For the past several months, Colorado Springs Utilities has been conducting public meetings and discussions about a vital issue: Who should guide the municipally owned enterprise in the future?

Currently, Colorado Springs City Council walks a few blocks to the utilities boardroom to meet as the board of directors for the four-service utility.

Civic organizations and economic development groups have weighed in on the prospect of a new board with the responsibility of managing CSU’s future and setting its goals — and how to select that board.

Some people believe the complexities of the energy industry require the expertise of a hand-selected board — chosen specifically by the mayor, city council or a combination of both. They claim it’s too difficult a job to trust to just anyone who might want to campaign for a position.

But others, including the vast majority of residents polled during a CSU-sponsored telephone survey, want the public to decide who sits on the board.

That’s the best option: Allow the ratepayers to vote on how CSU should be governed. And possibly provide compensation in the Springs could attract better candidates.

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After all, residents already vote on board members when they vote for council. And while most utility boards are appointed, elected boards aren’t unprecedented. For instance, voters choose the board for Sacramento’s municipal utility district. The California capital’s utility board has seven members, elected for staggered four-year terms.

The board can set rates, after a public hearing, and chooses the president, who serves at its discretion and leaves most personnel decisions to the administration. It can appoint an attorney and can approve customer and supplier contracts.

If the model works well in other cities, why not here? Having residents vote on the governance issue removes any chance that CSU will be controlled by special interests; it allows people to choose who is best-suited for the role; it allows experts to decide the future and direction of the city-owned utility.

Some argue that an elected board can’t have the expertise of members hand-picked by the mayor and council. There’s an easy answer for that: Have the candidates debate the issues, discuss their expertise and explain why they want to serve.

A public vote removes any whisper of political favoritism and ends the option to stack the board with people who will act on behalf of special interests.

Colorado Springs Utilities is a major city asset. Thanks to its careful and cautious leadership, rates have stayed relatively low and CSU has been able to plan for future water and electric needs.

The Springs is projected to see rapid growth during the next 20 years — more than 300,000 new residents are expected to make the city their home. That means the utility board will play an increasingly relevant role in marshaling resources for water, electricity and natural gas. As water becomes increasingly scarce in the arid West, a nimble, progressive board will be an absolute necessity.

CSU needs a board that is concerned about what’s best for the city utilities and the environment. One way to guarantee that is through municipal elections, where voters hold the board responsible for its actions.

An appointed board is responsive solely to council and the mayor. That translates to less ratepayer control because changing direction would take more than just a regular voting cycle.

The people of Colorado Springs have spoken. Their message is clear: Choose an elected board for CSU.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The article talks about the “careful and cautious leadership” of the utility having kept rates low for years. Do you really think that a simple election of people from the city, some with and some without utility experience, are going to keep rates low? It’s the people already at the utility that are the experts, that keep rates low and understand how to use the budget they are give to keep infrastructure up to date. The current board simply is there as a check, an advocate for the people, and who do a wonderful job without much pay. Why change?

    If it should come to pass, shouldn’t any vote for a board be conducted from the utility ratepayers only? Are there registered Colorado Springs voters who are NOT served by the Utility? If so, should they be allowed to vote for the utility board? And what about those who live outside the City but ARE served through the utility (as I am). How will ratepayers like myself be allowed to vote? Seems like some ratepayers may be disenfranchised if these scenarios are not taken into account.

  2. “A public vote removes any whisper of political favoritism and ends the option to stack the board with people who will act on behalf of special interests.” This is not true all a public vote insures is the candidate with the most funding has the best chance of being elected. As we have seen in the past the land developers have the most funding and are very politically active in this community all for the sake of ever increasing their profit margin. After all the strong mayor campaign was funded by developers as well as the political campaigns of the current and previous mayor. The current utility board structure has been the only check and balance between the developers and CSU. If removed rest assured that the rate payers will pay the cost of all future utilities infrastructure extensions and not the land developers which is who should cover the cost.

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