NOREEN: Many questions remain about strong mayor system

November 5, 2010
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Colorado Springs voters spoke loudly on Election Day, giving a hefty majority to the strong-mayor proposal.

We’re past the time of opposing it. Now it’s time to make it work, and there a few more questions than answers about the implications of the measure.

That’s only natural. This is a big change for the city and it’s reasonable to expect that not every single detail will be wrapped up in a neat package by April, when we will elect our first strong mayor.

It’s realistic to see this as a system that will evolve over time, maybe several years.

Kevin Walker, spokesman for Citizens for Accountable Leadership (see my blog), the group that pushed the proposal, agrees there will be a settling-out process.

“When we talked to the mayor of San Diego, he said it took them a little while to figure out how everything works,” Walker said.

After a five-year trial, San Diego voters decided this year to stick with a strong-mayor system. In some ways, San Diego is a big city with many of the same challenges as Colorado Springs.

In others ways — notably the ownership of several enterprises and the presence of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights — Colorado Springs is different.

City Councilman Sean Paige, who has not decided whether he will run for the new position, said “now we have to deal with the new reality. I think the law of unintended consequences will apply. One of the things I’ve learned since being on council is that this is a pretty complicated city with a lot of moving parts.”

Within the proposal voters just approved is a provision that the city auditor is not answerable to the strong mayor, but would be appointed by the council. This is good, as far as it goes, but the proposal also give the mayor line-item control over the auditor’s budget — not so good.

True, the council will be able to over-ride the mayor as long as there are enough votes. But if the mayor has enough allies on the council he or she could hamstring the office that is supposed to act as a watchdog.

Paige thinks the city auditor also should be an elected position, as it is in Denver. Maybe, but adding another elected official creates more politics, not less. Perhaps it should be a civil service position and the office’s budget should be controlled by the council.

There is no right or wrong here; it’s just something to think about.

The strong mayor proposal also mandates that the mayor not have outside employment, because the intent is that we will have a full-time mayor. Does that mean the mayor cannot accept honoraria, write a book, teach a class, or sit on a corporation’s board of directors?

No one knows the answer to that one. We don’t even know all the questions yet, but we’re going to have to work on that.

Listen to Barry Noreen on KRDO NewsRadio 105.5 FM and 1240 AM at 6:35 a.m. on Fridays and read his blog updates at



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