Crowd overflows mayor’s history center town hall; sequel planned in March

       Before a standing-room-only crowd (more than 100 people) in the Old Colorado City History Center, Mayor Steve Bach and city staffers fielded a wide range of questions for an hour and a half Feb. 19 at his first Westside town hall meeting.

Temporarily sitting with the standing-room-only crowd in the Old Colorado City History Center Feb. 19, Mayor Steve Bach (foreground left) listens to Transit Director Craig Blewitt (not shown). With the mayor in the front row are (from left) his wife Suzi, Police Chief Pete Carey, Parks Director Karen Paulus and Transportation Manager Kathleen Krager. Bach also answered questions during the 1 1/2-hour town hall.
Westside Pioneer photo

       The event featured no dramatic confrontations, but did reveal various bits of Westside-related news along with insights into Bach's governing philosophies, centered around creating jobs through the private sector and building trust in city government.
       The city's first “strong mayor,” elected in 2011 under a charter change that gave him most of the powers of the eliminated city manager position, Bach appeared to enjoy the session, even remarking at the outset that “every time I come to Old Colorado City it's like a vacation.”
       But he was also dismayed afterward to learn that police had turned away several people at the door out of concern that it was too crowded inside, according to Cindy Aubrey, spokesperson for the Mayor's Office. As a result, she said, he has tentatively scheduled another town hall in March, at an as-yet- undetermined location.
       The crowd size itself was part of the story. The Organization of Westside Neighbors (OWN), the city-recognized advocacy group for this side of town, had urged the city beforehand to find a larger venue than the History Center. But officials with the Mayor's Office had responded that they didn't expect a capacity problem.
       The mayor himself referred to the issue at the meeting. “We didn't know if anybody would show up,” he said. “Next time we might move to a larger venue.”
       OWN President Welling Clark was pleased at hearing about a second town hall. “OWN wants to facilitate government communication with citizens, so we're going to be in contact with them [to help find a location],” he said.
       OWN had suggested about three weeks ago holding the event at the city-owned Westside Commun-ity Center, but a Mayor's Office spokesperson said that wouldn't work because the bathrooms aren't handicapped-friendly.
       How many people were denied access to the town hall Feb. 19 was uncertain. Lizbeth Salinas, who owns the Mecca Motel with her husband Gary, was one of those who arrived 15 minutes late, only to be told there was no room. Waiting between 6:45 and 7 p.m., she guessed that police turned away as many people as were inside. But Aubrey said that city officials estimated “fewer than 10.”
       On the plus side, Aubrey said she thought the event was the “best town hall we've had” since the sessions started being scheduled quarterly in February 2012 in different parts of town. “People were lovely, gracious and caring. It was a nice way to showcase the History Center [which charged no fee] and it felt good in there, very representative of Old Colorado City.”
       The mayor answered numerous questions from the audience. One was from long-time Westside leader Dave Hughes. Remarking on the crowd, he asked Bach to work with Goodwill to make possible the development of a “conference center” within the building space that the nonprofit owns but no longer uses in the 2300 block of West Colorado Avenue. Bach said he would do so, and Aubrey said the next day that he already had contacted the Goodwill director.
       Accompanying the mayor at the town hall were several city department heads, including Police Chief Pete Carey; Chief of Staff Laura Neumann; Kathleen Krager, Transportation; Craig Blewitt, Transit; Karen Paulus, Parks; and Stuart King, Capital Projects.
       Some new information that emerged:
  • To solve enforcement issues in “No Man's Land” (along Colorado Avenue west of 31st Street, which intersperses city and county jurisdictions), Carey said the two police officers assigned to that area are going through the process of being deputized by the County Sheriff's Office.
  • The city pledged to “tighten up the work by utilities and contractors” when they compact dirt below the street after jobs, Krager said. Observing sunken street locations where such compactions have been done, Joel Beck of OWN has been pushing for city action for several months and also brought it up at the town hall.
  • New equipment will be installed on Highway 24 stoplights to improve traffic flow, King and Krager said.
           In response to a question from a youth about skateboarders riding on the Bancroft Park stage and “using bad words,” Carey said his department would look into it.

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