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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Redesigning Greeley Colorado--A Political Cow Town

Greeley Colorado is an interesting town to figure out. Especially when you are coming at it from a different point of view than most folks raised here. Currently I have been tracking articles about the District 6 mill levy, the Greeley City Council election, District 6 Teacher Union negotiations, and, one of my favorite snail-snot companies--JBS Swift. Just thinking about writing on these topics is beginning to make me cringe. A lot of good people involved and a lot of bad planning and outdated ideas used.

Combine this with the fact I've never quite got the hang of the East/West versus North/South orientation of the town and end up driving endlessly across the prairie even when I am just popping out for coffee--I get to spend a lot of time just looking at the beautiful mythic trees, architectural styles, and a lot of frothing-at-the-treasure-chest developments running amok to the south and west (I think) of Greeley. Then there are the empty store fronts. Ramshackle buildings leaning too far over the sidewalk. The unkempt and ungreen sections of town. All speckled in between beautiful manicured older developments, the nice college campuses, places where people rarely venture into their front yards to associate with their neighbors but spend hours politely maintaining their end of the bargain.

And never the twain shall meet. Is this libertarianism? Is it protectionism? Is it racism? Or is it just plain lack of a City Council having much idea how to pull it all together--before the treasure chest is emptied trying to encourage big business and special interests to spread Greeley around like melted butter on a counter top.

After a week of being under-enlightened and disillusioned over the lack of zoning and planning and with special interest editorials pouring out of the fingers of the staff at the Tribune I finally turned to my local "tour guides" and other acquaintances for answers. There are so many things to like about Greeley (especially the people) it doesn't make a lot of sense to me why they don't take more interest in their own town. Is it really easier to just move out and let the sprawl mafia take over?

We've spent more than a few hours over coffee educating Jane.

"Greeley is just a cow town that never really wanted to be a city but finds itself now a city..." I was told.

The light snapped on. Now I have been told a lot of other things as well but this item, above, just made all the pieces of the puzzle come flying together.

It makes sense why there has been little prudent economic development planning. My opinion of course. It makes sense why Greeley's overall strategic economic and development position is being more directed by regional economic planners and UNC's concept of business planning than it is by the City "Elders" shall we say. Greeley doesn't want to grow up to be something it doesn't want to be--a big city. Although it still isn't clear why the prairie palace developers are allowed to walk away with spreading out their wings and pooping all over Northern Colorado. I thought that is what zoning was all about and what the ranchers and farmers were all about--making sure that stuff didn't happen. But I digress.

The people in the castle on the hill (Greeley City Council and its Mayor) do not have enough incentive to be fully invested in the long term interests of the town. If you've ever been a public persona, well, let's just say it is a pretty thankless job unless you are paid a lot of money to focus your interest or at least given enough political clout to get a good seat in the top restaurant without waiting.

I once implied to a group of Greelians that someone ought to paid for putting 100% interest into the Greeley Good Ship Lollipop. This was upon finding out that the Mayor only receives a stipend as well as counsel members. Half the room, Republican fiscal conservatives, choked on their coffee while the other half politely explained to me that the Mayor really didn't do anything. Ed Clark might object but then again I heard he got elected on the basis of his pleasing personality and big night stick. Back to Jane's advisers, the main ladies in the room pointed out that mostly the council is white, retired, and special interest laden. (I already figured that part out but didn't think it would make me a very pleasurable coffee companion to bring it up). It was noted several are law enforcement types and public works service types without any serious background in economics and economic development. Makes sense if you take a look at the results of what they have been applying to Greeley over the years. Piecemeal cow town with a corral around any and every culture to keep them from "mixing" in with the herd. On a subconscious level no doubt.

After all I'm sure everyone would be thrilled to have a highly educated Somali with citizenship run for City Council. Right? Right? The point is to get the job done, right? Same with the local School Board. Right? It's who can do the best job not who can maintain the existing social status quo. We ended coffee chat at this point. Two many "rights" from someone labeled "left".

So I went home and took a look at the Greeley City Charter. Obviously not something to read over candlelight and a football game. Oh, that makes sense--the mayor gets the title of being executive officer but all the official powers and prerogatives of being executive officer have been gutted and handed over to the City Manager, Chief Administrative Official of the City. You have to read, sorry, a bit further to see the gutting of the fish. The actual authoritative decision making is given in detail over to the City Manager later on down the charter pages. An unelected official by the way. One that the electorate can't vote out of power if they should be unhappy. Not good on the direct representation or concept of democracy scale Greeley.

The proposed Charter provides that the Mayor shall be the Chief Executive Officer of the City, the City Council shall be the policy-making authority, and a City Manager to be appointed by the City Council for an indefinite term, the Chief Administrative Official of the City.
Who designed this burg, again? Oh yeah, it is a cow town. It doesn't want planning, design, regulation, zoning, and government. Just financial conservatism and corrals around all the "types" of people that are "different".

Well I hate to be the one that pops the balloon because I kind like the folksy cow town idea. I grew up around one of those. However it is hard not to point to the fact that while tending the cows the horse has now left the barn and ain't comin' back. Greeley is a small city. And it is a small city without any real obvious direction on how to create an effective government that will spend enough money to plan for the best future of the town at the least cost to the individual taxpayer. In other words fiscal constraint doesn't work without prudent investment and good long term social integration policies. It isn't just about today. It is about the infrastructure your children inherit tomorrow.

Yes, I'm sorry Virginia, there isn't any Santa Claus. Somebody is going to have to connect the cement sidewalks, water pipes, and city services to all those roaming red-nose developers in the middle of nowhere. That is you and me, babe. The guys back at the local Greeley government ranch are just gonna let the developers ride into town as tax free as possible and plop down where ever they point to the ground with the cry of "Jobs!" Tsssk. Tsssk. Then there is the whole issue of educating the public. All the public not just the kids in the charter schools on the right side of town. You want a real gang problem Greeley? Just refuse to invest and redevelop the "other" side of town. Disrespect breeds disrespect in any culture. Let education continue to fail the masses in District 6 and the lack of all day Kindergarten and textbooks for the kiddies won't be all that comes tumbling down.

Time to think of Greeley's value investment. Time to think of Greeley as an investment. Time to think of Greeley as a cow town that can kick ass if someone cares enough about it.

Diversity of business (Mom and Pops), economic development, revitalization of the downtown strip, redevelopment, education and gang management, and federal grant management hopefully is going to pop up on some one's view finder. Put the cow town politics to bed and start demanding someone manage the entire ranch and build good fences.

But then as the Greeley Tribune Cheerleader says today in its editorial, they are just happy so many citizens are interested in government. *Without really being paid to do the job (my addition). Yes, they are interested, I'll toast to that... but the real question is will the person they elect have to be the right color, the right sex, the right age group, local only, and do they have to represent a special interest or authority figure to get elected.

We, living in Greeley, already know the answer to this question... don't we?

Time for a change. Right turn Clyde.

Supreme Court Upholds Mill Levy Freeze

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