gallagher said, "As someone who stood corrected in the eyes of Larry Small many, many times, I've got to say, he was fair."

Newly re-elected Councilor Jan Martin had sparred frequently with departing Councilor Sean Paige, who was appointed in late 2009. But on that last day, Martin told Paige, "It really was a pleasure working with you, Sean."

Departing City Councilor Randy Purvis, who served an astonishing 20 years on Council starting in 1987 and was known as one of its most reserved and thoughtful members, had good words for Gallagher, the boisterous outsider.

"It takes courage to do what you've done," Purvis said, "and I admire you for it."

Later, Gallagher returned the compliment, calling Purvis a "statesman," and saying, "I'm a better man for knowing you."

The mudslinging was officially over. The journey had ended. The arguments, failures and clashes of personality had already begun to fade away.

But the decisions of these past years provide a script for which each will share equal acclaim or culpability.

Parting thoughts

The departing Council weathered economic crisis, scandal and impassioned disagreements. Yet, in answering a list of questions we e-mailed to all exiting members, Small says he is proud of what Council achieved. He points to SDS and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority's funding of road projects, as well as to open-space acquisitions, and revitalization projects on North Nevada Avenue and at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Small is also proud of the eventual deal that kept the U.S. Olympic Committee here and moved its headquarters downtown — despite the scandal surrounding the original developer, and the city's agreement to spend $31.5 million on the project, both of which outraged the public.

Others are more modest in their assessments. Gallagher says simply "that is for the historians to decide," while Purvis and Paige point to the greatest achievement being SDS.

Paige, ever the rabble-rouser, adds that, "The last two Councils will be remembered far more for missteps and misjudgments, on everything from the stormwater debacle to the USOC sellout. And this Council may be teeing-up its biggest blunder yet, by promoting a change of ownership plan for Memorial that isn't carefully considered and will shortchange the citizens of this city."

Tellingly, Small and Purvis say they hope to be remembered for being fair or reasoned, while Paige and Gallagher want their questions and unpopular decisions to be their legacy.

Words of advice

City Council today has six new members, a yet-to-be-determined new mayor and a new form of government to tackle. All that, on top of having to balance the budget, restore pre-recession service levels, decide the fate of assets and projects, and build the economy.

Purvis and Small say the new Council must immediately carve out its relationship with the mayor and decide on common goals. They urge collaboration. Gallagher and Paige, however, hope Council won't bow to anyone.

Gallagher's message: "I hope that the new Council will step in front of the issue and help define a system wherein the City Council becomes the watchdog of local government."

Purvis, Paige and Gallagher also say the new Council will have to address salary and pension issues that threaten to overwhelm the budget.

"Services have taken it in the shorts in Colorado Springs in order to protect city pay and pensions, and rebalancing that equation will be politically contentious for council members who don't have, or can't develop, a spine," Paige writes.

Small hopes the newbies will encourage creation of "character neighborhoods" and a strong downtown, maintain good relations with regional governments, and consider revising the city tax structure. He worries, though, about the lack of a key ingredient.

"The new Council, unlike our prior Council, is missing representation from the minority communities," he writes. "I believe the new Council needs to work very hard to reach out to all our ethnic communities."

Most of all, the departing Councilors hope their replacements will be brave, but thoughtful.

As Purvis advises: "Vote your conscience. In the new system of government, to have a meaningful impact on policy issues, you will need to work as a unit; concentrate on building a working coalition of at least six to seven votes. At the same time, avoid group-think, always question and listen to your critics, they may be exposing weaknesses in your position and logic...

"Stay grounded. It is too easy to conclude that the world revolves around you."

stanley@csindy.com


City Council Q&A

As they prepared to step down from Colorado Springs City Council, Randy Purvis, Larry Small, Tom Gallagher and Sean Paige each took the time to engage in exit interviews via e-mail. They appear below, unedited and in their entirety.

Randy Purvis

What advice do you have for the incoming Council?

Vote your conscience. In the new system of government, to have a meaningful impact on policy issues, you will need to work as a unit; concentrate on building a working coalition of at least 6 to 7 votes. At the same time, avoid group think, always question and listen to your critics, they may be exposing weaknesses in your position and logic.

Stay grounded. It is too easy to conclude that the world revolves around you. Rely on your family and close friends to tell you when you're "full of it"; and acknowledge their love and support.

Which candidate would you suggest voters pick for mayor? Why?

The candidate that best represents their beliefs and the direction in which they want the community to go.

What's the biggest challenge this new Council will face?

The city budget. Paying for the basic infrastructure needs of our community. Dealing with personnel issues in a time when the city's ability to pay for salaries, retirement and other benefits is gone.

