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'Strong Mayor': The Colorado Springs system chosen by voters

Posted at 8:25 AM, Apr 04, 2023

COLORADO SPRINGS — The headline from a recent front-page news story quotes Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers using strong language to speak out against a zoning proposal by the Governor.  

Colorado Springs resident Kevin Walker is happy to see the bold statement. He said, “That is the exact idea or that's a perfect example of how an elected mayor can speak forthrightly and lead a community with that statement right there.” 

Walker was the campaign manager for the ballot question in 2010 asking voters to change governance in Colorado Springs to what came to be known as a “Strong Mayor” system.

It has now been 12 years since Colorado Springs transitioned to the Strong Mayor form of government. It was a big transition for the city when it happened. “

Mayor was not a full-time job. So [a]  part-time position just like any other city council member,” said the campaign’s Communication Manager, Rachel Beck, “The professional day-to-day management was left to the City Manager.

The Mayor and City Council members served as a board that ratified the City Manager's decisions. “The mayor had only ceremonial duties, did not have any other ability to appoint positions to make policy to change the way, you know, the city planning department worked or public works worked,” said Walker.

Around 2010, a group of citizens made up largely of business leaders decided it was time for a change. “2007, 2008, 2009, we had the great recession, it felt like the community just wasn't responding. It just wasn't dynamic,” said Walker.

They wanted a form of government they felt was more suited for the second-largest city in Colorado.

“We finally got to a point in the city's growth and development that community leaders started to think now's the time that we should change to that more professional grown-up city sort of management,” said Beck.

An effort to change the city’s governing system was launched.

The desired structure is known as a Mayor/Council system.

The title “Strong Mayor” grew out of the campaign.“[A] professional mayor has more authority to interact directly with their peers, people like the governor, even the president, and other mayors around the state,” said Beck.

There was opposition.“City Hall was not supportive. City Council was not supportive,” said Walker.

The City Council would not put the question on the ballot. So, it had to be petitioned on. Supporters gathered close to 40,000 signatures from voters.

The will of the voters was clear on election day.“Certainly the voters were supportive. You know, they passed it 59 to 41 [percent],” said Walker.

The outcome is a full-time Mayor working in a role likened to the Chief Executive Officer of the city. The salary of the mayor also reflects the change.

Under the previous form of government, it was under $10,000 a year.   With the change to a Strong Mayor, it’s now just over $114,000 a year.

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