Colorado Springs Forward, according to the organization’s website, “was born out of the frustration with the performance and dysfunction of local government observed in 2013.”
Founded in 2014, the organization’s board is composed almost entirely of established power players, including developer Kathy Loo, philanthropist Phil Lane, The Broadmoor hotel’s Steve Bartolin, Conspire CEO Lynette Crow-Iverson, developer Doug Stimple and general contractor Jim Johnson. Former County Commissioner Amy Lathen serves as CSF’s executive director.
Since its founding, CSF has been engaged in city politics. In 2015, the organization’s political action committee spent $72,540 on the city election, including donations of $5,000 each to Mayor John Suthers and four council candidates, three of whom (Larry Bagley, Merv Bennett and Tom Strand) were elected.
If CSF’s goal was to improve the performance and functionality of city government, it certainly has succeeded. The bad old days of 2013 are ancient history. Today’s city government, under the sure-handed guidance of Suthers, Chief of Staff Jeff Greene and Council President Bennett has not only stopped infighting but has performed at a notably high level.
So what’s CSF up to now? To an outside observer, it seems that the organization is almost entirely focused on changing the governance of Utilities.
‘That’s definitely a pillar,” said Amy Lathen, “but not a principal focus. We’re concerned about leadership, about City for Champions and other priorities.”
CSF, Lathen explained, is concerned about the inherent conflict that may exist when the same board represents the interests of both city taxpayers and utility ratepayers.
To that end, CSF has supported amending the City Charter to create a nine-member appointed board. A proposed charter amendment circulated by in 2014 is a fascinating window into CSF’s policy priorities. Here are the main points:
• The mayor shall appoint eight of nine members, subject to council approval.
• The new board shall determine its compensation.
• CSU shall not charge for park irrigation water.
• CSU shall not charge special districts for water used for similar public purposes.
• The CSU Board shall set rates and adopt a yearly budget, which can be vetoed by the mayor with the concurrence of two-thirds of city council.
• CSU will pay the city an annual amount equal to 3 percent of its gross revenue as de facto franchise fee.
Free water for special districts sounds strange, but CSF still seems to be hooked on no-pay H2O.
CSF’s website notes that Denver Water has been required to provide free irrigation water to certain city parks since 1960, and also notes that CSU lags investor-owned utilities in moving away from coal and toward renewable energy.
Council apparently looked over the proposed amendment, told CSF it would never fly, and the effort was abandoned. Will they try to get a similar amendment on the April ballot?
“That’s not even a point of discussion,” said Lathen.
Earlier this year, city council acting as utilities board devoted several months to considering proposals to change CSU’s governance model, eventually rejecting all. That didn’t sit well with CSF, now focusing its efforts on changing the composition of the board.
“[City] leadership is very important to us,” Lathen said. “Six council seats are up for election, so we’ll be eager to talk to candidates for council and, of course, to incumbents as well.”
But if you’re contemplating a run, CSF wants to see your resumé and your platform first.
In another context, Lathen confirmed that CSF partners with organizations such as the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance and the Housing and Building Association that share goals “to make the city better and create jobs.”
Which incumbents will they back in 2017, and which will they try to replace? They’re not saying.
One thing is sure — CSF will work with other power brokers to present a united front. Keith King is unlikely to seek another term in District 3, so that’ll be in play. They’ll go after Helen Collins in District 4, and they might take a shot at Jill Gaebler in District 5.
Whatever they do, they’ll have money, smarts and determination — and, if they’re not careful, a reputation as a moneyed municipal bully. n CSBJ