Friday, September 5, 2014

Cassiani chosen to lead "turn around" of Springs

Posted By on Fri, Sep 5, 2014 at 5:12 PM

click to enlarge Cassiani: Frustration is off the charts. - AMY COX
  • Amy Cox
  • Cassiani: Frustration is off the charts.

Last week, we asked City Council members for their take on Colorado Springs Forward and whether they are members or plan to join. Here are the responses we received:
Helen Collins: No. I'd rather start a group Colorado Springs backward. Days of low taxes, low crime, better roads, better economy, fewer homeless, smaller budget, and people minding their own business.

Keith King: I appreciate the support from the Colorado Springs Forward for a municipal government that can function in a fashion to move the city forward. I totally agree that we need a city charter that more clearly defines the roles and responsibilities for both branches of government so they can work together. I also want to see the economy recover and have significant growth in the Springs. I believe that we can do much better and I have been trying to change the culture to accomplish that. I look forward to working with all our citizens to grow the economy, fix our infrastructure, increase education opportunities, support our military and honor the values of public participation in our city governance process. I believe that for a city to have real greatness, it must provide an environment that produces an opportunity for all citizens to grow in mind, body and spirit. I am happy to be engaged in that process.

Val Snider: I do welcome this new community group officially supporting the Stormwater ballot initiative in November. An excellent first foray, the stormwater task force initiative reflects regional collaboration, productive problem Identification, and a consensus based sensible solution. It is my hope Colorado Springs Forward applies the stormwater task force model to all of their community concerns.

Jan Martin: I wish CSF the best. I really do and I'll be anxious to see what they are able to accomplish. It reminds me of the days when I first ran for office when we had the HBA, EDC and Chamber all endorsing candidates and public policy issues. I suppose the difference with this group is they will have more money and a coalition to work on issues and candidates. There are some issues they can go around local government to accomplish, but for most public policy issues (like C4C) the road to success still leads through the local government. So, one thing they might consider is running for office themselves. If they are representing the community and wanting to move the city forward, then there shouldn't be a problem getting their members elected.

CSF just doesn't feel like a new approach to me. It feels so similar to how we've approached things over the last decade here. In my time in public office I've seen several groups come and go who all want to move the city forward and influence public policy. However, money and influence isn't always enough and that approach has contributed to where we are today. Maybe this group will be different, but I'll be taking a wait-and-see approach.

Andy Pico: I have not joined the organization and do not intend to. I don't think it is appropriate for a city councilmember to join. I do think it quite reasonable to talk with them, attend meetings, etc. But I think they are forming their own organization for their own purposes. 
UPDATE: In addition, we just heard from Councilor Don Knight who says he won't join the group but is "looking forward to great things" from Springs Forward. He says the group tried to broker a deal with Mayor Steve Bach over the stormwater ballot measure and the need for capital improvements, but "the mayor didn't buy it." Knight predicted CSF will support a subsequent ballot measure to address roads, bridges and parks on the April 2015 city ballot. Noting El Paso County Commissioner Amy Lathen and Attorney General John Suthers are running for mayor in next year's election, he said, "If we do get a new mayor that will work with others, obviously they [CSF] will be short lived." 
———————————————————-Original post Friday, Sept. 5, 2014, 5:12 p.m. —————————————————————————-

John Cassiani, the former development manager of the stalled Banning Lewis Ranch property, has been tapped to lead Colorado Springs Forward, a group of movers and shakers who want to influence public policy and elections.

Cassiani has lived in Colorado Springs for 33 years and most recently helped with the Pikes Peak Stormwater Task Force, which yielded a ballot measure for the Nov. 4 election. The measure, if approved, would establish the Pikes Peak Regional Drainage Authority and impose fees on property owners based on impervious service. More than $39 million per year for 20 years would be raised to tackle hundreds of millions of flood control projects. After that, 55 percent of the fee would sunset, with the remainder used for maintaining the flood-control system.

Cassiani and company (businessmen Phil Lane and Bob Cutter, developer Doug Quimby and consultant William Mutch) tell us Springs Forward, or CSF, as they call it, will get behind the measure. They and their 500 members (you can join by going to the group's website) will pump money into an effort to convince voters to pay nearly 80 percent more in stormwater fees than were levied against property owners by the city's Stormwater Enterprise from 2007 to 2009. (It was abolished when Issue 300 passed in 2009, forcing the shutdown.)

