“There’s nothing that touches you more than local government. If you care about the health and vibrancy of where you live, then you want to know who’s making these decisions.” -Nancy Henjum, City Councilperson District 5
Spring is the season of local elections, and on April 4th, 2023 Colorado Springs is having a major election: three at-large city council positions, one city council position representing District 3, and, for the first time since 2015, the Mayor. We don’t intend to tell you who to vote for—we trust that you can and will do the necessary research to decide which candidates would be best for the job. In order to do that, you need to understand what exactly our local officials oversee. Local elections are vital—they are the elections that allow you to have the most direct impact on day-to-day life in your community. According to reporting from the City Clerk’s office, voter turnout in Colorado Springs’ local elections has been steadily declining; it’s dropped from 62.26% in 2011 to 27.03% in 2021. That’s an alarming trend. We believe that a well-informed voter is an empowered voter, and knowing what elected officials actually do is the best way to cut through political buzzwords and really understand which candidates will be the best choice for the job. So, without further ado, here’s Sonder Magazine’s Empowered Voter Guide, aka: what do our local officials actually do?
•City Council •
Colorado Springs is split up into six districts (not sure which one you live in? Find a link to a map and other helpful info at the bottom of this page) and City Council is made up of nine members: six district representatives and three at-large members. It is the chief legislative body of the city, a bit like the House of Representatives and Congress combined.
District representatives can only be voted for by people who live in that district and the member must live in that district themselves. While all council members vote on every council measure, district representatives deal with issues that are more neighborhood-specific and are expected to focus on and advocate for the concerns of the constituents in their district.
At-large representatives can be voted for by anyone living in the city of Colorado Springs, and the member can live anywhere within the city. At-large members are expected to have a broader lens, focusing more on citywide issues than anything neighborhood-specific.
Principally, Colorado Springs City Council oversees almost anything related to how your tax dollars are spent. While the council does have the power to establish some tax rates, they really cannot influence issues associated with cost of living nationally (for example, the cost of groceries). They approve the city’s budget, appoint the city auditors and governing boards of city resources like the library and, critically, act as the governing board of Colorado Springs Utilities. That means they oversee the 1.5 billion dollars that Colorado Springs Utilities spends annually on everything from power to water, wastewater, heat, and more. Because City Council governs it, your vote can and will directly impact important changes within COS Utilities. As Councilperson Henjum puts it, “It’s publicly owned. [As a taxpayer] You are a part-owner in that utilities company—your rates keep that company going.”
City Council also legislates most aspects of transportation around the city, votes on issues of housing and real estate development, and works together to create citywide plans for emergencies like wildfires. Essentially, City Council governs most major pieces of day-to-day life in Colorado Springs.
• Mayor •
The Mayor is the chief executive and administrative head of the city government. They can serve a maximum of two four-year terms. Colorado Springs uses a ‘strong mayor’ model, which gives the Mayor almost unilateral power over most day-to-day operations. Much like the federal government, while City Council has legislative power, the Mayor has veto power. Here’s a list of some of the Mayor’s main powers and responsibilities:
-They supervise city administration and are in charge of both appointing and removing department heads. If there’s a vacancy in any appointed position, the Mayor has the power to appoint a replacement.
-They can designate committees, that meet at the direction of the Mayor, for consideration of executive and administrative problems.
-They supervise and inspect all records of city departments and have the power to inquire into the affairs or operations of any department, division, agency or office of Municipal operations and Municipal enterprises that fall under the Mayor's supervision and control. Critically, this includes the City Attorney’s office and the Colorado Springs Police Department.
-They can examine (or refuse to examine) the books and affairs of any person or corporation operating public service utilities which are required by law, Charter, or ordinance to make reports to the city or any of its officers. They also collect all franchise taxes or other monies due to the City from public utility corporations.
-They can establish any administrative departments, divisions, offices or agencies they deem necessary for efficient administration of the Municipal Government.
-They approve and sign all contracts both for and on behalf of the city.
-They propose the city budget.
Simply put, because of our ‘strong mayor’ model, the Mayor of Colorado Springs holds a serious amount of power. When casting your vote for Mayor, it’s extremely important to consider their stances on small businesses, law enforcement, housing and development, and how much importance they place on community feedback. Ask yourself: what kind of leader are they? And cast your vote accordingly.
Colorado Springs’ local elections are conducted exclusively through mail-in ballots. Join us in voting for the future of the city and return your ballot to a ballot box by 7pm on April 4th, 2023.