I spoke this morning as part of a panel discussion put together by the League of Women Voters of the Pikes Peak Region. Joining me on the panel were Council Member Scott Hente (District 1) and Ralph Routon (editor of the Independent). Here are my thoughts on Issue 1A:
Issue 1A on the city ballot changes the makeup of city council from a body of 5 at large council members and 4 district members to one of only 3 at large members and 6 district members. I opposed putting this measure on the ballot. While I am not fundamentally opposed to more district seats, I think this is the wrong measure at the wrong time.
We now have a piecemeal city charter. Due to the constraints of the single subject rule pertaining to charter amendments, the strong mayor proponents were limited in how far they could go in proposing changes to the charter to implement a strong mayor system. Almost all of the changes simply deleted the words “city manager” in favor of the word “mayor.” Some of the changes made leave the city with an inconsistent and in some places contradictory charter. For example, the charter now requires both the city council and the mayor to articulate and promulgate a strategic plan for the city, two different plans. Council is to operate as a check and balance for mayor’s office. However, the charter also states that all employees are employees of the mayor. How can council effectively carry its obligation without any staff, without any resources to meet this duty.
The proposed charter change to 6 districts further pursues this piecemeal change. The better solution is to empanel a charter review committee and direct a comprehensive rewrite of the charter to put into place a coherent mayor – council form of government, and then to implement the changes prospectively.
Secondly, the change to a strong mayor form of government will dramatically dilute the authority and importance of Council. All policy making will now concentrate in Mayor’s office, as the mayor will be the only person with both the authority to formulate policy and the means to put it into effect. Council will become a purely constituent service position. Increasing number of districts will hasten this transition. As a practical matter, the mayor will need 4 votes to force into effect any policy directive (4 being the number necessary to sustain a veto of any council action). The mayor will secure those votes through persuasion or deal making. Increasing the number of district seats will just make it easier to get those 4 votes. District representatives are more parochial, focused on their district, not the entire city. By example, if a new or refurbished park is necessary to secure a district member’s vote, the mayor may consider that a small price to pay for sustaining a veto.
Finally, there are the collateral impacts or unintended consequences of this change. Now with 5 at large representatives and 4 districts, in any land use change (a quasi-judicial matter) 6 council votes have skin in the game. This change will mean that only 4 have skin in the game. A majority can vote however they please and the affected citizens cannot touch them at the ballot box. While I have confidence in the integrity of the council members, just keep in mind that a free vote is often a traded vote.
There is also the fairness question. Candidates declared for office and filed their petitions with the terms set at 4 years. A yes vote on Issue 1A would mean that after declaring for office and winning a seat on council, the terms will be shortened to 2 years for the candidates finishing 4th and 5th, effectively changing the rules after the game started. Furthermore, the charter limits council members to two consecutive terms in office. Would an at large term shortened to two years constitute a term under the term limits provision?
I will be voting “No” on issue 1A.