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Who's best for Council?

Between the Lines


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From the moment three weeks ago when Jerry Heimlicher announced his resignation from City Council, the interest in that District 3 vacancy has been far greater than any normal election would produce.

When the application deadline finally arrived Monday afternoon, the list of candidates stood at 22. Yes, 22.

You could explain that horde as the direct result of (a) District 3 including the 80906 ZIP code, with its higher ratio of retirees and wealthier residents who can afford to serve for $121 a week; (b) many more people than usual being concerned about the city's budget troubles; or (c) nobody wanting to run a costly public campaign, and seeing this as the easiest route to Council.

All three of those factors are significant, but none more than (c).

The task now for Council's remaining eight members becomes daunting: How should they determine whom to appoint as Heimlicher's replacement?

One could make a strong argument for Council using this opportunity to broaden its scope and, gasp, to look first for applicants who aren't staunch Republicans. Even having one different (OK, one Democratic) voice out of nine would produce more diverse opinion within the group.

Nearly 40 percent of Colorado Springs residents did vote for our Democratic president and governor. Shouldn't that equate to at least one voice on Council? It's worth saying that Colorado Springs has benefited measurably in the past when its leadership has included a better variety of perspectives.

That diversity vanished in 2006 when Richard Skorman resigned his at-large seat to join the staff of then-U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar. Council shunned the chance then to appoint someone with similar philosophies, and since six of the eight current members were part of that decision, their first instinct probably will be the same.

A courageous Council would look closely at Dave Gardner, the Democrat who challenged Heimlicher last spring and earned 43 percent of the vote. Granted, Gardner has only one absolutely clear stance, being totally for pay-as-you-go growth, but at least he cared enough to run against a well-known, popular incumbent. Unfortunately for him, Gardner is giving Council an easy out by having left Wednesday on a business trip. He won't return until Oct. 10, likely after the choice has been made. In his application, Gardner mentioned the trip and asked Council to wait until his return, a reasonable request. But don't count on that happening.

Then there's Ryan Acker, the 28-year-old executive director of the Pikes Peak Gay and Lesbian Community Center. Acker obviously would bring youth and, as an openly gay man, some unique experiences within the city. But his lack of political-related experience won't work in his favor.

So how should Council tackle this process? Here's a suggestion: One candidate should become the standard. Pick out one person, obviously a strong applicant, then compare any others against that person.

My nominee: Thomas A. Arnold, better known as T.A. to acquaintances. Arnold, newly 74 and going strong, lived here 50 years ago and returned in 2001 after retiring as director of the state of Idaho's Department of Commerce. He knows the business world, he knows finances and politics, and most importantly, he already has been more civically involved than the other 21 applicants. He has served eight years on the Utilities Policy Advisory Committee, which would give him a huge jump-start there, and he has spent the past year-plus on the city's Sustainable Funding Committee, exploring countless options for helping the city's bottom line.

Talk to Arnold, and you'll find he cares about the city, already knows the issues thoroughly, and he's open-minded. He refers to himself as an independent and a moderate, and he's certainly not a political animal trying to build credentials, because he already has the résumé.

"The most important thing I would bring," Arnold says, "is an economic focus to decision-making, rather than purely political. I enjoy being retired, but this is compelling to me. They've said they need to have somebody who can hit the ground running, and I can do that from the first day."

Asked if he would run in 2011 for a full four-year term, Arnold says, "I don't know yet. But if I'm effective, why not?"

That issue, whether a given appointee would run for another term, might be a factor for some. But it shouldn't be a deal-breaker in these turbulent times.

So, Council, why not start with T.A. Arnold, then try to find someone better?


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