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Colorado cities tackle issues of leadership, future.

Gerald E. Roberts, the mayor of Delta, Colo., perhaps best epitomized the Colorado Municipal League's 70th annual conference last week in Ft. Collins with his receipt of the 1992 Innovative Program Award for his city's project: "Making it happen."

The focus of the conference, hosted by Mayor Susan Kirpatrick, was on the nation's political climate and the future of local government leadership: making it happen in Colorado communities. In an era of cynicism and citizen apathy about government, what can local leaders do to make a difference?

The meeting featured keynote addresses by Alan Ehrenhalt, the executive editor of Governing magazine and Richard Hardwood, an author of the acclaimed Kettering Foundation Report "Citizens and Politics: A View from Main Street America."

Ehrenhalt presented his views about the nation's current political climate and four different perspectives of local elected leadership from which to draw lessons for the future. Hardwood talked about building alternate approaches for including the public in the municipal policy process and for forming new coalitions between and among citizens, public officials, and the media.

CML President Reford Theobald, the mayor of Grand Junction, understands as well as any local elected official the perils of public office in the 90's and the importance of finding new ways to involve citizens. Theobald was one of six members of his council recalled a few years ago, and the only one to be re-elected to fill the recalled positions.

He has emerged as not only a leader in his own community using new ideas and methods to involve and communicate directly with his citizens, but also a statewide leader on behalf of CML.

From the small towns like DeBeque, which won honorable mention for its program, "Creating an Innovative Cooperative Spirit," to the largest city, Denver, what emerged from the conference was a sense of exceptional levels of voter antipathy towards government and a sharp sense of pride and leadership in finding new ways to make local government work better.

With fiscal stress compounding the problems of local government, many wondered what the opportunities would be for a more positive relationship with the federal government after the November elections: would the flood of unfunded mandates slow down, would a new national leader attempt to reach out and understand the basic concerns and anger of American citizens the way these community leaders are trying.

There appeared to be a recognition that no change will occur if local elected officials treat the federal government as irrelevant, but rather that local leaders will also have to develop innovative approaches to involving and changing the directions and priorities of the federal government.
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Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jun 22, 1992
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