Thoughts about what to expect from new City Council

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Council elections have come and gone with results that baffled even the least savvy prognosticator (that would be me). I called two of six, doing a little better than the Housing and Building Association (1-5), but a little worse than the Independent and the Gazette (3-6).

Yet my record’s a lot worse than theirs, since I wasn’t endorsing candidates but trying to pick winners. I should’ve invoked my mother’s restless spirit — she picked Dark Star (25-1) to beat Native Dancer (3-5) in the 1953 Kentucky Derby. Mom cleaned up and so could have I, with a Joel Miller/Andres Pico/Helen Collins trifecta.

Next round of speculation: How will the new Council shake out? Who will be Council president? Who will lead, and who will follow? Will the Mayor be happy or sad? And will the new Council be good for business, bad for business, or same old same old?

Consider Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony as the first day of school. You’ll see nine wary adults suddenly possessed by their inner teenagers, pretending an ease and confidence they don’t have. The three veterans — Jan Martin, Val Snider and Merv Bennett — will seem comfortable and welcoming. They may already have reached out to the newcomers, and may have made some deals.

It seems clear that Jan Martin will become Council president. Snider and Bennett will support her, and it’s reasonable to assume that Jill Gaebler, Don Knight and Joel Miller will as well. Martin is the only Council member with more than two years of experience and is Scott Hente’s natural successor. Knight and Hente are good friends, while Miller and Gaebler are cautious and sensible.

Choosing anyone else for the post would plunge Council into another era of discord, re-ignite ancient feuds, and signal weakness to Mayor Bach. That would serve no one’s interest — it’s best to let an era of good feelings endure at least until fall.

The Mayor was careful not to take sides in the election, publicly supporting only the ill-fated Angela Dougan, but many of his supporters had very specific notions of what ought to happen.

They hoped that Keith King would lead the new Council, supported by incumbents Dougan and Tim Leigh, and newcomers David Moore, Al Loma, and Deborah Hendrix.

King won, but his allies-to-be were tossed to the curb.

Had they prevailed, King could have been Council president. He would have moved forward with plans for reshaping Council, essentially ceding its responsibilities to the mayor, to appointed bodies and to Council subcommittees. No more interminable meetings, no more 250-page Utilities Board agendas, no more boring, complicated land-use hearings.

Alas for King, he’ll have the worst of possible worlds. He’ll be another rookie councilor, staring into space in the dreary Council chambers from which all natural light is excluded, keenly aware that there’s another world outside, full of sunlight, life and music — but no Keith!

The new Council’s shape and direction will be eventually determined by the new Gang of Four: Miller, Gaebler, Knight and Pico. Pro-business conservatives? Yes. Ready to do the Mayor’s bidding? No.

Uber-conservative Helen Collins may be an outlier, but she’s nobody’s fool. It remains to be seen how effective she’ll be as a Council member, but she’ll be a pro-business voice on Council — as long as the businesses in question aren’t seeking any form of preferential treatment.

Judging from the stated positions of the six newcomers, the Drake Power plant will keep on churning out inexpensive power for the next 20 years or so, absent some combination of stricter regulation and cheaper natural gas. City acquisition of the Banning-Lewis Ranch seems less likely, unless through a partnership between the TOPs program and private sources.

A majority of the new Council appears to favor a regional approach to stormwater funding, including the creation of a tax-funded entity similar to PPRTA. Whether regional in scope or limited to Colorado Springs, there’s some pesky decision-making ahead.

If anything is to be done, the taxpayers will have to ante up hundreds of millions. Ladies and gentlemen of City Council, show us the money! You have three choices: sales tax, property tax or (gasp! shudder!) a municipal income tax. Whichever one it is, expect Helen Collins to go all Doug Bruce on you and lead the opposition.

Doesn’t look so appealing, does it? Maybe you ought to take another look at looting Colorado Springs Utilities.

2 Responses to Thoughts about what to expect from new City Council

  1. John,

    With all due respect sir, I do believe the chances for either of us to be called to Vegas to run odds is diminishing with each election. You any good at shuffleboard?

    Storm water will indeed be a challenge for a new council to approach as a test of how best to create the concept of close inter-agency city/county cooperation for the public good. Beer and bets?

    Rick Wehner
    April 16, 2013 at 5:24 pm

  2. Four out of six, John. We got four out of six.

    April 16, 2013 at 7:06 pm