“One line is too much,” a Florida friend told me 40 years ago, “and one kilo is not enough.”
He was warning me about the dangers of cocaine (which I more or less avoided), but he didn’t touch on other expensive, life-altering, career-endangering, mind-destroying addictive behaviors.
Consider running for elected office, particularly for an unpaid position. After four campaigns (two successful) I finally kicked the habit in 1997, and I’ve stayed clean since. Alas, our biennial city council elections have once again brought out a full slate of weary addicts as well as a few newcomers eager to serve their city.
Watch out, guys — you might actually get elected. And although the position comes with a certain amount of responsibility and prestige, it comes without fame, fortune and millions of Twitter followers. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s unlikely victory may have propelled her to the political penthouse, but yours will dump you in the outhouse. You’ll have sit patiently through endless meetings, digest reams of incomprehensible reports and documents, listen politely to the speeches and complaints of your constituents and vote on issues that you don’t understand, don’t care about or don’t want to take a position on. You’ll put in about 50 hours a week, and receive an annual voter-mandated stipend of $6,250. That works out to $2.40 an hour, so maybe you and your colleagues could sue the city for violating Colorado minimum wage statutes. Good luck!
But you already knew all this and you’re still in the game. You want to do the right thing, so here are some issues to consider.
Colorado Springs Utilities. CSU is your baby. As board members, you make policy, hire and fire the CEO and thereby determine the fate of a multi-billion-dollar publicly owned company. The mayor has no power over CSU, no vote on the board and no veto. You will decide when and if to close the Drake power plant and whether to provide water or wastewater services to customers outside the city. You’ll set rates for all utility services and approve long- and short-term strategic plans.
Your predecessors have usually been passive and acquiescent, content to accept the recommendations of CSU’s well-paid professionals. That hasn’t always worked out, notably in the Neumann Systems debacle, when CSU spent about $178 million (including $20 million in venture capital funding) on a pollution control system for the Drake plant. In retrospect, CSU’s board and management made a spectacularly bad bet, one that still haunts the city. Rather than trying to put lipstick on a 50-year-old pig CSU should have replaced it.
A few years ago, Xcel Energy expressed interest in acquiring CSU’s electrical generation and energy assets. The board refused to talk to them, perhaps fearing that voters might approve such a divestiture. Would Xcel still be interested? You won’t know unless you ask, but you ought to get some expert, disinterested advice from an outside firm. Forget the Carver governance model, which bureaucratizes, marginalizes and constrains board decision making. You make the rules — staff follows them.
Land Use. Again, that’s your bailiwick. The Colorado Constitution, the city charter, the recently enacted comprehensive plan and a vast forest of laws, ordinances and regulations constrict you, but other than that, you can do what you want. You can override unanimous decisions of the planning commission, approve zoning changes, strengthen or weaken neighborhoods, give developers what they want or tell ’em to get lost.
Leadership. Sorry, but you’re not our leaders. You’re our elected representatives. Think of council as a homeowners association, a collaborative group with goals both defined and nebulous. You’ll have to make decisions for next month, next year, next decade and even for the next century. As individuals, you can choose what issues to champion but you can only act collectively. And sometimes, you have to go off the reservation to make your point (just ask Bill Murray).
But forget all of that. Running for mayor in 1997, I sought advice from then-legislator and Leadville 100 founder Ken Chlouber. He listened for a while as I began to describe my great plans for the future of the city, and interrupted.
“That’s fine, John,” he said, “but if you don’t git elected, then you don’t git to govern.”
So get going! I didn’t…