Before digging in a yard, Colorado Springs Utilities will send a specialist to mark the buried gas lines in your yard free of charge. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)
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Before digging in a yard, Colorado Springs Utilities will send a specialist to mark the buried gas lines in your yard free of charge. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)

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Albeit few in number, six or so ratepayers brought fresh ideas Tuesday night to a town hall talk on how Colorado Springs Utilities should be managed.

Their notions piqued the interest of the Utilities board and City Council, which are one and the same.

The board has been studying how to replace itself since 1993, analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of an appointed board, a new all-elected board or a hybrid of the two models, as opposed to the current elected board and council.

The push for a new approach has picked up steam over the past year, with Utilities staff, a board governance committee and subcommittees meeting frequently.

The current board has done a fine job, several citizens said.

"The only thing I'm not comfortable with is the amount of workload put on you all ... to do the job right," said Dennis Moore, referring to the nine members' roles running the city as well as the four-service Utilities. "That part scares me, not your abilities."

Although the board plans to complete its work by June, Moore urged the members: "Go past July. Do not put a deadline on this thing. Don't rush something that doesn't need to be rushed."

Kevin Walker, a former city planner and developer, said experts on the board would be helpful, working with Utilities management.

Councilman and board member Bill Murray asked whether a separate paid advisory group could report to the board instead.

"That's kind of creative," Walker replied. "As much as you can rely on managers of Utilities, they don't work for you. If you had your own staff, I think you could potentially function a lot better."

Ken Norwood of Mercy's Gate suggested having at least one rotating seat for a nonspecialist, a regular ratepayer, "so this community knows the voices of the working poor have been heard."

Some suggested younger people should be somehow included, as most of the nine board members are in their 60s.

But Walter Lawson, longtime government observer, disagreed and brought the data to back his point.

"This is not a game for children. It takes some experience," Lawson said. "Successful companies, the Standard & Poor's 500, have a median age of 63 for Utilities boards. The range for the majority is 57 to 68.

"There has to be a very good reason for that. Seasoned directors can bring valuable institutional memory; they may criticize management more readily than younger people."

He recommended the authorities exercised by the board and council members be split because "if we don't create an independent board, we cause redundant work by the board and council. And we consign the council, on the budget for example, to rubber-stamping. So why not a separate board of qualified, elected people?"

Councilman and board member Don Knight asked whether gradually moving authorities to a new board might be best.

"Keep the existing board and have one or two new members with a gradual transition," Lawson suggested.

"That's another way," Knight said. "You have some good points to think about."

Any decision by the Utilities Governance Committee, consisting of the full board, would be put on the ballot for voters to decide, probably in the April 2017 election.

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