Other politicians could learn from Mayor Steve Bach. His approach to serving the public is considered radical, in a governing culture that has lost touch with those it serves.
The most vociferous critics of Bach repeat one major concern. They say he is divisive. He doesn’t play well with City Council. He takes controversial positions and stands his ground, rather than making sure we all just get along.
When Bach causes division, a close examination reveals that he typically does what we haven’t seen in local government for far too long. He works for people who elected him and pay his wage. He defends them against politicians who conform, comply and act like experts who know more than the little people who feed government.
We saw this clearly when a panel of experts, known as the Memorial Health System board of trustees, gave $1.2 million to former City Employee Larry McEvoy for no reason. Bach rightly had a conniption and did everything within his limited power to preserve the money so that the public — the owners of the capital — might benefit from it. In defending his constituents, Bach found himself at odds with other politicians who showed flagrant disregard for them.
Other clashes with the political establishment have involved Bach’s routine efforts to protect residents from irresponsible spending. Though the establishment thought we must have city-subsidized bus service to and from Denver for professionals, Bach saw it as a drain on the city’s ability to provide basic transportation for the elderly and poor. Bach assesses the cost of a city expense and determines whether it is a bargain for those who pay the cost.
This brings us to his latest spat with the established political class.
Bach was asked to support the extension of a transportation tax, which funds the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. City Council, El Paso County commissioners and four small-town governments want a ballot measure to extend the tax for another 10 years, after it sunsets in 2014. Bach said his support was contingent on making sure Colorado Springs would receive its rightful share of revenues. He floated possible amendments to the PPRTA intergovernmental agreement.
At issue is that Colorado Springs contributes 70 percent of PPRTA’s funds and receives back less than 63 percent of what is spent for capital projects. Bach wants to make sure his constituents get what they pay for, so his support hinged on amending the arrangement to ensure fair funding.
On Tuesday, Bach won a partial victory. The Colorado Spring City Council voted unanimously in favor of an amendment that would ensure PPRTA funds are distributed to jurisdictions based on population, but only after “A” list projects are complete. Basically, if things go well and the PPRTA miraculously finds itself awash in cash, Colorado Spring will receive a share of the windfall that’s relative to its population.
Chalk it up as another political victory for Bach. Once again, he defended the direct interests of those who elected him. Somehow, opponents view this common-sense approach to governance as radical and quixotic rabble-rousing. We wish it were the norm for other politicians.
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