“Collaboration,” “cooperation” and “leadership” were the catchphrases Tuesday night as at-large Colorado Springs City Council and mayoral candidates spoke at the Organization of Westside Neighbors forum.
Eleven of the 13 at-large candidates attended; Vickie Tonkins and Vanessa Bowie did not. Mayoral candidate Lawrence Martinez likewise was missing from that field of six.
One of the first questions posed to five council candidates at the Westside Community Center concerned the city’s two strategic plans — one by the mayor, the other from the council. The candidates agreed one plan is preferable.
“They need to be coordinated and relate to one another,” said Merv Bennett, the sole council incumbent seeking re-election.
“We’ve had four years to adjudicate the entire process,” noted candidate Bill Murray, who retired from intelligence positions with the Air Force and Pentagon. “It’s just like Bill Murray’s ‘Groundhog Day.’ We’re going to repeat it till we get it right.”
“We need collaboration,” echoed Nicholas Lee, an entrepreneur and professor.
Asked to define a council member’s job description, retired criminal defense investigator Yolanda L. Avila said: “To work for all the citizens of Colorado Springs. They are my boss.”
“We’re also the board directors of Colorado Springs Utilities,” Bennett noted. “Our job is different from the mayor’s. We’re not involved in day-to-day activities; we make policy.”
“This is a full-time job,” Murray declared. “If you don’t understand how to do it, don’t apply for the job. We should have at-large (council) meetings at night so we can hear from you, the citizens, specifically.”
The council now meets at 1 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays every two weeks. The need for night meetings to give citizens access to their government was a point repeated throughout the forum, which lasted more than two hours.
Asked about the $170 million scrubbers project to improve the Drake coal-fired power plant, Glenn Carlson said, “We’re doing the right thing here to try to reduce CO2 emissions on Drake. I’d like to make Colorado Springs a hub and create jobs with people working on these (energy) issues. We are going to rely on coal for some time to come, but we do need to develop a longer-term plan to move away from that.”
Six council candidates were questioned separately and had various responses to whether Colorado Springs should annex the “no man’s land” between it and Manitou Springs.
Not unless residents and business owners in that area agree with the plan, said Longinos Gonzalez Jr., who essentially supports the idea.
“There’s no such thing as a ‘no man’s land,’?” the Rev. Jesse Brown Jr. said. “It’s still us. When we can get rid of the ‘us’ and ‘them,’ we can work together for the good of all.”
Said longtime west-side resident Tom Strand: “When you drive from Colorado Springs to Manitou, it’s sad. It’s unkempt. We need to talk to neighbors throughout that region to see how we’re going to deal with it.”
Al Loma said, “There has to be some cost benefit . We have to do something now, not wait till we have a full agreement. I don’t want to kick it down the road.”
All six agreed that West Colorado Avenue should be considered a fourth priority for an enterprise zone.
“The west side is getting a little run-down — like South Academy, the UCCS area, North Nevada and downtown,” Jariah R. Walker said. “A lot of historical streets are on the west side. I consider it a treasure in this community.”
As for the city’s infrastructure needs, Loma said government was “created to spend money.” But if city leaders refocus, they could shrink the budget, he said.
Strand, though, cited serious needs with potholes, bridges, public buildings, roads, transportation and stormwater. “We’ve got to prioritize, look for bonds, funding from the federal government, county, state. Even neighbors can join in and fill potholes. Let’s prioritize them and make things better every year.”
“We need to elect leaders you trust who really are working for this community,” Walker added.
Without naming the proposed City for Champions project, Joe Woyte hit on what has become a sore spot among some residents: “One thing we don’t need to spend money on is millions of dollars on a sports arena the city can’t afford and the people don’t want.”
Each of the six candidates extolled leadership experience and skills.
“It’s not partisan politics; it’s leading for the betterment of the city,” Walker said. “It’s listening, not arguing in front of the media.”
Said Woyte: “I believe in servant leadership. So I’m going to listen. And I want to see City Council meetings in the evening.”
Among the mayoral candidates, former Councilman Joel Miller, who stepped down to run for the mayor’s seat, said he wants city government limited to public safety, public works, parks and “creating an environment where the economy can flourish.”
Amy Lathen, an El Paso County commissioner for seven years, stressed a need to examine issues “from a regional perspective.”
Said former Mayor and Councilwoman Mary Lou Makepeace: “I want to become mayor again because I have the skills and talent to move this community forward. The No. 1 priority: Stop the bickering, and let’s move forward.”
Former Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who has handily led the field in fundraising, said he has watched his hometown grow from 40,000 to 460,000 people, yet it has lagged behind other Colorado cities in employment and job creation as the infrastructure has deteriorated. City politics now are “not conducive” to progress, he said.
As he faced his term limit, Suthers said, “I envisioned transitioning into a lucrative private practice. . But we’ve watched the divisions at City Hall.”
Citing his “knowledge, experience, relationships and collaborative leadership style,” he said, “What’s in it for me? My love for Colorado Springs is what’s in it for me.”
“This isn’t about money,” agreed Makepeace, noting that she spent 12 years as an unpaid council member and six years as mayor for $6,250 a year. “John, I’ll say this,” she quipped to Suthers. “You go have your lucrative career, and I’ll be mayor, and we’ll both be happy.”
This article was written by Billie Stanton Anleu from The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.