On Jan. 15, the Housing and Building Association announced their picks for council. It’s an interesting list, to say the least, and one which underscores a simple fact: times are a’changin’!
The HBA has always been noted for a certain canny parochialism. They want an industry-friendly council, and they tend to support candidates who, if elected, will understand who their friends are. Even though the change in the form of government defanged city council to a degree, the city’s legislative body still has vast powers related to land use. Such issues are crucially important to members of the HBA, so the organization’s endorsement will go to those candidates judged to be most supportive of property rights, free enterprise, and minimal regulation.
That’s not news – but looking at the questionnaire that the organization sent to candidates seeking its endorsement, there’s another sine qua non.
How do you feel about hizzoner, Mayor Steve Bach?
Here are the relevant sections of the questionnaire.
-Do you favor the current form of government as approved by the voters in 2010 to have a strong mayor form of government? Explain your position.
-Will you support any charter amendments to change the form of government by rolling back or adding to the powers of the Mayor or Council? Please explain.
-Does the Mayor have too much or too little power under the new form of government?
-How would you change the balance of power between the Mayor and City Council.
-What is your assessment of the first two years of the term of Mayor Bach?
Unless you’re utterly brain-dead, you get the drift. The HBA thinks well of the Mayor, and wants to make sure that you do as well. And even if you think well of the Mayor, you’d better not be a tough-minded independent thinker who might oppose him at some future date.
That may be why the organization withheld its endorsement from such luminaries as Bernie Herpin, Jim Bensberg, Brandy Williams, and Jill Gaebler, opting for Keith King and Al Loma instead. Should the organization go six for six, Loma and King will be joined by Tim Leigh, David Moore, Deborah Hendrix, and Angela Dougan. Such a lineup might give Bach a supermajority on Council, and allow him a free hand to implement the far-reaching reforms that he promised when elected in 2011.
On the other hand, candidates aren’t like cars – they don’t come with guarantees. Deborah Hendrix is a notably independent thinker, Al Loma is notoriously cranky, David Moore is an unknown quantity, and Dougan and Leigh…well, think of Tim and Angela as free-spirited dogs who can always find a way out of the yard!
In that context, it’s no accident that Scott Hente and Jan Martin unveiled a last-minute proposal to change the governance of Colorado Springs Utilities. If approved by a majority of councilors at Council’s Jan. 22 meeting, voters will have the opportunity to remove Council as CSU’s governing body, and replace it with a seven-person elected board.
Does that make sense? Maybe so, but, as Councilor Merv Bennett noted, it’s extremely premature. Tim Leigh concurred, saying that any such ballot issue ought to be preceded by at least a “12 month conversation.”
So why now? Councilor Val Snyder let the cat out of the bag when he said that “…We might not have a Council in April that will look at this in an objective way.”
In bringing up the subject for discussion, Hente pointed out that CSU has been a “punching bag” for nearly a year, despite the organization’s exemplary performance. And who’s been throwing the punches?
Hente didn’t say, but he was clearly referring to Mayor Steve Bach. Hizzoner hasn’t hesitated to express his concern about the Neumann contract, the Drake downtown power plant, and CSU’s reluctance to help fund the city’s stormwater needs.
Putting CSU under a separate board would finally and definitively remove the Mayor from the process, and put the city’s crown jewel out of his reach. It’s an interesting ploy, one which is reminiscent of Council’s attempt to transfer Memorial Health Systems to a non-profit headed by Memorial’s management team. By putting the Memorial in play, Council started a years-long process that ended with the UCH lease – an outcome that few foresaw at the time.
Although it may not have been their intention to do so, Hente and Martin have put CSU in play. Once started, the process is both irreversible and unpredictable. If changing governance is appropriate, why not consider selling off parts of the utility? And why yet another elected board? Wouldn’t it make more sense to bring CSU into closer alignment with the city, and have it report directly to the Mayor?