By most accounts, Joel Miller saved the Colorado Springs City Council from making a bad decision.
As a member of the city's Airport Advisory Commission, Miller led the recent charge to stop a proposed housing development near the Colorado Springs Airport. Appearing before the Council in August, he argued that planes would be flying low over rooftops, causing excessive noise and potential danger.
After listening to Miller, the normally development-friendly council rejected the proposed subdivision on an 8-1 vote.
But just weeks later, the same council booted Miller off the seven-member airport commission.
While the timing might seem conspicuous, council members insist Miller didn't lose his spot because of his fight to stop the development near the airport.
"That had nothing to do with it," said Councilman Tom Gallagher.
Rather, council members say, they declined to reappoint Miller to the commission when his term expired because other applicants were more qualified.
Miller himself was reluctant to comment on the matter when contacted by the Independent. "I don't want to come off as a whining person," he said.
80 feet over the roofs
The City Council appointed Miller, a pilot and a major in the Air Force, to an initial three-year term on the seven-member airport commission in 2000. His term officially expired in August, along with the terms of two other commissioners, although the process to replace the three didn't begin until September.
While the other two commissioners were restricted by term limits from continuing to serve, Miller was eligible for a second term and asked to be reappointed.
Traditionally, the Council has reappointed virtually all members of its advisory committees who are eligible for new terms. But in this case, the council appointed three brand-new commissioners, leaving Miller out.
It was just weeks earlier that Miller had led the airport commission's opposition to the planned subdivision near the airport.
The developer planning the subdivision, known as the Troy Hill Road development, was Steve Shuttleworth, who also happens to be the chairman of the city's Planning Commission, though he abstained from voting on his own proposal.
After reviewing Shuttleworth's development plan in July, the airport commission recommended it be denied. But the Planning Commission disagreed, urging it be approved. Airport commission members then decided to give a presentation opposing the development before the City Council, which was to make a final decision on Aug. 26. Miller wrote and delivered the presentation.
"This thing [was] so close to the end of the runway," Miller said of the proposed development, during a subsequent interview. "An aircraft taking off from that runway, worst case, could be 80 feet above the roofs."
A great disservice
On Oct. 13, Miller learned he was being passed over for reappointment to the airport commission. The next day, the Council unanimously appointed three other candidates William Breckner, Lynn French and Dennis Weber.
Councilman Scott Hente said Miller's work on the Troy Hill Road development counted in his favor, not against him.
"As a retired Air Force officer, I happened to agree with everything he said," Hente said of Miller's presentation. "If anything, if you went by that alone, he would have been unanimously appointed."
But other candidates were better qualified, Hente said. "The people that we did appoint were just so overwhelmingly qualified, to not have picked them would have been a disservice to the City of Colorado Springs."
Breckner is a retired Air Force general, Weber is an insurance executive, and French is an aviation attorney and a former airport developer.
Several Council members said their job is to appoint the best people. They suggested the council might outright scrap the old tradition of automatically reappointing committee members.
"To me, that's bad policy, said Councilman Darryl Glenn. "We need to stop that right now."
-- Terje Langeland
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