Inside a beautiful building called the Alta Club, which has been around 131 years as Salt Lake City’s version of our El Paso Club, three of the Utah capital’s most prominent leaders took turns talking about how they work so well together.
Ralph Becker, the mayor of Salt Lake City, described working to keep smaller businesses satisfied and doing whatever he can to cultivate the arts and entertainment scene. Ben McAdams, mayor of Salt Lake County (yes, county mayor), discussed issues such as transportation, workforce development and working closely with Becker.
Then came Spencer Eccles, executive director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, a powerful position that oversees the business, tourism and film industries. Becker and McAdams defer to, and cooperate with, Eccles on all matters related to recruiting major companies. They put forward a united front, especially dealing with business leaders.
And by the way, though it obviously doesn’t affect their mutual working relationships, Eccles happens to be Republican and Mormon, McAdams a Democrat and Mormon, Becker a Democrat and non-Mormon. They admitted they disagree on some matters, but they handle it among themselves.
Same song, another verse. For three days last week, a 40-person contingent from Colorado Springs visited Salt Lake City for the sixth annual Regional Leaders Trip, looking for ideas and inspirations that might help on this end.
What the group heard, over and over again, were versions of the same theme, leaning on what we’ll call the four Cs:
Cooperation, communication, collaboration … and compromise.
We’d ask Salt Lake City folks to tell us their “secret sauce” for economic success and making major projects happen. The answer was always simple: They work together. They respect each other, even when their political views differ. They talk through differences and find solutions without playing games, using the media or publicly criticizing each other.
That goes for elected officials as well as business leaders. And if you’re thinking this message sounds familiar, it’s a replay of what the Regional Leaders Trip encountered last year in Omaha.
Then we came back, only to have our optimism quickly punctured, seeing how stark the contrast continues to be in Colorado Springs. (See our new weekly poll question at csbj.com.)
[pullquote] The list of organizations asking Council to back off should have sent a powerful message. [/pullquote]First, stormwater. We have City Council and county commissioners supporting a county-wide ballot issue to address the worsening problem of stormwater-related infrastructure. To strengthen the consensus, a community task force including prominent business people brought forward the latest recommendations.
But despite all that, Mayor Steve Bach still opposes it, wanting the city to deal with its own needs and not work with the county. Just in the past week, we heard about a possible newspaper ad listing community leaders supporting a regional stormwater solution. But many people backed off, fearful of offending Bach, even on an issue of such importance.
Then came Tuesday, with City Council taking up the supercharged proposal by Councilor Joel Miller to eliminate almost all eminent domain. During hours of public input, an impressive array of Colorado Springs business leaders stepped up to voice their strong and eloquent disapproval, with concerns about how Miller’s ordinance could shut down urban renewal, severely hamper economic development efforts and threaten the chances of City for Champions.
The high-profile local organizations asking City Council to back off should have sent a powerful message. We’re talking about the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, Housing and Building Association, and the Downtown Partnership. There were more, notably including longtime local economist Tom Binnings, speaking as an individual for the first time in his 40-year professional career, also sounding alarms.
Facing that much solidarity from the local business community, you’d think the Council would retreat and even apologize. Instead, Miller’s proposal failed only by a 5-4 margin, with Council President Keith King casting the deciding vote but making it clear that a few minor wording changes would convince him otherwise. And for such a lightning-rod issue, Mayor Bach still chose not to join those trying to influence Council’s decision.
What’s the message? Simple.
We have too many elected leaders who frankly don’t give a tinker’s damn what business leaders think. And until those business leaders decide to raise hell and do something about it, wielding their influence and making government more accountable, we’ll have to hear the annual litany from each Regional Leaders Trip, telling us once again about the camaraderie others have that we don’t.
I’m tired of hearing that, and knowing how badly Colorado Springs falls short. Aren’t you? nCSBJ