New city players, new agenda 

Between the Lines

As an old editor once said about a complex story, "I can't see anything wrong here. I don't hear anything wrong here. But I definitely smell something wrong here."

Faster than anyone on the outside realizes, our Colorado Springs city government is undergoing a noteworthy evolution. Not out in the open for everyone to follow and understand, either. It's taking place secretly in small meetings, with results coming out as little public surprises.

There's a new agenda taking hold, with new people involved. And it's helping clarify what we've gotten with our strong-mayor government.

Actually, let's not call it a strong mayor anymore. Perhaps strong facilitator.

Steve Bach might be your elected mayor, but let's not think of him as a swaggering dictator. He's a business-friendly guy, generally following the wishes of others. That's "others" as in, usually, developers and business leaders.

Wait, hold your anger. This is not one of those knee-jerk condemnations, saying all developers are evil. They're not. Some (skeptics say many) just have their own approach and priorities. In this case, it means shrewdly using city government for their purposes.

In this week's story by Pam Zubeck, you can see how this strategy is manifesting itself, and affecting the future of Memorial Health System.

Last year, near the end of the former regime, a City Council-appointed citizens commission explored different options — Bach questions that; others don't — and determined that the best course for Memorial would be to turn it into a nonprofit. The hospital would be freed from the limitations of direct government ownership, but still would not be "run like a business" — meaning that it would sidestep the temptation to do away with unprofitable but vital areas such as neo-natal care, and would continue accepting military health insurance.

Now we're learning about potentially different tactics. The mayor meets with a few people including developer Chris Jenkins, whose company was the largest funder of last fall's strong-mayor campaign. Jenkins sends a letter to Bach outlining their decisions made in the meeting. Suddenly there's a shuffling of members on the Council's latest Memorial task force. Presto, Jenkins joins that task force along with another developer, Doug Quimby, and business leader Phil Lane.

Bach asks for two more additions, builder Brian Bahr and ex-state Sen. Andy McElhany, who still might be added soon. That's five people, none with medical experience. We're told that's OK because they bring business and other expertise. At least three belong to the Regional Leadership Forum, whose members are quietly assuming a power position in local politics.

What's their goal? They'll say it's all about what's best for the hospital and the people of Colorado Springs.

But who are they to say what's best for Memorial and for all of us?

They have to move fast, given the timetable to identify a new option for Memorial by the end of the year. Don't be surprised if the endgame is to unload Memorial — even if it means the hospital loses some of its current strengths — then turn the proceeds into a major revenue stream.

Of course, nobody's talking about how that revenue stream would be used. Some might hope the target would be revitalizing our quality of life: putting more money back into bus service, parks and recreation, community and senior centers, public safety and more. All while Memorial provides the same uncompromised health care.

Don't count on it. My guess: Much, if not all, of that revenue stream would create incentive packages for more companies to move here, bringing more people to buy more homes and cars and everything else. And so what if a new, for-profit lessee won't accept the insurance plan for active and retired military?

Thankfully, voters will have to approve a new deal. But any special election would mean a minuscule turnout, which is a scary proposition.

Too much is being done privately. Just like with the city budget, as discussed here two weeks ago. So we wonder who, along with Bach, is driving the agenda.

Not saying it's illegal. Just ominous. Are we talking about quality of life here, or quality of business?

You should be concerned. You should be wondering about this secrecy stuff. And asking questions.

As we are, just following the scent. Before it's too late.


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