Of all the unusual aspects of this 2009 local election, one stands alone: The calendar refers to this election as being on Tuesday, Nov. 3, but that couldn't be more wrong.
In this era of government cost-cutting, the concept of a mail-ballot vote has changed everything about the landscape of our democratic ritual. Now, instead of a well-timed, choreographed buildup to a climax on the first Tuesday of November, elections such as this have become more like an endless marathon without a clock. Everyone will chug on to the end, even though the winners probably will have been decided several weeks earlier.
Candidates and activists can't afford to count on riding late momentum anymore. They have to do their work and make their cases now, because thousands of voters across the city and county likely will be casting their votes — or throwing away their ballots in apathy — as soon as the mail packets arrive in the middle of next week.
It's frustrating, not only for those on the inside, but also for us at the Independent, facing our responsibility to endorse the measures and races that, in our view, matter most.
In fact, as we prepared for this presentation, the question of timing actually took up as much time as determining some of our positions. Should we wait until after several public forums, such as one that took place Wednesday night on Colorado Springs' 2C and 300 ballot measures, or a Manitou Springs town hall this coming Monday, to make our final evaluations?
We've concluded that it's more important to put all our views on the table now. Sure, upcoming forums might teach us more, or even sway a judgment here or there. But if thousands already have voted by then, or if they've chosen not to vote at all because they don't have enough information, we've done them a disservice.
One other point: Our regular readers, and even the Gazette's audience, already know where we stand on this election's marquee issues. Alongside the daily newspaper, we published our opinions Sept. 10 on the two citywide measures facing Colorado Springs voters. We'll commence our endorsements by looking at them in tandem.
Measure 2C, Measure 300
We won't make all the same arguments again, but we will share a few observations about the campaign so far.
The short time frame certainly hasn't helped the 2C organizers, led by City Councilor Jan Martin and longtime civic leader Mary Ellen McNally, who are pushing for a higher city property tax that would avert $25.4 million in damaging budget cuts.
Martin simply wanted to give voters a choice. She and others have laid out the options and consequences, but generally have opted to work quietly at the grassroots level. They've attempted to build awareness and turnout by reaching out to those who have shown they care about the community.
They're probably also hoping many naysayers won't bother to vote. But the lack of trust in city leaders is palpable, and in fact it has metastasized in the form of Douglas Bruce's Measure 300. Bruce still appears to have followers convinced that a fractured city government — with closed parks and community centers, severely curtailed bus services and even reduced police and fire personnel — somehow is a good thing.
So it comes down to this: Will voters trust elected officials when they say, "Look, we've made all the cuts we can, and the next ones will be disastrous"? Or will more residents of Colorado Springs let their disdain for taxation come before the basic needs of any large community?
We've looked at this from a close vantage point, and it's frightening. If 2C loses, we will suffer. All of us. We shudder at the thought of sharply reduced bus service and shuttered community and senior centers, starting in the winter months. We can't imagine tossing away such priceless community assets as the Pioneers Museum and Rock Ledge Ranch, not to mention parks and pools.
Nothing scandalous led to these budget problems. Revenue went down, especially sales tax revenue, and City Council already had made steep cuts.
Asking for an increase in property tax was not some dark, backroom strategy. Martin brought it up in the light of day, and convinced enough fellow councilors that now was the time to put it on the ballot as an alternative to more severe cuts.
As for Bruce, he already has tried this before, and lost, in trying to undermine the city. We can only hope enough voters understand his destructive motives and continue to repudiate him at every turn.
Our endorsements: Vote yes on 2C, and against 300
School District 11
• Three board seats, five candidates: This election is crucial for D-11, with two incumbents (Tami Hasling and John Gudvangen, the current and immediate past board presidents) choosing not to run for second terms.
All five candidates are familiar to us to some degree. We endorsed Chyrese Exline in her first board campaign two years ago, and we certainly feel her time has come, not just to join the board but to become a knowledgeable driving force in providing the future vision D-11 needs. Sandra Mann, the only board member seeking another four years, has shown us that her experience and knowledge of the pressing issues — starting with the apparent certainty of dealing with tightening budgets — make her a valuable asset.
For us, that leaves the difficult final choice among Al Loma, LuAnn Long and Delia Armstrong-Busby. For this decision, we also looked at their responses to the Citizens Project candidates survey. On question after question, Long's answers are clearest, deepest and most specific, showing a command of sensitive issues and well-defined stances on such matters as harassment of students, the need for better counseling, making charter schools accountable and the feasibility of drug testing.
Our endorsements: Chyrese Exline, Sandra Mann, LuAnn Long
School District 20
• Three board seats, nine candidates: If you go to the trouble of checking out the candidates, even if it's just by reviewing their responses to the Citizens Project survey, you'll see that D-20 is lucky to have plenty of worthy challengers. In fact, at least six of the group are good enough that nobody should worry about the board if they win.
