Pragmatism begets optimism 

City Sage

What kind of a mayor did we elect, anyway? Did we choose a fire-breathing, right-wing ideologue, ready to enlist Doug Lamborn, Jeff Crank and the Koch brothers in a crusade to purge the city administration of all those business-unfriendly lefty bureaucrats? Or did we vote for a cautious traditional conservative with an instinctive understanding of the dynamics of change, and the limits of ideology?

Steve Bach has only been in office for a week, but his style of governance is already clear.

Consider the record.

His first official act was to announce that yes, Virginia, we will re-seed, water and maintain neighborhood parks. It was a decision greeted by a city-wide sigh of relief, a sense that city government was back on track.

His second was to end the annoying practice of forcing city employees to show a badge or sign in when entering the downtown City Administration Building. Visitors no longer will have to sign in, either. Bach generously gave Steve Cox, his newly hired chief of staff, credit for the change, but it was a political master stroke. With a simple, cost-free gesture, he made life a little easier, and showed that he'll look at the city's partially fossilized bureaucracy with new eyes.

It set the stage for Bach's Monday news conference to announce Cox as chief of staff. Remember Bach's campaign plan to hire an experienced chief operating officer from the private sector, and more specifically an individual with recent, successful experience in turning around a major corporation?

That idea is apparently inoperative. Picking Cox was pragmatic and popular, and makes sense for many reasons.

Cox is a canny, creative and immensely competent guy who has spent the past year rescuing the city from the wreckage of the Penny Culbreth-Graft era. A 30-year city employee, he knows the system inside-out. Bach may want change, but hiring Cox shows that he understands that the present structure is complex, multilayered, siloed and deeply change-resistant.

Tossing aside Cox to bring in a private-sector executive without public-sector experience could have been disastrous. Every senior manager would have plunged into politics, currying favor with the new boss, who in turn would have been lost in a wilderness of mirrors, unsure of whom to trust, promote or fire.

City employees will support and cooperate with Cox, enabling him to implement reforms that they otherwise might have bitterly resisted.

Is Cox as entrepreneurial as Bach claims? A few years ago, before the recession decimated city finances, the Fire Department (which Cox then headed) had plans to replace the historic fire station at Weber Street and Colorado Avenue. Rather than tear down the existing structure, Cox wanted to move the building to Pikes Peak Avenue and sell it to a restaurant operator. It was a bold, innovative scheme, one a fearful bureaucrat wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole.

Plans for the new station were shelved for budgetary reasons, but when the economy improves, we may yet see that old station trundling to a new home.

Bach's appointment of Stephannie Finley as an "executive on loan" from the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce is a sure indicator of the influence that business interests will have. "We came to Steve and suggested this arrangement," says Chamber CEO Dave Csintyan. "It was our initiative."

Finley will oversee the reorganization and repurposing of the public communications department, now reporting directly to the mayor, as will the city attorney and a newly created "economic vitality" office. Other city departments will report to the chief of staff.

Significantly, Bach's office won't be at City Hall.

"I'm sharing Steve Cox's suite here in the City Administration Building," Bach says. "I want to be here, where the city employees and department heads work. It just makes more sense."

There were other signs of change. The news conference started exactly on time, it was mercifully brief, and the genial Bach dealt adroitly with the already-skeptical media.

Afterward he approached this reporter and said, "Here, I want you to have my personal cell phone number. Call me anytime."

A big deal? Maybe not, but considering that former Mayor Lionel Rivera never returned any of my calls in eight years, it was an encouraging start.


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