My latest NewSpin column from PULP
Why Pueblo doesn’t have a mayor
City Manager Dave Galli abruptly took a leave of absence recently, the first step in what is expected to be his resignation. Though the rest of City Council was tight-lipped about the talk behind closed doors, Ray Aguilera, who lives in one of the poorest districts and is term-limited, was happy to expound on some reasons why Galli is being edged out by council, including the Obama rally on Union Avenue and his management of the parks and recreation department.
Having run for public office, and knowing how paranoid you have to be about every syllable that escapes your lips, it’s exhilarating when someone in a position like Aguilera exercises his middle finger, bucking the system and actually speaking his mind. But it speaks to some deeper issues in our local government.
Anyone who has gone to a Pueblo City Council meeting will recognize that they are well-versed in the art of micromanagement. Issues that should be delegated to subcommittees are hashed out on the council floor, sometimes with tempers flaring.
No wonder they don’t want their meetings televised.
Having lived in a number of other cities where the general consensus is that the more accountable local leadership is to the electorate, the better, it’s foreign to me to have instead a city manager, appointed by city council. So, wouldn’t it make sense, now that it appears there will be a vacancy in this post, to consider a properly elected mayor for Pueblo?
Don’t count on it. The reason why is best demonstrated by explaining what I call the “Pueblo shuffle.”
When former County Commissioner Loretta Kennedy resigned her post to work for U.S. Rep. John Salazar, it caused a ripple effect in local politics, much like musical chairs. State representative Dorothy Butcher resigned her seat as state representative to vie for Kennedy’s seat, and then Sal Pace, a former aide to John Salazar, went for Butcher’s seat.
City council seat holder Jeff Chostner also moved over into a county commissioner position, and state senator Bill Thiebaut took the district attorney gig. Upon the emergence of the now-defunct rumor that John Salazar was being considered to helm the USDA, the music started playing immediately again to occupy his spot; the top names floated for his job as U.S. Representative were all quite familiar.
Personally, I have no beef with any of these folks, and I generally respect and value their leadership. However, the part that’s most potentially damaging for Pueblo is that it seems to be a foregone conclusion that the same names get recycled through the system for the same jobs. This sort of close-to-the-vest leadership helps sustain, more than anything, career politicians rather than public servants, and in many ways helps ensure that little ever changes.
Which brings us back to the city manager position. Really, city council has no motivation to change the system. Having the city manager under their wing allows them to continue micromanaging, while also having a whipping boy to turn to every time the public drops the boom on them.
So what would it take to move the city manager job out from under council into the more appropriate role of mayor, so that they are accountable to voters? One way would require city council’s willingness to cede authority over the most powerful figure in town. For that to happen, we would have to have more people on council intent on making dramatic change in the way we do public business in Pueblo, rather than maintaining control, and hence, the status quo.
The other, more realistic, option is for local voters to place a referendum on the ballot in the fall, which presents its share of bureaucratic hoops. However, despite political rhetoric, the greatest change in politics tends to begin and end at the voting booth.
This writer is hopeful that the kind of change Pueblo needs is coming.