After closely examining Issue 300, "The Strong Mayor Proposal," we have concluded that it is not in the best interests of the community, at this time, to pass this measure. While we have many friends among those advocating this initiative, and have tremendous respect for their desire to improve Colorado Springs, we feel the impression being given — that this change will solve our city's problems — is misleading and a disservice to our residents.
Proponents have stated that "Colorado Springs' government is clearly broken" and that we have "no separation of powers or checks and balances." The proponents also say the city has refused to suffer along with its citizens, and that actions we have taken on Colorado Springs City Council are "just window dressing." Yet the 300-plus city employees who have been laid off or "forced" into retirement over the last couple of years indeed have suffered, right along with the hundreds of our citizens who have no or limited access to mass transit and have lost jobs because of that, and along with the assault victim who had to wait a little bit longer for a responding police officer.
Like many cities, we maintain a small and cost-effective form of government to help keep costs down. To have a "true" strong mayor would require additional individuals such as a chief of staff, consultants and aides — look at Denver. This would require more funds than the small, professional city manager staff we have now. In addition, we have a city manager, city clerk, city attorney and city auditor who all report directly, and are accountable, to City Council, creating a valid system of checks and balances on their activities.
Strong-mayor proponents say an elected chief executive would be more efficient and would manage the city like a business. Both of us have served in the public sector and have run a private business. We understand, very clearly, the differences between the two, and what can and cannot be done in both arenas.
For example, whether discussing retirement benefits, changing suppliers, or continuing certain operations, many national, state and local laws tie our hands and greatly inhibit our ability to do things that we routinely and easily do in the private sector. This would not change with a strong-mayor government.
Are there serious issues facing Colorado Springs? You bet there are. Almost 20 years of TABOR-forced cutbacks and ratchet-downs, combined with a tax-averse population and "stovepipe" revenue streams, have left us with a city budget that is severely restricted and a disservice to citizens. To state that "an elected chief executive ... can lead our City to make the same type of bottom-line decisions that ... business owners make ..." is an over-simplification of our problems and an over-idealistic approach to finding solutions.
Look at our respective backgrounds: One of us grew up in a locally owned family business, has owned a small business for 17 years, and has seen the value of a strong leader who makes effective, timely decisions; the other one of us spent four years as a cadet at the Air Force Academy, followed by 21 years as a career military officer, learning the value of a single, strong, effective leader. Based on those experiences, we initially embraced the concept of a single, strong, effective chief executive for the city. But the approach being taken with this strong-mayor proposal is, in our opinion, too far-reaching and too ambitious in terms of its implementation.
The council-manager form of government provides representation for the whole community by electing representatives from districts and at-large. Yes, we need strong, full-time leadership from our elected officials, but giving the power to one individual will not solve the current issues.
The last two charter-review commissions recommended keeping the council-manager form of government. Those commissions, represented by a cross-section of our community, thoroughly vetted the alternatives. While we both think the discussion is healthy and forces us to look at differing methods of governing, we feel Issue 300 moves us too far, at this time, and does not solve the underlying problems our great city faces.
We urge a NO vote on Issue 300.
Scott Hente and Jan Martin serve on Colorado Springs City Council.
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