A Conversation With the District 3 City Council Candidates

Residents to decide on vacant seat beginning March 10

 

Richard Skorman

Richard Skorman served on City Council from 1999 to 2006 and was vice mayor from 2003-2005. He unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2011. He served as Board Chair for the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments in 2000 and again in 2005. He is also the owner of multiple downtown businesses including Poor Richard’s Restaurant, Poor Richard’s Books and Gifts, and Rico’s. As a graduate from Colorado College, his first-year at CC was the first year of the Block Plan. 

Photo courtesy of Richard Skorman

On trails, open space, and parks: 

I was one of the co-directors with two other Colorado College graduates who put together the TOPS initiative, so we have that 1/10 cent sales tax that goes for trails, open space, and parks…The notion of the open space part was to protect the mountain backdrop to create all this access to people close to downtown…We pay fair market value for property so we are not taking away property rights; we pay as if we were going to develop it and then leave it as open space. If you think about our open space system, they are very overused…Red Rock Canyon may have 300-400 cars on a Sunday afternoon. There are a half-million visitors to Cheyenne Canyon [per year]. There is a differing philosophy out there that some people think that we can’t maintain the parks that we have; they are being overused, so let’s find partners, private partners, to help us with it. So, that’s what the Broadmoor-Strawberry Fields land swap was about. But it’s my contention that we can’t afford to give any of it away, especially short-term, because of financial reasons. What we did with all the TOPS properties is you can’t sell them without a vote of the people. If I get elected to Council, I would really push for that for all the other parks that could be vulnerable in the future.

On the Martin Drake Power Plant:    What if we were able to retire the Drake Power Plant? That is something I have been working on for decades. And it’s getting more and more expensive to keep going. It’s dirty; it’s dangerous. We have 23 coal trains a day that go through downtown Colorado Springs and if we lost our one customer for coal, which is Drake, we could route all that freight outside and we could have a front range passenger rail. But the main thing is that we could redevelop that part of the community and it was always planned as the Southwest Urban Renewal Master Plan to have affordable housing and an arts district.

On public safety:  Right now, the police department is—for every 10 people they are training—losing four to other departments because we are not paying them enough. The stress on their jobs is much more than it ever has [been] because there are not enough of them in the department. Our response times are 14 minutes for Priority 1 calls. We have a high sexual assault rate in this community, a high domestic violence rate in this community, and a high theft rate in this community compared to other cities our size; the violent crimes not as much. But we still have 2,000 gang members; it’s a city. It’s the 40th largest city [in this country] and we have all those associated problems.

On marijuana:  I’m for it. I think we should get the revenue from it. I think we should control it and disperse it . . .I would love to make sure people are safe when they are using it. To me, it’s nothing different than people using alcohol. I’d rather they weren’t out driving long distances.

On density and sprawl:  If you don’t [annex new developments] it will just happen outside the city. So what we are doing by saying ‘no’ is facilitating urban level density outside the city. So you have places like Falcon and Security and Widefield and so you have a big population that wants to live outside the city because it’s cheaper and maybe they like the outdoor life. But having said that, the city still has to provide services. Where do they come to shop and drive their cars and go to work and all the things that they have to do? So I was in favor of annexing it because we would require, with the annexation, that the growth pay for itself. But what we really need to do is figure out ways to incentivize more infill development. And we have had so many obstacles in place…it’s more expensive to build infill.

We will never have good public transportation here unless we do [more infill]. If people think we are going to have public transportation like a Portland or a Denver or New York City, it’s just not going to happen here because we have built out instead of up. I think we are doing a pretty good job. We have a good start in creating a lot more housing downtown and creating more density, we just have a long way to go.

On the Colorado Springs Utilities Board:  I used to [think it was flawed for City Council to be the CSU board]. I was on Council two terms and I always felt the pressure of learning enough about utilities to make good decisions. We tended to go with what the executive team would recommend and so it wasn’t always run with the depth of knowledge that you needed. But the other side to that coin is that the public is accessible to the utility board. And if you have an all-professional board that is appointed, it can tend to be self-serving…So you need that balance. You somehow have to figure out how to have the access…But what I would like to see is more outside advice. As a utility board member, I would love to see professionals who aren’t connected with our own utilities to advise us more to make sure we are asking the right questions.

