EDITOR’S DESK: ‘No’ on independent Utilities board
The subject of this column may already have been rendered moot because of objections from Colorado Springs City
Council, but I still think it's worth talking about.
And that subject is the proposal by Colorado Springs Utilities Chief Executive Officer Phil Tollefson to have an independent board, instead of City Council, oversee Utilities affairs.
Just that simple title, “chief executive officer” (CEO), provides a big clue as to where Tollefson is coming from. When I started covering Colorado Springs city government more than 20 years ago, Utilities was a department of the city, headed by a person (Jim Phillips for a great many years) with the title of “director.”
Now, Utilities has evolved to where it is an enterprise of the city, in many ways a separate business. In a typical business, who does the CEO work with? Why, an apolitical, appointed board of directors - usually folks with background in the field, whose motivation is a shared interest in maximizing profits.
Whoa, there. I don't deny that the “white paper” Tollefson wrote raises good points in calling for businesslike charter changes - but try as he might, he can't get around the reality that Utilities is, yes, a part of city government. And city government is there to serve the public... not profit from it.
Look at events just this year. The sewage backups that afflicted several Westsiders? Without the responsivess of City Council, citizens like them would still have to battle a phalanx of Utilities lawyers in what would probably be a vain effort to recoup thousands of dollars of costs in such misfortunes. Then there's the ongoing saga of the Old Colorado City streetlights. Without Councilman Jerry Heimlicher running interference, the Security District was ready to give up and go it alone.
There's no question that Colorado Springs Utilities is efficient, providing service so steady we often take it for granted. But it's our elected city officials - despite their occasional bumbles, stumbles and disagreements - who give the enterprise its heart. All governance issues aside, that's reason enough to keep our charter just as it is.