Executive director Cassiani will get an assist in CSF's executive offices at Plaza of the Rockies from Mutch, who does consulting work for the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs. Mutch is CSF's policy director.

CSF's board includes philanthropist Kathy Loo, Cutter, Lane, businessman and chair of the Regional Business Alliance board Tom Neppl, former Northern Command commander retired Gen. Gene Renuart, developer with Classic Homes Doug Stimple, angel investor and cofounder of Epicentral Coworking Lisa Tessarowicz, and ex-officio member attorney Ben Sparks.

Here's more on Cassiani's and Mutch's backgrounds.

This group has ruffled a few feathers of people who say they've seen it all before. The monied interests gather in a back room to decide the future of Colorado Springs. Never mind what anyone else thinks. Their agenda rules.

That won't happen with CSF, five of the organizers told us in a conference earlier today, because the idea is to reach across the city to encompass everyone who wants a better tomorrow for the Springs, which has fallen woefully behind economically compared to other Colorado cities.

For example, organizers say only 7,000 jobs have been created here in the last 15 years while the population has grown by 20 percent, whereas 26,000 jobs have been created in Fort Collins, which has half the population of Colorado Springs.

It’s time, they say, to squelch the “dysfunction” of city government, invest in the community, guard against military cuts and influence public policy. All of which boils down to control, a word the organizers don't particularly like.

"The key word is collaboration,” Cassiani says.

"We’re going to be broad-based, diversified, different age groups, different ethnic backgrounds, a very diversified support group who will sign on and help with what we’re going to accomplish," he says. "We need to make our economy better, make Colorado Springs better — like it used to be — with vision and direction to drive our community to a better place."

Although CSF organizers say the downturn here pre-dates the mayor-council form of government, which kicked in when Mayor Steve Bach took office in June 2011, they repeatedly cite disharmony between Bach and council as the reason the group has coalesced.

"Everyone’s frustrated about the inability of the council and mayor to work together," Cassiani says. "The Springs just isn’t what it used to be. There’s a common frustration, and we are trying to be the catalyst that will take that frustration and direct that to a positive energy to get things done. I’ve been here 33 years. I don’t think I’ve ever seen frustration being this high."

That frustration came to the fore during our meeting this morning when the topic of blame was raised.

Says Lane:
You know who’s to blame? The five of us around this table, the business community, the nonprofits. We got complacent. Things were great in the 1990s. We didn’t capitalize on that. We didn’t build on that momentum. I raise my hand higher than anybody. I was running a business that was doing well. The business community didn’t lead as effectively as we could have. Things have boiled up now to where there is clearly a sense of urgency in this community to do something and try and do something dramatic, because we are on the verge of losing another decade, another 15 years, if we don’t get our act together. The council-mayor relationship and form of government is just one piece of that.
click to enlarge Cutter: "The world is passing us by." - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Cutter: "The world is passing us by."
The straw that broke the camel's back and led to formation of CSF was late 2013 when yet another dispute erupted between Bach and Council over whether the budget would be split among five operational departments or 12. The Council wanted 12, as specified in the City Charter, which would limit Bach's ability to move money around without Council approval. Bach insisted on five and said he would ignore the Council's veto-override.

"Look at how the Council and the mayor quibbled over the number of departments," Cutter says. "It went on and on and on. While they are arguing or majoring in the minors, the world is passing us by. That was really what got things going. How about jobs? How about finding employment opportunities for kids graduating from high school? How about fixing our roads? How about getting our industrial base back?"

Cutter and others say that besides the stormwater fee, they will support a way to address fixing the city's broken down roads and maintain parks, but stopped short of saying they'd support a tax increase for that purpose.

As Lane says, "Part of being open for business is not having an onerous tax burden."

In addition, the group will be heavily involved in the April 2015 city election where three at-large council members and a mayor will be elected, they say. They also want to see changes in the charter, although they wouldn't discuss details other than to suggest "experts" be empaneled to study possible changes, and the group supports only the "vision" of the $250-million City for Champions tourism extravaganza and only "if the numbers work."

Which leads to a key element of CSF's approach: Data. Cutter says the group will do its homework on every issue it tackles and share that homework widely with the community.

Here here.

Oh, and by the way: As of Friday morning, Bach was not a member of CSF.

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