They’re certainly not as sexy as presidential elections, but the truth is, local elections provide the greatest opportunity for your vote to make an impact. Instead of being one in 160 million, your voice and choice are amplified; it’s one among several thousand. The city of Colorado Springs should announce the winners of six Council seats and the outcome of one ballot issue after polls close on Election Day, April 6. Ballots will be mailed March 12, so be on the lookout.
As in the country as a whole, there are tough issues facing Colorado Springs voters and the new and veteran elected officials who will hold these Council seats — issues like our affordable housing crisis and homelessness; infrastructure and development; struggling small businesses and COVID relief; the potential legalization of recreational marijuana dispensaries within city limits and, as Council members also serve as the board of Colorado Springs Utilities, preparing for the 2023 closure of Drake Power Plant.
The Indy’s editorial board and newsroom spent hours upon hours interviewing candidates and we’ve made our endorsements.
To each of the candidates: We offer our thanks not only for speaking with us, but for showing devotion to your city and fellow citizens.
To the voters: We’ve done our part. Now it’s your turn. Make your voice heard and decide the future of Colorado Springs.
City Council District 1
A Springs native, business owner and volunteer, Glenn Carlson has his finger on the pulse of the issues that matter to District 1 voters, and a command of the issues facing the city. He’s prioritizing transparent investment in infrastructure — stormwater, wildfire mitigation and emergency services, as well as roads and bridges. He’s passionate about battling sprawl; protecting trails, habitat and open spaces like Garden of the Gods, Red Rocks and Ute Valley Park; creating safe communities; and encouraging diversification in business along with a “new wave of entrepreneurs.”
A self-described “data geek” and “econ and business nerd,” he capably dives into the details of rezoning, public-private partnerships, tax breaks, PlanCOS and RetoolCOS. He’s especially driven to help businesses safely reopen and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and, as a business owner who endured last year’s shutdown, he’s well positioned to understand the challenges. “I’ve always wanted to run for Council this year but I couldn’t see a better time and a better way for me to add value, having so much good local knowledge, nonprofit and real life business experience,” the 37-year-old says. “Being a little bit younger as well, I could bring a lot of energy and modern ideas and have an understanding of the modern workforce and our generation — how we operate.” On recreational marijuana, he says, “I would support letting the voters decide.”
Firefighter Michael Seeger also focuses on COVID-19 response, pointing out the ways the pandemic has exposed weaknesses in the health care sector. He also prioritizes: boosting infrastructure to meet the needs of a rapidly growing city; allocating sufficient funding for public safety; and a smooth transition to renewable energy while keeping rates reasonable. Seeger opposes reducing funding for police departments, instead calling for directing more funds to training officers. He supports referring a measure to voters to allow recreational marijuana shops within city limits.
Dave Donelson is a veteran — a Green Beret who later served as a physician assistant before retiring after 21 years in the Army. He ran a men’s health clinic and has lived in the Springs 30 years. His top priority is public safety. He’s well prepared to deal with Colorado Springs Utilities issues and COVID-19 recovery.
Retired Army colonel Jim Mason serves on the District 11 school board and is a member of the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority Board, and is focused on education and building “successful, vibrant infrastructure that serves all the people.” His second priority is secure, accessible public transportation that supports the growth of the city, and his third priority is creating partnerships and internships for high school students, to get them involved in commerce and the social network of the community early. Mason opposes recreational pot sales.
While any of these candidates could capably serve District 1, our vote goes to Carlson for his grasp of city- and district-wide issues.
City Council District 2
Four people are running in District 2, which is the northeastern side of the city — think Briargate, the United States Air Force Academy, Northgate. The candidates: incumbent David Geislinger, Randy Helms, Jay Inman and David Noblitt.
Of the candidates, only Geislinger has the right mix of experience and, well, reasonable, rational responses. (One of his opponents, Jay Inman, believes COVID is just the flu, and we’ve all been misled, for instance. The entire world has given in to what he calls a “false narrative.” And that’s just one of the more troubling statements Inman made.)
