John Hazlehurst: Increase salaries for diversity

A few decades ago Elliott Roosevelt, then the Mayor of Miami Beach, was asked whether the Mob ran the city.

It wasn’t an impertinent question, given the Mob’s power in south Florida and Cuba during the1950’s.

“No,” Roosevelt responded, “The Mob doesn’t run the city — they own it.”

Who owns Colorado Springs? There are plenty of powerful players and organizations in town. El Pomar, David and Chris Jenkins, Bill Hybl, John Suthers, the United States Olympic Committee and Pam Shockley-Zalabak come to mind, but one group looms over all others.

The military.

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At least 30 percent of our economy is military-related. Tens of thousands of military retirees have chosen Colorado Springs as their home, hundreds of local companies depend upon defense-related contracts, and our amazing web of military installations both sustains and identifies the city.

That’s all good — but, as Dwight D. Eisenhower presciently noted in his farewell address to the nation on Jan.17, 1961, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”

Eisenhower ranks among the greatest Americans. As Supreme Commander in Europe, he brought us victory in World War. As President, he extricated us from an unwinnable war in Asia and dealt masterfully with the Soviet Union during the early years of the Cold War.

Although a Republican, Eisenhower was a reluctant partisan, the very model of a soldier/statesman. He could serve as a role model for many retired officers who subsequently enter the political arena.

I was fortunate enough to serve on the Colorado Springs City Council with two men who were inspired by Ike: Jack Forrest and Bob Isaac. Neither pretended that their service somehow elevated them over mere civilians, both were personally warm and self-deprecating and both were dedicated to the city they loved. Jack retired a four-star, while Bob left early to pursue a career in law and politics.

Retired officers bring a lot to the table. They understand large organizations, they’re patient and persistent and they’re good at studying and analyzing problems. We should be grateful that we have such a deep talent pool of civic-minded folks — I know that I am.

Yet remember Eisenhower’s words; “…unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought.”

Consider the campaigns of Darryl Glenn and Jon Keyser, both seeking the Republican nomination for the Senate. Their military careers are central to their candidacies. Both dismiss opponents without military experience as less qualified for elected office.

Or consider today’s Colorado Springs City Council. Seven of nine members have served in the military, and many have highlighted that experience as a qualification for office.

Is that bad? It’s very bad when the lack of military service effectively disqualifies civilian candidates.

Retirees have another advantage over most civilians; a pension. City councilors get a paltry $6,250 annual stipend. Most Springs residents can’t afford to serve in office — particularly young professionals — and that may be one reason that so many current councilors are military retirees.

This is a good example of “unsought influence.” There isn’t any sinister cabal of retirees trying to take over the city — just a lot of folks with similar backgrounds trying to be of service.

One way to level the playing field would be to pay city councilors a reasonable salary. By doing so, we might get all kinds of people: young and old, military and civilian, Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians, rich and poor.

But no communists — Ike would definitely disapprove!


Amy Gillentine Sweet: City benefits from veteran leaders

Current city budgets won’t allow more money to go toward city council salaries — and in a conservative environment like Colorado Springs, that isn’t likely to change any time soon.

Given the paltry salary of $6,250 that councilors currently receive, Colorado Springs is fortunate to have a ready group of proven leaders prepared to take on the mantle of city leadership.

Without veterans standing up to continue service in local government, who would be left to lead the city? We’d be forced to rely on special interest groups with deep pockets — people seeking office only to further their own financial and political goals.

Instead, we have a group of former officers and enlisted members of the armed forces who have been trained in leadership, understand how to deal with conflict and have a record of selfless service to the nation as a whole.

The pool of veterans for leadership roles, teaching in schools and volunteering for nonprofits, sets Colorado Springs apart. Nationally, the political arena no longer seems to value military service. Only 20 percent of Congress has a military background — down from 73 percent in the 1970s. And the lack of necessary, proven leadership skills shows through Congress’s lack of discipline, unwillingness to compromise and inability to set aside immediate personal gain for the country’s future benefit.

A higher salary won’t necessarily bring in better leaders, it will however, increase the number of opportunists seeking office for their own benefit — people who don’t see it as a service to the community, but as a place to hone their own personal influence.

Military service conveys an understanding of the responsibility from the public’s trust. As Austrian-born business leader said: “Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.”

Few groups are better suited to lead — and understand that leadership — than former service members. Military veterans aren’t perfect people, they aren’t above criticism nor are they immune from mistakes. But the best of leaders have the requisite skills needed to lead, and a proven willingness to put others in front of self.

As a military town, Colorado Springs sees 500 to 1,000 veterans leaving service each month. Many of those men and women stay in the city — why not harvest their skills and experience?