In November 2010, the citizens of Colorado Springs voted to change the form of our city government from a council-manager form of government to a council-mayor structure. The council-mayor form of government is often called the “strong mayor” governance model and is used successfully by many cities across the United States.
In the old form of government, the city council—comprised of nine elected council members including a mayor and vice-mayor—were responsible for all legislation, policies, land use, city budgets and most other functions associated with running the city. In addition, they functioned as the board of directors for Colorado Springs Utilities. The council oversaw the management of the city through a hired city manager. There were many disagreements between council and the city managers over the years with significant turnover in the city manager position. The allegiance of the city manager was often called into question, i.e. whether they were serving the needs of the citizens or the needs of the city administration organization.
The “strong mayor” charter, separating the legislative and executive responsibilities previously held by city council, was approved by the voters at the end of 2010. The first “strong mayor,” Mayor Steve Bach, took office under the new form of government in June 2011. In this new form of government, the city council’s powers were limited to being the legislative body for the city, to oversee land use and to provide oversight of some elements of the executive branch of the city headed up by the mayor. The council retained their role as board of directors of Colorado Springs Utilities. The newly-elected mayor is the chief executive of the city and was expected to function much like the CEO of a company, answering to the shareholders—in this case, the citizens of the city. The mayor is responsible for hiring and firing city staff, budgeting, strategic planning and the business of running an efficient and effective city government. John Suthers was elected our second strong mayor in 2015.
The city charter can be found at: http://www.sterlingcodifiers.com/codebook/index.php?book_id=855
In the early days of the new form of government, the council and mayor clashed. This is perhaps understandable as everyone transitioned to a new way of doing things in local government. When six new council members took office in the middle of 2013, the situation became worse. Both branches of government were in conflict over the definition of responsibilities in the charter, how many departments were defined by the charter for appropriations, the hiring, firing and confirmation of staff along with the city budget and line item expenditure. One example of this dysfunction was the debate over fixing potholes. Rather than seeing the holes filled, time was wasted on debating how many and how much.
The city charter of Colorado Springs is owned by the citizens of the city, not elected officials. We need to honestly examine whether amendments are required to improve the performance of our government. We should look at the charter of other successful “strong mayor” cities and recommend changes to our elected officials which can be reviewed and voted on by the people. We need small, efficient, effective and balanced local government helping Colorado Springs meet its full potential—not squabbling bureaucratic debates.
Leadership is at the very least, a balance of competence and innovation, confidence and humility. Leaders must be willing to empower and work with individuals who in some cases, are more talented in specific areas than they are. Leaders must understand their role and work to improve outcomes, not hinder them. When we see significant deficits in these areas, we as citizens and business owners and constituents of our elected officials, will step in to fill those gaps and seek new and better leadership.