Last summer, the Business Journal organized a different kind of event — a regional mayors panel, bringing together the area’s top elected officials for lunch and discussion.

As first-time gatherings go, that one worked well for all involved, participants and attendees, except for one glaring absence.

Colorado Springs wasn’t represented. Steve Bach, beginning what turned out to be his final year in office, decided he had other priorities and sent his regrets. It didn’t spoil the occasion, but if ever the cliché of an “elephant in the living room” was appropriate, that was the time.

The camaraderie and uniqueness of that 2014 event, though, justified a second try. When new Springs Mayor John Suthers, shortly after replacing Bach, said yes to the invitation for July 16 at Hotel Eleganté, that boosted anticipation.

No one was disappointed, as a spirit of shared hopes and fresh possibilities filled the Eleganté’s fourth-floor Summit Ballroom, which has one of the city’s best sweeping views of the Front Range.

It was obvious that Suthers took this forum seriously. We shared some topics ahead of time with all the mayors, also from Fountain, Monument, Woodland Park, Manitou Springs and Green Mountain Falls. Suthers came prepared with assessments and ideas this group hadn’t heard before. And he was anything but condescending, hammering the point that everyone should get along and work together more effectively.

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“I think it’s important for us to sit and talk about how our visions mesh,” Suthers said. Not forcing the smaller cities to accept Colorado Springs’ agenda, but finding ways to collaborate. He suggested having the other cities’ planners meet with their peers from Colorado Springs, and cultivating closer relationships in economic development and tourism.

You could sense that everyone was feeling refreshed, with solid proposals to take away and pursue soon.

You could tell how much the other mayors appreciated the gesture.

“In terms of regional development, Mayor Suthers is the big dog here,” said Neil Levy of Woodland Park. “Certainly, he doesn’t need Woodland Park, but Woodland Park definitely needs Colorado Springs.”

Suthers also supported the concept of what he called a Pikes Peak Area Tourism District covering El Paso, Teller and Fremont counties (personally, I’d add Pueblo to that mix). With some kind of LART (lodgers and auto rentals) surcharge, along with extra fees added to admissions, the Tourism District could use revenue from visitors to promote the region as much as possible.

“We need to advertise ourselves more as the Pikes Peak region,” Manitou Mayor Marc Snyder said. “That’s the future for us, to create a better sense of place.”

The lively discussion took other paths, each mayor covering matters of hyper-local importance. Rafael Dominguez of Monument spoke candidly about his city’s ongoing controversy with a methadone clinic in the downtown area, across from a park. Snyder suggested the other cities should thank Manitou for being the only area municipality to take on the regulated sale of recreational marijuana. Suthers said he expects Colorado Springs at some point to begin annexing “No Man’s Land” on the Westside, “starting with the avenue itself.”

Gabriel Ortega of Fountain traded friendly salvos with Suthers, who gently accused Fountain of taking the area’s newest Walmart Supercenter away from Colorado Springs. Ortega diplomatically responded by saying, “They told us they didn’t feel wanted.”

Levy reported Woodland Park “is fully recovered from the recession after our sales tax revenues have grown the past four years.” And Lorrie Worthey proudly described Green Mountain Falls’ new city hall, as well as a planned distillery that will use donkeys in its processes.

As time wound down, everyone was feeling refreshed, with solid proposals to take away and pursue soon. But Suthers wasn’t done, switching his focus to intangibles. He said he experienced a personal epiphany “a month or so ago,” talking to a visiting delegation from Russia.

“They said we are fortunate to live where we live,” Suthers said, and he answered by apologizing for the potholes and poorly maintained roads. The visitors stared at him and shrugged. That didn’t affect their impression at all.

“I took that message back to our department heads, and now we talk about it every time we meet,” Suthers said. “We need to be positive, positive, positive about our city and area. In fact, let’s all be more positive about the Pikes Peak region.”

It probably seems corny in print, but in person it was powerful. Snyder jumped in, saying, “We already agree on more than 90 percent on everything. And our RTA (transportation authority) is the envy of the region, even the state.” Then came Worthey: “Communication is the key, and the fires showed us how much we need each other.”

Bottom line, the panel made a convincing case that our area’s mayors want to be on the same page, starting with John Suthers. And bringing them together will be a good way to reconfirm that, every summer.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Happy, happy happy, eh?

    Why is this pseudo-conservative (read: Nanny-stater) republican any different than the last Weak Mayor, or the first Strong Mayor? All were and are owned by the same cabal, all insist they know what’s good for us regardless of what we actually want, all pander to the theocrats, military, gun-fetishists and developers. What’s different?

    This is the same crowd that, over the last 50 years of their one-party rule, have turned this place into an economic mess, and a national laughingstock, to boot.

    Why does this make you happy, Ralph?

  2. Mr. Suthers may come from the same ‘gene-pool’ as those that you refer to as the ‘theocrats, military, gun-fetishists and developers (and I might add: bible-thumping mindless housewives with no background being in local government) but he is opening discussions that need to be opened – working toward building inclusiveness – and facing head on the fact we have less revenues than expenses! That is a start. He has welcomed the Gay Pride festivities (although he did not march in the parade) – and has said he would not oppose legalizing marijuana if that is what the public wants. This is a far cry from those in local government who have wanted and tried to legislate morality and who have over-ridden what voters requested at the poll. He is bringing groups together in a way that could be very well be the beginning of that term: “Collaboration” which has been used for years,locally,but never placed into practice. More of a start.

    Many of that ‘cabal’ referred to above are beginning to ‘age-out’ and move on with younger and perhaps more progressive members of the community taking a more active interest in why we are where we are and how can we move forward, faster.

    Maybe giving “happy, happy, happy” a chance is a step in the right direction.

  3. It is a far different tone that the debacle I have witnessed here for the last four years. Remains to be seen whether this will produce anything that actually leads to development and benefits local citizens, but it is a start.

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