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Rings of fire 

In looking at the USOC mess, the anti-tax crowd sees more than a single deal in flames

As the United States Olympic Committee saga drags on, punctuated by soap-operatic revelations, some are wondering if you'll remember all this a year from now. Five years from now.

Will the USOC retention deal ruin political careers and doom voter support for future economic development spending? Or is it simply a blip, a quickly forgotten media circus?

Sean Paige, executive director of the conservative Local Liberty Action group, thinks you'll remember.

"We walk forward with our eyes open," he says.

Paige, the former editorial page editor for the Gazette, helped lead the defeat of the well-funded "Jobs Now" initiative in April's municipal election, arguing that the city shouldn't be involved in offering incentives to business. Though he says he takes no pleasure in watching the USOC deal sputter, he says it does prove a point. The city, Paige says, was too secretive on this deal, and too rash.

"Look at the embarrassment that's resulted from taking shortcuts," he says.

Paige adds that there will be political consequences if Council doesn't do right by the taxpayers. He describes that as telling them exactly what went wrong with the original deal, involving them in any new deal — especially since any new deal is expected to cost taxpayers more money — and steering clear of big incentive packages in the future.

An easy target

The original contract, signed in March 2008, has been broken by all three partners: The city didn't issue bonds needed to pay for the USOC headquarters, the USOC didn't sign its lease agreement, and LandCo Equity Partners couldn't produce the $16 million it promised for improvements to the Olympic Training Center.

Meanwhile, other information has emerged. LandCo's Ray Marshall, it turns out, was the subject of lawsuits alleging he misused funds, and the district attorney was, and still is, investigating him. Last week, Ron Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Central Bancorp Inc., filed an ethics complaint that put into writing the subject of a long-running rumor: He alleges Mayor Lionel Rivera had a business relationship with Marshall, and therefore a conflict of interest in the deal. Rivera has denied any conflict, and Johnson, an investment adviser tied to a developer whose USOC bid was rejected by the city, has presented no proof.

(Rivera's reputation, however, isn't helped by his friendly relationship with local developers. In his failed 2006 congressional campaign, Rivera received at least $16,800 from LandCo companies, associates and associates' spouses. The same group gave at least $5,000 to his 2007 city campaign.)

Not entirely unexpectedly, the USOC pulled out of the original deal April 30. A new deal, along with a possible out-of-court resolution of LandCo's lawsuit, is being negotiated secretly, due to a gag order related to the lawsuit. Council has been mostly mum on the proceedings, though several councilors have said they'd prefer to open the process to the public.

The situation provides easy ammo for people like conservative activist Daniel Cole, another 1A opponent and skeptic of the city government's use of taxpayer money. He says it proves that economic decisions are often based on politics — which will be especially evident if the accusations against the mayor turn out to be true.

"I think people do want the USOC to stay here," Cole says. "But not necessarily at any cost."

On the other hand

Of course, not everyone's convinced you're outraged, or even that you should be outraged.

"I don't think this one event will have that much effect," says Bob Loevy, political science professor at Colorado College. "This seems to be the way economic development goes ... I think the public memory on this kind of thing is very short."

The head of the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp., Mike Kazmierski, agrees.

"I think a year from now people will have forgotten it," he says. "Our community will move on either way."

And hey, even if you're still mad, it may not make a difference — economic development continues to tread forward. On May 12, Council unanimously approved about $4.8 million in incentives to help Hewlett-Packard build a data center on Rockrimmon Boulevard.

But what about lost political careers?

"If you look at the history of the Colorado Springs City Council," Councilor Scott Hente notes, "most people — the vast, vast majority — begin and end their career on the Council."

In other words, what political career?

Besides, Hente says, despite the media hubbub, he hasn't received a single e-mail or call from a concerned constituent in weeks. A few acquaintances have asked him about the USOC when they've seen him on the street, but they've all just said they hope the city can keep it here.

That's what the city is trying to do, Hente says. He wasn't surprised when the USOC pulled out of the original agreement. Now, he's hoping to help complete a new one by the end of the month. Hente says it's "probably inevitable" that the city will spend more than originally planned, but for now, he's optimistic it can convince one of its greatest assets to stay.

stanley@csindy.com

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