Finding, and then fixing, Manitou’s biggest loser

*Note: This essay was published in the Pikes Peak Bulletin print edition on June 11, 2020. It can also be found online here, an image of the column is included below.

Screen Shot 2020-06-11 at 4.59.13 AM

Last place. Bottom of the barrel. Dead freakin’ last. Cellar dweller. The biggest loser.

All these phrases describe my experience in last week’s selection process for the city’s new board for arts, culture, and heritage. Ballot Issue 2D’s success—the Manitou Springs Arts, Culture, and Heritage (MACH, pronounced “match”) initiative—drove the need to create a body to manage public support to our critical local non-profit organizations. As part of the team that got MACH passed, I decided to apply for the board to see it through to the end.

Then something weird happened. On June 2, the City Council decided to publicly rank the volunteers. The thirteen candidates were placed in order for all to see, from #1 on down. And when complete, I found myself in the Atlas position, struggling mightily to hold up the other dozen applicants from my south-of-a-snake’s-belly position.

Of course, it’s not surprising that I’m not popular with several members of City Council. Change is hard and as one of the committee that created, campaigned for, and won the MACH vote—well, let’s just say I expected some casualties and consequences.

What is surprising—shocking, really—is that nobody from the MACH committee that put the ballot measure initiative forward has been brought onto this board. While it makes sense to aim for a diversity of view and wide community representation, doesn’t it make equal sense to include at least one individual from the team that made the initiative happen in the first place? Put another way, why would City Council deliberately exclude those that spoke for the majority?

Stranger still is the MACH Board inclusion of someone that will certainly be forced to recuse himself from any and all discussion that includes the Carnegie library building. Mr. Randy Hodges, as the co-owner of the business next to the library, has a long and clear public track record of advocating against any building modernization for the 109-year-old building. With such an obvious financial stake in the matter, his judgement’s clouded. Worse than putting a wolf in the henhouse, it’s as if the City Council’s tied up the chickens and handed the wolf a gun too. The outcome’s obvious.

Which is why, while serving previously as a city councilor, when matters related to the library came up, Mr. Hodges did the right and decent thing and recused himself from those discussions and votes.

Naturally, Mr. Hodges will do the same thing again to maintain his own integrity and the city’s ethical standards. But, when one considers how practically difficult it will be to set aside all discussions related to such a large item on the MACH Board’s docket—the library—the Council may just decide it’s in everyone’s best interest to swap Mr. Hodges out with one of the three well-qualified alternates (another two applicants, Mr. Rob Danin and Mr. Doug Edmondson, would also make very strong additions to the Board).

While I lick my wounds from my bottom-feeding position, I can’t help but think how excited I am for the seven citizens on this board (well, at least the six current members that won’t have to recuse themselves from such a large share of the task). These exceptional selectees have an awesome responsibility with immense upside. The MACH initiative’s given this Magnificent Seven (Six?) a hammer and some money, and now they’ll have the ability and license to fix what’s broken in Manitou.

I don’t mean our bruised and battered non-profits exactly, but they sure could use this support right now. Manitou isn’t Manitou without them and they will be at the center of the effort to revive Manitou Springs from its Covid-induced coma.

More specifically, I mean our crumbling Carnegie library building and our city’s complete failure to fix this fallen facility.

The hit list is as tremendous as it is tragic. Our Carnegie library is inaccessible to the disabled (the only such non-ADA-compliant library in the greater Pikes Peak region). The city’s population has tripled since it opened in 1911, yet the building’s capacity still holds a meager 18 citizens’ maximum by fire code. It’s far too restrictive and small to meet Manitou’s needs.

Despite these hurdles, our Carnegie library delivered nearly $900,000 in tangible value to patrons in 2017, a better than $3-to-$1 return on investment, for an average gain of roughly $12 for each person that walked through the building’s front door.

The MACH Board gets to fix our Library Goose that lays Manitou’s Golden Eggs, which we know to be crucial in the Information Age. They also get to wipe away this public stain.

Until that happens, we’re stuck with a discriminatory library building. Which unfortunately makes all of us in this town complicit. It makes us all losers here in Manitou Springs.

Take it from me, a little public shame never hurt anyone. And when the MACH Board gets this job done, we can all climb out of our cellar and start to chalk up some wins for Manitou.

 

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