Jan 21, 2013 7:45 PM by Andy Koen

Your vote could change utilities future

COLORADO SPRINGS - Big changes could be store for Colorado Springs Utilities. City Council is expected to vote on a ballot measure Tuesday that would turnover control of the public utility to a independently elected board of directors.

The ballot proposal calls for a 7 member board to be elected in June of 2013. Board members would serve for 4 years and be term-limited to more than three consecutive terms. They would also be paid the same as Colorado Springs City Council members.

The utility would also be run separate of any city operations and could not be sold without a super majority vote of the public.

Council President Scott Hente and President Pro Tem Jan Martin drafted the ballot issue. Hente says council members have enough on their plates and that a separate board would be in everyone's best interest.

"You're trying focus a lot of things on the city side of the business, but at the same time you've also got this little $1.1 billion enterprise to worry about which is called Colorado Springs Utilities," Hente said.

Council member Angela Dougan doesn't support the proposal. She says it sprang up at the last minute without much public input.

"This is a huge red flag to throw this on the ballot right here without real community conversation, without all the details, all the plans and making sure we do it right," Dougan said.

Mayor Steve Bach, who has long advocated for changing utility governance, says this particular plan stinks. He would prefer appointed board members to elected ones because elected positions tend to attract politicians to the job.

He issued the following statement in response to our request for comment.

City of Colorado Springs Councilors Scott Hente and Jan Martin are proposing a City Charter Amendment to change the governance of Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) from City Council acting as the Utility Board currently to an elected Board in the future. As the City's Mayor and Ex Officio Member of the Utility Board, I strongly oppose their proposal for the following reasons:

1. Mr. Hente and Ms. Martin are bringing forward this major Charter change at literally the last minute before City Council's statutory deadline for placing items on the April 2, 2013, Municipal Election ballot. They have not consulted with their colleagues on City Council, the Mayor or the community as to why this proposal is the best solution for CSU governance. Mr. Hente and Ms. Martin have not followed generally accepted practice among City elected leaders in completing due diligence and an open, transparent discussion among citizens throughout Colorado Springs.

2. This proposal is contrary to the most recent (February 22, 2012) recommendation to the City Council acting as the Utility Board by the Utility Policy Advisory Committee (UPAC), which is a formal CSU advisory group appointed by City Council. The UPAC in its current recommendation considers an elected versus appointed future Utility Board, and suggests that an appointed Board to replace City Council as the Board would be in the best interests of the rate payers. The obvious question is why are Mr. Hente and Ms. Martin making a proposal which is directly contrary to that of their own appointed UPAC?

You can view the UPAC February 22, 2012, recommendation via the below link. Once in the CSU web site, click on "Utilities Policy Advisory Committee" in the lefthand column. Then, once in the article, see "UPAC governance assignment" near the bottom of the page, and click on "recommendation paper." Then, once in the recommendation paper, see Page 10 of 11 for the Committee's recommendations.
(UPAC recommendations, Feb 15, 2012 Board meeting - begins on page 83)

3. Electing a CSU Board will result in our largest, most important citizen-owned asset being run by politicians. Then, we'll have not one, but two governments run by politicians. Special interests will be able to elect Board members who may or may not carry out policies and practices which are in the best interests of the rate payers. Appointing a Board as the UPAC is suggesting of professionals in the industry along with rate payer representatives will result in a much better form of oversight of CSU.

4. This is yet another example of piecemeal, proposed Charter Amendments which City Council will be considering at its Formal Session tomorrow. These are last minute, rush political maneuvers without an open, transparent, thorough discussion among City Council, the Mayor and the community, We should instead pursue a wholistic review of our City Charter, considering all potential Amendments which would help our City and CSU operate better, making sure in the process we are protecting the best interests of the citizens and rate payers, not the agenda of special interests.

Steve Bach


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