But we were able to select three who appealed to us the most. Doug Lundberg, the board vice president seeking a second term, brings a former teacher's perspective to his well-considered positions, including separation of religion from science education and opposing random drug testing. Linda Van Matre, who was appointed to the board early this year, has a history of being active in the district, and she has a firm grasp of D-20's priorities, plus an open-minded outlook. Tracey Johnson, a non-practicing attorney with children in the district, would add legal awareness along with a clear understanding of why charter schools managed appropriately should always be preferable to a voucher system.
Our endorsements: Doug Lundberg, Linda Van Matre, Tracey Johnson
School District 49
• Three board seats, seven candidates: No district should ever have to go through the kind of turmoil that has plagued Falcon's D-49 for the past few years. Out of continual turnover, though, the still-growing district now has a superintendent (Brad Schoeppey) who might make a difference in years ahead. And on a five-member school board, three newcomers could bring a refreshing, forward-thinking new majority.
As we evaluated the seven people pursuing those positions, we were able to determine three who clearly stand out to us. Jackie Vialpando, Tammy Harold and Jon Rowley offer grounded, informed philosophies on the issues that matter, whether it's being open to but picky about well-conceived charters, showing sensitivity for students with psychological or other issues, or promising to be more transparent in conducting district business.
Our endorsements: Jackie Vialpando, Tammy Harold, Jon Rowley
School District 2
• Three board seats, five candidates: Harrison's board and administration have dealt with all kinds of challenges through the years, many of which have roots in the economic and racial diversity that help to define this district. But we don't hear about D-2's board causing angst or controversy, which might be one reason why the three incumbents for this election are all seeking another term. And despite the fact that their challengers are qualified and well-educated, we feel these incumbents have earned the opportunity to continue overseeing D-2's aggressive long-range plans.
Our endorsements: Deborah Hendrix, Richard Price, Linda Pugh
• Mayor (two-year term): After one busy term, incumbent Mayor Eric Drummond chose to exit, underscoring the turbulence of his brief tenure. Three candidates quickly entered the race: Nancy Sage Barnes, Rick Barry and Marc Snyder.
Barnes ran in 2007 but didn't wage a credible campaign, and the same is true now. That leaves Snyder and Barry, both of whom have walked neighborhoods and put forth a dedicated effort. But the disparity of their experience in public life cannot be ignored.
Barry has helped with Manitou's economic development efforts, but the retired educator is relying on his past experience as a school principal to prove his ability as a supervisor and organizer. His intentions are honorable, but we wish he were running for Council instead — as, in retrospect, we wish Drummond had done. (He served only a few months as an appointed Councilor before running for mayor.)
Snyder, meanwhile, has spent a decade involved with Manitou government, first on its planning commission and since 2003 on Council. He knows all the city's problems, the details of its upcoming priorities such as stimulus money helping to replace many of the town's water pipes and valves, and he realizes the need for building consensus on important matters instead of letting adversarial groups fester. He's also an attorney, bringing legal expertise that helps the city on numerous fronts.
Just as impressively, Snyder has represented Manitou for years on the county's Regional Building Commission (he's the current chair) and on the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, giving him a big-picture understanding of how those alliances work best for the small town. With his constituents, Snyder also intends to be inclusive, setting regular office hours for appointments as well as walk-ins in his desire "to hear from everybody."
Some of Barry's supporters have tried to portray the race as him being pro-business and Snyder anti-business. That's ridiculous; both want to help Manitou's economy. But having someone with Snyder's combination of experience and expertise should pay dividends in years to come.
Our endorsement: Marc Snyder
• City Council, Ward 3 (four-year term): Manitou's only contested Council race pits Karen Cullen, who owns a bed and breakfast, against Matt Carpenter, who's best-known for his accomplishments as a long-distance runner, including 10 victories in the Pikes Peak Marathon, which he helps oversee.
Carpenter's civic involvement goes much deeper, though. For years he has been attending City Council meetings, whether on behalf of events he has helped organize or to provide input on other pressing matters. He has helped preserve Manitou's mineral springs as well as its trails and has played a leadership role in school-related ballot issues. His obvious energy would be an asset in dealing with the town's many agenda items.
Our endorsement: Matt Carpenter
Indy cheat sheet: 2009 coordinated mail-ballot election
Measure 2C (property tax increase): YES
Measure 300 (city enterprise payment): AGAINST
Local school boards
District 2: Deborah Hendrix, Richard Price, Linda Pugh
District 11: Chyrese Exline, Sandra Mann, LuAnn Long
District 20: Doug Lundberg, Tracey Johnson, Linda Van Matre
District 49: Tammy Harold, Jackie Vialpando, Jon Rowley
Mayor: Marc Snyder
Council, Ward 3: Matt Carpenter