 

Chuck Fowler

Photo courtesy of Chuck Fowler

Chuck Fowler worked in the oil and gas industry in the 1980s before a career in the real estate and development sector. He currently consults and works with homeowner associations through his firm cFowler Communications. He has also served as chair of the Colorado Springs School District 11 budget committee. As a graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder, Fowler founded the City Committee in 2010, which aimed to bring businesspeople together to provide suggestions to City Council.

On trails, open space, and parks: 

Richard and I share the pathos of our open spaces and our parks. This is such a beautiful place. I only wish I had been able to see it before human beings came here and civilized it, if that’s what we’ve done. So I think that is a big part of the Colorado Springs experience for people who live here. It’s a big part of the experience for people who come from around the world…Trails are maintained very well. Lots of that has to do with Richard’s work with TOPS, and I give him a lot of credit with that…I think that this space—this open space and parks space—is something that can really distinguish our brand [and] the tourism dollars that are going to come and already are coming. Trails, open space, parks, got to take care of them. It’s a big part of the original developer’s ideas. You know, development and developers are marginalized by some in this community. I’ve worked in that industry most of my career, and that industry creates the physical community. The guy who founded this place, William Jackson Palmer, was a developer and parks were something he wanted to have as a distinguishing characteristic that he thought would draw people.

On the Martin Drake Power Plant:    I think everybody agrees it’s just ugly…It’s a relic of the past, really…That facility predominantly powers the load for downtown. There is a lot of very important business and industry downtown that needs to have a reliable source of power. So it’s not a lot of kilowatts that it generates, but we have to make sure that we know how to replace that capacity to handle the load before we do anything else. Then there is the decommissioning costs, the tear-down costs, the environmental clean-up costs. What are we going to do with that property? I would suspect that Drake is going to close before 2035. I think that forces, market forces; public pressure will come to bear on utilities to do that. One of the things I want to know is, are these scrubbers working? We’ve got $200 million invested in these scrubbers; are they working? That information isn’t being released…I wish they would redact out of the report what they got from their consultant, whatever legal stuff, and show us the results. The ratepayers are due that because we are the owners of the utility and we are co-investors because of the way the Nuemann deal was structured, which was wholly inappropriate. So we are entitled to see that information, and I’d like to see it.

On marijuana and public safety:  Not a fan right now of recreational pot; probably never will be…Our homeless situation has exploded, our panhandling situation has exploded. Are they due to this industry? I don’t know but I want to know. If I get on Council, we are going to find out. Based on that data, I will lead the arguments either for or against. But my instinct tells me, my senses tell me, that it’s not good for our culture…I think there is plenty of pot; you can go find it if you need to…It’s readily available. You don’t need a medical card. The arguments that the tax revenues that come in, the cost benefit of those revenues, I don’t know. What’s it costing our police department? Do we want to create more problems that put more stress on our general fund budget which is already overstressed? I want to fund police, I want to fund fire; those are my priorities. Are we, through public policy regarding marijuana, putting stress on those, primarily police? I think we may be; that’s my sense. Do I know that as a fact? I don’t. I want to find out.

On density and sprawl:  Geography answers that question. We’ve gone out about as far as we could go. We are landlocked [by surrounding municipalities and military bases]. So, that’s a good thing. I don’t think much thought was given to that as we were doing that…It’s very expensive to take care of the city. It’s a tightrope. I would love it if we were a lot smaller with the dollars that we have; and that’s my business. I’ve been in the real estate and development business, the homeowner’s association business, so this is something that I’ve tracked and that I follow. So no, we’re done; I don’t see us annexing.

I think what’s going to happen is that the focus will turn inwards, as it should. Infill is going to be a driving force over the next 20-50 years.

On the Colorado Springs Utilities Board:  Because it is a public asset owned by the citizens, we need to have a majority on the board that are citizen representatives. But I favor a seven-person board, not nine. I think council needs to appoint three of its members to be on the governance board. I think the mayor should have an appointment of his or her choice. Then, I think council should appoint three members who have experience in utility governance or management or a similar corporation of the size, scale, and importance of Colorado Springs Utilities: someone who understands the scope of the challenge of a business that size…We need a governance structure that pulls in all these pieces of making sure the citizens are represented and that we have experts who are on the board.

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