If you’re like most people in Colorado Springs, you’re thinking the city is a year away from a pivotal moment — the 2015 mayoral election.
We’ll have the first round of voting next April, likely narrowing the field to a runoff. Unless the landscape changes dramatically, Mayor Steve Bach will be seeking a second four-year term, facing a diverse field of challengers.
The rumored candidates range from outgoing state Attorney General John Suthers to term-limited City Councilor Jan Martin, state Rep. Bob Gardner, County Commissioner Amy Lathen and probably more. Some might wait to see whether Bach pursues a second term. If not, it literally could be a wide-open race.
That leads us to the purpose for this column: Let’s forget about the city election being next spring. Given the circumstances, in particular the business community’s dissatisfaction, we may in fact have it much earlier.
The real election might — and arguably should — take place this November.
It’s simple, really. What we have, already taking shape, is a countywide ballot issue on stormwater, asking voters to approve a fee for property owners that would provide a regional solution to our ever-growing infrastructure problems and needs.
Mayor Bach doesn’t support it. He wants the city to act alone, maneuvering various funds to make it work without a fee or tax.
Almost everyone else disagrees, from City Council to county commissioners and a task force including business leaders. They believe everyone in the county shares in the problem and should share in solving it.
We also have a growing sentiment of frustration in our midst. Prominent business figures are saying the time has come for them to let elected officials know expectations are changing.
Just this past week, our weekly CSBJ online poll provided the latest indication. We asked: How would you describe the relationship between the business community and local elected leaders?
Only 11 percent said “good,” and 17 percent graded it as “so-so” because of “not enough cooperation.”
But 32 percent checked this response: “frustrating, especially when so many electeds refuse to compromise.”
And then the hammer: 40 percent called that relationship “nonexistent, and the time has come for business leaders to do something about it.”
We were hoping, by now, Bach would see the wisdom in a compromise. He could accept the regional stormwater idea, and others would agree to be more supportive of City for Champions (in whatever form) as well as a unified plan for Martin Drake Power Plant.
If he could put such a deal together, Bach almost surely would have a clear path to a second term. But he’s shown no interest in compromising.
So let’s turn the November election into an early referendum for Bach, a chance for voters to give the mayor a clear signal of whether he should run. Other candidates could take a stand on stormwater and potentially benefit later.
Some stormwater supporters are afraid to push their ballot measure without Bach’s support. Instead, they should be more determined than ever.
Task force co-chair and Pikes Peak National Bank President Robin Roberts, before leaving the task force this week to join gubernatorial candidate Mike Dunafon’s race as his running mate, said:
“This has been a transparent process for the past two years. The public has been involved, the electeds have been involved — it’s probably one of the only truly transparent processes (and most collaborative) we have had in this community in a while.
“Most communities have a single stormwater funding source. A tax, a fee, a whatever. And they don’t vote on it — it is imposed by local authorities, they collect it, and they take care of stormwater infrastructure.
“A dedicated stormwater fee is not a novel idea. It’s not some punitive measure, it’s good and quite normal government that we in El Paso County seem to think doesn’t apply to us. We should man up and get this on the ballot, get it taken care of, and move on to the really important aspects of our future …
“The mayor should actually listen to the public instead of assuming his way is the only way. The polling done — twice — by the task force clearly shows that the public wants this issue addressed and a solution proposed. They want it to be regional, they want it to be dedicated, and they want to vote on it.”
Given that, if Bach continues to oppose a stormwater ballot issue, he should be willing to base his plans on that outcome.
The voters could give Bach a fresh mandate, or they could send him a negative message.
In other words, we don’t have to wait until 2015. Let’s have an unofficial city election in November.