Everybody knows somebody who is a natural leader. It’s someone in your group of friends, or in your family, or someone at work. They are charismatic, wise, proactive, and always ready to jump in and help where needed. Everybody likes them. They are genuinely compassionate and confident, with a measured understanding of the issues that affect our city and our world.
You’re thinking of that person right now, aren’t you? I know I am. You might have even joked with them, “hey, you should run for office!” You may have seriously suggested it.
Well, cool. Let’s say they did run for office. Let’s say they ran for city council. You know they could do a great job. Because the thing is, most of these leaders we know already lead businesses, or teams within businesses.
City Council would be a career change for this person. A different full time job. Problem is, it would be a pay cut. Ask yourself: could your brilliant friend live on $6,250 per year? Would they want to? Would it be worth giving up their current salary to serve as a city councilmember?
Our current councilmembers agree that holding another job while serving on council is tricky. The councilmembers who are employed elsewhere inevitably miss out on things. And that means their district misses out on things, and is therefore not fully represented. Those who are able to live on $520 per month are almost always retirees or people whose businesses run without their daily presence.
The Colorado Springs city charter was drawn up in 1909, and stated that councilmen were to receive $2,000 a year. That translates to $57,000 per year in 2023’s economy. That’s a living wage. What changed? And what message are we sending to our city and those who want to serve?
I want you to hear me: this is not about giving politicians more money. It goes way deeper than that. This is about providing money so that anyone—even that person you thought of earlier—could run for office, and use their skills, brilliance and energy, to serve this city. I mean, think of it. Anyone could be a councilmember. Regardless of their age, or their current socioeconomic status. If city councilmembers were paid enough to have serving the city be their full-time job it would open up the playing field considerably, and in some very positive ways.
Our current councilmembers are hard-working people, and they are good leaders. But it’s fair to point out that people who are in the workforce are the majority of our city. And it’s fair to then ask: How important is it to us that our government officials are people who directly understand and represent us and live like us?
It’s also important to note that lower-income, working class, underprivileged communities are almost never represented in city government. Do we really believe that those communities have nothing to say? That there are no great leaders in those families, those friend groups?
Money should not be a barrier to leadership. It should not even be a factor. It isn’t, in real life. And if our city government does not reflect real life, what are we even doing?
This issue was in the news pre-pandemic, and a grass-roots campaign to create a chance to vote on this issue. It was put on hold, but interest in the campaign is rising again. Please visit the Level Up Colorado Springs Facebook page to get news about this important issue and join the discussion.