Sunday, February 17, 2013

Who’s Going to Do the Thinking?

“I can't fight it anymore.   .  .  .   Oh, I don't know what's right any longer. You have to think for both of us.  For all of us.”  Ilsa to Rick, Casablanca

What is the proper role of the City Council in a mayor-council form of government?  Over the past two years, we’ve seen a battle played out in our City Council.  Some of the council members act as if their role is to rubber stamp anything that comes out of the mayor’s office, taking the role as his cheerleaders.  Whatever the proposal, they neither question nor challenge the solution the mayor’s office offers.  One might wonder whether they have given any independent thought to the policy issue or any of the possible solutions.  Others, meanwhile, have attempted to establish City Council as an independent branch of municipal government, struggling with limited resources to present solutions.

The campaigns for City Council elections are underway.  There are now six district seats; all are up for election.  Since there are no hot button issues this campaign cycle, the only driving issue is how independent will the new council be? 

To answer this question, we must first do a sort of the candidates.  Those who are in play, who have a chance, and those who fall into the “also ran” category.  There are several criteria used to sort them apart:  Anyone who is an incumbent, anyone who has name recognition, anyone who has money to buy name recognition is immediately in play.  But there is also another category:  Those to whom God has given a unique gift:  the ability to identify with and connect to the public.  Every now and then, someone with this special talent comes on the scene and, from nowhere, wins a seat.  I’ve seen it happen with Wayne Fischer in 1987, Cheryl Gillespie in 1991 and again with Tom Gallagher in 2003.  There is a magic ability to connect.  At a campaign forum, try watching not the candidates on stage, but the audience when each of the candidates speaks.  One can learn a lot that way about who has a chance.  In a small district race, the outlier has a much better opportunity to win a seat with limited resources.

By now, however, we know who has received the backing of some of Colorado Springs’ more influential players.  Bach was Schuck’s candidate two years ago.  Undoubtedly, the two have a very close bond.  This past week Schuck sent a mass email endorsing specific candidates.  In addition, the HBA has always been out in front with its endorsements and this year is no exception.  The questions the HBA asked of the candidates are very much in lockstep with Bach’s positions on the issues; the candidates endorsed by Schuck and the HBA are identical.  What is unclear is whether the candidates they endorsed will think for themselves if (re)elected to Council.

The role of any Councilmember is to think for one’s self, investigate, question, demand answers.  If answers are not forthcoming, take advantage of any and all methods available to get them.  But above all else, act independently of the mayor’s office.  Be a credible check and balance on the mayor’s assertion of control and authority.  Would the State of Colorado be better off if the legislature or state attorney general went to the governor’s office to ask direction on every issue? 

I have not been to any candidate forums yet, but I will seek them out over the next few weeks. (e.g.: The Trails and Open Space Forum on March 4, 2013, 5:30 pm at Stargazers Theatre.)  I will be looking to candidates who can think for themselves.

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