Last Friday, March 13, the city of Colorado Springs began mailing ballots for the 2015 municipal election. It's a big one, with a new mayor and at least four city councilors being elected. Two issues also made the ballot during this go-round.
All registered active voters — anyone who's not had a ballot or confirmation card returned as undeliverable to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office — should by now have received a mail-in ballot. If you haven't received one, contact the City Clerk's Office at 385-5901, and select Option 4.
Assuming you are all set up to vote, what follows is our collection of recommendations to help lead Colorado Springs into greater productivity, community and prosperity.
Mary Lou Makepeace has the experience, temperament and vision to lead our city once again.
During her nearly two decades of service on the Colorado Springs Planning Commission, City Council and as our two-term mayor, Makepeace always led with her ears, a skill she honed as a case manager for the Department of Human Services working with neglected and foster children.
Unlike most politicians, she readily acknowledges that she does not know all the answers. Her leadership style is not to bring both sides of an issue to the table, but all sides. She then charts a course that is the best for our city.
Makepeace has always been inclusive, welcoming people of color and, yes, even gays and lesbians into community conversations. While a lifelong Republican, Makepeace is even courteous to the 40 percent of our local population that leans Democrat.
Back in 1995, City Councilor Makepeace was the first elected official to endorse what was then considered a radical idea, that our citizens would enact a 0.1 percent sales tax to enhance our Trails, Open Space and Parks system — a measure that is widely supported by local voters, who by more than a 2-to-1 margin would vote to extend TOPS through 2024. We believe that without Makepeace's support, our community would have far fewer hiking and biking trails, parks and playgrounds.
Under her leadership, broad-based civic coalitions were brought together to build America the Beautiful Park and the Uncle Wilber Fountain. Her crowning achievement was the Springs Community Improvements Program (SCIP), for which she built the community-wide support to enact a ballot measure that raised $88 million to fund much-needed infrastructure improvements.
Makepeace has deep community roots, having served in senior leadership positions at Leadership Pikes Peak for more than a decade, at the Gay & Lesbian Fund for Colorado, and with the Independent's Give! campaign. (In addition to her relationship with Give!, it should be noted that Indy president Fran Zankowski donated $1,000 to her campaign Feb. 9, before we began talking about endorsements.)
While in many ways Makepeace is too conservative for our taste, we know from past experience that she will not just rubber-stamp initiatives supported by well-heeled development interests.
We also know that Makepeace has a proven track record of openness and transparency. There is no way that a Makepeace administration would have condoned the horribly handled, secret and very expensive negotiations to keep the U.S. Olympic Committee here.
Nor would Makepeace have tolerated a group of citizens, however well-meaning, developing in secret the several-hundred-million-dollar City for Champions proposal. While many of the C4C ideas have merit, we see it as the nation's second-worst rollout of a major public policy initiative after Obamacare.
Every candidate claims that he or she can unite our city, but only one candidate has decades of success building broad-based consensus. Makepeace leads quietly. Steadily. Purposefully. She ensures that all voices and positions are heard. She's committed to the un-flashy work of patience — of listening and moderating, facilitating and cajoling.
"Citizens need to have a voice," she told us. "That's the most important value that I bring."
After four years with Steve Bach as mayor, it sounds revolutionary.
City Council at Large
The Independent salutes all 13 candidates vying for three at-large seats on Colorado Springs City Council. They are seeking to work what everyone acknowledges is a full-time job for just $125 per week. Among their responsibilities are helping manage the billion-dollar Colorado Springs Utilities enterprise, and providing constituent services to Colorado Springs' 440,000 citizens.
Many candidates running have the potential to serve our community well.
Take Nicholas Lee. At first blush, he doesn't seem like the kind of person who'd seek to serve on our City Council.
A 34-year-old entrepreneur, professor and first-time candidate, Lee has been active with groups such as Peak Startup and the Regional Business Alliance's Entrepreneurship Sector Team. Having grown up here, he remembers a time when people trusted city government, there was adequate funding for parks, and there wasn't a massive capital-improvements backlog.
"I've just been really ... frustrated with the lack of progress in the city itself, and definitely within city government," he told us. "And I have an 8-month-old daughter now, and I realized that we need to get some new blood and some fresh ideas in city government to make sure that Colorado Springs in the future is a place that we really want our kids and our grandchildren to be."
Lee has a free-market orientation while supporting government incentives for economic development. Having done his own quantitative analysis of the local entrepreneurial community, he says he wants to be "the bridge between city government and the culture of innovation, the entrepreneurship community, small business community in Colorado Springs."
As for other pressing issues, Lee has done his homework: He talks knowledgeably about past studies on the Martin Drake Power Plant (which he believes should be phased out sometime in the next decade), the need for more information on a downtown stadium/event center, and the cost-benefit analysis that has to be done before issuing bonds to handle our infrastructure woes.
And, though he recognizes the limitations of the Springs' current population density — figures he can give you off the top of his head — he has dreams of light rail someday. Color us smitten.
