Downtown Colorado Springs

The issue: 

Yolanda Avila was removed from county’s

board of public health.

What we think: 

The optics are terrible for city council.

Tell us what you think: 

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In a 5-4 vote on May 26, Colorado Springs City Council voted to boot Yolanda Avila as council’s representative on the El Paso County Board of Health and replace her with newly elected councilor Dave Donelson. If the El Paso County Commissioners follow council’s recommendation during their June 15 meeting, Avila will no longer be a member of the board.

Avila fought hard to keep her seat, pointing out that the southeast district she represents desperately needs representation.

In an emotional plea for support, she asked her colleagues to remember that residents of her district “live 16 years less, live in a place that’s 6 to 8 degrees hotter, live in food swamps and food deserts and don’t have a hospital down there.” By failing to recommend her, council would “suppress my voice and the voice of my district.”

Tom Strand and Wayne Williams joined newly elected councilors Randy Helms, Mike O’Malley and Donelson in voting to recommend Donelson. All are middle-aged white men, and Avila is the only person of color and one of two women on the nine-member city council, so the optics could hardly be worse.

So what’s going on? Are we looking at blatant racism and sexism, or just the ordinary interplay of politics, ambition and brash, self-infatuated newbies? That’s a matter of opinion, but we doubt that any Colorado Springs councilor is consciously racist or sexist.

Donelson seems particularly impressed with himself, despite his unfamiliarity with city government. He lobbied to become council president pro tem, but was defeated by a 5-4 margin by Richard Skorman. Helms, O’Malley and Williams supported him. Donelson asserted that the low turnout in the April election indicated community dissatisfaction with council, and that council’s old guard should make room for newcomers.  Maybe so, but many observers ascribed the low turnout (27 percent of registered voters) to the absence of contentious ballot issues or a mayoral contest.

Yet El Paso County Public Health is a very big deal indeed, and was so even before the pandemic. The organization issues birth and death certificates, tests public and and private water systems, inspects retail food establishments, and performs immunizations and STD tests. It performs many other public health related tasks, and raises many millions in program-specific grants every year. An example: $1.1 million from the Colorado Health Foundation designated for the built environment of Southeast as well as $938,000 from the Trust for Public Lands to revitalize Panorama Park. Of the many boards and commissions that council is represented on, Public Health is one of the most consequential.

As presently composed, the nine-member board includes Avila, two county commissioners, a Fountain city councilor, two medical doctors and three experienced senior health executives. As a retired army veteran, physician’s assistant and health care entrepreneur, Donelson is as qualified for the position as any of the three elected officials he may join on the board. Is Avila so much better suited for the role that the commissioners will reject council’s designee? 

That’s for the commissioners to decide. The Public Health Act of 2008 gives them the sole power of appointment to the Board of Health, and since the county funds about $3.5 million of the organization’s budget, they’ll never cede that power. Yet will they reappoint Avila and ignore council? Given that Tom Strand, council’s newly designated president, joined Williams and the three newbies to recommend Donelson, the unspoken political message is clear — let’s just get along, move forward and consider the first rule of politics.

Don’t get into unnecessary fights.