On April 2 residents of Colorado Springs will go to the polls to elect a mayor and three at-large city councilors … wait a minute, there are no polls! Actual elections are so dreary, old-fashioned and inconvenient. Instead, we’ll cast our votes by snail mail, yet another dreary, old-fashioned and inconvenient ritual. I don’t do mail, but I think I have some stamps somewhere — otherwise, I’ll just drop off my ballot on election day.
It seems appropriate that we’ve casually stripped the once-civic ritual of voting of its dignity, significance and grandeur. In the dear dead days beyond recall, Election Day was a communal event. Candidate signs ringed polling places while candidates and supporters staged “honk & waves” along major arterials during the day. It was a day of hopeful anticipation for candidates and one of celebration for the rest of us. Meeting our neighbors at the polls was reassuring proof that democracy works, that government “of the people, by the people and for the people” still endures.
As residents of a home rule city, we have an extraordinary range of powers. Here’s Article XX, Section 6 of the Colorado Constitution, titled “Home rule for cities and towns.”
‘The people of each city or town of this state, having a population of two thousand inhabitants … are hereby vested with, and they shall always have, power to make, amend, add to or replace the charter of said city or town, which shall be its organic law and extend to all its local and municipal matters.
“Such charter and the ordinances made pursuant thereto in such matters shall supersede within the territorial limits and other jurisdiction of said city or town any law of the state in conflict therewith.”
In other words, we can do whatever we damn please as long as it’s a “local or municipal matter.” We can continue to pay city councilors their miserly stipend of $6,250 annually for a full-time job or we could give them a raise. For instance, how about an annual salary indexed to the city’s median household income, now $54,228?
Driven by cantankerous anti-government beliefs, city voters have consistently opposed measures to increase council compensation. Some believe that councilmembers, like school board members, are essentially volunteers who need only attend a few meetings a month — the rest is just meaningless busywork. Others are convinced that a council composed of wealthy people and retirees is better than one that includes ordinary folks. And still others despise politicians and are glad to keep money out of their pockets.
Fine, but we’re screwing up our future.
Consider Millennials, defined as those born between 1981 and 1996. They’re presently unrepresented on city council, whose youngest member (52-year-old Jill Gaebler) is just a year short of being a Baby Boomer (1945-1965). I know a dozen Millennials who would make fine city councilors, but none can work for free. They’re burdened with student debt, high housing costs and demanding jobs. They’re the men and women who are building this city, and we’ve effectively conspired to keep them off city council.
A city run by a moldering gerontocracy is unlikely to remain one of the nation’s most desirable places to live. Cities and companies that exclude the young from positions of power and influence do so at considerable risk. Old people (and I’m emphatically one of ’em!) don’t like noise, excitement, disruptive change, cold weather, hot weather or anything invented after 1990.
The future? Let someone else sort it out, and leave us alone. It’s time to get some fresh-faced young councilors in office who will upset the old order, have fun doing it, and take the city to places where geezers would never go.
Consider 29-year-old ex-bartender Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has the D.C. gerontocrats in a tizzy after a few weeks in Congress. AOC may be too liberal for CS, but I’d vote for any of my favorite Millennial bartenders — Lindsey at Thunder & Buttons, Gracie at Bonny & Read or Angela at the long-lost Ritz. Any one of them would bring people skills, savvy and common sense to the dais — all three would catapult us into the urban stratosphere.
And speaking as a geezer, it’d be nice to have someone on council who could mix a decent cocktail.