What type of voice (if any) is missing from the new Council?

I think the voters selected a good mix of people to serve on council.

What's the most important piece of unfinished business that this new Council will need to tackle?

The budget and making it sustainable going forward.

What worst case scenarios do you see playing out with this new government?

Council sets one set of goals in the council strategic plan, and the mayor another set in the mayor's strategic plan; and both parties fail to reach a common ground.

What are the best achievements of this Council? Will the new Council be able to make similar changes under the new government?

The Southern Delivery System will provide for this community's water needs for decades into the future.

What is your greatest hope for this new Council?

Creating a sound and sustainable budget for city government.

As a City Councilor, what do you want to be remembered for?

Sound, reasoned judgment. SDS.

Larry Small

What advice do you have for the incoming Council?

Listen to the public input , staff presentations and stakeholders' points of view and do independent research on all issues before taking a position.

Which candidate would you suggest voters pick for mayor? Why?

My choice is Richard Skorman but I encourage everyone to study both candidates and their positions on the issues and make their own informed decision. Richard has a rich history of public service, both as an elected official and as a citizen. He is a small businessman who understands the impact of government on business. He will provide fair and balanced representation to every element of our community and will not be swayed by special interest groups. Richard can truly bring our community together and provide the leadership to move us forward.

What's the biggest challenge this new Council will face?

This is a transition year from our Council-Manager form of government to a Strong Mayor form of government. Council's role is significantly changed to being the legislative body of our government. There will need to be a relationship-building between the Council and the mayor and his staff so that both branches work together with a common strategic plan and a common mission and goals. Only three of the ten elected representatives have served in public office, so there will be a learning period on how our City functions and how we work with our regional partners at every level of government.

What type of voice (if any) is missing from the new Council?

The new Council, unlike our prior Council, is missing representation from the minority communities. I believe the new Council needs to work very hard to reach out to all our ethnic communities and take special care to insure their voices are heard.

What's the most important piece of unfinished business that this new Council will need to tackle?

Regional cooperation with the County and our other neighboring communities, including Pueblo and Pueblo County, is an ongoing concern. Development of a diverse and inclusive community with character neighborhoods is important, as is a strong downtown. A revision to our tax policy to better balance the tax burden is an ongoing issue. Continue to improve the efficiency of Government.

What worst case scenarios do you see playing out with this new government?

The worst case scenario would be the lack of cooperation and a shared vision for our City between the mayor and Council. However, knowing the members of our new Council and the two candidates for Mayor, I don't believe this will happen. I believe the voters made the right choices and the new Council and Mayor will represent our city well.

What are the best achievements of this Council? Will the new Council be able to make similar changes under the new government?

Establishing the Southern Delivery System. Retaining the USOC. Establishing the PPRTA. Acquiring significant open space parcels. Supporting the revitalization of North Nevada and UCCS. Restoring Prospect Lake. Working through a difficult economic environment. These are a few of the accomplishments. And yes, the new Council can make similar differences if they work together with the community. The important thing for any Council to remember is that they are there to provide the leadership to make the Community's shared vision the Community's reality.

What is your greatest hope for this new Council?

That they listen to the Community and lead.

As a City Councilor, what do you want to be remembered for?

I hope I am simply remember as an ordinary citizen who helped make a difference in our Community and was fair and impartial in the execution of my representative responsibilities.

Tom Gallagher

What advice do you have for the incoming Council?

Don't be afraid to ask questions, challenge information, and debate recommendations. The public has elected you to make decisions, not your staff. If you don't think the matter is ready, kick it back. Own the decision making process.

Which candidate would you suggest voters pick for mayor?

Steve Bach

Why?

The status quo has not served this community well for the last 10 years. The status quo is a culture focused on controlling process rather than a culture that uses process to drive outcomes. We have a stoic and controlling bureaucracy at a time when adaptability and nimbleness is essential to success.

Our citizens expect things to change. That is why they voted to change our form of governance last November. A change agent is needed in the mayor's office to move our community forward, to capitalize on economic development opportunities, to develop and implement proactive and strategic policies and procedures that emphasize results over intentions.

Institutional memory doesn't add much to the job that needs to be done. In fact, a very strong case can be made that institutional memory will interfere with the job that needs to be done.

What's the biggest challenge this new Council will face?

The new City Council members must define the role of the council under the framework of the strong mayor form of governance. They can choose to sit idly by while the mayor defines the system, in which case the Council's role in governance of the City will be diminished.

I hope that the new Council will step in front of the issue and help define a system wherein the City Council becomes the watchdog of local government. This means challenging any interpretation of policy by City management (to include the mayor) which conflicts with the intent and direction provided by the Council.

