Opinion: Councilmembers face low pay, long hours

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On April 2, city voters will select three at-large councilmembers and a mayor to help lead city government for the next four years. City Clerk Sarah Johnson hosted a two-hour training session for candidates Wednesday morning during which she explained the multiple regulations that campaigns must conform to, the responsibilities of both offices and the powers of each.

It’s comparatively easy to get on the non-partisan ballot. Candidates for either office must be U.S. citizens, at least 25 years old, registered voters and city residents for at least one year, and present a nomination petition containing at least 100 verified signatures of registered Colorado Springs voters. Petitions must be submitted to the City Clerk by January 22.

City Chief of Staff Jeff Green and Council President Richard Skorman also spoke.

Noting that Councilors are only paid an annual voter-approved “stipend” of $6,250, Skorman held out little hope that better compensation might be in the cards.

The voters turned down two measures that would have increased it,” he said, “and we [council members] didn’t refer anything [to the April ballot].

It’s no accident that all but two of us are retired,” said Skorman. “It’s more than a 40-hour-a-week job.”

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Skorman offered a discouraging example of Council’s deliberations.

You can spend hours and hours on the position of a fence between two properties,” he said, “but that may be very important to the two property owners.”

The upside? Serving the city and making a difference.

Council meets four times a month, and meets as the Utility Board once a month. In addition, there are multiple Council and Utility Board committees, as well as citizen interaction.

You get hundreds of emails,” Skorman warned the crowd, “and a lot of reading.”

Sometimes the Council packets [information delivered to councilmembers prior to scheduled meetings] are this thick,” he added, holding his hands about two feet apart.

Compared to Councilmembers the Mayor is well compensated, making slightly over $100,000 annually. It’s a powerful and responsible position, as Jeff Greene explained.

The Mayor hires and fires all Department heads and creates the annual budget. He can also veto most Council decisions while overrides require a 6-3 majority. The job is demanding enough, but unlike individual councilmembers the Mayor has operational and administrative staff at his beck and call.

As of Wednesday afternoon, no candidate with experience in elected office had emerged to challenge incumbent Mayor John Suthers, who has been actively fundraising for the campaign since last fall.

Potential Council candidates in attendance included incumbents Tom Strand and Bill Murray, former Councilor Val Snider, former State Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt and former County Planning Commissioner Tony Gioia. None seemed deterred by low pay and long hours, not to mention the potentially arduous and expensive campaigns that they’ll have to mount.

Former El Paso County Commissioner and Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams is reportedly considering a bid for Council, but he did not attend the training session.

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