The news came out of nowhere, more than just a surprise, closer to a shock. With no advance indication, Mike Kazmierski "resigned" May 26 as president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp.
For six eventful years (after four as chief operating officer), Kazmierski led the local EDC through good times and bad. He had survived the economic recession, or at least so we thought. He pulled off some rewarding victories along the way, and he had adapted to changing circumstances that made his job and challenge far more difficult. Yes, the number of top-quality jobs decreased, but the downturn wasn't his fault.
The former Army colonel, who had served well as Fort Carson's garrison commander (the military's equivalent to a city manager for such a large installation) before leaving the service, had made friends and built solid relationships throughout the region's business and political circles. He also had helped the community in other ways, such as a leadership role in the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority campaign of 2004.
As recently as Jan. 20, Kazmierski gave a well-received status report to more than 300 civic leaders at a luncheon, with the program called "Change Has Come — EDC's response to the New Economy." Kazmierski talked about how the tougher economic times had added words to the EDC's front-burner vocabulary. Instead of basing the operation on seeking major companies that might bring hundreds of "primary" jobs to the area, as the EDC had done effectively through the boom era, Kazmierski spoke of upgrading other priorities, including (a) retaining the major employers already here and (b) helping the existing companies with expansions.
It all sounded smart, not to mention appropriate. Yet now Kazmierski is gone, and the EDC leadership admits he was forced out because of philosophical differences.
You can read into that as much as you want. Obviously, others inside the EDC believe Kazmierski wasn't setting his sights high enough. From all appearances, they're convinced that if the EDC simply changes its focus back to primary jobs and attracting major employers, the results will be huge. Presto, just like that.
At the same time, we're hearing that the EDC might merge with the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. And all this as we prepare for the swearing-in of our first strong mayor, Steve Bach, who has made it clear that attracting new jobs will be his top concern.
This is not to suggest that Bach orchestrated, or helped devise, Kazmierski's sudden exit. But it's possible. Bach was quick to send out a release praising Kazmierski, which in itself seemed a little unusual. It was as if Bach was totally prepared for the news.
It's also possible — and if you ask me, probable — that somebody else is pulling the strings, beyond just the EDC's board. Somebody else is behind these developments. Somebody else believes that our city can return quickly to the good old days simply by changing the EDC's philosophy. Like magic.
Of course, that "somebody else" might be plural, not singular. But this group would not include anyone on City Council. And that could lead to skirmishes after Bach takes office.
First, if the EDC and Chamber truly might combine, as politically active as the Chamber has been, that surely would mean the end of anything that resembles taxpayer-funded EDC support from city government. Second, this could be a signal that Colorado Springs — with the mayor and a "somebody else" faction leading the way — might become much more aggressive, when the time comes, in pushing for lucrative incentives to major companies who might bring operations and jobs to this market.
The new mayor could defend such a plan by saying he has a mandate from voters to pursue jobs and reinvigorate growth. As for Kazmierski, who deserved a much better fate, perhaps he was just too realistic.
And the Council, which has to approve incentive packages but knows how negatively the public has reacted to some past enticements, might not be so willing to jump on a jobs-at-any-cost bandwagon.
It could lead to some power struggles. In fact, as Kazmierski's departure implies, maybe it already has.