Photos by Pam Zubeck
A crowd turned out at the Penrose House pavilion Monday night to hear candidates seeking City Council seats.
It was a full house at the Colorado Springs City Council candidate forum held at the Penrose House Monday night, and after persistent microphone problems were finally worked out, candidates covered a range of topics.
The 14 candidates seeking six district slots were quizzed by Don Ward with KKTV, with an assist from Billie Stanton Anleu with the Gazette
. Both helped sponsor the forum with the AARP. It was staged by the El Pomar Forum for Civic Advancement and the Colorado Springs Leadership Institute.
Most acknowledged the city's biggest problems are infrastructure, notably stormwater controls and roads, and bolstering the Police Department.
Several talked about how the city needs to be more business-like, among them District 3's Chuck Fowler, a management consultant, and business owner Lynette Crow-Iverson of District 5.
"If you want your city run like a business, then you should elect business people," Crow-Iverson said. "Now it's time we have business people on City Council."
(Current office holders from the six districts include five retired military members and a former state lawmaker who runs a school.)
One of the first questions was what kind of leadership Colorado Springs needs right now.
In District 6:
Former state legislator Janak Joshi emphasized his experience in state government and said he could bridge various governments to form a coalition. Robert Burns, an Army veteran who works for Comcast, said collaborative leadership is the best kind. Andy Pico, a retired Navy vet and defense contractor seeking a second term in D6, said the city needs leaders who "look long-range" with a business background. Melanie Bernhardt, a dog trainer for the disabled who's a licensed insurance agent, answered by saying, "Leaders who make time for the people."
Seeking the seat in District 5:
Crow-Iverson said, "We need leaders to collaborate with Denver and the Front Range, that can make decisions and stick with what they say they will do."
Incumbent Jill Gaebler, a former Air Force member and nonprofit manager, said a leader should not only collaborate with their colleagues, the mayor and regional officials, but also "work with people who live in your community and neighborhood."
From L to R, District 4 incumbent Helen Collins, District 2 candidates Chuck Fowler and Richard Skorman, David Geislinger running in District 2, and District 1's Greg Basham and Don Knight.
Moving on to other topics, in District 4, all three candidates want to see more investment by businesses and government.
"Some of you flee from the southeast, but the southeast has a lot to offer," said Deborah Hendrix, executive director of a nonprofit. "It's the most diverse part of Colorado Springs. We know we need to do things around public safety. We receive the largest number of priority 1 calls. That's a concern."
She said the area needs more transit routes, a call also made by D4 candidate Yolanda Avila, a former public defender and criminal defense investigator who's legally blind. Avila also said the climate for business investment needs to be nurtured, possibly by enacting more multi-use zoning.
L to R, District 5's Councilor Jill Gaebler, challengers in D5 Deborah Hendrix and Yolanda Avila, Collins, Fowler and Skorman.
D4 incumbent Helen Collins agreed that reducing crime is the first step and that she wants to see developers focus on the southeast, rather than adding to sprawl in the north and northeast.
Candidates split over the question of how Colorado Springs Utilities, now overseen by City Council, should be governed.
A slate endorsed by political and business interest group Colorado Springs Forward
expressed a desire to see a different group of people govern Utilities, not just City Councilors; most said some or all of those members should be elected. Those include Hendrix, Fowler, Greg Basham in District 1, Crow-Iverson and Andy Pico, who is seeking a second term in District 6.
Some other candidates agreed outside expertise would help, including Don Knight, who supports an elected board and is seeking his second term in District 1, David Geislinger, who's the sole candidate in District 2, and Janak Joshi in District 6.
Avila, Collins, Skorman and Gaebler appeared to favor keeping Council as overseers of Utilities, though Gaebler specified that whatever board is installed, it should be answerable to ratepayers.
L to R, Janak Joshi, Robert Burns, incumbent Andy Pico, D6 candidate Melanie Bernhardt and District 5 challenger Lynette Crow-Iverson.
A moment of levity came early during opening remarks when Joshi, who's heritage is eastern Indian, noted, "Everyone wants a chief but you need an Indian, and I'm that Indian."
An upcoming opportunity to see the candidates again is at 2 p.m. Saturday at the downtown Penrose Library Carnegie Room.