Geislinger’s primary focus is affordable housing in Colorado Springs. As housing prices continue to skyrocket and inventory continues to be low, he has worked with local leaders and city government to create five new housing developments labeled as “affordable” by city standards. He says there’s still more work to be done and if re-elected, he’ll continue to work on solutions.
Since the Air Force listed affordable housing as one reason to move Space Command to Alabama, we agree that the city needs to look at all the options for housing. We’re starting to price Millennials and Gen Zers out of the market.
We don’t agree with all of his stances. The Indy supports legalizing recreational marijuana dispensaries, for instance, and Geislinger says he’s yet to be convinced it’s a revenue generator. (Disclaimer: Indy chairman John Weiss worked on an effort to have Council take the issue to the voters. The effort failed, with Geislinger as a swing vote against it.)
And while he says he’s the first local leader to talk with protestors at last summer’s Black Lives Matter action in front of City Hall, he didn’t vote for Dr. Stephany Rose Spaulding to fill Andy Pico’s vacant seat on Council. Instead, he capitulated to pressure and put newcomer Mike O’Malley in the seat temporarily until elections in April.
As far as the Law Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Commission (LETAC), he believes the city acted correctly, but says it should have acted sooner — before the protests sparked by George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.
His opponents are inexperienced and for the most part, have some misconceptions, falsehoods and out-there ideas that have no place in local government. They lack compassion for those less fortunate and think the homeless and poor should be able to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. All would require a great deal of time and effort to learn about the complexities of city government, much less how to govern a billion-dollar public utility.
While we wish Geislinger did more than pay lip service to diversity and inclusion in city government and on Council, he’s the best representative for District 2. He’s driven by data and processes, believes the city’s affordable housing issues can be resolved through using city government assets, and he is not so far to the right as to believe the poor are “wicked.” He has helped small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic and supports preventive actions taken by El Paso County Public Health. That’s good enough for us — especially given the stances of his opponents.
City Council District 3
Incumbent Richard Skorman has three challengers for his seat.
Olivia Lupia doesn’t seem to grasp the complexities of homelessness, is pro coal and anti renewable energy, and claims Springs voters, not trusting the city to spend the money wisely, defeated a measure in November that would have allowed retention of revenue above the TABOR spending limit. We presume she was referring to measure 2A, which actually passed with 58.8 percent of the vote, allowing the city to keep and spend that $1.9 million in 2019 revenue.
Henry McCall (“the best government is less government”) supports eliminating the city’s sales tax, though sales and use taxes are the largest revenue source for the city’s general fund.
Of Skorman’s challengers, Arthur Glynn is the most credible and sensible.
Glynn says he’s running for Council because Skorman has “been more focused on issues that are citywide as compared to here in the district. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with a number of folks throughout the district and, in short, they have found that their voice was not being listened to... .”
But in recent decades, Council membership has been heavily weighted toward retired military — and Glynn is retired Navy. He sees economic benefits in building the Springs’ bona fides as a truly military town, all of them valid, but says it was a mistake to legalize medical marijuana and opposes permitting rec pot sales in the city. He says, “marijuana and military service are mutually exclusive,” but most Springs residents are not military personnel.
We think the city will be better served by a less conservative councilor, one who has tended to represent the “other” Colorado Springs. Richard Skorman does have a citywide focus, and we feel that’s a good thing, given the enormous challenges of this time.
Areas he wants to focus on:
• Dealing with climate change, including what he describes as the “two sides of the tree issue”: 1) addressing wildfire vulnerabilities in the wildland-urban interface through a regional entity, including rapid identification/rapid response and evacuation planning, and 2) building the urban canopy in the city to keep residents cool. “We’re 19 percent urban canopy; many cities in Colorado are 25 to 30. ... We have a very significant heat gain envelope... 2½ degrees hotter than the rest of the state, state’s often in the top 10 hottest heat gains in the country, and we have parts of our community like the Southeast that are 6 to 8 degrees hotter than the rest of the city.”
• Dedicated park funding. He says parks have been “the stepchild” when it comes to financial support from the city.
• Growth issues, especially water. “Even with COVID we’re growing by leaps and bounds. ... Twenty-five years from now are we going to have Monument and Falcon saying, ‘We’ve run out of water, can you help us?’ We need to plan beforehand.”
