Local Government Ironically Champions Gatherings as Treatment for Isolation

Last month, we attended a State of the Community Meeting hosted by Colorado Springs City Council Members Brian Risley and David Leinweber. City Council President Randy Helms was also in attendance. Toward the end of the meeting, Councilman Leinweber introduced the “1000 Neighborhood Gatherings” Initiative.

The press release for the initiative says the city is working with Councilman Leinweber to launch 1,000 neighborhood gatherings, “to help address mental health by encouraging residents to connect through gatherings and build a social support system in their own neighborhoods”.

Councilman Leinweber is currently running for a seat on the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners. He campaigns on his interest in mental health, so the timing and highlighting of his involvement are interesting. We asked City of Colorado Springs Community Affairs Advisor Thomas Thompson if elected officials planned to make appearances at the neighborhood gatherings and if people running for office would be allowed to campaign at the events. He responded, “Of course we hope our local elected officials are able to attend some Gatherings to support the initiative and meet their constituents”.

My question to Councilman Leinweber was, “Why is the government involved in this?” Councilman Leinweber responded that the #1 reason for suicide is isolation. Other risk factors for suicide include mental illness, previous history of suicide attempts, and exposure to family members’ suicide.

I worked in healthcare for many years and I’m going to call his bluff. Yes, isolation is a risk factor for suicide, but when someone gets to the point of being willing to take their own life, there’s way more to it than, “Let’s have a block party to cheer the neighbors up.” Depression is a complicated illness. Are Councilman Leinweber and other public servants practicing amateur psychology?

The city’s website has information about the neighborhood gatherings. The website says:

By hosting a neighborhood gathering, you are stepping up and taking action to address mental health in Colorado Springs. Studies show people who know six or more of their neighbors have decreased levels of social isolation and loneliness compared to people who don’t. By stepping out of your home and connecting with neighbors through a neighborhood gathering, you are helping to build a social support system in your neighborhood.

Getting to know our neighbors is a good thing. We should help our neighbors out and care for one another. I suspect most of our readers already know their neighbors. Is it worthy of a press conference, for the government to tell us what they want us to do?    

But the government being the government, they want you to go through the red tape of permits and fees ranging from $25 – $100 to hold your neighborhood gatherings. They want you to register the gatherings, too. 

From the city website:

A block party doesn’t need any permits if you aren’t closing your street. My neighborhood holds one annually. We roll out grills to our driveways, everyone brings a side dish or a dessert, and we bring our own food for the grill. We leave the red tape out of it. The government doesn’t belong in our gatherings.  

Creating Community Minus Government

While researching this article, we recalled Old North End Neighborhood (ONEN) citizens who tried to create community connections a few years back. Joe Coleman and Ed Snyder invited neighborhood kids to the quietest ONEN street for kickball games on Monday nights. If you know Joe and Ed, you know they’re all about creating community.

During COVID, they gave neighbors and their kids something to look forward to. One of the neighbors didn’t care for the kickball games, though, and had a habit of calling the police to complain. Initially, CSPD showed up and enjoyed watching the games.

Weeks later, they showed up with force and dressed in flak jackets. Parents were threatened with tickets and child abuse charges if they allowed their kids to participate in the games. Undeterred, Joe and Ed looked for ways to continue the games. They went through the tedious process of filing weekly block party permits- something that required the blessing of 80% of the neighbors.

City bureaucrats required that Ed go door to door every week to get permission from neighbors. They refused to let him collect more than one week’s signatures at a time or submit all dates and neighbors’ permission for the summer in one filing. Then Ed received a call from one of the police officers. The complaining neighbor still wasn’t happy. The officer suggested Ed rent out a nearby city park field for the games. Ed worried for the safety of the children who would be required to cross multiple busy streets to attend games.

In frustration, he gave up on the kickball games. Also, in an effort to make sure Joe and Ed couldn’t pursue games in the future, the city changed the rules to limit block party permits to three a year.

We reached out to Ed to share the 1,000 Neighborhood Gatherings information. Here is his response:

“That’s so ironic it’s almost Shakespearean, in a ridiculous, absurd way.

Not only did the city side with the one neighbor who hated the kickball game (and the kids), it went so far as to change the rules for block parties to prevent us from hosting it. In spite of their public comments about wanting to work something out to allow the game, they did the opposite, including the police. Eventually we just gave up.  It was sad b/c for weeks after, kids would show up on Mondays asking if there was a game”.

Joe knew Mayor Yemi Mobolade. Ed told us, “We agreed he’d reach out for his blessing. Initially Yemi not only agreed, but said he would throw out the first pitch. When later Joe informed me Yemi wouldn’t be able to stay for the full game I suggested he get an overt blessing lest the cops show up later and arrest us. When Joe asked Yemi for his blessing, Yemi backed out. That ended that.

Based on my experience, I believe the city wants to look like it’s doing something but only to the extent it doesn’t require anyone to do anything different”.

Funding of the Involved Organizations

When I asked Councilman Leinweber why the government was involved in neighborhood gatherings, Council President Randy Helms piped in that there would be no government money spent for the neighborhood gatherings. I’ve followed a few of the non-profits that are promoting the initiative and several of them are routinely awarded taxpayer funds.

I reached out to Thomas Thompson. He graciously replied, “The City will not be giving non-profits funds to participate. This is a collaborative effort and the City is looking for organizations and residents to volunteer. The City may use existing budgeted funds for some minimal printing costs of some promotional materials”.

