Let’s be proactive for state boards

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Near the end of a recent meeting to discuss what to expect from the Colorado General Assembly’s 2013 session, House Speaker Mark Ferrandino wondered what other issues might be of interest to Colorado Springs.

CSBJ columnist John Hazlehurst brought up one in particular. We’re concerned about El Paso County and the Pikes Peak region being able to receive our fair share of state money from the Colorado Department of Transportation. But perhaps going to the root of the problem, we’re just as concerned about having only one area representative — Springs businessman Les Gruen — on the state Transportation Commission.

“Maybe what we need to do,” Ferrandino said with a chuckle, “is add two positions on the Transportation Commission.”

The speaker’s comment might have been intended as humorous, but not everyone joined in the laughter. It’s not the Legislature’s fault, but as has been documented on various occasions, Colorado Springs is severely under-represented on state-level boards and commissions that are appointed by the governor.

Transportation actually isn’t the best example. At least, on that 11-person commission, the district including El Paso, Teller, Park and Fremont counties is guaranteed a member. But then again, that appointee could be from Cañon City or Fairplay, which are not beholden to Colorado Springs. Meanwhile, the Denver metro area has four members, with a fifth representing the Front Range counties northward to Fort Collins that surely identify with Denver’s interests.

We won’t hold our breath waiting for any gerrymandering that would help our region on the Transportation Commission, since no county has more than one member currently.

But it’s also true that Gov. John Hickenlooper’s first 450-plus commission appointments after taking office in 2011 included fewer than 20 from El Paso County. One reason, we learned at the time, was apathy — hardly anyone from Colorado Springs had expressed interest in state board vacancies. After that fact became public knowledge (and Hazlehurst wrote about it in our Sept. 12 issue: http://csbj.com/2012/09/07/want-to-serve-on-a-public-board-pick-your-poison/), more area residents have applied for positions, and the governor has responded by naming a handful from our region to commissions.

Still, that’s not enough.

What we really need is some entity — whether on behalf of the city or county governments, or both — to have a designated watchdog role. The idea would be to have someone who keeps an eye on every imaginable state and regional board and commission, and ideally know months ahead when turnover might occur. At the same time, that “someone” could cultivate and maintain an active list of city and county residents with legitimate interest.

By paying closer attention and being aggressively proactive, we could improve both the quality and quantity of local representation. More importantly, though, such a program would have ample time to develop over the next two years. Then, after the 2014 state election, with either Hickenlooper planning for a second term or his replacement preparing to take over (whether Republican or Democrat), Colorado Springs would be ahead of the game with applicants for the next flood of hundreds more appointments.

That’s how to deal with the problem — by making it a priority.