A fistful of nickels

Suppose you were really, really rich. Suppose you had a giant, four-story, 60,000 square-foot stone mansion and fabulous collections of art, guns, Native American baskets, textiles, historic ephemera, just about anything. Suppose you were such a nice guy that you never had to buy a thing, or pay any bills -- people just handed you their stuff and their money.

And let's further suppose that you were so magnificently careless in your vast wealth that you never bothered to have anything appraised -- the mansion, the collections, nothin'! You're probably wondering how you managed to insure everything. After all, you've gotta have some basis for valuing it. The answer's simple: You don't insure a thing. Yup, it's all self-insured.

Whoa, you must be Bill Gates! You're sooo rich that you'd scarcely notice if the mansion and everything in it burnt to the ground tomorrow. You'd just write a check and start over.

Well, no ... in fact, you're basically broke. You really don't have a spare nickel; you can't even afford to give your staff a raise this year. It's not like you're careless or anything, you just can't afford insurance of any kind. You're not even a person -- you're the city of Colorado Springs.

In common with many governmental entities, Colorado Springs self-insures. If the Pioneers' Museum, City Hall or the City Auditorium was destroyed by fire, the city couldn't afford to rebuild or replace collections.

Granted, it makes sense for city government to self-insure. Given the city's virtual immunity from expensive liability suits, and the sheer size of its operations, why not? Works fine when you're talking about fleet management -- but not so well with the Pioneers' Museum. The museum building, formerly the county courthouse, is the signature building of this community. When it was constructed a century ago, it was meant to symbolize the aspirations and history of the community. It still does. Its loss would, in many ways, rip the heart out of the city.

How much would it cost to rebuild? It cost $300,000 to build in 1903, so multiply that figure by 200, or 300, or even 400. I don't know whether we, as a city, would be prepared to ante up $100 million or so to rebuild some old burnt-out building.

There is, however, a solution. The museum's mission always has been to acquire, preserve and exhibit art and artifacts that illuminate regional history. Along the way, the museum also has acquired items that, although interesting and valuable, have little to do with the Pikes Peak region. A suggestion: Cull the collections, sell off non-regional holdings and use the dough to buy a little insurance. Or, alternatively, use the money to upgrade fire safety systems and/or fireproof storage areas.

Meanwhile, as the process of preparing this year's city budget plods drearily along, we're once again talking about employee compensation -- as in, woe, woe! The city employees are below the median, as determined by comparison with other similar cities.

I don't know whether our employees are paid too much or too little, but I do know that such methodology ensures that employee compensation will rise, both here and across the land. Consider: Right now, hundreds of city councils are preparing budgets, and in every city with employee compensation below the median, there will be efforts to raise it to the median. And, as a result, the median will move smartly upward and ... do I have to go on?

Finally, all the foes of our de facto national religion, Credentialism, have got to be heartened by the hiring of Michael Bennet as superintendent of Denver's public school system. Bennet, a smart guy originally trained as a lawyer, and most recently chief of staff to Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, has made a career of being hired for jobs he has no formal qualifications for. Despite said absence, he's been consistently successful.

So, as our intrepid City Council members try to figure out whom they ought to hire to run Colorado Springs Utilities, let's hope they look outside the box. If they confine themselves to folks within the industry, they'll get someone who's stodgy, dull, unimaginative, reasonably competent, publicly clumsy and cheap to hire.

He or she should fit right in, actually ...

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net


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