History Repeats itself 

10 years at City Hall

click to enlarge Bob Isaac
  • Bob Isaac

Back in 1993, Mayor Bob Isaac ruled City Hall with an iron fist.

The only person who didn't cower in Isaac's midst, it seemed, was anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce, whose regular appearances before Council was the stuff of legend. During one particularly lively debate, the mayor, in his famously gravelly voice, thundered to Bruce, "If you were a man I'd take you outside." Before a stunned audience, Bruce offered to drop his trousers and show what he was made of.

Isaac's pro-development council was decidedly conservative. Sprawl-inducing annexations were common, and development projects on floodplains and shifting soils were generally ramrodded through. The city also gained the reputation of being litigious bulldogs. One classic example was the doomed Homestake II water project in the wilderness area south of Vail. The city spent $3.8 million in legal costs trying to force the project down the throats of the Western Slope, and ultimately lost, making plenty of enemies along the way.

click to enlarge Mary Lou Makepeace
  • Mary Lou Makepeace

In 1994, the Council dismantled the city's Human Relations Commission -- designed to be a watchdog for civil rights but which had been stacked with volunteers who opposed its very mission.

By 1997, Isaac's grip over City Hall had deteriorated. The spectacle was downright Kabuki theater, starring such diametrically opposed council members as Cheryl Gillaspie and John Hazlehurst, who battled each other in a game of one-upsmanship. A frustrated Isaac stunned the city by abruptly resigning after 22 years in office.

Pistol-packing Gillaspie and Hazlehurst (who called himself a "Colorado Conservative") jumped into the race for mayor, but were thwarted by fellow Councilwoman Mary Lou Makepeace. Upon taking office, Makepeace and her unanimous cohorts (including Lionel Rivera) quietly adopted a zero tolerance discrimination policy for employees that was widely interpreted as extending a welcoming hand to gays and lesbians. In her re-election two years later, Makepeace rolled over Colorado for Family Values Chairman Will Perkins and upstart West Side activist Sallie Clark and it appeared that moderation in city government was established.

The City Council adopted a comprehensive plan designed to guide growth and reign in out-of-control sprawl.

click to enlarge Lionel Rivera
  • Lionel Rivera

But Makepeace's city manager, Jim Mullen, became notorious for his arrogance (at one point he unceremoniously booted above-mentioned activist Sallie Clark from a press briefing, claiming that it was a "closed staff meeting"). And Makepeace herself established a reputation of authoritarianism, often speaking rudely from the dais to visitors who did not possess power-elite pedigree.

Last November, current city manager (and former police chief) Lorne Kramer recommended Colorado Springs follow the lead of dozens of other municipalities and corporations and extend insurance benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian employees. The Council complied, and the city's Religious Right mobilized, establishing same-sex benefits as the harbinger issue in this April's campaign.

In the four-way race for mayor, Lionel Rivera -- once a protg of Bob Isaac -- won the election and a group of male conservatives (including a developer and two former council members who had served during the Isaac era) swept into office. The only remaining female is conservative Margaret Radford. Their first action was to eliminate same-sex benefits.

In the past decade at City Hall, there has been one underlying constant: numerous incidents detailing top city management and employee screw-ups have been established, but there have been only a few occasions when an employee lost his or her job -- or was seriously reprimanded -- as a result.

The first was former Clerk and Recorder Carmen Hartin, forced out in the early 1990s after she admitted she had bounced checks to the city to feed her gambling habit. City Manager Dick Zickefoose, who served under Isaac, ultimately resigned following a barrage of allegations -- many of them originating from former Vice Mayor Leon Young, an African-American -- of rampant racism in city government.

And, controversial police officer Kevin Chavez, who had generated a multitude of complaints that he was harassing homeless people, resigned after the Independent reported that he was overheard bragging that he had driven his bad dog to the countryside and abandoned him. Chavez's resignation prompted outspoken homeless advocate Cyndy Kulp to note that "sometimes good things happen for all the wrong reasons."


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