Editor's note: This is the first installment of a six-part series on Colorado Springs City Council races, on the ballot for the April 6 election.
Colorado Springs City Councilman David Geislinger, a former lawyer and occasional swing vote, will face David Noblitt, a Colorado Springs firefighter, Jay Inman, a digital architect at Microsoft, and Randy Helms, a substitute teacher and retired Air Force colonel, in the race to represent District 2, the northernmost portion of the city.
The man elected will face tough issues including an underfunded parks system, a rapidly growing city, pandemic recovery, ongoing interest in legalizing recreational marijuana sales and other contentious matters.
The race is one of six on the April 6 ballot, and Geislinger is one of three incumbents defending his seat on the nine-member board. The three at-large members, Wayne Williams, Bill Murray and Tom Strand, are not facing re-election this year.
Among the challengers in District 2, Noblitt was the most highly critical of his opponent's voting record and started preparing for the race against Geislinger last year by petitioning through the local firefighter's association for a change to city policy that prohibited city employees from running for the City Council if they did not resign from their job first. The change was backed by legal precedent, he said.
If elected, Noblitt would retire to take his seat.
After 25 years with the city fire department, Noblitt said he is willing to leave his job for the council because the people of his district are frustrated with recent council decisions.
"I believe the City Council representatives are supposed to, in fact, represent their constituents," he said.
He said Geislinger should have stood up for the residents concerned about a lack of emergency exit routes from the North Fork at Briargate neighborhood near Powers Boulevard and Old Ranch Road, instead of voting to approve a rezone of property to allow 740 new houses north of the existing neighborhood. The council approved the rezone for the new homes on a 5 to 4 vote, making Geislinger a key decision-maker.
The new homes and existing residents will all rely on Thunder Mountain Avenue and Forest Creek Drive to get to Old Ranch Road to leave their neighborhood.
Geislinger said while the Colorado Department of Transportation could not allow emergency access to Powers Boulevard from the neighborhood, local officials strongly implied emergency access would be opened up if needed.
City growth in general needs additional checks and balances, Noblitt said, in part, because the city has approved metro districts formed by developers to finance construction of roads and other infrastructure in new neighborhoods, and, in some cases, developers are profiting from the interest on the bonds issued to pay for the infrastructure they are building.
"When the city incentivizes development, it needs to make sure businesses will pay their fair share of infrastructure costs, he said.
Noblitt also pointed out the city should resolve which fire department is going to be responsible for protecting new neighborhoods before they are annexed so that citizens aren't paying dual taxes to the city and another fire protection agency for years after their neighborhoods are built out. A new 900-acre development along Woodmen Road was recently approved in January with this problem unresolved, he said.
When it comes to parks funding, Noblitt said he would support asking voters for a tax increase following a recovery from the pandemic. Noblitt also opposed reducing the number of park acres developers must dedicate to the city when they build new homes, a change Geislinger supported. The measure passed on a 5 to 4 vote, making Geislinger's vote key.
On recreational marijuana sales, Noblitt said he would support asking voters to approve legal sales, but not while the city is fighting to change the federal decision to move Space Command to Alabama in 2026.
Incumbent Geislinger said water is a key consideration governing growth and recommended setting up a regional sustainable water working group to help guide growth and water use that is now in place. The city is also working on an annexation plan with the county that he supports, because homes built in the county rely on ground water that is nonrenewable, and when that resources is depleted, those homes may need to enter the city.
When it comes to pandemic recovery, he said as a hospital chaplain, he has seen the effects of COVID-19 first hand and residents should continue precautions.
"This is still a pandemic. It is still real and we need to do what we can to keep the infection rates low," he said. Lower rates of spread help keep businesses open, he said.
Geislinger also supported recent sales tax rebates for restaurants recovering from the pandemic, and he would be open to providing rebates to other businesses, he said.
He is not supportive of asking voters to legalize recreational marijuana sales because the costs do not outweigh the benefits, but he could be open to changing his mind if federal policy changed, he said.
When it comes to the city pursuing renewable energy, it will be cheaper, cleaner and more reliable, he said.
Geislinger is among the councilors who recently committed to working on long-term sustainable funding for city parks, and said the easiest solution for parks funding is to revise the dedicated sales tax for parks and open spaces when the city asks to extend it. But he did not want to commit to pursuing increasing or revising sales tax as a funding source yet, he said. He also recently supported the reduction of parkland the city requires developers to dedicate to the city because he thought the current requirement could open the city up to a lawsuit.
Experience sets him apart from his three challengers, he said.
"I am educated and aware and experienced and know the complexities of what we are dealing with it," he said.
A self-described conservative Christian, Inman said he would lead the city "out of this pretend pandemic mode" by not enforcing masks in public places and allowing businesses to fully reopen to fuel economic recovery. He also claimed that the country has seen fewer deaths in 2020 than the previous year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 509,900 more people died in 2020 than would normally be expected.
Inman said he would be willing to implement city policy contrary to state policy, such as lifting the mask mandate, even if it would mean going to court — in part because he believes masks are worthless in preventing the spread of the virus. He described business' asking customers to wear masks as "equal opportunity persecution" in a recent forum hosted by the local Fox21 station.
Inman came down with coronavirus and lost his sense of taste and smell last year and believes everyone will eventually get it, he said.
He is against raising taxes for parks or other city needs because residents need those dollars to survive the economic effects of the pandemic. He also does not support putting marijuana sales on the ballot.
Inman also questions the city's move away from coal because of the volatile prices of natural gas and would prefer to preserve Martin Drake Power Plant downtown. The council voted earlier this year to close the plant no later than 2023. The plant is expected to close in December 2022.
Helms said he would like to see the city continue to incentivize businesses to move to town in order to encourage growth. He would also like to the see the city continue to reduce regulation to improve the economy.
He described himself as professional with budget experience in a recent forum hosted by the local Fox21 station, and he said he would find funding in the existing budget to take care of city needs, including parks and infrastructure, without raising taxes. He also said he supports the recent action council took to decrease the number of parkland acres that developers must dedicate to the city when they build new homes — in part, he said, because it was in line with the mayor's agenda.
When it comes to city's plan to pursue more solar and wind power, Helms said he is on board with renewable energy as the future.
He is against asking voters to legalize recreational marijuana sales in town because he mentors Air Force cadets, and it would hypocritical to place it on the ballot, he said.
Helms described himself as the right fit for his conservative district and more in line with values of his constituents than his opponents.
This story has been updated to clarify the timeline for closing Martin Drake Power Plant.