Last week, one of our reporters learned that the city had issued a confidential request for information to a handful of powerful local developers. In it, the city asked for proposals for the creation of new facilities for the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Olympic Training Center.
After further investigation, it became clear that the USOC was actively contemplating a move and, in fact, had insisted that the city come up with a comprehensive and realistic plan to provide such facilities by mid-October.
Our reporter called city leaders, elected and appointed, for confirmation. Their response was to beg him, and the Business Journal, not to publish the story. They insisted that any premature disclosure of these delicate negotiations would fatally compromise the city’s bargaining position, putting the OTC and the USOC “in play,” economic development plums ready to be picked off by any of a dozen deep-pocketed cities.
And, if the USOC and OTC did decide to leave, we were told, it would be “our” fault — not the city’s, even though local leaders have known for many years that the USOC needs a new headquarters building, as well as expanded athlete housing at the OTC, and yet have done nothing, other than sit passively by, while various developers put forth amateurish, cockamamie schemes that soon died on the vine.
For years, reports have surfaced that other cities would be delighted to step up to the plate and fund the USOC’s needs — but, strapped for cash, and bereft of visionary leadership, Colorado Springs relied upon the natural attractions of the region to keep the Olympic presence on East Boulder Street.
After waiting for years for the city to address the issue, the exasperated leaders of the USOC decided to press the issue. And city leaders chose to keep the whole process a deep, dark secret.
It’s hard to understand why they did so, unless they were motivated by the instinctive desire of politicians and bureaucrats to keep the public in the dark.
Did they think that, if the facts were known, city residents would rise as one and tell the USOC to leave town? Did they think that their fellow elected officials, from the governor to the El Paso County Board of Commissioners, wouldn’t raise a finger to help? Did they think that the business community would regard the possible loss of one of our city’s crown jewels with benign indifference?
Probably not.
In our view, the city’s penchant for secrecy has a simpler explanation.
If our leaders had managed to keep things quiet, they could have taken all the credit for success, and none of the blame for failure. Should the USOC eventually decide to leave town, they could have said that they had done everything humanly possible to keep the organization here, but that Colorado Springs simply couldn’t compete against the deep pockets of (pick a city).
But in a public process, there’s no place to hide — and there shouldn’t be. If the elected and appointed leaders of our city are so lacking that they are afraid to let the public know about an issue that could affect the entire community, perhaps it’s time to consider new, more-visionary leaders.
Are our current city leaders capable of pulling together a powerful private/public partnership that can offer the USOC what it needs? Can they work cooperatively with residents, with the business community, with our Democratic governor and legislature, and with the national amateur sports community?
Only time will tell.
If they fail, and if we lose one or both of our Olympic jewels, we’ll know why.
It’s very late in the game. We’re about where the Rockies were in early September — needing a miraculous winning streak to survive. But just as the Rockies came together as a team, we need to come together as a city,
It’s unfortunate that our city leaders have stumbled so badly. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t regroup, reach out to the potential allies whose help they once spurned, and present USOC with a thoughtful, realistic, community-based solution to their problems.
Governments, like people and businesses, function best when they’re open, honest, accountable and transparent. Secrecy benefits no one, and has no place in government. The public cannot, and should not, be excluded from the public’s business.
During the next few weeks, we’ll find what our city leaders are made of. Are they finally putting together a doable, realistic plan to retain the USOC and the OTC, or are they simply crafting a press release blaming the media for prematurely spilling the beans?
Are they contenders or pretenders?
We’ll see.