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Pale, male and stale 

City Sage

Apparently acting in coordination, the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs and Colorado Springs Forward announced their endorsements for mayor and City Council earlier this month.

For mayor: John Suthers. For the three at-large City Council seats: Merv Bennett, Tom Strand and Jariah Walker. For Council District 2: Larry Bagley. They're all male, all white and, except for Walker, all over 60.

The Colorado Springs establishment has spoken with one voice, and if it has its way we'll be governed by a cackling gerontocracy of the pale, the male and the stale. If the Helen Collins recall succeeds, Jill Gaebler could be the lone elected woman in city government.

It's a dismal thought. Progressive, growing and dynamic cities are created and led by diverse bodies. Everyone needs to have a seat at the table, everyone needs to feel represented, and everyone needs to have some skin in the game.

This city has no shortage of capable folks: young people, people of color, women with no particular links to the city's creaking power structure. Before election season rolled around, did the would-be kingmakers at HBA and CSF reach out to these segments of the community to find new blood, or did they quietly encourage the candidacies of reliable men who would unhesitatingly support the correct agenda? Did they give serious consideration to any but the duly anointed Fab Five?

I'm sure that none of those who participated in the selection processes believe that their endorsements were tainted by racism, sexism or age-related prejudice. But I wonder whether any them carefully contemplated the possible consequences of their action.

Immanuel Kant's "categorical imperative" is absolutely relevant: So act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world.

Was there "a principle of action" in play here? There was, but the actors didn't reflect upon what it might be. By putting on their establishment blinders, CSF and the HBA didn't realize that they were advancing quaint and long-discredited notions of governance.

The mayor manages the city and prepares city budgets, while City Council approves the city budget, makes land use decisions and serves as the board of directors of Colorado Springs Utilities, a billion-dollar enterprise.

They can be compared to the CEO and board of directors of a multibillion-dollar public company. But few such companies would have the kind of leadership that the HBA and CSF appear to be pushing. Cities with political monocultures tend to get stuck, reluctant to challenge conventional wisdom and fearful of change.

Do we want to create a geezer-friendly city, one organized by, for and of the elderly? Or are we already such a city?

We're a city with artificially low property taxes, one that soaks the young and the poor with relatively high sales taxes. We rely primarily on government jobs and government-funded pensions to keep the community afloat. And we preserve our political monoculture by not paying City Council, effectively disqualifying anybody who has to work for a living.

These policies didn't come about because of the plots and schemes of some cabal of selfish elders. They're artifacts of the past, the consequences of 20th-century policy initiatives. City councilors (then called aldermen) were paid a nice salary in 1902, but became unpaid volunteers when the city manager form of government was adopted in the 1920s. Our military economy began with World War II, when local business and political leaders lured Camp Carson to Colorado Springs. The current imbalance between sales and residential property taxes is a consequence of Douglas Bruce's TABOR amendment to the city charter and the state constitution, and its interaction with the Gallagher Amendment.

We're in a bind. What we need is what we fear — people unburdened by the past. There are 21 candidates for Council and mayor, and I suspect that there are some difference-makers in the group. It's our job to figure out who they might be.

Otherwise, we can expect another couple of years full of meetings and dithering indecision. In other words, business as usual — that is, if we still used rotary telephones.

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