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ENDORSEMENTS: Gazette announces City Council picks

By: The Gazette editorial board
March 2, 2017 Updated: March 8, 2017 at 10:05 am
photo - City Council president Keith King, center, and other members of the Colorado Springs City Council listen to testimony during a November 12, 2013 meeting. On Tuesday, the council voted 7-2 to approve a contract for a stormwater funding program.  Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
City Council president Keith King, center, and other members of the Colorado Springs City Council listen to testimony during a November 12, 2013 meeting. On Tuesday, the council voted 7-2 to approve a contract for a stormwater funding program. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette 

Voters will elect six of nine Colorado Springs City Council members next month during an exciting time for Colorado Springs.

Our economy is booming. Tourism is up, unemployment is low, the housing market is setting records and people are moving their families and businesses to town. All this against the backdrop of a recent U.S. News & World Report survey that found of the country's 100 largest cities, Colorado Springs ranks among the first two choices among people who could move anywhere. Only Honolulu scored higher.

The city's growth is good for everyone, as it results in more jobs, higher incomes and a growing tax base.

This is no time for public servants to get comfortable. The City Council, working with the mayor, should build on this momentum by making Colorado Springs the best city in the United States in which to do business. That's a complicated task. It will involve maintaining low taxes and utility rates, minimizing regulation and finding ways to improve streets, infrastructure and public safety.

The Gazette's editorial board spent an hour with each of the 14 candidates seeking office. We found strong qualities in each of them.

In choosing candidates, we looked for those who appeared best suited to fuel the community's economic and cultural resurgence. Our endorsements are suggestions, and The Gazette's editorial board encourages voters to conduct independent research on candidates before making this important decision. We hope our research and comments help in the endeavor.

District 1

We have no major contention with either candidate on key issues. Each is committed to upgrading stormwater infrastructure, improving roads and enhancing public safety. The biggest difference between Basham and Knight involves background and experience. Basham is a strategist who works on building revenue and growth. Knight is an operations manager who focuses on internal process. The latter is a problem in our form of government, where the mayor is in charge of process and council members are supposed to focus on policy.

Mostly our decision rested on the strengths of Basham and concerns raised about Knight by people who work at City Hall and for Colorado Springs Utilities.

We're told "micromanager" is putting it lightly when describing Knight's approach. While we appreciate oversight by members of the council, we're told Knight costs city government time and money by belaboring issues without materially improving the way things are done. We have heard it from so many diverse parties the claim is hard to dismiss.

Knight cares passionately about his community and has served with honor. At 62, he is the youngest man on the City Council. He's too polite to exploit for political gain (see: Reagan) his 54-year-old opponent's youth and inexperience.

We're not so polite. Basham exudes the energy and passion of a street fighter in his prime, ready to attract businesses to town and fight for those who have long called this place home. An executive at Champion Windows & Doors, Basham has an award-wining business track record of 25 years. He will serve as a proactive member of the council, dedicated to promoting and sustaining growth.

District 2

Geislinger, 56, is unopposed, so this was our easiest decision. Geislinger worked under Mayor John Suthers as a prosecutor when the mayor was El Paso County district attorney. Geislinger later worked in private practice, and today he is a Catholic deacon working as a chaplain for Penrose-St. Francis Hospital.

Geislinger said he is running, in part, because Colorado Springs has become a big city with a small-town approach to governing.

"Things come up that we aren't prepared to deal with, so we have this whack-a-mole approach to problem solving," Geislinger told us.

He wants the city to hire more police and firefighters and says stormwater infrastructure and public safety should be the city's highest priorities.

District 3

Richard Skorman, 64, is well-known as a successful businessman and former two-term member of the Colorado Springs City Council. We like Skorman but are concerned his election could move Colorado Springs back in time. We may not be alone in thinking so, as fundraising has clearly been a problem. Just ask him.

Skorman recently posted the following to a marijuana businessman on Facebook:

"Hi K.c. I was wondering if you had an e-mail list of Cannabis business owners I can reach out to raise money. I'm still having a difficult time raising enough. I'm getting mostly smaller checks. Let me know. Thanks, Richard 719-***-****" (number redacted by The Gazette).

We contacted Skorman about the post, and he said legalization proponents were providing him with lists. He hopes the marijuana industry, and its customers, can help elect him.

Fowler, by contrast, opposes anything that would result in proliferation of more pot stores lining the streets. He says commercialized marijuana has contributed to the community's growing homeless population.

Fowler, 62, is such a class act he doesn't have a bad word to say about Skorman.

