Columns » Outsider

The road to perdition



And now things start to get interesting ... Yup, ballots for this spring's municipal elections should be landing in our mailboxes in the next day or two. Ladies and Gentleman, les jeux sont fait, rien ne va plus: The roulette wheel spins.

It'll be interesting to see just what effect the mail-in ballots will have. As some may recall, mayoral candidates Ted Eastburn and Jim Null supported their use, while Sallie Clark and Lionel Rivera opposed 'em. Ironically, Clark and Rivera may benefit from mail-in voting, while Null and Eastburn may be damaged.

Why so? In the past, voter turnout in the April city elections was far higher in precincts near the city's core than in outlying areas. Those precincts -- the West Side, the North End, Shooks Run, and the near East Side -- contain voters who are more likely to be liberals/moderates than their counterparts in, say, Briargate.

Out in the conservative bastions of the northeast, newer residents might not have been aware of the oddly scheduled municipal elections, or, living 10 miles north of City Hall, weren't paying attention.

But when the ballots hit the mailboxes, you can bet that these responsible folks are going to open 'em, fill 'em out, and mail 'em back. And who are they gonna vote for? My guess is that the more conservative candidates, Clark and Rivera, will be the beneficiaries of increased voter participation.

As some readers may recall, I served six years on City Council during the '90s. And while I have my preferences, I don't endorse candidates in this column. For one thing, that's the job of the Indy's editorial board; for another, I have long-standing personal ties with many of the candidates, which would compromise any public endorsement.

Anyway, all of us are going to have to choose among a bunch of candidates, not only for mayor, but for City Council as well. I can't tell you who to vote for, but I can tell you a little bit about the job, and what it takes to be an effective Council member.

City government is not about ideology, even though campaigns often are. A few years back, conservatives were sputtering about the supposed abuses of the Human Relations Commission -- a powerless advisory body that had pissed off the religious right by suggesting that the city ban discrimination against its employees on the basis of their sexual orientation.

In fact, the city did not then and does not now so discriminate, so it was a fight about nothing. Similarly, today's symbolic issue -- same sex domestic partner benefits -- is just as inconsequential. Its cost -- 58 grand out of a general fund budget of several hundred million -- is a rounding error.

So, unless you're such a true believer that you see this particular fight as either the final stop on the road to perdition or the biggest civil rights battle to hit our community since Colorado Springs threw out the Klan in the '20s, realize that you don't have a dog in this particular fight. Forget ideology -- think competence.

In our city manager form of government, Council is not an administrative body. Elected officials make policy; they don't execute it. They're like a board of directors, but one whose chairman (the mayor) is relatively powerless. The mayor presides over meetings, signs proclamations and has a few meaningless perks, like the power to appoint the members of the Urban Renewal Board, but that's it. In every other respect, he/she is just a member of Council, with a vote and a voice.

As well as making policy for the city, Council members serve as the Utilities Board, and appoint the members of the Memorial Hospital Board.

That's a lot of responsibility for a bunch of local officeholders. You're expected to be smart enough, informed enough and experienced enough to make crucial policy decisions that intimately affect the lives of every Springs resident. If you make mistakes (as in botching the negotiations with Pueblo over enlarging the Pueblo reservoir), they can have extraordinary repercussions.

So when I fill out my ballot, I intend to choose reasonable, thoughtful men and women. I suspect that I'll vote for a couple of unapologetic liberals, a moderate or two and a few full-bore conservatives.

I want people sitting at that dais who understand water law, who understand our neighborhoods, who have gotten their hands dirty working on city issues. Council is no place for the posturing ideologues who so disgrace our state government; we need folks who can both fight and compromise.

And candidates, remember: Every breath you take/Every vow you break/Every smile you fake/We'll be watching you ...


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