Time for creative thinking 

Government by the people and for the people is what our founding fathers one envisioned for us. It required that we elect good people to represent us at the local and national levels -- people who listen to their constituents and keep them informed.

Somehow, I no longer believe that our elected representatives are actually listening or care to remember who placed them into office. Just consider recent developments in our own state.

In Denver, city officials are in line for outrageous pay raises while at the same time leaders callously pursue furloughs and job cuts, impacting mainly the little people. At a time when businesses are going under and budgets are shrinking because of declining revenues and job losses, Mayor Wellington Webb could score a 23.8 percent pay raise, bringing his salary to over $152,000. Denver City Council would rate a steep 36.3 percent pay raise.

Branding themselves fiscally conservative and caring, I hoped that El Paso County and our City of Colorado Springs would do better. In the recent elections, local voters had clearly sent a strong message: "No new taxes for questionable projects while we're in a recession!"

The main target was of course the proposed county jail, costing $38 million to build and $2.38 million annually to maintain. We said no, so they stuck it to us. Short of immediately squeezing us for higher taxes, county commissioners planned on gutting many essential programs to build their jail.

Most of the cuts will again hit the little man over time. Among them: $1.1 million for roads and bridges, $750,000 for parks and open land, $254,000 for senior services, and $233,000 for Veterans Affairs programs.

When you ask why we need a luxurious 850-bed jail, the answer is the standard post 9/11 propaganda: "It's for your safety and security! If we don't lock criminals up, they will kill or rape you!"

Fear sells well in our day and age. Too many of us are ignoring our wonderful American heritage as fearless and resourceful pioneers.

No, the men and women who fought English tyranny wouldn't have rolled over like we do today. Before turning over the keys to their savings accounts, they would have asked why and revolted against uncaring leaders.

Maybe it's time to remember Thomas Jefferson, who once said: "I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."

For positive change at the local level, we need to attend more town hall meetings and provide undiluted citizen input into the political process. As for jails, I recommend we look for a different approach.

If you ask me, we're on a self-induced "fear trip," which makes us lock up young people for minor drug and alcohol offenses or for bringing a pocketknife to school. Maybe not everyone who's arrested should go to jail. What's really needed is a revamped public service program for minor offenses. It could actually help our community repair roads, beautify parks and serve other projects.

And who could supervise such community programs? Think about retired military officers, noncommissioned officers, police officers and teachers to supervise the "community chain gangs." For the price of the average teacher substitute pay, you'd find plenty of volunteers -- this writer included. What better opportunity to help your community and free up jail space for the die-hard criminal cases?

When it comes to filling future city and county leadership positions, I'd urge more concerned citizens to step forward.

The ones not seeking the power for personal reasons are often the best and brightest leaders. The desire to serve a community shouldn't just be driven by a bigger paycheck and perks but by a desire to make a positive difference.

Ralf Zimmermann is a retired Army lieutenant colonel living in Colorado Springs. He commanded a tank battalion and is a decorated veteran of Desert Storm. He regularly writes opinion columns for the Army Times and other military publications.


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