City Council District 4
Residents of District 4 in the city’s Southeast sector have a difficult choice to make between two excellent candidates: incumbent Yolanda Avila and challenger Regina English. Both have a passion for the district and a long history of working on community-led initiatives. Both care about representing their constituents, elevating voices of those not often heard, and investing in projects that improve the lifestyle and reputation of the district.
Avila, while on Council, has championed public transportation and infrastructure, securing more funding for transit and increasing bus routes, and she says she considers the revamping of the I-25 and Circle bridge, and the community input that went into it, one of her greatest achievements on Council thus far. From our perspective, the urban renewal authority projects currently underway on Academy Boulevard are also a success for District 4.
Urban renewal projects — public-private partnerships designated by the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority and City Council — drive redevelopment and investment in an area. Prior to 2019, Colorado Springs had not designated an urban renewal project in District 4. “Now we are looking at two urban renewal authority projects in my district,” Avila told the Indy, adding that both have an affordable housing component, and one is going to include universal housing — accessible for all people with disabilities.
Avila told the Indy that she was running for reelection to maintain momentum on ongoing projects, and that is partly why she has secured our endorsement.
This was a tough decision for us, as it will be for D4 voters. English, a resident leader of the grassroots R.I.S.E. Coalition (Avila is also a resident leader), and owner of My African American Miss LLC. (YES M.A.A.M) Pageant system, is a force of nature. We loved her perspective on the needs of the district, and her emphasis on collaboration with constituents. We appreciated her enthusiasm for investing in businesses and infrastructure while ensuring that residents in D4 would not be priced out of their homes. We also found a lot of value in her experience leading grassroots initiatives within D4 and serving as vice president of the Harrison District 2 School Board.
In the end, however, we found the candidates agreed on enough issues — including support for putting the issue of recreational marijuana to the voters — that our endorsement came down to a matter of experience. English would have a steeper learning curve on the Utilities Board and on general city operations, while Avila has had four years to establish herself and learn the system.
While we hope to see English run again for this seat or another public office, where she will no doubt serve her community well, Avila gets our vote this time.
That said, either candidate would be an asset to the Southeast. There’s no wrong choice here, which makes it all the more difficult.
City Council District 5
The field vying for a seat representing District 5 is a crowded one. Five candidates and no incumbent means the race is wide open. This editorial board appreciated the variety of candidates, but our endorsement goes to Karlie Van Arnam.
Van Arnam was raised in Woodland Park and moved to Colorado Springs after graduating from high school. She earned her MBA at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and is currently the general manager of medical marijuana dispensary Pure Medical.
Van Arnam’s priorities, if elected, include addressing the affordable housing shortage in the city and improving public transportation.
She also supports providing small businesses with clear guidance when it comes to operating during the COVID-19 pandemic so they can avoid the costs of constantly closing and reopening.
“I think our city government needs to be diligent in realizing how these restrictions really impact individual industries, and being sensitive to that and ... reaching out to see how city government can best support them,” she says.
Regarding the legalization of recreational marijuana within city limits, Van Arnam says, “I support bringing it to the voters.”
Van Arnam says she’s comfortable, should she be elected, with her role as a Colorado Springs Utilities Board member.
“I’m not an engineer ... but ... I’m very adept at developing strategy, implementing strategy, collaborating with various groups from different parts of government and the private sector. ... I feel like that skill set is very transferable from industry to industry.”
We were especially impressed with Van Arnam’s approach to collaborating with those who have differing opinions.
“When people disagree I think it’s really important to get to the heart of the issue. Why is this the stance you’re taking? What experiences got you here? What experiences do you have that I don’t have that could have shaped that perception...? Just because you’re right doesn’t mean I’m wrong. ... We can find some common ground. When you’ve got opposing groups, it’s just so important to get your goals to align.”
Why does Van Arnam think she is more qualified than her opponents?
“[Because of] my small business experience and experience from my graduate studies, but also real life exposure to helping draft legislation, implement legislation, looking at regulatory aspects from both the business side and the regulatory side.
