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In this file photo, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers gives a thumbs up as he enters the celebration at Phantom Canyon Brewery in Colorado Springs for Ballot Issue 2A shortly after the polls showed the stormwater initiative passing on Nov. 7. Photo by Christian Murdock

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Mail-in ballots went out Friday, presenting voters with four candidates for mayor, 12 for three at-large City Council seats, and a request for union bargaining for the Colorado Springs Fire Department known as Issue 1.

The Gazette’s editorial board presents the following endorsements, asking readers to consider them as one component of their due diligence before voting. We made our decisions after meeting with proponents and opponents of Issue 1, after meeting with candidates who asked to see us, and after assessing candidate web sites, campaign literature and statements in forums.

Mayor

John Suthers: Most large cities throughout the country would gladly trade us for Suthers, who became the city’s second strong mayor four years ago.

Having concluded two terms as Colorado attorney general, top law firms throughout the country wanted him as a high-paid partner. Suthers preferred returning to public office, where he hoped to play a key role in making his hometown a world-class city. Suthers took over from former Mayor Steve Bach, who did not seek re-election. Bach had disrupted and rebuilt a dysfunctional city bureaucracy that was turning off streetlights, neglecting parks and street medians, and engaging in other passive-aggressive tactics to spite voters for declining a tax increase.

Suthers took things from there, achieving a level of municipal stability most people trust. Suthers made quick progress growing our tourism economy. He sold voters on the benefits of a new transportation tax to fix city streets, and enhanced progress on renovating the city’s crumbling and deficient stormwater infrastructure. Under Suthers’ leadership, Colorado Springs has stayed among the five hottest housing markets in the country. Wages are up, employment is up, unemployment is down. At least one survey shows our city as the country’s top draw for millennials.

U.S. News & World Report surveyed the country and learned Colorado Springs stands out as the first choice for people if given a chance to relocate anywhere in the country.

Cultural and economic indicators do not get better than they are for Colorado Springs in 2019, after four years of Mayor John Suthers. Of course, we want four more years.

City Council

Wayne Williams: As the highly successful former Colorado secretary of state, Williams could embark on a high-paying career at a law firm. Instead, like Mayor Suthers, Williams has a passion for community service.

He began his public service tenure with two terms on the El Paso County Commission, where he lowered taxes and put the county budget on the internet for all to see. Voters elected him to serve as El Paso County clerk and recorder, where he put wait times on the internet for consumers obtaining licenses and car tags.

After statewide voters elected him secretary of state, Williams embarked upon a push toward transparency by putting all sorts of state records on the internet for the public.

Williams earned national distinction for keeping Colorado’s statewide elections fair and safe, during an era of concerns about Russian interference, fraudulent voting and other concerns. A glowing Washington Post article credited Williams with creating and running “the safest” election system in the country, which other states were trying to emulate.

Williams, more a pragmatist than partisan, wants the council to eliminate obstacles to employers creating high-wage jobs. He wants to “cut red tape and free up the private sector to build housing that makes sense.” He wants to widen I-25 through Colorado Springs and enhance public safety by adding and retaining more firefighters and cops.

To continue constructive prosperity and growth, voters should put Wayne Williams on the City Council.

Tom Strand: The Gazette did not endorse Tom Strand in 2015. We probably should have.

Strand has spent the past four years proving himself a reliable advocate for everything that makes Colorado Springs the most desirable city in the United States.

Strand has advocated for firefighters and cops, in an effort to enhance public safety. He has supported Mayor John Suthers in improving city streets, and declares “I don’t think congestion is good.”

Strand has distinguished himself as a leader in the city’s effort to address the homelessness problem with compassion for the homeless and concern for the public’s health and safety.

He is consistently pro-business, pro-economic growth, and pro-community. A retired Air Force JAG officer and lawyer, Strand has served on the District 11 Board of Education and community committees, councils, boards and commissions. He is the quintessential public servant with no apparent motive other than making the community better.

Besides, says Strand, “a four-year learning curve is a terrible thing to waste.”

We agree. We should build on four years of proven results and keep Tom Strand in office.

Tony Gioia: All too often when young adults run for office, they come across vague when explaining their plans. That’s not the case with Tony Gioia (pronounced “Joya”), who would provide a fresh, energetic, and relatively young new voice on City Council.

A realtor and former Army JAG paralegal, Gioia is no novice to public service. He served six years on the El Paso County Planning Commission. He serves on the Colorado Springs Citizens Transportation Advisory Board and the PPRTA Citizens Advisory Committee. The Colorado Springs Rising Professionals Board recognized him as 2013 “Member of the Year.”

Gioia’s informed platform includes: improving transit options for the legions of baby boomers entering or nearing retirement; better transportation options to and from the city’s hospitals and other health care facilities; improving mental health services, emphasizing challenges facing veterans and the youth suicide crisis; reducing regulations that hold back small businesses and entrepreneurs; improving the regulatory environment to encourage more “infill” development and less sprawl; and more.

Tony Gioia is a proven community servant with a passion for making our community an even better place for everyone. Vote to make him a positive addition to the council.

Issue 1:

No

Union bosses of Firefighter Local 5 want voters to grant them union bargaining authority with City Hall. This is a bad idea that moves our community in the wrong direction.

Our community’s elite Fire Department helps everyone sleep at night. A call to 911 reliably summons modern equipment and well-trained professionals willing to sacrifice their lives for others at a moment’s notice.

Because we count on our firefighting professionals, we pay them good wages and benefits.

Local 5 union members campaigning for union bargaining are not complaining about compensation. They have no big complaints, from what we can tell. The Gazette’s editorial board met with them for an hour in February and could not determine why they want to change a system that works in their favor. “Frankly, we just got a pay raise,” said the deputy campaign manager for Issue 1.

Firefighter 1 wages have increased by 16 percent from $68,820 in 2015 to $79,884 in 2019. During that period, the city’s contribution to each firefighter’s health insurance plan has increased by $300.

Staffing has steadily increased in recent years and will continue doing so under agreements approved by Mayor John Suthers. Advocates of union negotiations say firefighters are pleased with their access to the mayor, the fire chief and the City Council and are reliably able to express their concerns and negotiate for fair compensation and safety standards.

Union leaders want long-term stability. They report excellent results negotiating with the city’s first two strong mayors but have no idea what some future mayor might do.

They apparently want more job and wage security than other city employees or anyone working in the private sector.

Firefighters are safe and secure in their employment and compensation. Voters would not elect or tolerate a mayor who gives short shrift to their fire department.

Under union bargaining, important budgeting decisions would involve unelected parties who advocate exclusively for one group of employees. If we do this for firefighters, all other city departments will demand identical union arrangements.

City officials and firefighting personnel assure us recent pay raises have our department’s remuneration among the average for other Front Range cities. Thankfully, that means our firefighters can live at an above-average standard of living.

Our quality of life and economy in Colorado Springs are the envy of the world. We have a stable government, a reasonable tax rate and city employees who earn good pay and lead good lives. If voters authorize union officials to commandeer personnel overhead decisions, they will disrupt a delicate balance that keeps this city working like a fine-tuned machine.

The system ain’t broke, so let’s not fix it. Vote no on Issue 1, a solution searching for a problem.

The Gazette editorial board

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