A meeting this week between Colorado Springs City Council and the Regional Business Alliance was like a second date after the first one had gone really bad.
Each side spent time talking about what they’ve been up to, what their long-term goals are and where they see themselves in the future. They talked about how their goals economic growth, responsible government and building a quality community are similar.
There was hardly a mention of the recent strife between City Council and the Business Alliance, when the council in its budget hearings nearly stripped the alliance of the public money – about $310,000 from city coffers and from Colorado Springs Utilities — that has gone to the private business organization for the past 20 years (when it was the former Economic Development Corp.)
At this meeting they all were showing their best side. Council has been hard at work on its strategic plan, council members Merv Bennett and Jill Gaebler said. A committee is reviewing the city’s city’s Lodgers and Automobile Rental Tax fund to ensure that the public money spent on tourism, events and economic development are spent wisely, council members Jan Martin and Helen Collins said.
The Business Alliance had a hand in bringing in nine companies to the region with the promise of 950 jobs. It’s been working on the sports sector of the economy and hopes to soon set up a manufacturing summit and continue with workforce development programs.
Bennett said he was grateful for the meeting. The past few years have been busy with the EDCs merger with the Chamber of Commerce, six new City Council members taking office in April and a 2014 budget season that had council deliberating for more than 50 hours in public meetings.
There wasn’t as much attention spent on relationships, Martin said.
Meanwhile, successful cities that the Business Alliance has studied seem to have one thing in common, said alliance board member Toby Gannett. The city and business community have a solid working relationship. He’s taken calls from people around the country asking what is going on in Colorado Springs, after reading news reports about the strain within city government and with the business community.
Bennett told the Business Alliance board members that it might seem like the City Council is always fighting with the Mayor. But there really is only a 3 percent difference between the two, he said.
“But it’s that three percent that gets reported in the press,” he said.
After the meeting, Bennett conceded that council spends about 80 percent of its time in public talking about the 3 percent in differences.
It was that way when council, as the Colorado Springs Utilities board of directors, spent the majority of its time in its public meetings on the proposed $1.15 billion Utilities budget talking about $750,000 community investment fund, a portion of which typically goes to the Business Alliance.
The Business Alliance receives about $240,000 from Utilities and about $70,000 from the city’s LART. Both were called into question during this year’s budget hearings, when some council members cried foul over giving public money to a private organization that makes political endorsements.
In November the council voted to hold back half of the $70,000 Business Alliance budget saying it wanted more details on how the public money is spent. Mayor Steve Bach vetoed that budget move and council did not have a supermajority to override it. The Business Alliance got its money.
But in an effort to start anew, the Business Alliance said it would revisit its policy on political endorsements. The board is looking at its strategy on “influencing public policy,” said Joe Raso, alliance CEO. The strategy also includes lobbying state and national leaders and taken positions on proposed legislation. The organization hopes to have a plan in the next 45 days, he said. At the same time the LART committee is setting up its new policy on it will divvy up the $4 million fund.
Business Alliance board chairman Tom Neppl called the meeting between council and alliance was long overdue.
“I think we can move forward,” Neppl said. “It would be nice to put ideologies and politics aside and decide economic development is the No. 1 issue.”
It sounds like there could be a third date.