“I’m very familiar with a lot of land use issues,” she continues. “I’ve gone in front of county commissioners, in front of planning commissioners and city councils in various jurisdictions, so I’m familiar with a lot of those processes. I’ve been able to experience and partake in the really positive aspects of [government] but also see where some of those shortfalls can [be improved].”
The Indy has long supported diversity of thought in government, something Colorado Springs City Council has frequently lacked. One hurdle has been council pay and access to city government by younger candidates. We feel the city has an opportunity here. It’s not often you find youth combined with pragmatism and a desire to serve one’s community. Van Arnam will bring all three to City Council.
Vote: Van Arnam
City Council District 6
It’s unfortunate for the constituents of District 6, but the Indy doesn’t feel there’s a candidate in this race strong enough to endorse.
James “Mike” O’Malley is technically the incumbent; he was selected by a majority of city councilors (David Geislinger, Tom Strand, Wayne Williams, Don Knight and Jill Gaebler) to finish out the term left by Andy Pico, who was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in November. Since taking his Council seat at the beginning of the year, we haven’t heard much from Mike. That’s partly because he’s never returned multiple requests from the Indy for an interview or comments, he didn’t sit down with our editorial board, he’s dodged debates and seems, at least to us, to be a political no-show. We can only assume he’ll treat his constituents the same way. And while it’s certainly not grounds for disqualification, it is worth mentioning that O’Malley has lived in the city for just over a year.
Garfield Johnson — O’Malley’s opponent — on the other hand, moved to Colorado Springs in 1993 and trained for 15 years to become an Olympic judoka, served in the U.S. Army, says he was homeless in the city for two years and has since built a successful small businesses.
But he also comes across as hostile and arrogant. When asked if he can devote time to Council and his career he said, “I’m doing better than most people. That’s putting it mildly.”
Regarding affordable housing in the city: “I can’t really speak on that because if I do, I’ll lose your endorsement. But think about it. I was homeless. I pulled myself up by my bootstrap. I expect everyone else to do the same. That’s a topic I’m not going to speak on. I’m insensitive to it.”
For one thing, affordable housing and homelessness are two different issues and, despite how good Johnson is doing, schoolteachers, first responders and the essential workers who help keep this city humming CAN’T AFFORD TO LIVE HERE!
In our endorsement interview, he also trash talks councilors quite a bit and informs us that his grand plans are to run for mayor. (Side note: Johnson failed to appear at our first scheduled interview and, upon rescheduling, informed us in a panic the day before his appointment that the link wasn’t working.)
He also says, “I’ve learned a lot from Doug Lamborn.”
Johnson’s platform includes addressing violent crime committed by juveniles, limiting the number of charter schools in the city and providing career and technical education to attract tech companies to the region while also providing youths with practical skills.
But generally speaking, we weren’t quite sure who Garfield Johnson was before we sat down to interview him and we’re not real sure who Garfield Johnson is now. His story is compelling but we don’t think he has the temperament to serve District 6 or the city. But Mike — at least Johnson tries.
Ballot issue 1
We at the Indy tend to believe more information is better, so we have no qualms about Issue 1, the only issue on the 2021 ballot. In short, a “yes” vote on this issue would be in favor of removing the 30-word limit for ballot measures that propose tax increases or bond issues.
A little context: As required by the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, voters must weigh in on any proposed tax or bond increase, meaning we see plenty such issues on our ballots each election. However, Colorado Springs has a 30-word limit on the issue’s “title” (the text that voters see). While we’re all about saving ink and trees, some bond issues or tax increases require more than 30 words to explain. We’d argue, in fact, most bond issues and tax increases are complicated enough to justify a few extra sentences.
For all you TABOR fans out there, this measure doesn’t weaken TABOR, nor does it encourage ballot measures to turn into dissertations. The issues put to voters will still be concise and clear — and arguably more so now that there’s room to explain them.
We’re the only city in Colorado that has a word limit on these issues, so what the heck are we doing? This one’s a no-brainer.
Disclosure: Teddy Weiss, son of the Indy’s founder John Weiss, works for Skorman’s campaign. John Weiss has contributed to Skorman’s campaign.
Editor's note: The District 4 endorsement was updated to clarify that Yolanda Avila is also a resident leader of the R.I.S.E. Coalition.