Community members want change for Colorado Springs, and they want it now

May 2, 2014 Updated: May 2, 2014 at 2:03 pm
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Rich Harwood talking about "reclaiming Mainstreet" at Pikes Peak United Way. Photo by Monica Mendoza

Nearly 200 people attended a luncheon Thursday with a shared desire of leaving political trash talk behind to get the community moving.

They didn't walk away with a grand plan or solutions to Colorado Springs' problems. But there was a collective feeling that there's got to be a change and it's got to be now.

"I think we know that what we are doing is not working," City Councilman Val Snider said.

Pikes Peak United Way brought in speaker Rich Harwood, founder and president of the Maryland-based Harwood Institute, to help community members write an action plan for programs that are most important to them. About 190 people attended the event Thursday, and about 150 stayed to work on an action plan.

During the past year, Pikes Peak United Way staff and board members hosted about 50 small meetings around town, asking about issues such as jobs and training, housing, safety and mental health. But what rose from the community meetings was a shared concern that the community cannot make progress in the current Colorado Springs political climate. There are too many personal agendas, too many silos and too much rancor among elected officials, said Jason Wood, Pikes Peak United Way president and CEO.

The issue was raised in a Tuesday article in The Gazette, with some business and community members saying they've had enough of the political fighting and citing evidence that the climate has chased away business and stalled program development. Wood said the United Way received positive feedback for bringing up the issue.

"I would like to take credit, but those are the community's words," he said. "It's very exciting to see people wanting to engage around this. ... It resonated."

Harwood encouraged community leaders to stop talking about the reasons why they disagree and start talking about the reasons they agree.

"I think we face a fundamental choice," he said. "We can stay on the path of the status quo, a path of frustration, a path of too much acrimony and divisiveness, a path of too much self-interest. Or we can decide to blaze a different path - a path of shared aspirations, a path rooted in shared responsibilities and a better, stronger shared story."

Prior coverage: Political hostility hurts Colorado Springs, many say

Councilwoman Jan Martin said she's not sure what the community's shared aspirations are but she wants to find out. She said job creation likely will be a top priority.

Martin said it is not an unfair assessment that the political climate is strangling progress. The recent article, comments and feedback "was an affirmation of some of the frustrations we've been feeling," she said.

"The truth is, we as elected officials, we wouldn't be here and we wouldn't do what we do if we didn't care about this community and want to make a difference," she said. "We just need to figure out what does that mean and what does that look like and where in the commonality we can focus to make a difference."

Snider said the City Council and the mayor could collaborate on a shared strategic plan. Now, each branch has its own plan, as called for in the city's charter. Snider believes the branches could work together.

"One key is to agree on one strategic plan and agree on what the elements of that are and then we start talking about how to legislate those elements," he said.

Wood said the United Way would gather the ideas from Thursday's action plan meeting and host a new round of community meetings, and then choose a project and get started. He's hopeful, he said, that the community action plan won't get shelved like other plans - The Downtown Action Plan, Dream City and Operation 6035 to name a few.

"I see this as different because it's not a big grand plan," he said. "People see themselves in it. ... We have to figure out what are some of the small wins and proof points to demonstrate this is a good thing - this is the direction as a community we want to go in.

"I'm most hopeful that people will say, we want to be engaged."


Harwood’s flip cards

Above is an example of the flip cards that were handed out at the luncheon. On the other side of the card it stated, “Harwood’s Townhall is an online space to share your aspirations for your community and focus on the things that we have in common.”

Pikes Peak United Way

Find out how to get involved at www.ppunited or call 632-1543.

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