It's a shame that we likely will have no close City Council races in this election, with mail ballots going out in the next few days. The only drama might involve ballot issues, which says something in itself.
Until we compensate our city leaders better, most potential candidates will opt not to run, knowing they can't balance Council's serious demands with their own need to make a living. We're glad to see some worthy candidates this year, but it's time to expand the gene pool.
Here are our election thoughts.
District 1: Scott Hente (incumbent), unopposed
Scott Hente gets another four years serving the city's north and northwest sections, and deservedly so. Though some judge him negatively simply for being a developer/homebuilder, Hente has paid attention the past four years, he has a sense of humor and he's in no one's pocket. We always prefer competition, but it wouldn't have been easy for a newcomer to legitimately challenge Hente.
District 2: Darryl Glenn (i), unopposed
We wish Darryl Glenn had opposition in his northeast district, and in this case there's an additional reason. We would like for Glenn to talk more about his political aspirations, because all we hear is that he's running for county commission in 2010. (Replacing term-limited Wayne Williams would earn him $87,000 a year, quite a raise from $6,250 on Council.) If he had divulged that, perhaps someone would've run against him (and thus have had a better shot at being appointed to fill out Glenn's term).
District 3: Jerry Heimlicher (i) vs. Dave Gardner
Nothing warms our heart like seeing a courageous progressive candidate going after a Council seat in Colorado Springs. Such is the case now with Dave Gardner, but we have strong thoughts that get in the way of giving him our support to represent the city's south and southwestern areas.
First, Gardner obsesses on his anti-growth platform, and hasn't broadened his campaign strategy to deal with the full breadth of topics and problems that matter. It's admirable that he cares so much about the desperate need to control, if not curtail, growth in the area, but he'd have a better chance if he weren't simply a one-issue guy.
Second, Gardner would stand a better chance of gaining traction if he were competing against Bernie Herpin in District 4 or even Glenn in District 2.
Still, he's a maverick with boundless energy, and his technological expertise could be invaluable in the right situation. He also raises many uncomfortable questions that should be asked. Council needs more of all these traits.
Then there's Heimlicher, one of this Council's better members. He's hardworking, knowledgeable, approachable and cooperative. He deserves another term, based on his performance (actually across five-plus years, because he initially was appointed to Council in 2003 before being elected in '05).
This is the only real race on this ballot, and we like both candidates.
Let's put it this way: Gardner's idealism is so refreshing, and he shouldn't be discouraged. If he comes up short here, he should position himself to run for an at-large seat in 2011. That would mean broadening his scope perhaps pushing to be appointed to the Utilities Policy Advisory Committee, and dealing with much more than just growth-related issues.
And actually, Heimlicher admits he might consider running for mayor in 2011. So if Gardner still wants to become more involved, his chance might come via an appointment to fill out Heimlicher's term.
You could vote for either one without apology. But we do like Heimlicher's agenda, especially his dedication to helping redevelop deteriorating areas such as South Nevada Avenue, East Platte Avenue and now (because of redistricting) South Academy Boulevard. We also can't overlook his leadership roles with the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments and the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.
Our recommendation: Heimlicher.
District 4: Bernie Herpin vs. Tony Carpenter
As Herpin himself reminds us, the Independent ranked him ninth out of nine at-large Council candidates before the 2007 municipal election, in which he was unable to keep the seat he was appointed to in 2006.
Yet this time, without a truly formidable and sufficiently funded challenger (sorry, Tony), we find ourselves backed into a corner.
This looked like such an interesting race in the city's east and southeast areas when local Obama campaign organizer Rob Andrews was creating excitement early on. We saw, and still see, huge potential for Andrews, who grew up here and turns 25 next week.
But Andrews isn't part of this race. Carpenter is, and he feels validated from running previously for this seat as well as for mayor, finishing second to Lionel Rivera in 2007. Carpenter's heart is in the right place. But his facts and numbers are too scrambled, and he's basing too much on what was happening in the 1990s when he was a city employee not what's going on now.
That leaves Herpin, who undoubtedly will win this race and spend the next four years on Council.
He admits to feeling restrained back when he was appointed to fill Richard Skorman's seat. We acknowledge that Herpin is more knowledgeable now about city issues, and his "gun guy" label barely got a mention during our interview. He even tells us he will support the plus-one health benefit option for city employees if and when it comes up again (though, he says, not because it would benefit same-sex partners).