What type of voice (if any) is missing from the new Council?

That remains to be seen. Remember, this is a very diverse community in both demographics and political ideology.

What's the most important piece of unfinished business that this new Council will need to tackle?

The most important unfinished business facing the incoming City Council will be getting a handle on the long-term liabilities of the City. The most visible one at this time is pension obligations, but it's not the only issue that needs to be addressed. The new Council needs to examine the sustainability of the City's compensation practices and needs to benchmark against the local labor market wherever and whenever possible.

What worst case scenarios do you see playing out with this new government?

If the very fragile national economic recovery falters or fails, government is not going to be able to conduct business as usual. The new City Council must be cognizant of the rather tenuous economic position of the City. They need to maximize every economic development opportunity that is realistically obtainable. That will require a much higher level of analysis than has occurred in the past.

What are the best achievements of this Council? Will the new Council be able to make similar changes under the new government?

That is for the historians to decide.

What is your greatest hope for this new Council?

I hope that the new City Council will be more demanding and less trusting than previous councils. Today's conditions are a direct result of deferring to the expert opinions of professional staff.

All of the incoming Council members are bright, intelligent individuals. Trust yourselves and the toolbox of life experiences you bring to the table. Do not blindly accept that there is only one way to address an issue, because there is always more than one way of doing something.

As a City Councilor, what do you want to be remembered for?

I hope to be remembered as someone who always put the long-term interests of this community first. History will show I was willing to take unpopular positions and make unpopular decisions when it was appropriate; that I did my homework, cast informed votes, and honored the will of the electors of this City.

Sean Paige

What advice do you have for the incoming Council?

Don't let holdovers from the last council, all of whom are slaves to status quo thinking, prevent you from acting creatively and boldly, and from taking concrete steps that will help restore public trust in City Hall. Council's rookies shouldn't be so deferential to "experienced" veterans that we won't be able to tell the next council from the last council. The honeymoon will be short for this group if it doesn't demonstrate a different attitude and style.

Don't be the prisoners to bad precedent. When the holdovers say "it won't work," don't believe them. When they tell you "the rules prevent it," re-write the rules. When they say "this is the way we've always done things," say, "that's not the way we do things now."

Which candidate would you suggest voters pick for mayor? Why?

Not Richard Skorman. Richard is a nice guy, whom I like and respect, but I fear he lacks the toughness to confront the hard fiscal realities this city must confront, especially concerning public sector pay, benefits and pensions. This city needs to be run once again for the benefit of the people, not the public employees, and I believe Richard is too entrenched in the old way of doing things, and too deferential to government, to change that paradigm.

What's the biggest challenge this new Council will face?

Confronting the salaries versus services dilemma. Services have taken it in the shorts in Colorado Springs in order to protect city pay and pensions, and rebalancing that equation will be politically contentious for council members who don't have, or can't develop, a spine. Breaking down bureaucratic barriers to business creation should be a second priority, which should be easier under the strong mayor model.

What type of voice (if any) is missing from the new Council?

It's too early to tell.

What's the most important piece of unfinished business that this new Council will need to tackle?

A modest improvement in the revenue picture has for some people reduced the drive to partner, outsource, innovate and think creatively about what the city does and how it delivers services. But government reinvention and reform is something that should be going on continuously – not just when a budget crisis prompts a spasm of out-of-the-box thinking. The next council needs to resist the temptation to return to business as usual, even if the fiscal forecast seems to be improving. It should continue to find creative ways to deliver city services in more affordable, efficient and customer-friendly ways.

What worst case scenarios do you see playing out with this new government?

That our new leaders fail to confront the city's pay and pension problems and we dig ourselves deeper into the hole we've been digging for years. The city has unfunded liabilities we must begin to address now. A double dip recession or a prolonged economic slump could mean that we're not through the worst of it, and that the city also remains in a prolonged state of fiscal crisis. That's why efforts to reform, reinvent and optimize government operations must go on, even when the fiscal forecast seems to be improving.

What are the best achievements of this Council? Will the new Council be able to make similar changes under the new government?

The most notable achievement of this council was moving SDS from theory to reality. But that's a rare success story. The last two councils will be remembered far more for missteps and misjudgments, on everything from the stormwater debacle to the USOC sellout. And this council may be teeing-up its biggest blunder yet, by promoting a change of ownership plan for Memorial that isn't carefully considered and will shortchange the citizens of this city.

As a City Councilor, what do you want to be remembered for?

Helping the city deal creatively with a budget crisis; asking hard but necessary questions; challenging the entrenched status quo; not playing it cautious, like the typical politician.

— Compiled by J. Adrian Stanley

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