Earlier this week, the Board of Directors for Colorado Springs Utilities voted to keep the governance of the municipally owned, four-service utility company as it is — City Council in a different role.
The move came after more than 18 months of research, several scientific polls that showed most residents favor an elected board, and a push by the nonprofit group Colorado Springs Forward — and Mayor John Suthers — to create an appointed board to govern Colorado Springs Utilities.
In the end, it came down to what authorities City Council wanted to relinquish control of — they voted against having an outside group be able to use eminent domain authority or approve intergovernmental agreements. And when Merv Bennett made motion to appoint a board, the rest of the board was silent.
An attempt to have a board elected also failed, and two members wanted to delay any kind of a vote. But the board moved forward, opting to keep control of the $1 billion city enterprise.
Elected utilities boards are not without precedent. Sacramento, the capital of California, elects its utilities board. While the Springs would be more complicated — few utilities represent all four services — an elected board, properly vetted, could solve the conundrum.
Members of an elected board would have to go through an intense scrutiny by residents of Colorado Springs, and a vote would have to include people outside the Springs who receive CSU water or electricity. People wouldn’t be voting for the person whose views most closely match their own, they’d be voting based on proven expertise. The city would have to hold debates, create utility districts and provide the information needed for voters to make well-informed decisions.
It would be complicated — and maybe a little messy. But that’s how democracy works.
An appointed board would provide a cleaner, less complicated process, but it removes the voice of ratepayers, who must pay for utilities regardless of who is in charge.
One thing is certain — no matter which side you are on, elected or appointed — the issue isn’t going to go away.
Colorado Springs Forward representatives told Utilities Wednesday that they would explore a ballot issue to create a board, appointed by the mayor and approved by city council.
It could be a hard sell for the organization. CSU studies show that the majority of residents want to elect a board — even though there were issues both with the small sample size and the fact that the study only contacted people with land-lines. The CSBJ’s own nonscientific poll showed that readers want to keep CSU in the hands of City Council.
The choice should rest with the ratepayers. A ballot initiative is a good idea, allowing people to decide who should govern their utilities company. It’s worked in the past, when voters decided overwhelmingly to lease Memorial Hospital to UCHealth.
It is the best way to put the issue to rest — once and for all. Let’s hope that Colorado Springs Forward moves ahead with the plan to put an appointed board on the May 2017 ballot. If that’s voted down, then the city will know to consider an elected board, or to keep with the same board it has.