Tuesday afternoon, the Colorado Springs City Council pivoted mindlessly between farce and tragedy.
The meeting started on a lighthearted note, as Jan Martin sought to persuade Council to forward the Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax Committee’s recommendations for the 2015 budget to Mayor Steve Bach without changes. It seemed like a no-brainer, since Council will have another whack at the list when the mayor submits his budget in October — so why waste time arguing about it now?
Among the council members, only Helen Collins and Andy Pico seem to believe that silence is a virtue — the rest of ’em love the sound of their own voices. After the obligatory hemming and hawing, Don Knight’s distinctive rumbling bass was heard … and he wanted something.
Pickleball! The committee had left Pickleball off the list and Don wanted $10,920 for his favorite sport. After some gracious back-and-forthing, Martin agreed to modify her motion to approve the recommendations and include Pickleball funding. The strange maneuver brought to mind former Councilor Lisa Czelatdko’s attempt to divert $10,000 to the Old Colorado City History Museum in 2011, which Mayor Bach unfeelingly vetoed.
Martin’s motion passed, 8-1, with Joel Miller in the minority. He was concerned about the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s automatic entitlement to two-thirds of the LART budget — a legitimate point, and one that’s sure to be debated again at budget time.
Next up: item 12H — A Resolution Authorizing the Donation of the Property Known as Jones Park for a Public Purpose to the United States Forest Service through the National Forest Foundation.
Acting as the Utilities Board, Council already had signed off on the deal. But wily County Commissioner Sallie Clark had other ideas. She vigorously lobbied Council to transfer the property to El Paso County, promising that the county would care for it, protect the endangered greenback trout population and operate the thousand-acre property for the benefit of all users.
Local control! So much better for Colorado Springs than having to deal with the distant grandees of the Forest Service! The unspoken subtext: Motorized users would be in control.
And Clark, soon to become president of the National Association of Counties, would earn some significant national cred with her fellow county elected officials. Lady in Red fights the Feds — and wins!
The resolution failed, 5-4, leaving Utilities and the city holding the bag. Next step: an appraisal. In vain, CSU officials pointed out that a $4 million appraisal done several years earlier was now irrelevant. A majority of Council couldn’t believe that the land was essentially valueless, if a buyer had to comply with measures to protect the greenbacks and maintain public access to the property.
They wanted an appraisal. But why? If the land is to remain public, neither the county nor the National Forest Foundation would be willing to pay for it. The NFF is probably out of the picture, thanks to Council’s dithering, and the county had better hope that the voters approve the $3 million Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights refund on the November ballot, or they’ll be S.O.L.
The conclusion is inescapable: A majority of Council would happily sell the property to a private buyer, were one to emerge.
“This is shameful,” said Councilor Jill Gaebler in an angry, despairing speech from the dais.
She’s right. Jones Park has been de facto city parkland since first acquired the 1890s. Its trail and vistas are an amazing community resource. It’s hard to imagine any other city in the country willing to sell one of its crown jewels for a mess of pottage.
We are the heirs to an unparalleled park system, one that we should protect and treasure, not sell to the highest bidder. Martin made her own plea to the group, wondering why everything had to be “a business deal,” and begging for vision from the elected leaders. But those comments cut no ice with their colleagues, one of whom remarked that if CSU could get a couple of million for the property, that would pay for a substantial party of a projected utility rate increase — for one year.
So welcome to the party, Sallie, Joel, Keith, Don, Andy and Helen! There’s nothing more fun than squandering our collective inheritance for transient political gain. The arc of tragedy has but one end, as the Bard so often wrote.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,