We met Glenn Carlson last year when he was running for the state House District 14 seat, and endorsed him. We're pleased we can do it again. Like Lee, Carlson, who is 31, is an energetic businessman and entrepreneur who thinks things through for himself, and also champions the development of high-tech businesses.
We asked, why another run?
"I looked at the direction our city is going and obviously it disheartens me, hurts my feelings to some extent, because I am a native here and I really care about this place," he replied. "And I just felt like I could not sit back and just watch it go by without contributing ... I have ideas that I think this city needs."
Among them: organizing more events connecting schools, employers and technology; OKing highly regulated recreational marijuana sales (with a commitment to revisit the decision, with voters, if it proves problematic); and committing to taking the long view in major policy decisions.
Like Lee, Carlson is campaigning to devote a huge amount of time to an often thankless form of public service even as he approaches his prime earning years. He'd be an inspiring figure, but more importantly, a valuable addition.
Bill Murray is a gadfly. If that were all he was, we wouldn't be endorsing him. But there's much more.
A vigorous, 66-year-old retired Army officer and former firefighter and paramedic, Murray has run for Council twice before, once at-large and once in his District 2, where in 2013 he chose to yield to Joel Miller. He's kept a close eye on the body he sought to join, often arriving at meetings better prepared than the councilors and asking uncomfortable questions, particularly about City for Champions. If a mayor was going to try to railroad Council, Murray would push back.
When we asked Murray whether he thought developers have an unhealthy influence on city government, he didn't hesitate.
"There's no question about it," he said, and went on to make a detailed case that enlightened us.
"I'm tired of being a critic," he went on. Council needs energy, he explained, and he's raring to go. "If I get hold of a whiteboard and I get elected, my office will be all whiteboards. Let's talk about action."
Vote Nicholas Lee, Glenn Carlson and Bill Murray.
City Council District 2
District 2 voters are asked to choose among two candidates to succeed Joel Miller, who resigned from Council to run for mayor: Larry Bagley, who was appointed to fill the brief remainder of Miller's term, or Kanda Calef.
Bagley is a 71-year-old retired Air Force officer who has lived in the district for 25 years. Calef is a 40-year-old GOP activist who has lived in the district for 10 years. Both completed our questionnaire. Calef declined to be interviewed.
Calef's priorities include making Colorado Springs business-friendlier; not seeing tax money used to build a downtown events center; keeping the city's Drake Power Plant burning coal, because it's cost-effective; and echoing the majority of voters in her district who opposed the sale of recreational marijuana.
Bagley, too, says he wants to make the Springs hospitable to business. And he's OK with staying on coal for a while. But he's interested in the possibility of using SCIP bonds to fund things such as parks and roads, he says, as well as ensuring public safety through adequate funding of police and other agencies; continuing work to get more flights to the Springs Airport; and letting voters decide on the sale of recreational marijuana and whether tax money should be used for a downtown events center.
When Council appointed Bagley, it was as though he'd been sent there from central casting. But that's a superficial take. We were pleased to see our impressions defeat our prejudices to some extent, because while Bagley won't upset the apple cart, he is reasonable, level-headed and open-minded. He's a pragmatic optimist who believes in efficiency and broad citizen involvement.
Pressed to blow his own horn, he tells us, "I have almost 50 years of getting the job done, managing resources and working with people." He emphasizes making the city run "as a system." Asked whether the city should build out its own fiber-optic network for high-speed Internet, despite possible opposition from parts of the private sector that haven't done it themselves, he was happy to consider the idea's merits. Solar power intrigues him.
City Council District 4 (recall)
There's something fishy about this recall.
Helen Collins was elected by the people of her district to represent their interests. Then, just before Christmas last year, former Harrison School District 2 board president Deborah Hendrix and others announced their intention to have Collins recalled, claiming obliquely that she doesn't represent the views of the constituency that elected her.
They were joined in their successful signature-gathering effort by the group Colorado Springs Government Watch, headed by Dede Laugesen, wife of Gazette editorial page editor Wayne Laugesen and ostensibly a Monument resident. Government Watch paid signature-gatherers and has refused to disclose the true source of its funding.
A vote for this recall is a vote for dark money in politics at the most local level.
A vote for this recall is a vote against transparency, and in a sense, democracy — because there's no replacement for Collins on the ballot. Which means that if it passes, a majority of the newly elected Council will choose her successor.
It's your Council. Don't let the moneyed interests steal it.
This issue asks whether the city charter should be amended to exempt the mayor's authority from contracts and agreements made by Colorado Springs Utilities.
City Council doubles as the Utilities board and already should have that authority independent of the mayor; a yes vote formalizes it. Under our strong-mayor form of government, Council needs that to solidify the role it can play as a healthy check on the mayor's power. If you don't trust the Utilities board to run Utilities, don't hamstring it; elect a Council you can trust, starting now.
This issue asks whether the charter should be amended to allow Council to hire its own administrator and to be able to direct and supervise that administrator, the City Auditor, and their employees and assistants.
Having watched Council's battles with Mayor Bach over the last several years, it's clear the legislative branch should have staff independent of the executive branch, so this is a no-brainer. Elect good people and at least give them the minimal tools they need to do the job.