A largely behind the scenes community leader is expected to join the Colorado Springs City Council next month as some constituents question her monthlong residency in the district she will represent.
Five council members have backed Stephannie Fortune to replace Councilman Richard Skorman, who is resigning his seat representing District 3, an area that encompasses the southwest parts of town and downtown. Skorman, a longtime progressive, is leaving the council to focus on his downtown businesses, a bookstore, cafe, restaurant and toy store.
Fortune, a 16-year resident of Colorado Springs, garnered support from Councilmen Wayne Williams, Tom Strand, Mike O’Malley, Randy Helms and Dave Donelson, more conservative voices on the board of nine. A formal vote on her appointment is expected in January. The small-business owner who also works on partnerships and public policy for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs was selected from a pool of 25 applicants. Leaders who applied included former City Councilwoman and County Commissioner Sallie Clark, a well-known conservative, and former City Council candidate Terry Martinez, who garnered support from three city council members.
Her pending appointment has sparked some concern from Councilman Bill Murray and residents about her short residency in the district.
“Everyone in District 3 should be concerned and contact the entire council to voice their issues prior to January. ... The current recommendation is still far from a done deal,” Murray said via email.
Her appointment through 2023 could tip the council toward a conservative majority and lessen the reflection of community concerns, he said.
District 3 resident Dana Duggan said the list of applicants had many options for the council to choose from including those who had engaged in the district for many years and would bring a depth of experience to the job, such as Clark.
“I want people that are my representatives at that very local level to be fluent in the issues and concerns of my district and I think that is challenging if not impossible to do if you have been living somewhere else,” she said.
The city code only requires council members to live within the city for a year. It does not have a minimum length of residency within a district.
While Fortune moved to the district after Skorman announced his resignation, she had been planning on the move for almost two years and spent significant time there during her everyday life, traveling down from her home in Cordera to see her physical therapist and her hair stylist, among other activities, she said.
Constituent services would be one of her key priorities along with affordable housing and fire mitigation, items all high on Skorman’s list as well.
Like other conservative applicants, including Clark, she doesn’t support asking voters to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana in town, and she is against mask or COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
While she hadn’t considered running for council before her appointment, she has been involved in politics behind the scenes at several levels and numerous community projects. She led the working group that laid the foundation for the City for Champions initiative, which led to the construction of the Olympic & Paralympic Museum, among other venues.
Through the Pikes Peak United Way, where she is a board member, she helped start Colorado Springs Promise, a program that provides life coaching to students at Harrison High School and will be a part of the new Family Success Center, she said.
Her Colorado Springs Promise work is a reflection of her belief in addressing the root causes of problems, such as homelessness. It’s a priority she would bring to her position on the council.
“How do we get to people early on in their lives so they don’t end up homeless or addicted or incarcerated?” she said.
Fortune has served on numerous boards, including the Colorado Springs Conservatory board, where founder Linda Weise said she was an asset. Weise also worked with Fortune when she was working on policy issues for the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and watched her navigate tricky waters. Weise was a board member for the chamber at the time.
“Here is a leader who is finally stepping forward, but who has been nearly two decades strong behind the scenes,” Weise said.
However, some people are still uncomfortable with the idea of the council appointing someone with such a short tenure in a district and the precedent it could set as council members Dave Donelson and Yolanda Avila pursue state legislative seats and might need to be replaced by appointment as well.
District 1 resident Mary Gallivan said she wouldn’t want to see a similar scenario if Donelson wins his bid for a state house seat.
“You really need someone who understands what that area is all about,” she said. Gallivan, who did not support Skorman, would prefer to see a special election process to replace council members.
“I don’t how many people are happy with (Fortune’s) appointment, I certainly am not,” she said.
Art Glynn, who ran against Skorman in April and applied for the vacant seat was also disappointed the council’s choice and would like to see the city put its small town politics aside and the council grow into a body that can question and challenge the mayor’s office rather than rubber stamping policies, he said.
“We do have a strong mayor approach but that doesn’t mean the mayor dictates everything that happens,” Glynn said.
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