This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 27, 2010 - show up

Sometimes it's hard for me to imagine the life of the politician.

I pondered that as I sat in the iMax theater of Douglas County's astonishing Wildlife Experience and listened to gubernatorial candidates John Hickenlooper and Scott McInnis.

The forum was sponsored by the Douglas County Business Alliance, which keeps a close eye on Colorado legislative matters. Each candidate answered five questions from the DCBA, then took questions from the crowd.

Hickenlooper is the current mayor of Denver. McInnis is a former House Majority Leader for the Colorado House of Representatives, and a former U.S. Representative.

In some ways, their answers really weren't that different. They were speaking to business people. Not surprisingly, they showed great sensitivity to business issues. The difference to my mind was largely of style.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is the un-candidate. As he said, this is only the second office he's ever run for.

McInnis is more the polished insider, complete with Republican Party-approved talking points and sound bites.

It will be interesting to see which approach resonates best in a time when there is so much anger against politics-as-usual and Washington D.C. in particular. Meanwhile, I offer my profound sympathies to both of them as they start working the long, long campaign trail.

Another group of politicians comprise the City Council of Castle Pines North. By the time this column appears, they will have decided on the Urban Renewal Authority.

Like the gubernatorial race, there are two views. Here's the first: the City Council is seeking to add as many tools as it can to its municipal tool chest. The Urban Renewal Authority is a well-tested and effective mechanism for city development.

So is the so-called TIF - tax increment financing. The idea is this: cap the existing property tax at its current value. That becomes the base. As development occurs, and property values rise, any taxes collected over the base remain with the authority, which can then use the money for infrastructure and special projects.

The other side of the issue is this: the area of the authority is huge. Castle Rock's Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and the Parker Authority for Reinvestment (PAR) both concentrate on specific, fairly limited downtown areas. Castle Pines North's authority includes over 3,500 acres, most of it undeveloped agricultural land.

Over the next twenty years or so, an estimated 12,000 new residents may move within the boundaries of the new authority. Those people will want services, such as fire protection, schools, and libraries. But if those properties fall under a TIF, the agencies responsible for providing those services will collect only the revenue generated by agricultural land. That's not enough money to provide the level of services suburban households require. Yet the new residents will certainly expect them.

So the TIF, potentially, puts a lot of money and decision-making ability in the hands of the city, which right now directly controls the authority. It removes both of those things from other agencies, without removing the responsibility to provide service. While other funding mechanisms have been discussed to fund libraries (using TIF funds themselves for construction, and Public Improvement Fees for operations), it's all untried and speculative.

So the people making these decisions are making some big gambles on the future of their young city.

My final observation about politicians speaks to those who are leaving office. Earlier this year, Castle Rock's Randy Reed was term-limited out. Just recently, Pat Braden was termed out from the Lone Tree City Council. Both of them gave countless hours and attention to civic issues.

And although not elected, Acting Superintendent Steve Herzog certainly faced a host of political issues as he dealt with the school district's budget crisis. He provided clear vision and able direction in a time of great transition. I wish him well in his new post as Superintendent of the Reed Union School District (RUSD) in Tiburon, CA.

Candidate for Governor, council members, acting school superintendent -- somebody has to pay attention to our public square. So it's worth saying: even when I disagree with these folks, I'm grateful for them. They show up.


LaRue's Views are his own.

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