Elected city councilors also act as the Utilities Board. 

Running a $1.1-billion enterprise requires knowledge, technical know-how and a certain level of business acumen. So thought a group of citizens some years ago in their push to create a separate Colorado Springs Utilities Board schooled in the business world. They argued that City Council isn’t equipped to oversee the four-service utility.

That effort never got traction, so Council still doubles as the Utilities Board.

It’s no small undertaking to acquire and maintain a level of understanding of gas, electric, water and wastewater issues, especially when they intersect with government regulation, environmental concerns, economic development and customer service.

Utilities has dealt with violations of the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, water shortages, a shift toward renewables and a bevy of other complicated issues, all of which require long-term planning. The $825-million Southern Delivery System (SDS), the pipeline from Pueblo Reservoir that went live in April 2016, for example, was 20 years in the making and required dozens of permits.

So far, Council has taken actions that allow the city to maintain high quality bond ratings, enabling Springs Utilities to borrow at reasonable rates. That’s important when, like this year, CSU plans to spend 16.9 percent of its $1.1 billion budget, or $188.4 million, on debt service.

So voters should think about those running for City Council in the April 6 election in the context of whether they’re up to the challenge of overseeing such a massive city enterprise. Six of Council’s nine members will be chosen in the election.

We asked the candidates this question: How equipped are you to oversee Colorado Springs Utilities? What qualifies you for that obligation?

Neither of the District 6 candidates — incumbent Mike O’Malley (appointed to fill the unexpired term of Andy Pico who took a state House seat) and Garfield Johnson — responded to the Indy’s questionnaire.

Answers from the others:

District 1

Jim Mason — “I am reasonably equipped. I understand CSU mission, objectives, and priorities. I understand the process of formulating and proposing governing policy; and possess analytical and study skills necessary for reviewing Information Papers, courses of action briefs and conduct of the deliberate decision-making process.”

Mike Seeger — “I believe that I am appropriately equipped to oversee Colorado Springs Utilities. I have been a Colorado Springs Utilities customer for many years and have had the great pleasure of dealing with this organization on many occasions. I have interacted with many employees ... and believe that I have a solid grasp on this organization, as well as the resources to understand further topics that may arise. I believe that my Master’s Degree in Public Administration qualifies me for this position.”

Glenn Carlson — “I believe the single most important quality necessary to oversee CSU is having the self-awareness to realize I may not be an expert and to seek those that are. I believe my experience working across large organizations will uniquely equip me to collaborate, analyze, and make justified utility decisions.”

Dave Donelson — “I recently met with Colorado Springs Utility (CSU) CEO Aram Benyamin. I have upcoming tours of facilities and will be meeting with other members of the CSU leadership team. I have been discussing CSU issues and board responsibilities with current and former city council members. I have been studying the Integrated Resource Plans for Electricity, Gas and Water, and other materials recommended by Mr Benyamin. I have been watching previous CSU board meetings. I will be ready to take up my responsibilities as a CSU board member.”

District 2

Randy Helms — “Forty years of leadership and management experience as a Commanding Officer, Chief of Staff, director of human capital, budgeting, strategic planning and flying operations as well as leadership positions in 501C(3) non-profit organizations, logistics, education and training have prepared me to oversee large organizations like CSU. Twelve of the forty years included experience as a Strategic Planner in U.S. government policy and requirements generation, programming, planning and budgeting at the highest levels of Department of Defense.”

Jay Inman — “20 years in the Army and building data centers along the axis of the Euphrates River, in Asia, and along the front range give me experiences in logistics, power generation, and electrical resilience. I continue those efforts as a Microsoft Digital Architect serving DOD customers... . I know I will have a lot more to learn because our city has one of the most complex water and power infrastructures in the nation.”

David Noblitt — “As much as most people on the actions, considerations, fuel sources and alternative energy considerations of our utilities. I have watched water challenges, $200 million filter capture systems that neither worked or were accounted for, etc. I would assume I would be as up to speed as any new counselor would be.”

Dave Geislinger — “I am the most equipped candidate, having overseen CSU for the last four years. I have good and respectful working relationships with my fellow Board Members and the CSU staff, and am familiar with, and aware of, the pending issues, complexities and opportunities that impact Utilities.”

District 3

Henry McCall — “From 1980 to 1983, served as a Commissioner on a Redevelopment Agency.”

