Sean Paige vs. Mike Merrifield for the District 3 city council seat? Now that’s a race that might eclipse the mayoral contest, except for one insignificant detail.
It’s a race about nothing.
In its post-strong mayor incarnation, city council will have little power, and will find it difficult to exert that power in any effective way. The mayor will control the city budget, city departments, city spending and almost everything worth mentioning. Council will be responsible for the city enterprises, but that responsibility will extend only to setting policy. Any attempt by council to oppose the mayor or usurp his/her powers will most probably come to naught, since the council will need a consistent supermajority to overrule the city’s newly empowered CEO.
For politicians such as Paige and Merrifield , a position on the new city council may not be much fun. No one will much care what they’re up to. Nothing that they do or say will have much effect.
Worse still, no one will know. Reporters will desert council chambers to cozy up to the mayor and his appointees. Council members may be wise or witty, pithy or devastating, brilliant or plodding, and it won’t matter. The Independent won’t care about Mike, and even the ever-loyal Gazette will banish Sean from its pages.
And if council becomes too irritating, the mayor will have the ability to make their lives unpleasant. The mayor could kick council members out of their comfortable offices, make them pay for free parking, and direct staff to ignore most of their requests for information.
To add injury to insult, expect to see a charter amendment on the ballot in a year or two that would give the mayor authority over city enterprises. Such a measure would have been included in the strong mayor charter change but for the “single subject” limitation on charter amendments. It doesn’t make sense to have such a division of responsibilities, so look for the eminently sensible folks who drafted the strong mayor amendment to complete their work in the near future.
The only position worth having on the new council would be that of council president. The president will be selected by his/her peers on council.
Sean, Mike – think about it. As president you could shorten meetings by cutting off particularly tendentious speakers, call frequent breaks and sit in the middle. Even more significantly, you’d get an impressive business card to show folks when you travel out of town.
Go to Denver, flash the card, let people think you’re the big boss of Colorado Springs and who knows? Maybe someone will buy you lunch.