I filed a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) request to ask about taxpayer funding since June 1st to the organizations involved in the gatherings. Those organizations include NAMI, COSILoveYou, CONO, Chamber/EDC, and Care and Share.  

The CORA response:

No taxpayer-funded payments were made to NAMI, COSILoveYou, or Care and Share since 6/1/2023.

CONO: $246,550

Per 2023 and 2024 contracts with City Chamber/EDC:

Our Take

We have no doubt that many of the public servants’ hearts are in the right place with the 1,000 Neighborhood Gatherings. The government manages very few things well, though. Do we really want them trying to manage mental health, too? They need to stick to filling the plentiful potholes and worrying about the pitiful police response times to genuine emergencies (not kickball games).

Isn’t it hypocritical for public servants to pound their chests about Neighborhood Gatherings for “mental health” when it still requires paperwork and all sorts of hoops for people to go through? Red tape discourages people from doing things; bureaucracy has a nasty habit of causing more problems than solving. This PR campaign looks exactly like that given the bureaucratic nature of the permit process plus Joe Coleman and Ed Snyder’s experience.

Reach out to your city council representative and Mayor Mobolade. Ask them to remove the red tape of fees and permits for neighborhood gatherings this summer. Also, ask them to remove the 3-party limit and give Joe Coleman and Ed Snyder permission to resume kickball games. That would show us that they truly care about the community and neighborhoods.

Mayor Yemi Mobolade  yemi.mobolade@coloradosprings.gov

Yolanda Avila  Yolanda.Avila@coloradosprings.gov

Lynette Crow-Iverson   lynette.crow-iverson@coloradosprings.gov

Dave Donelson   Dave.Donelson@coloradosprings.gov

Randy Helms   Randy.Helms@coloradosprings.gov

Nancy Henjum   Nancy.Henjum@coloradosprings.gov

David Leinweber   david.leinweber@coloradosprings.gov

Mike O’Malley   Mike.OMalley@coloradosprings.gov

Brian Risley    brian.risley@coloradosprings.gov

Michelle Talarico   michelle.talarico@coloradosprings.gov

6 thoughts on “Local Government Ironically Champions Gatherings as Treatment for Isolation

  1. Great article. The city does change anything they don’t like! Right now the city is changing the way they are approving annexations! This is because a developer asked the city to annex one of its OWN properties from county to city-because the developers property, next to the county property, needs to be annexed into the city to get water. The property in question is TOPS! Purchased by taxpayers. So, they are writing it up and changing the rules to fit their needs! My information is from a city planner. Regarding the above article…I don’t mind seeing the encouragement of knowing your neighbors-it improves neighborhood watch, etc…but is absolutely obvious this is a political tactic for votes! Citizens can read right through it. What he needs to do is to reverse the permit limitations, which is obviously blocking get togethers! Love the kickball idea! Oh, and if city council gave a crap about the mentally ill they would open a housing complex along with medical and mental health support for our mentally ill/ addicted homeless USA citizens!

  2. “The government manages very few things well,….” Should read, “This city government manages very few things well….” Planning anyone? Road repairs? Or the Cracker Jack response of the police department or 911 call center? “Per 2023 and 2024 contracts with City Chamber/EDC: total $706,437. Are the taxpayers REALLY getting their monies worth? CONO: $246,550. Combined with EDC/Chamber: $952.987. Come on now, folks. This is getting ridiculous! Please show us citizens where we’re getting nearly $1,000,000 worth of benefit.

  3. CONO was a wonderful organization when it was all volunteers. Now it is all about promoting what high dollar stooges think is fun. If Leinweber is involved, I know it is shady. I don’t trust that guy and he certainly shouldn’t be representing citizens when he never listens. Risley isn’t much better. What I find incredibly scary is this city council will decide if we annex Amara, LaPlatta ‘s ridiculous flagpole design of dry waterless land east of Fountain. If anything will suck away our water, first responders, infrastructure money, it is that. I hear all the time, the city must grow. Why? Cities grow until they fail. Do we want to find the tipping point or have we already over the tip? I feel we passed and are sliding downhill fast. Massive expensive multifamily housing, lots of minimum wage jobs, few high pay jobs, no housing for minimum wage and middle income workers. Colorado Springs is a city of houses and all these east coast newbies get high pay jobs directing the city. NY, Chicago, Boston people live in apartments. CS is not nor does it want to be those cities. People enjoy a yard on beautiful evenings to visit with neighbors without 1000 parties. Has the city thought how home owners know their neighbors while apartment dwellers tend not to? Without parks, Leinweber needs to tell us where the apartment complexes can have their block party? That is discrimination if you ask me. First you force people into apartments, take away their parks and they wonder why there are mental health problems. Every therapist in town will tell you exercise is one of the best remedy for mental health. At parks you meet people, play basketball or kickball. But locked up in an apartment listening to neighbors fighting, second floor cooking fish, someone eating kinchee and someone peed in the hallway again. Citizens wake up. Do we want the yahoos telling us what to do.

  4. I was considering hosting one of these gatherings in my cul-de-sac. After hearing how it is a disguised ploy to garner votes for Office, I think I will forgo registering it. Everything the government promotes, even the good stuff, comes with a price, strings, attached, and secret motives.

  5. CONO is a city lobby group. They are funded by the City and the city pays for the project of neighborhood mapping. These neighborhood plans will sit on a shelf like the ones done in the 80’s. This is a fund raiser since CONO collects $25 for application for the street party.

    Yes, this is amateur.

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