City Council's intention to appoint Stephannie Fortune to the unexpired term of Richard Skorman could hit a snag on Monday.
That's because one councilor who previously supported Fortune's appointment reportedly has backtracked, setting up a tie 4-4 vote for a special meeting that's set to begin at 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Fortune, who's lived in the west and southside District 3 for only two months, emerged the favorite by a 5-3 split during a Dec. 15 meeting at which seven finalist candidates were interviewed.
The need for an appointment stems from Skorman's decision to focus all of his time on his array of Downtown businesses, which include a café, bookstore, toy store and restaurant. He was elected to a second term last April and his appointed replacement would serve only until the April 2023 city election, at which time voters would elect someone to fulfill the final two years of Skorman's term.
Since mid-December, when Councilors Wayne Williams, Randy Helms, Dave Donelson, Tom Strand and Mike O'Malley indicated support for Fortune, an ally of Mayor John Suthers, residents have cried foul, citing her short-term residency and her conservative bent. (Skorman is seen by many as a progressive, backing parks and open space and city intervention to supply affordable housing.)
Councilor Bill Murray, joined by Nancy Henjum and Yolanda Avila in supporting retired school principal and long-time westsider Terry Martinez, said during a "Council Matters" podcast on Friday, Jan. 7, he'd received 300 emails and letters from constituents opposing Fortune's appointment and one supporting it.
That led to a negotiation process, Murray said, to revisit the appointment and find another candidate palatable to a majority.
That person, he said, is Sallie Clark, who served three terms as an El Paso County commissioner and as a former President Donald Trump appointee in the Department of Agriculture.
Clark has lived more than 30 years on the Westside where she operates Holden House, a bed and breakfast.
While political insiders say Clark might be eying a run for mayor in 2023 (Suthers is term limited), she told Council during her interview she hadn't decided. That question was posed by Wayne Williams, who also is a potential candidate.
"I told the Council I am open to compromise across the spectrum," Murray said during the podcast. "I’ve asked Council members individually who they would compromise for. My bottom line is someone who has lived in District 3, period."
Murray also said he supports Clark, calling her "reasonable" and "fair." Though he said he doesn't agree with all of her positions on issues, he noted, "She has a storied history of supporting her district."
Clark's rise to a Council seat in the 1990s followed her strident opposition to the city's proposal to close Fire Station 3 on the Westside, which lies but a couple of miles from Station 5. The fire station was saved. Clark served on Council for a time but later lost a bid for mayor.
She then was elected to the county commission where she maneuvered a measure onto the ballot that would allow her to serve three four-year terms, rather than two under term limits adopted by voters statewide some years earlier.
After passing the measure, which was worded to "limit" commissioners to no more than three terms, voters objected and later rolled back commissioner terms to two four-year stints. But Clark had already won a third term by that time.
Clark says, "It's really in Council's court right now. I'm not in a position to comment. I would like to serve my community in this position." She added she will attend Monday's meeting.
One District 3 voter, Donna Strom, said during the Jan. 7 podcast the three-terms issue left a sour taste in her and others' mouths but that she would still support Clark over Fortune, who ran last in a recent limited citizen survey conducted by Rick Wehner, a local businessman and City Hall observer.
Kent Obee, another District 3 resident active in parks and open space issues, said the poll was "an accurate reflection of the sentiment in the district."
Murray said Donelson plans to change his vote and support Clark, leading to a 4-4 tie. Donelson didn't return an Indy phone call regarding his preference.
But Council President Tom Strand tells the Indy by phone that he can't predict how the vote will go. "I don’t know how anyone is going to vote on the Fortune motion. I know there will be a motion and a second. I don’t know who will vote for her. My intention today is to vote for her," he says, adding he "would not be surprised" if the vote ends in a tie.
The City Charter, he says, requires Skorman's replacement be chosen by the end of January.
"If it’s a tie, what I will do is ask for another nomination or motion, but I gotta give the public a chance to respond to that person."
He predicted any subsequent nomination would come from the other six interviewed for the seat.
During the podcast, Murray said, "I assure you, the public will be heard Monday and will be heard in their entirety."
Buzz surrounding the appointment suggests it could be a long session. Dozens of people are expected to weigh in opposing Fortune's appointment, while many others are expected to show up to support that choice.
Asked her thoughts about a possible tie vote, Fortune tells the Indy by phone, "I do know it takes five votes, and I’m not in control of those votes at all. I’m going to come in Monday morning and be prepared to answer questions and continue down my pathway and see what the Council members do. What’s most important, truly, is serving the people. Whatever is the best, I am hopeful that’s what will happen. Either way, I win, because I still get to live in Colorado Springs."