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King wants better process for council

By: The Gazette editorial
April 30, 2013 Updated: May 2, 2013 at 11:32 am
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New City Council President Keith King has a radical idea. Brace yourselves for this one:

'I think there is a better way to do things, ' King said in a Gazette story Monday.

We certainly hope so. Despite consisting of nine smart, impassioned elected officials the council has been a symbol of dysfunction in Colorado Springs for years. The problem resides more in poor process than in a lack of talent among the politicians who sacrifice for this community.

Council dysfunction is the main reason our city has not resolved $100 million-plus in essential stormwater infrastructure needs. The council spent the past year showing a complete inability to do anything with oil and gas regulations. The council fought over tennis courts at a time of financial crisis.

The list could go on, but even incumbent and former members know the city's legislative branch has floundered.

King, a new member who was elected by his peers to preside over the council, wants more order and efficiency. He wants the council to run more like the Colorado General Assembly, where he served as a senator and speaker of the House. He plans to discuss procedural improvements during a two-day council retreat May 10-11.

King brought one state legislative maneuver to the council when he contacted fellow members individually and asked each to co-sponsor a resolution that undid an expensive solar subsidy. Sponsorship of legislation is brilliant. It creates opportunity for inclusion in the crafting of resolutions before they are brought to meetings for discussion, public input and action. It's a team approach.

Critics complain sponsorship creates an impression that members have made up their minds in advance of process. It is nonsense, of course, given two co-sponsors of King's first sponsored measure chose to vote against it.

Co-sponsorship means getting more directly involved with a proposal, knowing what's in it and trying to make it better. It also tells constituents which members of the council are advocating and writing proposals.

King's change agenda includes a goal to have the council members conduct themselves with 'dignity and honor. ' He read a statement to that effect at the start of the council's first informal session, and it somewhat scandalized at least one member of the old guard.

'This is public discourse, ' councilwoman Jan Martin said. 'The best decisions are made often times through disagreement. And to think we will never disagree on a topic does not bode well. '

Good governance involves abundant conflict, deliberation among conflicting parties, compromise and resolution. So we agree with Martin's underlying point. We strongly dispute any assertion that King implied council members should never disagree. He said nothing of the sort. He suggested the process take place in a context of 'dignity and honor. ' Without dignity and honor, conflict get out of control and becomes counterproductive.

Anyone who has spent time in Washington or at any state capitol knows that politicians who are bitter rivals on important issues - even emotional issues such as abortion - can treat each other with dignity and honor. They can disagree on the chamber floor in the afternoon and enjoy each other's company at dinner that night.

King also wants to strengthen the council's role in local governance by using subcommittees of council members to examine large, complex issues. This is common sense. It is a means of allowing a few members of the council to become experts on specified topics so they can summarize and share the information with other members.

Opponents of changing the council's approach have a hard case to defend; their process doesn't work very well.

King's quick efforts to bring more professionalism and decorum to the council are precisely why The Gazette's editorial board recommended him as president. He is on the right track.

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