I met Barry Siff for coffee Thursday at Steelyards Coffee Pekoe Tea for an interview. Very Boulder – he arrived on a scooter wearing a helmet. Talk about a high energy guy – Barry clearly is a top athlete who puts every bit of energy into everything he does.
I asked him why he was running and unlike every interview to date (where they all started on housing), Barry launched in to the rough financial situation the city is in – and how it's going to get worse even when the economy turns around. He clearly is running because he sees the financial straits the city is headed for. And he's got an accurate picture of what we face.
Barry's background makes this a natural fit for him. He was a senior executive at ConAgra for years which gave him a lot of experience working with budgets larger than the City of Boulder as well as more employees than the city has. So he comes in with the knowledge and experience to effectively and accurately review the city budget. I would guess that most (all?) council members do not have the training to effectively dive in to the City budget and so Barry might be very effective from this point of view.
Barry then left ConAgra and has been running 5430 Sports since then. So he also understands business from the perspective of a local small business owner. Barry's efforts at 5430 clearly drive his approach to the Council – the concern for the financial picture, what he sees as one major avenue to increased revenues, and how to have a smaller environmental footprint.
Barry understands that the City is dependent on sales tax revenue – and that requires more people buying more stuff here in the city. He thinks we need to encourage more events like the Boulder Bolder – starting with bringing back a major cycling race. These events bring tens of millions of dollars to the city. So adding several a year would be a nice boost in income.
Second, he wants a conference center and the business that will bring. He points out that Boulder is a nice destination and as such, it would be a popular location for conferences (very true). A regular run of conferences would also boost sales tax. He also talked a bit about setting this up with the university which probably does make sense. Between the two they could make very effective use of conference facilities.
Third he wants to make us more of a tourist destination. This really is a corollary of the two points above. Again this is an avenue that can bring in more sales tax revenue. And along with the other two approaches, brings it in from people outside of Boulder. It's always more enjoyable to spend other people's money.
During the interview this struck me as having a minimal impact. But on reflection, it could be substantial. Hawaii's primary income is tourism & the military. So Boulder could actually do quite well on tourism, research, & the University. And yes a lot of the jobs in tourism are blue collar. But if we don't want to become even more like Aspen, having an increase in blue collar jobs is a good thing.
So, interesting vision of where the City should go to address the financial bind it is in. Definitely worth diving in to.
We then jumped on to the environment. He talked about the quantity of trash generated from one of their races (from entrants, spectators, etc) and how it was gigantically wasteful. So they made a serious effort to recycle everything they could, to the extent of having volunteers stationed by the refuse bins directing people to use the appropriate one. And by so doing they reduced the actual trash to almost nothing.
As he points out, handing trash responsibly is not only good for the environment, it's great for the bottom line. They saved a ton by maximizing recycling. This is one of the most powerful arguments for being environmentally friendly – pure self-interest & additional profit.
So what do we get with Barry? I'd say the primary thing we will see from him is a focus on the financial mess the city is in and an effort to boost revenues with events, conferences, & tourism. Available tax revenue drives what is possible for the city and so while this focus may seem limited to some, it actually is key to most everything else. I don't know if his approach makes sense for Boulder but it is definitely the most lucrative proposal I have heard from any council member.
Secondarily we get someone with a very strong business background. This includes expertise in managing an operation the size of the city as well as a profit oriented approach to reducing waste and increasing recycling. I do worry though that if he's elected we're all going to be forced to go on a 5 mile run each morning for our health J.
Interview recording: Download BarrySiff