Wary eyes look to others 

City Sage

October is budget time for Colorado Springs. After a year of flood and fire, Mayor Steve Bach released the 2014 city budget Monday (see here) on one of those halcyon October days that sometimes bless our city: 78 degrees, crystalline blue skies, a gentle southeast breeze, perfect for hiking, running, cycling or wandering lazily down Tejon Street.

But it's doubtful that most of our elected officials were in any mood to appreciate the day's beauty. The mayor's budget is just that — the distillation of his vision and priorities into hundreds of pages of fine print, albeit, as he pointed out genially, also the product of thousands of hours of work by dedicated city employees.

(Chief of Staff Laura Neumann complimented Bach right back, noting that the "75 breakthrough strategies" embodied in the budget "would not be possible without the visionary leadership of the mayor.")

If history is any guide, City Council is unlikely to pass the budget as presented. All nine will look for traps and pitfalls, for subtle and not-so-subtle maneuvers to diminish their authority and expand the mayor's. However halcyon the day, the political forecast is for stormy weather.

And the biggest storm will be one that the budget barely mentions: the tug-of-war between Bach and everybody else over stormwater funding.

Robin Roberts, the president of Pikes Peak National Bank, is dismayed by the city administration's apparent unwillingness to consider a regional solution to our stormwater woes. You may not have heard much about Roberts, but the 40-something executive is typical of a new generation of business and nonprofit leaders who just want to get things done — without care for ancient enmities and obscure jurisdictional disputes.

"I'm probably pretty naïve," she says. "I look at it from a business perspective: We collaborate, we negotiate, but it's just not happening here."

She's an Army veteran, a single mom and a bank president. It's an interesting combination. Like Mary Lou Makepeace in the early 1990s and Lionel Rivera after that, Roberts is attracting the right kind of attention from serious folks.

She serves on the boards of Junior Achievement and the Regional Entrepreneurial Alliance, works with the Pikes Peak Venture Group, and hosts a weekly small-business radio show on KRDO. She's also on the steering committee of the Regional Stormwater Task Force, which will formally present its recommendations today in a meeting with Bach, Council and El Paso County commissioners. All but Bach favor a regional solution, while the mayor wants city funds to be spent within and controlled by the city.

Publicly, Roberts is cautiously optimistic about the stormwater process. "It is my hope that we can work as a region to define the priorities," she says, "and come up with an effective solution that includes input from all stakeholders."

That sure would be nice, because if history is any guide, the voters won't approve any stormwater funding package that doesn't have the unanimous support of elected officials. And "that's what worries me," says Roberts, "that we'll end up doing nothing."

Roberts was furious and disappointed earlier this year when the city administration essentially told the task force to disband. She was amazed at the dismissive attitude of certain appointed officials. "I can't even stand to be in the same room with him," she says of one.

But instead of going home, she's joined other members in moving ahead. Seasoned warriors for good government such as John Cassiani, Kevin Walker and Jan Doran helped lead the group in enlisting broad support for a regional stormwater entity.

"I think the world of her," says Walker, who led the campaign to pass the strong mayor initiative in 2010. "I think that she'd be credible to a different age group."

There's no "Draft Roberts" movement as yet, no folks sitting in back rooms planning her mayoral run. But who knows what the future holds?

Bach and Council President Keith King may remain in office for years to come, but someday new leaders will take their place. Just as Bach's résumé and broad support in the business community propelled him into office, the next mayor must have buy-in from the entire community.

Robin Roberts could be that person.


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