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Colorado Springs is, to use that wonderful military euphemism, a "target-rich environment."

Add an election year to the normal mix of governmental follies, bring the Greens to Denver for a weekend, and throw in a $1,000-a-head fundraiser for Ron May, and what have you got?

In the immortal words of the Beach Boys: "We've got fun fun fun ..."

Over at City Hall, council members were no doubt mildly dismayed to find that the price tag for the old City Hall building's adaptive reuse project has risen from $4,044,633 to $5,238,863. I'm sure that they were impressed by the phony precision of the numbers -- made 'em think staff is really on the ball, estimating costs right down to the last dollar!

Notice that the city characterizes the project as an "adaptive reuse" of the old building at the corner of Nevada and Kiowa, and not as a "restoration" or a "renovation."

That's because the city decided that, despite the historic importance of this magnificent building, it'd be cheaper to do a mock-historic remodel than a real restoration. And since they were unwilling to follow established guidelines for the renovation of historic structures, they couldn't qualify for a state grant, which might have substantially defrayed the cost to local taxpayers.

At this point, it looks as if city administrators shot themselves in the foot -- we're gonna pay through the nose for a second-rate remodel job.

The grant money in question comes from the portion of gambling taxes designated for historic preservation by the voter-approved initiative that established limited-stakes gaming a decade ago. It amounts to about $10 million annually, and is administered by the Colorado Historical Society.

Of the $1.2 million spent so far on the renovation of the Carnegie Library downtown, $800,000 has come from CHS grants. Around the state, 25 turn-of-the-century city halls and courthouses have already been restored using CHS grant money; too bad we're the odd man out.

But not to worry; the Colorado Springs city administration doesn't need to bother with tedious little details like applying for grants any more, now that they've discovered a neat little scam that will enable them to borrow millions without voter approval.

Here's how it works: "certificates of participation" (COPs) are issued, backed by the lease payments that the city will make to the owners of the renovated City Hall.

Now, it may occur to you that the city has owned the building for a century or so. Well, just put that out of your mind. The official line is, we're selling that pile of bricks to a "third party" -- an entity that is actually controlled by the city -- for $6 million or so.

Since Council will appropriate funds annually to make the payments, these COPs are, in theory, not long-term debt, and therefore not subject to public approval.

Don't you see? It's just like leasing a copier!!

Still, it's a slimy and disingenuous little deal, and it's too bad that we're not even going to get a beautifully renovated building out of it. But there may be another motive in play here; after all, whose interests are served by removing elected officials from day-to-day contact with city workers? Remember, the old City Hall will be used mainly by the elected City Council.

Obviously, if council members never see city workers, they'll be pretty much at the mercy of city manager Jim Mullen and his cronies. It'll be difficult for council members to develop the personal relationships and informal networks that are crucial to good decision-making.

Don't be surprised if, when moving day comes, Mullen welcomes his bosses by whistling his favorite Stones song "... under my thumb/She's under my thumb ..."

Meanwhile, the Republican establishment is aghast at the thought that Doug Bruce might actually beat Ron May in the primary, and get himself elected to the State Senate come November.

In July, the powerful Housing and Building Association, the realtors and Governor Bill are sponsoring a $1,000-a-head "roundtable discussion" to benefit Ron, who, having served 12 years as a city councilman and state Representative, just wants another government job.

I like Ron; he's a perfectly nice right-wing pol, in contrast to Doug, who's a mean and contentious right-wing agitator. But just imagine the Dougster wreaking havoc with the legislature's genteel corpocracy; it'd be like having Howard Stern as Gore's running mate.

And for all of you who intend to vote for Ralph Nader, a suggestion: Take a ride in a '65 Corvair Monza convertible, and realize that Ralph thinks you ought to be stylin' in, say, a four-door Plymouth Satellite with a six-cylinder wheeze-o-matic.

And if you can't afford the Corvair, call up your council member, and ask about their fabulous lease deals...

-- johnhazlehurst@aol.com

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