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So long, Lorne 

Retiring City Manager Lorne Kramer on same-sex benefits, potholes and a new motto for the Springs

click to enlarge Lorne Kramer says its a responsibility for his successor - to promote equal rights in the city. - JON KELLEY
  • Jon Kelley
  • Lorne Kramer says its a responsibility for his successor to promote equal rights in the city.

Like many retirees, Lorne Kramer anticipates ample time for playing golf in his later years. But the game won't dominate the outgoing Colorado Springs city manager's schedule.

And that's not just because, as he puts it, "if I played golf every day, I would still just be an OK golfer."

No, the 65-year-old Kramer will leave the city on June 30 and embark on an undisclosed new career, one that may or may not involve consulting ("I don't like the word "consulting,'" he says) across the state and country. But Kramer, who served as the city's police chief for 11 years before assuming his city manager role, will still call Colorado Springs home.

Kramer was hired to the city's top post in January 2002, in an interim capacity at first, made permanent two months later. His predecessor, Jim Mullen, had left when his interactions with City Council soured.

Kramer smoothed that relationship, managed a budget crisis and oversaw the renewal of the open-space tax, among other accomplishments. Other moves received mixed reviews. For instance, he weathered criticism for his secretive efforts to sell the City Auditorium. But he also garnered kudos for his longstanding support of the same-sex benefits plan for city employees, even as Council voted it down.

While Kramer avoids using the word "legacy," he acknowledges changing the culture among city staffers, "empowering" them to take on leadership roles.

The city will initiate a national search to fill the city manager position, but may end up hiring internally. Kramer spoke with the Independent about six weeks before his departure, with the height of golf season fast approaching.

Indy: How has Colorado Springs changed since you began here, first as police chief and later as city manager?

Kramer: The demographics have shifted. Although we continue to be a community with a high military presence, we have moved away from being totally economically dependent on the military. With the economic shortfalls after 9/11, thousands of people here lost their jobs. We were able to redefine what our economic base ought to be by looking for new companies to do business here.

Indy: You've promoted ideas that City Council hasn't embraced. You backed same-sex benefits for city employees and also plugged the upcoming multicultural festival. Why?

Kramer: I think my interest in the domestic-partner benefits was related to my role as the CEO of a corporation with 2,400 employees. I believed then, and I still do, that we have employees who are not receiving the same benefits as others. If we are honest, we are talking about gay and lesbian employees, and that is not a criticism of the decision that was made by City Council. I think they were trying to fulfill what they felt the electorate wanted them to do. That said, I didn't agree with it and I still don't.

Indy: What is the most difficult thing you've had to do?

Kramer: When I first became city manager, it was very common when you used the word "accountability" that it was automatically a negative, blaming word. If you are holding someone accountable, "Oh boy, someone is going to pay for this." And that is not accountability at all. Accountability is what you strive for in an organization: self-accountability, people mastering their jobs ...

I came from the law enforcement field, where discipline and accountability are as familiar as the oak tree on the corner. It was part of the landscape. I think the step-up of what leadership really means and what accountability really means did require some cultural change.

Indy: What is your unfinished business in the city?

Kramer: For several years, I have felt strongly that we are not well-organized in our technology area in the city. For the last year and a half, we have been going through an internal process where we have evaluated how we utilize our IT dollars. We are in the process now of advertising for and hiring a chief information officer ...

If there is something that still needs to be attended to, it is the selection of that person. I feel very comfortable with the selection of [Police Chief Richard Myers]. I think he is doing an outstanding job. The police department is back focused. Last year was a difficult year. There were a couple of officers that were killed. We had the evidence issue that really detracted from the department's reputation. And ultimately we had [Chief Luis Velez's] retirement.

Indy: Now you have peace marchers saying they were brutalized by the police. How should that be resolved?

Kramer: I think that there is a need for communication on both sides, particularly as we move towards the '08 presidential election. If we are still embroiled in the war in Iraq and I have every reason to believe we will be we can anticipate there will be more people who want to protest and voice their sentiments relative to the election and the war.

Indy: Were city employees surprised by your retirement announcement?

Kramer: There had been rumors for several years. I used to tell people, "I think it's pretty obvious that someday I will retire." I always told staff they would be the first to know before I made a public announcement. That is what happened ...

But you know, I am really fortunate. I am blessed. Other than the people who are normally mad at me, nobody is mad at me. I am not being asked to leave. I think I have a good relationship with Council, and a great relationship with our staff. There is no crisis right now, not more than what typically happens.

Indy: Anything else to note?

Kramer: You know, to the casual observer, if you were to do a flyover of this community, it would look like we were attacked by meteorites. We have construction all over the place, and we have potholes as big as Volkswagens. The reality is that it is work in progress. The reality is that slowly and incrementally, we are seeing new bridges. We are seeing COSMIX improve the interstate through our city. We are seeing east/west mobility. We are seeing housing developments and schools and parks that didn't exist even five years ago. All of those things are critical to the economic well-being and the quality of life.

One of the things we value is our open space and the environment. I think of those things when we talk about diversity and respecting all of our citizens from various walks of life and backgrounds. We need to have a motto: "We should be a community that deserves the mountain," and not vice versa.

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