Richard Skorman — “I’ve been on Utility Board for 11 years, two years as Vice Chair and yes, being a 47 year small business owner, also qualifies me. But utilities is a fast-changing and complicated industry these days, particularly with carbon reduction mandates for electric generation, less snowpack that melts faster and the water wars over a shrinking Colorado River. I do have a good deal of environmental and conservation advocacy, land use and water wars political experience. I’ve held director positions with The Colorado Trust for Public Land [and] The Colorado Environmental Coalition (Environment Now)... . In addition, ... I played a critical role in the political side of gaining permission from Pueblo County to build our new SDS water delivery system... .”

Arthur Glenn — “One of my roles while in uniform and as a defense consultant was protecting our critical infrastructure across the Nation and most importantly here at home. One project was the Smart Power Infrastructure Demonstration for Energy Reliability and Security (SPIDERS) which was a joint DOD, DHS and DOE effort to develop a cyber secure smart grid for some of our “Cannot Fail” military missions. This work also included a partnership with Colorado Springs Utilities on Fort Carson for some of their primary missions. I am uniquely qualified to look at the strategic issues and how they affect our local critical infrastructure with specific focus on energy.”

Olivia Lupia — “I am as qualified and equipped as any Councilmember who is assuming the role for the first time. I will have as much preparation and education on the subject beforehand as possible, i.e., meeting with CSU executives and staff in the coming weeks to better equip myself for the role.”

District 4

Yolanda Avila — “Admittedly, there is a steep learning curve when it comes to Utilities. However, I have served on the Board for nearly four years, so I understand what Utilities does and what role the Board plays. I am the chair of the personnel committee, which hired our CEO. We are now working on diversity in attracting and retaining employees. We have made some historic decisions at Utilities in my tenure, including the decision to close the Martin Drake power plant no later than 2023.”

Regina English — “Based off of the requirement for city council, this will be part of my role which is what would qualify me for this obligation and because I am fully equipped and ready to become a council member, providing recommendations and oversight to Colorado Springs Utilities would be part of my job to make sure that we are ensuring that CSU is adhering to all the requirements that have been laid out and to validate compliance.”

District 5

Mary Elizabeth Fabian — “At its heart Colorado Springs Utilities is a business that provides a service ... to the citizens of our community. I am a business owner myself, understand and consult on financial concerns with certain clients and have a forward thinking mindset. My decisions are never focused solely on “today” but on the long term effects and feasibility for our future. I am also a lifelong learner who is always seeking out information from others before forming my own opinions on any issue.”

Nancy Henjum — “The fact that Colorado Springs Utilities is a municipally-owned power company is under-appreciated by many of us. This gives citizens tremendous influence as we chart a future that balances energy reliability, efficiency, and sustainability. My professional experience as a leadership consultant for organizations having from 5 to 75,000 employees has well-acquainted me with what good governance looks like — and what it doesn’t... . Effective collaboration, honest communication, and genuine accountability are the values that will inform my oversight of CSU.”

Matt Zelenok — “I am very qualified to help oversee Colorado Springs Utilities. Utilities are an infrastructure item that is very data and numbers oriented. My education and job experience in science and engineering is a perfect match for analyzing the complexities of the utility system. Rates and reliability are the top priority of any utility provider, and I believe through my ability to apply scientific analysis I would be an asset to the CSU board of directors.”

Karlie Van Arnam — “I have sat on various work groups where I participated in strategy development and implementation. While I have never worked directly with Colorado Springs Utilities, ... my skill set is transferable to various industries. Through my education and business background, I have acquired skills that allow me to be effective at collaborating with different industries, groups and people, analyzing financial and operational data, and identifying problems or shortfalls from legal, regulatory, financial, personal and operational perspectives ... .”

Justin Hermes — “I have worked extensively with CSU in both a residential and commercial context managing over 120 properties in Colorado Springs. We are extremely blessed to have such a great utility department and not to mention some of the most affordable utilities in the nation. I have a meeting scheduled with the CEO ... and look forward to learning more about the day to day operations.”

Senior Reporter

Pam Zubeck is a graduate from Emporia State University. She worked at the Tulsa Tribune before coming to Colorado Springs, where she spent 16 years at the Gazette and in 2009 joined Colorado Publishing House.