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The new era begins. With this week's abrupt departure of City Manager Jim Mullen, the political re-alignment that was first manifested in last April's Council elections has finally taken place. Remember that election? After all the turmoil of 2001, it seems distant and insignificant, yet it may well define the shape of our community for years to come.

Before April 3 last year, Mullen and Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace had a comfortable majority, which included Judy Noyes, Jim Null, Richard Skorman, Ted Eastburn, Linda Barley and Leon Young. Young retired, Barley was defeated, and Council's ideological makeup changed dramatically. Where there had been seven liberals and two conservatives (and mind you, when I say "liberal," I use it in its Colorado Springs context), there were now four conservatives, four liberal/moderates and one maverick.

The conservatives (Lionel Rivera, Sallie Clark, Charles Wingate and Margaret Radford) wanted to get rid of Mullen; the liberals (Makepeace, Null, Noyes and Skorman) didn't. So both sides worked on the wild card, Doctor Ted, and the conservatives finally prevailed. Once Eastburn began to waver, it was only a matter of time. But nothing is ever exactly as it appears.

Councilman Eastburn is an interesting guy -- smart, analytical, deliberate and not easily pigeonholed. I doubt whether his problems with Mullen are ideologically driven; my guess is that he'd want Mullen's successor to be very much in the mold of Mullen himself, without some of the rough edges.

In other words, he'll be looking for an activist manager, committed to the bold initiatives and far-reaching improvements that marked Mullen's tenure. He'll also want what Mullen never was, an adept schmoozer, able to deal with the media, citizens groups and business interests in a professional and appropriate way. Far from being allied with those members of Council who might prefer a stodgy traditionalist, Eastburn might well make common cause with the mayor and her allies.

In other words, the conservatives might end up with a manager even less to their liking (if that's possible!). That's called winning the battle and losing the war. However, there's gonna be another election come April 2003, and we can expect that, once we've finished electing a new mayor (remember, Mary Lou is term-limited) and four new Council members, there will be yet another tectonic shift in local power relations.

But, with Mullen's departure we have reached the end of a mayor --city manager partnership that dominated city politics for five years. And make no mistake; it was an extraordinarily effective, productive and successful partnership.

Mullen was a steely, single-minded, even ruthless manager, wholly dedicated to the task at hand. When, for example, Council sought to renovate the old City Hall, Mullen got the job done, regardless of cost overruns, slick financing or retaining historic integrity.

Indeed, it's difficult to think of a five-year period in the city's history when more was accomplished. In that time, we've seen the JL Ranch, the Stratton property and much of the land surrounding the Big Johnson reservoir acquired as open space and parks.

We've seen an astonishing rebirth/revitalization of downtown. We've seen I-25 widened as it runs through the city, and a linear park created along its western border. We've seen the success of the SCIP process, which, thanks to citizen-approved bond issues and tax increases, reversed the city's decade-long fiscal crisis.

And we've seen the beginning of Confluence Park, which, despite its detractors (myself among them), will utterly transform downtown's southwest quadrant.

It's an impressive list. It makes you wonder why, with such a record, Council forced Mullen out. Alas, the answer's a simple one. In any list of arrogant, my-way-or-the-highway, paranoid S.O.B.s, Jim Mullen would be at or near the top.

Disdainful of the media and bizarrely secretive, his administration treated routine information as if it contained state secrets. Political foes were literally barred from City Hall; remember when Mullen had then-citizen activist Sallie Clark physically removed from a public meeting on the grounds that it was a media briefing, and she wasn't part of the media?

Anyway, by the time 2002 rolled around in all its palindromic glory, there were plenty of people, both in and out of government, ready to stick the knife into Mullen.

So now we enter into a new phase -- who's gonna be the next manager? As the person who, when on Council, cast the deciding vote that resulted in Mullen's hiring, let me offer some advice to our Council members. City Transportation Director Dave Zelenok, Deputy City Manager Lorne Kramer, SCIP coordinator Elena Nunez ... take any one. You won't regret it.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

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