Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Strong-mayor campaign leaders: no immediate need for ballot issues

Posted By on Tue, Mar 27, 2012 at 5:16 PM

The three public leaders of the Mayor Project campaign of 2010, which voters approved to enact a new form of government for Colorado Springs in 2011, have sent a letter today to Mayor Steve Bach and City Council, saying they do not see the need at this time for ballot initiatives further revising the City Charter.

Mary Ellen McNally, Andy McElhany and Chuck Murphy signed the letter, which also has been shared with the Independent, Gazette and Colorado Springs Business Journal. The timing, we're told, was influenced by rumors that business leaders and Bach had decided to push a ballot issue for the April 2013 municipal election switching control over Colorado Springs Utilities from the City Council to the mayor.

The letter clearly indicates that the Mayor Project leaders do not feel that way.

Here's the letter in its entirety:

It’s been 9 months since our first “strong” mayor took office, long enough for the three of us to hear a lot of community feedback. As proponents of the ballot measure that changed the charter, we sat down together to discuss how the new form of government is working, and if additional charter changes are necessary. We want to share our reflections with you.

Changing to a new system of government has not been without growing pains. But that’s to be expected – after all, as voters, we made a historic, large-scale change that affects more than 400,000 citizens. It’s one thing to change the city charter with an eye toward long-term goals, and another to figure out how that vision actually works on a daily basis. That’s exactly what our new mayor, new council and city staff – as well as all of us, as citizens – are determining. We’re learning as we go, and we’re trying things.

There are gray areas in the charter, and that was by design: just as our Constitution doesn’t dictate who plows the streets, it isn’t appropriate for the city charter to prescribe every detail of government operations. That is up to our elected officials to determine, and the charter must be flexible to respond to changing budgets, technology, community priorities and other factors.

It’s possible that at some point, additional charter changes may be necessary to clarify some big-picture aspects of the roles of council or mayor. We firmly believe that it is too soon to ask the voters to consider any charter amendments. We cannot accurately assess the system until more time has passed. Right now, we haven’t even lived with the system for a single year.

Questioning government is an American tradition. After more than 200 years, we’re still arguing about the roles of the executive and legislative branches of our federal government, so it’s no surprise that similar discussions have arisen at the local level. These are healthy discussions that need to be open, respectful and rational, and take into account the spirit of the changes voters made, as well as the letter.

A key component of the council-mayor government is the checks and balances built into the system. Voters were comfortable giving the mayor new authority because they knew it would not be unfettered. We’ve seen that in action, through both the legal changes of the charter and the political processes it put into play.

It’s important to remember that while we have changed the form of our government, it is still made up of people. That means we all bring our unique personalities and perspectives to the debate. There’s been conflict. If it feels like we’re seeing more conflict than usual, maybe it’s because it’s all happening in the open, achieving our goal of increased transparency. Being the first to navigate a new system of government isn’t easy, and we commend all our elected officials for taking on the challenge. But we must distinguish between matters of charter structure versus personalities as changes to the charter are once again contemplated.

The voters have authorized a system that empowers leaders to do great things in our city. It is up to them to answer the call.

Andy McElhany

Mary Ellen McNally

Chuck Murphy

Spokespersons, The Mayor Project

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