After voters approved a strong mayor-council form of government in 2010, Colorado Springs City Council’s role changed.
Before that, council relied on an appointed city manager to oversee administrative functions of the city and bring information to council to decide almost everything.
Now, the mayor runs the city and has veto power over almost all council decisions, save for referral of ballot measures, budget approval and land-use decisions. It takes six of nine council votes to override that veto.
The mayor proposes the budget, hires contractors through certain procedures — such as road paving and emergency ambulance service — and brings various measures to council for approval. Those can include ordinances for changing what types of structures are allowed in which zones or proposals to annex more land.
But council does retain some authority, chiefly with budget approval and oversight, ballot measure referrals and, perhaps least well-known, complete control over the city auditor’s office.
When candidates in the April 6 election were asked what they see as council’s greatest power and how they would use that power, oddly none of the candidates mentioned council’s say-so over the auditor, who is hired by council and works for council to analyze or research almost any topic. Rather, many cited more intangible influence, such as shaping the city’s future, “[achieving] common goals” or serving as the “voice of the community.”
Twenty-one candidates are running for six district seats, including Dave Geislinger, Richard Skorman, Yolanda Avila and Mike O’Malley, who are seeking re-election.
Neither of the District 6 candidates — incumbent Mike O’Malley (appointed to fill the unexpired term of Andy Pico who took a state House seat) and Garfield Johnson — responded to our questionnaire. Answers from the others:
Mike Seeger — “City Council’s greatest power is being able to shape the community. This provides the power to make decisions that drastically affect those around us and this community that we love. If elected, I would use this power to provide the most efficient use of taxpayer funding, in an attempt to serve the community and create a community
that we are all proud of.”
Glenn Carlson — “Council’s greatest power is to be a cheerleader for our city. This could be when talking to a potential employer, championing for parks, or even working with a neighborhood on utility issues. Being a public facing entity, I believe it is our duty to work together to achieve common goals. This does not mean we need to always agree and nor should we. I believe organizations work best when constructed with teams of different viewpoints.”
Dave Donelson — “It is a great honor and serious responsibility to serve as a City Council member. Our responsibility is to maintain the trust of our citizens by demonstrating that we are truly representing them and have their best interests at heart. We should consider this in our actions and decisions and consciously guard against any other appearance. That is where our greatest power comes from — the good will of the people.”
Jim Mason — “The Council’s communications tools and Council Members’ ability to routinely reach citizens with accurate and current information. I truly think the Council’s greatest power lies in its ability to converse with the People, towards informing and gathering feedback. The Council has an obligation to keep the Public informed and to provide context to the city’s work and decisions.”
Jay Inman — “Utilities Authority and property zoning authority give council wide latitude for making decisions that impact Colorado Springs citizens for good or bad. An example is the decision to close the Drake power plant. We cannot close it today and still have a stable power grid.... Council must use its utilities authority to ensure the integrity of our power grid, sustain it, and provide power as cheaply as possible to citizens. ... Zoning authority can either steal from citizens or protect them. I am 100% for developing our city responsibly and protecting citizens and their property values.”
David Noblitt — “As with any representative form of government, there needs to be equal distribution of power within that representation. The current form of government that we have leans heavily towards the executive. There needs to be the accountability to the constituents to actually represent people’s choices, and not just the best interest of a few select people.”
Dave Geislinger — “In regards to day-to-day operations, City Council has the ‘power of the purse,’ having final say as to the annual budget. I will work with the Mayor and his staff, as we have done over the last several years, to identify and fund the needs and priorities that will ensure continued growth, health and sustainability. City Council’s greatest power in regards to overall growth is in land use decisions. I will continue to ensure that every constituent will receive the process that is due in land use hearings and decisions... .”
Randy Helms — “Provide public safety for our citizens. Like the Mayor I do not support the unionization of our first responders. We will hire and keep better police officers without collective bargaining.”
Richard Skorman — “Our biggest concrete powers are being the final word on all land-use decisions, regional planning, all four utilities with a fifth one being major broadband infrastructure. And of course, passing ordinances, city codes and placing issues on the ballot. I think they are all important powers.... But the other power that we have at Council [is] that we are truly the ‘People’s House.’ ...We openly welcome any citizen’s comments and concerns, and yes, often respond. Over the last four years, we have held literally hundreds of public hearings and town halls..., and we have over 50 boards and commissions we appoint citizens to... .”
Arthur Glenn — “City Council serves as the voice of the community and should be cognizant of the impact their decisions will have on the community they serve. It is important for City Council to both listen and inform our citizens on issues that will have a long lasting impact on their lives.”
Olivia Lupia — “Spending the taxpayers’ money is the City Council’s greatest power, which should be used consistent with constituent/voter desires. While not every expenditure can be specifically voter approved, the will of citizens should greatly influence how their tax dollars are spent. The focus of this responsibility should substantially be on the essential needs of the city: protecting the public’s safety, better maintaining our roads, supporting first responder needs, and other essential services.”
Henry McCall — “To enact moratoriums, to reduce taxes, eliminate taxes, eliminate user fees and to hire and fire administrative positions in the city. To enact moratoriums on commercial and residential rates.”
Regina English — “I would say depending on what type of leader you are, as long as you are using your ‘power’ and influence in a meaningful way to make the best decisions for all people, this would be the best way to use it. Also, being the representative for your respective community, amplifying the voice, being an ambassador for the changes community would like to see while cultivating the relationship between the city and community to make sure that our entire city thrives is the greatest ‘power’ that City Council holds.”
Yolanda Avila — “Land use decisions, budget, and referring ballot measures are the greatest powers of City Council. I would refer measures that would benefit the community to allow citizens to have their voice heard. For land use, we need to balance the needs of existing property owners and the needs of growth. For the budget, I would use the budget to direct the City’s policy priorities.”
Nancy Henjum — “I like to think of Council in terms of responsibility and accountability rather than power. Local government affects us in ways that aren’t as headline-grabbing as what happens nationally but are just as important. Council’s work manages land use, infrastructure, fiscal oversight, and utilities governance. On Council I will think and act strategically, prudently, and ethically; I will prioritize the active engagement of all citizens, and ... work together to ensure that Colorado Springs remains a most desirable place to live.”
Matt Zelenok — “City Council’s greatest power is its ability to shape the path of the city’s future. The next City Council will be faced with a multitude of high consequence decisions that will likely impact every citizen for the next few decades and beyond. This election is crucial for the fate of Colorado Springs, as the city is currently experiencing an abnormally large number of high impact and long-term decisions. ... I have the ability to conceptualize future consequences.”
Karlie Van Arnum — “Rather than framing this question as an issue of ‘power,’ I prefer to treat it as a ‘responsibility.’ City Council’s greatest responsibility is the influence they have when shaping the future of our city and attracting a culture and population consistent with the vision of our residents. Whether they are working with developers, approving budgets which impact public services, or referring measures to the ballot, City Council has a responsibility to act in the best interest of the citizens... .”
Justin Hermes — “City Council plays an important role in the life of the city and can give community leaders the resources and relationships they need to address the most pressing issues we face as a community. I would look to connect those people within my district who want to be part of the solution and help make Colorado Springs a better place to live.”
Mary Elizabeth Fabian — “Colorado Springs is the beautiful community that we enjoy because of the decisions of past Council members and leaders. City Council has the ability to represent our community as a whole and make decisions (or refer them to our citizens) that continues this development and growth.”
Disclosure: Teddy Weiss, son of the Business Journal’s owner John Weiss, works for Skorman’s campaign. John Weiss has contributed to Skorman’s campaign.