Taking all those factors into account, we can feel more comfortable with Herpin, though we can't give him a full-fledged endorsement.
Our soft recommendation: Herpin.
Issue 1A: Jobs
Ballot title: "Without raising additional taxes, shall the existing .665 general property mill levy tax be extended from its current expiration of December 31, 2009 through December 31, 2025 to be used exclusively to create, attract and retain primary jobs, market and promote Colorado Springs, require City Council to create and appoint a five person Job Opportunity and Business Sustainability Committee with no more than two members of City Council appointed thereto, to make recommendations to City Council pertaining to the expenditure and use of such revenue, with all revenues and expenditures constituting a voter-approved revenue change?"
This issue has caused us a lot of mixed emotions and heartburn. What bothers us the most is hearing a local spin on the mantra that came out of Washington, D.C., during the Bush administration: that we have to support this, and if we don't, we aren't civically minded and we obviously don't believe in the city's future.
Nothing could be more off-base. At the same time, though, we don't like hearing that if we do endorse this issue, we're caving in to the pro-growth crowd. We think both sides have good reasons, and flawed reasons, for feeling as they do..
We would be more inclined to support this if it didn't focus on "primary" jobs and if it only lasted five years, forcing backers to perform and then prove their case again.
We also wish Council had added an alternative measure allowing the city to use this expiring property tax to fund parks, which would benefit all homeowners.
We generally support the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp., which is behind this measure. But we've seen that it and the city have been able to act more creatively in the past, and we believe they should continue to do so in the future.
As much as we believe in property taxes as the way to stabilize the Springs' finances, we cannot see devoting this money to recruiting more jobs (or even retaining them, though that seems like a lower priority) at such a turbulent time, while so many other city programs and basic services are being eliminated or reduced. This money also could have gone to the city's general fund.
It is our hope that in 2011 the city develops a big-picture plan to create sustainable funding by raising property taxes and reducing our dependence on regressive sales taxes.
Our position: We don't embrace or endorse either side. Vote NO.
Issue 1B: Revenue Retention for Essential City Services
Ballot title: "Shall the City of Colorado Springs be permitted to expend up to $1,200,000 to provide essential City services, this amount being the estimated 2008 revenue above the 2008 fiscal year spending limitation mandated by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, otherwise known as 'TABOR' (Colorado Constitution, Article X, Section 20 and City Charter, Article VII, Section 7-90), and constituting a voter-approved revenue change?"
No-brainer here. It's too bad TABOR's inflexibility forces this kind of vote regarding "excess" revenue, which really isn't "excess" at all when you consider how many millions are being cut from the city budget.
Our position: We fully endorse 1B. Vote YES.
Issue 1C: Expansion of TOPS Maintenance Responsibilities
Ballot title: "Shall the existing 0.1% (one-tenth of a cent) City sales and use tax for Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) be amended to allow no more than fifteen percent (15%) of the revenue from the tax and interest earnings of the TOPS fund to be used for stewardship and maintenance of all City-owned trails, open space and parks for a period of five years, from May 1, 2009 through April 30, 2014, only, with a change to biennial independent audit requirements, and no other changes to the TOPS program as authorized in previous elections?"
We can't go along with the anti-1C argument that the voters made their feelings known by resoundingly approving the TOPS extension. Circumstances can change, and they certainly have. A vote is the best way to determine whether feelings have, too.
Here's the real problem: This is merely a small Band-Aid to stop a major financial hemorrhage. Taking away from TOPS to support a parks department that has been cut so severely is not a good strategy.
Were this proposal part of a larger package being offered as a long-term solution, it'd be a different story. We suggest the city consider a way for property taxes to fund development and maintenance of parks, because they do make neighborhoods better and enhance property values.
Our position: Vote NO.
Issue 1D: Federal Grants and Federal Funds
Ballot title: "Shall the City of Colorado Springs benefit from the receipt of federal grants and federal funds to assist the Colorado Springs Airport and the City's other enterprises compete for those federal funds, by replacing the definition of 'Enterprise' in the Charter of the City of Colorado Springs, Article VII, Section 7-90, with the same definition of 'Enterprise' as found in Colorado Constitution, Article X, Section 20, as amended?"
No question here. With federal stimulus funds being dispensed, it is vital that voters embrace this measure. Otherwise, the city might have to decline certain grants. This measure simply changes our version of TABOR to conform with the state's version.
Our position: We fully endorse 1D. Vote YES.
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