"Richard has a body of work here that hasn't been forgotten," Fowler said. "He is a successful businessman and has done a lot of good things."

Fowler's commitment to the community should not be questioned. He is co-founder of the City Committee, which caused community leaders to reassess management of the city government's resources and helped steer Memorial Hospital in the right direction. Because of his City Committee leadership, Fowler knows as much about city finance as anyone we interviewed.

A few months after Fowler's wife died of cancer, the Waldo Canyon fire destroyed the couple's home. For the next year, Fowler led a voluntary recovery program that ensured everyone else was able to recover from the disaster.

Fowler is a fresh voice with fresh ideas and proven record of selfless compassion for others. He will take our community to the next level.

District 4

All three of the candidates for District 4 showed a thoughtful and dedicated approach when reflecting on the requirements to represent their sector of the city.

We agreed with Hendrix that her district needs stronger representation. It's an area of the city that needs a lot of attention and innovative thinking. She should bring new focus and ideas to the City Council and said she would concentrate on transit and revitalization of the southeast corridor. That and her experience in education should really benefit her constituents.

Collins, 61, is obviously someone who understands and cares about her community. But her negative stance on most issues is troubling. She is often the single no vote on the council, which affects her ability to be influential.

Avila, 61, also has been very involved in her district and has some strong ideas, but we are concerned about her lack of experience in government and her failure to focus on bringing business to the southeast sector.

District 5

Lynette Crow-Iverson, 50, stresses city government's need to make Colorado Springs a friendly "ecosystem" for businesses, with policies geared to "retain, grow and attract" desirable employers.

She's the owner of Conspire!, a company that provides drug screening and background checks to employers. She stresses the need to revitalize downtown and questions the wisdom of putting too much emphasis on bicycle lanes in her district's Old North End neighborhood. Crow-Iverson would like to ensure a system of governance for Colorado Springs Utilities that includes appointed board members with credentials appropriate to running a $2 billion enterprise.

Jill Gaebler, 50, says she hates marijuana and has never used it. That is not our concern. Rather, we object to her consistent advocacy of challenging the City Council's ban on retail recreational marijuana. She also voted against a city government proposal to trade land with The Broadmoor, in a deal that left the city with more property, higher valuations and guaranteed use of the Manitou Incline in perpetuity.

We respect Gaebler's intellect and passion for public service. Our concern is her judgment on a few key issues with significant ramifications, including her lack of consistency in supporting economic development. We have no such concerns with Crow-Iverson and believe she is the right person at the right time to continue our community's progress.

District 6

District 6 voters have a surplus of men and women of solid character and willingness to serve.

Melanie Bernhardt, 48, is a former child star best known as the TV friend of actor Gary Coleman in his role as Arnold Jackson in the '70s and '80s sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes." Today, she mentors foreign students as a local student exchange coordinator. She's clearly running to make her community better, but we have concern about her lack of knowledge regarding major city issues.

Robert Burns, 47, told us he was running because his church pastor encouraged parishioners to pursue their dreams.

"So I mentioned to my pastor and my wife that I'd like to run for office to help shape our community and our society," Burns said.

A retired noncommissioned officer who served at Fort Carson, Burns has, we suspect, a future in public service - even if it doesn't begin with this election.

Janak Joshi, 67, immigrated to the United States from India, practiced medicine and ran five medical clinics in Colorado Springs with 50 employees before he retired. He is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives.

Joshi loves his community so much he once wrote a personal check for $25,000 to help the Police Department keep a patrol helicopter. We agree with him on most issues, including his priority of "promoting growth in the economy." We disagree with his opposition to a TABOR refund that would help pay for stormwater infrastructure.

We chose Andres Pico, 65, because the veteran Navy aviation officer has proved himself a tireless and competent public servant during his time on the City Council. As chairman of the board of directors of Colorado Springs Utilities, Pico talks in detailed proficiency about all aspects of the $2 billion utility.

If council members lack utilities expertise, no one would know it by talking to Pico. He supports creating an independent board for the utility, with members elected by citizens and ratepayers. He remains flexible and open to ideas on the issue, saying there is no "best way" to run a utility and he wants whatever works best for Colorado Springs.

In a field of four good candidates, Pico stands far above the rest in terms of experience and detailed knowledge of the issues.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Gazette's endorsements are decided by a five-member editorial board. In the spirit of full disclosure, editorial page editor and board member Wayne Laugesen is married to Dede Laugesen, a registered agent with an entity involved in City Council elections. Wayne Laugesen recused himself from voting on endorsements to avoid any conflicts of interest or appearances thereof.
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