Voters' Guide to Hold Politicians Accountable 

Here's a short civics test that most people are likely to fail:

Did your councilperson support or oppose a proposal to allow the city to condemn longtime businesses as part of this year's Confluence Park redevelopment plan?

Did your county commissioner support or oppose a plan to bulldoze a road through the middle of the Black Forest Regional Park?

Did your state legislative representative reject or embrace a bill to force parents to undergo a year of marital counseling before they were allowed to get divorced?

In this great age of disconnect, most Americans are more likely to know the details of Mariah Carey's mental breakdown than be able to identify their city councilperson, elected county commissioner or state legislator -- let alone know how their elected representatives voted on laws that govern their lives.

Greg Borom and Ann Oatman-Gardner hope to change all that. The respective directors of two Colorado Springs activist groups, Citizens Project and the Voters Network, have teamed up to publish an annual comprehensive Voters' Guide. The guides will identify top issues that were introduced at the city, county and state levels, as well as how individual politicians voted on them.

"We want to give the citizens information all in one place, which is something that people don't have right now," said Borom. "What we haven't been able to see is the information compiled in one place to be used by anyone who wants to pick it up."

The first guide is scheduled for publication a year from now, in December 2002. In addition to being distributed as inserts in the Independent, Borom said the guides will be available in bookstores and in local libraries.

Project co-director Oatman-Gardner noted that voting records of state legislators are currently accessible, but not in a centralized way. Several groups, including the League of Women Voters, the Christian Coalition, Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG) and the League of Conservation Voters currently distribute score cards listing key votes cast by elected officials. The Voters' Guide will rely heavily on many of those existing resources, Oatman-Gardner said.

However, a similar compilation of how members of the Colorado Springs City Council and Board of County Commissioners vote on key issues -- from local land use to law enforcement to affordable housing proposals -- has not previously been tallied and published in a comprehensive format.

Project coordinators plan to tap into local activists' expertise when defining the most important votes coming before those elected bodies. The Citizens for Responsible County Government, for example, is an ad-hoc group of nonpartisan activists that has served as a watchdog for county government for the past several years, and will be an excellent resource, Borom said.

In some cases, the elected officials themselves will be asked to identify key votes that should be tallied, he said.

It's premature to determine exactly how elected officials -- particularly those at the local level -- will respond to the heightened scrutiny over their individual votes.

"The goal here is to help give citizens a tool that will give them the information that will encourage them to participate," Borom said. "It would be wonderful to think all elected leaders are excited about this, but it's not so much a tool for them as it is for people who want an accurate and nonpartisan guide.

"I would hope that elected leaders be all for that."

-- Cara DeGette


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