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Grading candidates for Colorado Springs City Council 

Between the Lines

We've been making our way through a grueling ritual in recent weeks, a process that's as draining — and fascinating — as anything we do.

That would be researching, interviewing and evaluating the candidates for our biennial city election, which starts in about two weeks with mailing of ballots and lasts until April 2.

We have 24 candidates in the newly redrawn six Council districts, many of whom are seeking office for the first time or never have been on a municipal ballot. Others are incumbents or have served on school boards, in the state Legislature or on the Board of County Commissioners. But that doesn't necessarily mean they have an advantage.

On the whole, the candidates — accomplished in various fields and passionate about city issues — are making it hard to nail down obvious endorsements. We're still working on those for our March 13 issue, timed to coincide with ballots arriving in mailboxes.

We know that many of you like to wait as long as possible before filling out your ballots (and that a lot of you still prefer voting at the polls on election day, which is not an option this time around). But we can't ignore that thousands of locals will vote immediately, in part because each ballot has only a district race and two issues.

With more and more residents paying closer attention, and with candidates having only limited funds to promote themselves, a handful of public forums in the next few weeks could help decide many outcomes. So it makes sense to identify a few issues — and one in particular — that could show the differences among various candidates. We're also watching to see how responses in public compare with what candidates said or wrote to us.

Regardless, here are several of the issues we see as being at the fore:

City attorney. Should the Council have its own legal representation, with no ties to a city attorney who answers directly to the mayor? The answers we've been hearing are all over the map.

Martin Drake Power Plant. Considerations for dealing with the future of the coal-fired downtown plant, and how long that future should be, separates smarter candidates.

Public comment in Council meetings. Should it be limited or left as open as possible? You might be surprised.

Stormwater. This one almost overshadows the election. As most candidates understand, Colorado Springs is not in a good position. We've closed our Stormwater Enterprise and haven't replaced the funding. Meanwhile, problems have worsened and infrastructure needs have skyrocketed.

In 2009, the cost of essential stormwater projects was pegged as somewhere north of $300 million. Now we hear $900 million or more, a staggering amount. Those projects aren't sexy, and they aren't something we can throw money at and see instant benefits, such as with the roads and major intersections improved by the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.

We aren't addressing problems that are obvious every day when we talk about stormwater drainage and our capacity for handling major floods. But the threat of a dangerous event has been exacerbated by the aftermath of the Waldo Canyon Fire. Those who've lived here a while remember the spring of 1999, when torrential rains in the area and up Ute Pass created major flooding in Manitou Springs and further downstream. Or 1997, when huge snowstorms in April and October pushed us to our limits. Or the massive rain and hailstorms, especially in the summer of 2011. Anything at that level could be catastrophic now.

We have some leaders talking about a regional solution, and others saying the city shouldn't have to pay for county needs. Either way, we can't say we want growth and economic development without solving infrastructure problems.

Should the answer be a stormwater version of PPRTA? Should it be a combined effort with the county? Some Council candidates clearly stand out in defining and approaching that question.

The need to identify those candidates is why we have forums, campaigns and, yes, endorsements. We're all simply trying to find the best candidates.

And at this point, the clock is ticking.

routon@csindy.com

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