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City Council's first act on April 16 after the election will be to choose its president

Leader of the pack



City Council president gets the same $6,250 a year as the other eight Council members and, like them, has only one vote. But the Colorado Springs City Charter and the Rules and Procedures of City Council vest a great deal of power in Council's leader.

For example, the president sets meeting agendas and becomes acting mayor if the city's top executive is suddenly unable to serve. Which may explain why newly elected members, within two days of the April 2 election, were being lobbied about who they should support.

An official action will come April 16, the day Don Knight, Joel Miller, Keith King, Helen Collins, Jill Gaebler and Andy Pico take office and join at-large councilors Merv Bennett, Val Snider and President Pro Tem Jan Martin. Though things could change, the front-runners seem to be King from District 3, who served 12 years in the state Legislature, and Martin, who's in the midst of her second four-year term on Council.

If outgoing President Scott Hente had his way, he'd anoint Martin his successor, because others simply don't have enough relevant experience. "Let's say I ran for state Legislature and I won," he says. "I think it would be presumptuous of me to say, 'I should be Speaker of the House.'"

Significant powers

Under Council Rules and Procedures, the president runs meetings, can limit debate, and decide disputed matters of procedure. He or she also decides who on Council can speak and when; can call special meetings; and can even appoint special boards, committees or commissions composed of Council members and/or citizens.

This last responsibility would seem to be of great interest to King, who has told the Independent that Council could work more efficiently by creating subcommittees to do most of the research on various issues. Those subcommittees would then present to Council in full.

The president serves for two years and can be removed from the position (but not from Council) with a vote of five members. If the mayor is incapacitated, the president steps in until a new mayor is elected.

Sam Mamet, longtime executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, says a council president should be a good listener, communicator, leader, consensus-builder, ambassador and parliamentarian, and also should have a good sense of humor. But there's a more intangible quality, too, Mamet says: "You're going to lead more by strength of personality other than any legal authority in the charter."

Hente says running a meeting goes beyond understanding procedures and rules. "It's understanding how the public plays an integral part in Council proceedings," he says. "It's understanding how the city staff works, so that when you're soliciting input from your colleagues, you're not soliciting pie in the sky, but things that are realistic. It's knowing when you look to the city attorney for guidance.

"When do you cut someone off? When do you look to the staff for advice? I wouldn't have been able to run the meetings well from Day 1. I didn't understand all the dynamics."

One downside? "You get to speak more than anybody else, which means you can screw up more than anyone else," Hente says. "So you have to be able to laugh at yourself."

Hente advocates for Martin because of her six-year tenure and her understanding of city operations. Snider wouldn't name his choice but says he wants someone familiar with Council who's run a Council task force. Martin, who clearly is interested in the job, said she couldn't yet discuss the matter publicly.

King says, through a spokesman via e-mail, "I have been through many leadership races in the House and the Senate. The process is fluid and dynamic and what will happen is anyone's guess. I stand ready to use my leadership experience to advance Council's goals."

Lobbying underway

The day after the election, Knight had made up his mind. "It would be inappropriate for one of the rookies to step into that role," he said. "When you look at the three incumbents, Jan Martin would do a great job, so my vote will go to Jan Martin."

Other newcomers say they haven't decided who they'll support, but they have certain traits in mind.

"I'm looking for someone who has a pretty good background already in this forum, some experience at it," says Pico, from District 6. "It would be more a function of their organizational skills as opposed to ideology."

Gaebler, who says she was contacted to support King for president less than 48 hours after the election, wants someone who can help Council work well together and who understands the city's form of government.

Miller, an Air Force Academy grad and reservist pilot, says he's received several calls about who to back, and it's a turn-off.

"I'm not somebody who is going to form alliances or allegiances," he says. "That's what I campaigned on."

Bennett, entering his third year on Council, says, "I want someone who can communicate closely with all the Council members to help them with their objectives. I want someone that's comfortable working closely in dialogue with the mayor. Someone with experience and knowledge in helping us come to consensus. Someone who's comfortable running the meetings, and someone who commands the respect of the entire group.

"There hasn't been communication of the [Council] leadership and the mayor," he adds, "and that's been part of the problem."

Martin has been at odds with Mayor Steve Bach at times, but Bennett won't answer a question about whether he would support Martin.

So is he interested in the job? "I would be honored to serve, if that's what they wanted me to do. It's not a position I aspire to."

Collins says via e-mail she wants her vote to be secret, if a contest arises.

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