Three new members elected to the Colorado Springs City Council were bubbling with excitement and ideas Wednesday, eager to put the Tuesday election behind and focus on the future.
An interview with District 3 Councilman-elect Richard Skorman at his Poor Richard's Restaurant was punctuated by congratulatory wishes from patrons who rushed to hug him. The phone rang with more well wishes and Jeff Haney, a Food Rescue founder, arrived with a bright spring bouquet to mark the occasion.
Albeit pleased and grateful for his victory, Skorman was ready to lay out his priorities for the council after the new members are seated in two weeks.
No. 1 on his list, he said, is the threat of wildfires in a tinder-dry environment that one snowstorm won't cure. Skorman wants the city to invest perhaps $2 million in modern towers that can warn of smoke within 25 miles and convey weather conditions to stations with firefighting helicopters.
"We're heading into a horrific fire season, and since the Waldo and Black Forest fires, we really haven't done anything to mitigate," he said.
He also wants the council to reform campaign finance rules, a concern also voiced by re-elected Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler. Both candidates saw attacks on their reputations by 501(c) nonprofits that aren't required to disclose their donors. Hundreds of thousands of dollars poured into the campaigns for six council seats.
Councilwoman-elect Yolanda Avila said Wednesday she wants to ensure that District 4, the city's south-central section, gets its fair share of work on sidewalks, roads, bridges and stormwater projects.
"I've been really concerned with the bridge on Airport Road because the sidewalk is not wide enough ... I've seen wheelchairs going out on Airport Road," Avila said.
She also wants the 15-minute bus routes being created on North Academy Avenue to extend to her southern sector, too. "And I'm going to work with the county and get us a satellite workforce center here, too," added Avila, who is legally blind. "I have my work cut out for me. They're all priorities.
"I'm so excited being with Puma on council," she said of her guide dog. "Everything I've done up to this point has prepared me for this. I feel a huge responsibility, and I feel I can do something in a positive way."
While Skorman has seven years of previous council experience and Avila has attended council meetings regularly over the past two years, District 2 Councilman-elect David Geislinger has no experience with elected office.
"And so I think the first thing we need to do is figure out where do we mesh, where do we fit in with each other, where are our various priorities in relation to the priorities of everybody else, and how does that fit with what the council has done to this point," Geislinger said. "And then plan for the future.
"We do, as a people, far too often try to go in and attack a problem without the correct governing process. It doesn't really address the problem," he said. "If you get the right process, we will inherently be addressing the problems that need to be addressed."
Skorman, whose district has been wracked by fire, flooding and landslides, said he also likes the idea of creating districts where homeowners can get insurance for all three disasters and protect their property values. Or sub-districts could be created by the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, said Skorman, who sits on its board. If voters approve, sub-districts could levy up to 5 mills of property tax to pool to protect their property interests.
The new council members have little time to spare. The current council concludes work Monday and Tuesday, followed by a send-off at 6 p.m. Wednesday for departing Councilmen Keith King and Larry Bagley and for Councilwoman Helen Collins, who was not re-elected. The event is at the Patty Jewett Golf Course clubhouse.
The new members will be sworn in April 18 and serve as the Utilities board the next day, with their initial council meetings to follow April 24 and 25.
Meanwhile, although election results still are considered unofficial, City Clerk Sarah Johnson said she and her crew finished counting ballots from all 74 precincts at 1 a.m. Wednesday.
Voter turnout reached 31.67 percent, with 83,244 ballots tendered by the city's 262,854 registered voters.
After the eight-day period ends for military and other absentee ballots, they'll process any more eligible ballots and provide updated vote counts next Wednesday evening.