We're less than two weeks from learning whether Colorado Springs will change to a strong-mayor government. The fate of Question 300 on Nov. 2 will either lead us toward major transition — or simply another important municipal election next April.
We could be watching to see how many capable, magnetic mayoral candidates will emerge, wanting to run our city with a new administration and a $96,000 salary. Or, if Question 300 loses, we'll have some different candidates to replace term-limited Mayor Lionel Rivera.
So far, the focus has remained on the mayor. But it's time to look deeper. Amid term limits and other circumstances, six newcomers — possibly seven — could be joining City Council next April ... just six months from now.
Six months. And yet, the only known candidate is real-estate executive Tim Leigh, who initially announced for mayor, then decided on Council.
It's hard to remember when Council has faced such an experience shortage. Bernie Herpin and Scott Hente have terms until 2013, and Jan Martin says she "probably" will seek a second term, making three veterans. (Darryl Glenn, likely to become a county commissioner, would leave another vacancy.)
"What bothers me about the strong mayor," Herpin says, "is possibly getting somebody who hasn't paid his dues. You don't normally start out as CEO of a large company unless your dad was the CEO, and here we might turn over the city to somebody with no experience who can do whatever he wants. We also could have a new mayor recruiting a bloc to run for Council, and if that happens it would be whatever they say, goes."
Then again, possibly not. Sean Paige, appointed to the District 3 seat a year ago, has to run in April if he wants to continue. Paige also might pursue an at-large opening or run for mayor. Tom Gallagher can't run again for at-large, but he could try for mayor, or in District 3 if Paige doesn't.
Hente doesn't think a new mayor could quickly build a machine, saying, "I understand the concept, and somebody might try, but it's never worked here before. There are so many disparate personalities; it would be hard to get everyone in lockstep. And I think it would be obvious to everybody."
Martin makes another point: Larry Small, Randy Purvis and Rivera had previous terms in office, so depending on what happens, the total Council experience leaving next April could be more than 50 years.
"I think many possible candidates are waiting to see if the strong mayor passes, plus how it goes for 60, 61 and 101," Herpin says, referring to the anti-government ballot issues. "If those three pass, I'm not sure many people would want to govern with all those restrictions."
A spot-check of potential candidates doesn't add much. Dave Gardner, who ran strongly against since-departed Jerry Heimlicher in 2009, says he won't try next year because of business commitments. Lisa Czelatdko, whom Heimlicher had mentored, is uncertain because of personal constraints. Rob Andrews, who briefly ran in 2009, says he "might" pursue it.
Martin says she has "talked to 10 to 12 people who have expressed some interest, but we've got to get through the strong-mayor question." She adds that the strong mayor would weaken Council's role, saying, "Currently, the city staff works through the city manager with Council. But under the strong mayor, the staff works directly with the mayor, Council loses some ability to solve problems, and we'd have no direct influence on city staffers."
Will that, and the salary staying at $120 a week, affect the number of quality Council candidates? Very likely.
Eight years ago, before the last sizable Council turnover, El Pomar Foundation hosted an educational seminar for potential candidates as part of its Forum for Civic Advancement. Hopefully, El Pomar might do that again.
"What we don't need," Hente says jokingly, "are the ones who have a revelation, say they had a beer last night and decided to run."
Regardless, if you've ever thought seriously about running for City Council, and you can handle that $6,250 a year, you might never have a better chance. And who knows, you might even become mayor someday.