Editor's note: This is the second installment of a six-part series on Colorado Springs City Council races, on the ballot for April 6's election.
In the race for District 1, northwest Colorado Springs, two candidates under 40, Glenn Carlson, a businessman, and Michael Seeger, a Lakewood firefighter and paramedic, and two retired military professionals, Jim Mason and Dave Donelson, are competing for Councilman Don Knight's seat. Knight is term-limited from running again.
The man elected will face big issues, including an underfunded parks system, rapid urban growth and pandemic recovery. The candidates shared their thoughts on all these issues and more to help guide voters' decisions in the upcoming election. The District 1 race is one of six on the ballot and one of three in which the incumbent is term limited. Three additional at-large members — Wayne Williams, Tom Strand and Bill Murray — are not up for re-election.
All the candidates in District 1 were united on a few topics. All supported allowing the newly formed Law Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Commission, a group formed to help advise city police on best practices to carry out its mission, and all the candidates supported Utilities' plan to transition to greater renewable energy. The plan includes $100 million in new natural gas generators to back-up new wind, solar and battery power. These profiles strive to highlight some of their differences.
Mason, a retired Army colonel, said he would form a task force to help set a vision for growth in the city and neighborhood revitalization, and involve the community in that plan. He would also work on developing greater economic diversity to help supplement the community's reliance on tourism and military installations. Plans for economic success should include everyone in the city, including those from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, he said.
He would also like to see more work done to involve high school students in commercial internships and apprenticeships to encourage them to stay in the city, because so many promising young people are leaving, he said.
Public transportation also needs more attention because it is the backbone of a "thriving, progressive, successful city." He would support better bus service and light rail, he said. A reliable transportation system can support business by ensuring workers can reach their destinations, and help residents put more of their paychecks toward housing by eliminating their need for a car. Mass transit also helps preserve road infrastructure by taking cars off the road, he said.
Parks should also be a priority for funding because they are a "quality of life imperative," but the also city needs to partner with groups such as homeowner associations to maintain them, he said.
Mason is not in favor of the City Council placing recreational marijuana sales on the ballot. He would rather see voters organize and petition to place a question on the ballot.
Mason would bring experience to the position as a board member of the Colorado Springs School District 11 and the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority.
Carlson, co-owner of Absolute Body Balance, said he would like to see the city planning major roadways ahead of time to serve the rapidly growing eastern portion of town, that could grow around Falcon in time, he said. Public transportation could also play a role as the city achieves more density.
The city's ongoing zoning code revision is going to change the city from a "live, work and play standpoint," and he like to see code changes that support appropriate increased density and mixed-use projects that include businesses, such as coffee shops and hair salons, along with housing, he said. But he wants to make sure those projects respect existing neighborhoods.
To help business recovery, he would like to see the city ensure that owners are aware of all the assistance available and allow temporary flexibility on some city rules. For example, the city could allow businesses to put up more signs than usual, he said.
Carlson is a board member for the Trails and Open Space Coalition, a group that advocates for investment in parks, and he believes the parks department needs a long-term stable plan for funding. He said he believes voters would support a small increase in the dedicated sales tax for parks based on recent polling.
When it comes to recreational marijuana sales, he said he would prefer the city to have a plan for it, rather than try to catch up to a question voters petition onto the ballot. However, it would not be a priority issue for him if elected.
A previous city council hopeful in 2015 and a Colorado Springs native, Carlson said he has been working for years to get to a place where he could dedicate time to the board and could bring insight as a business owner.
"This is not a post-retirement project for me," he said.
Donelson, 57, a former Army Green Beret and a retired physicians assistant, expects to prioritize funding for public safety and infrastructure if elected.
"Potholes and crime — those are the issues that people want to talk about," Donelson said. While the city is the process of hiring 120 officers, he believes the it can do better when it comes to policing.
When it comes to city's rapid growth, he would like to see the city manage it responsibly, but in general, the city is already doing a good job with growth management, he said.
"What we need to do is manage the growth through planned annexation and expansions and infill so we don’t run into problems with water," he said.
He would also prioritize parks. While he is in support of a April ballot question that will make it easier to explain a tax increase to voters on the ballot, he would not commit to asking voters for a sales tax increase to support parks because he would like to see if that money is needed by other departments.
Donelson is opposed to placing recreational marijuana sales on the ballot because, he said, research shows it contributes to mental health problems.
To help support business pandemic recovery, he would like to see the city work with the county and other officials to roll out vaccines quickly to reopen businesses as quickly as possible. As a former physicians assistant, he would also bring medical insight that could be key during the pandemic, he said.
Seeger, 30, said he would work to meet the city's needs without raising taxes, but he would be open to placing tax initiatives to support parks and road infrastructure on the ballot. Additionally, he would be open to asking voters to approve recreational marijuana sales within city limits.
"I think the best thing is an informed voter. ... I think we need to seek their input as much possible," said Seeger, who hold's a master's degree in public administration. He was motivated run, in part, because he was tired of politicians and governments that don't listen to the people, he said.
In lieu of higher taxes, he would like to see the city maximize grant opportunities to care for parks and roads, he said.
To help guide pandemic recovery, he would like to work with the county on better communication with the public, potentially through a phone and web-based app. He would also support working with the county to open businesses up as much as possible.
As a firefighter, Seeger would also bring outside insight into management of the fire department and helping to determine their needs, he said.