If the public was expecting Steve Bach to rock the boat in his first weeks as Colorado Springs mayor, the signs would suggest they'll be disappointed. Despite the rallying cries for "change" that dominated his campaign, Bach has shown himself to be reserved and pragmatic in his first days.
Monday, Bach announced that Steve Cox will be his new chief of staff for at least the next four to six months, handling many of the city's day-to-day operations. Cox's salary will remain at its current $182,500 annually, nearly twice Bach's pay.
A longtime city employee and fire chief, the 50-year-old has served twice as interim city manager.
"It's an exciting time," Cox said after the announcement. "It's an opportunity to be a part of — at a higher level — be a part of great things happening in this community, and I guess to have some say in that."
Cox's enthusiasm marks a turnaround from his rather reluctant, but dutiful, acceptance of the interim city manager's gig in March 2010. At that time, Cox said he was looking forward to being the fire chief again. "I was asked by Council if I would take this position for the interim basis, and not being one to say no to a challenge, I agreed to do that," Cox said at the time.
Asked if he was still eager to go back to his old job this time around, Cox said simply, "I'm not even thinking about that right now."
A popular choice
Nevertheless, it remains a possibility. Deputy Fire Chief Richard Brown will serve as interim fire chief until the end of the year, when it's expected that Bach will announce whether he'll keep Cox on or send him back to the fire department and pick another chief of staff.
For now, Bach does not appear to be looking elsewhere, saying during the announcement, "My intent is not that this is interim." Bach praised Cox as "creative," "open-minded," "seasoned" and "very entrepreneurial," and called him "a patriot." But Bach also seemed aware that some might view his choice as an about-face on campaign promises.
"Lest anyone misunderstand, this does not mean status quo for city government," Bach said. "...We must change as a city government."
The choice seemed to be widely well-received by the business community and City Council. Members of both groups showed up in good numbers for Bach's announcement and applauded loudly. Later, at their informal meeting, Councilors singled out Cox for praise.
Skeptics might say it's obvious that current members of Council would support Bach's choice, if for no other reason than to keep the peace with the new mayor. But former Councilors, even ones not known for playing nice, also are saying Cox is the right choice and a good manager.
Former Councilor and current County Commissioner Darryl Glenn, and former Councilor Sean Paige, say Cox could help Bach learn the ropes and create a workable budget in the next few months. Both men add that it's a good idea for Bach to reevaluate in six months.
Paige, in particular, thinks Bach should make sure his chief of staff isn't overly loyal to the fire department or resistant to new ideas. For now, though, Paige says, "I think there's a good argument for keeping some continuity under the circumstances."
Glenn agrees: "I think it was a smart interim hire because [Bach] is an outsider, and there are a lot of big issues that the city has to address right now, and you don't have time for a huge learning curve." He adds, "The best way that Steve [Bach] can actually make some change — if he wants to make some change — is to have someone who can explain the status quo, so that you don't try something that's been tried before."
In other news ...
While the selection of Cox stole the show, Bach also made several other announcements June 13.
First, he has "borrowed" the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce's Stephannie Finley for one month with no compensation. Finley will help streamline the city's communications department and bring in innovations.
"[The department] is going to be a blank canvas we can paint on," Finley says of changes to come.
Bach also renamed the city's economic development office "Economic Vitality." He plans to lead the division himself for now, and will focus on improving the business climate by being "responsive" and creating "reasonable regulations"; building goodwill with existing and potential employers; encouraging growing and start-up businesses; and promoting the "spirit of the Springs" by creating city pride, cohesiveness and diversity.
Finally, Bach has decided that four areas of city government will report directly to him: communications, city attorney, chief of staff, and economic vitality. All others will report to Cox.