*Note: A slightly edited version of this essay was published in the Pikes Peak Bulletin print edition on January 9, 2019. It can also be found online here, an image of the column is included below.
New years are for turning pages. Starting again. This one already looks brighter. To keep that momentum going, next Tuesday night, the Manitou Springs Arts, Culture, and Heritage (MACH) Steering Committee will likely meet for the first time with the newly-elected City Council to help plan the community’s next step forward.
First, we’re thrilled to work with the incoming Council members on this exciting new venture. They’re clearly a talented bunch, committed to advancing Manitou Springs, and we look forward to helping them achieve that goal.
The best first foot forward for the new Council is to affirm ballot measure 2D’s victory from November’s election (2D is also known as the MACH initiative; see ManitouACH.org for more information). As the previous mayor said on December 10, it is the Council’s “obligation to follow the majority of the citizens of Manitou Springs” by enacting the measure as written. All that remains is for City Council to officially turn the measure into law by passing an ordinance.So let’s get that business done first.
Of course, as with all important public policy, there has been disagreement. Over the past month, two objections have been raised against moving forward with the majority’s wishes.
First, some have applauded the previous Council’s 4-3 vote against the majority of the city’s voters as an example of our ‘republican form of government.’ And, in a general sense, it is true that we live, work, and breathe in a democratic republic. Sometimes we’re more a democracy, as when votes are cast. Sometimes, more a republic.
But consider the context. This was a ballot measure. A vote. A yes-or-no question. If we ask voters a question, and they deliver an answer, then we expect that decision to be carried out. It’s as simple as that.
The second modest objection came from Mr. Bob Todd at a City Council meeting this past December. He worried the vote on 2D has “divided” the community and that such division means we cannot move forward.
Yet, division in democracy is as natural as puberty. Awkward sometimes, sure, but perfectly normal.
Every democratic vote is divided. Some believe one way and others prefer another way. Division signals real choice and actual competition, which is good for voters. Mr. Todd himself ran for Council unopposed, and would surely acknowledge that such competition, had he faced it, would have been a good thing for him and the rest of his ward.
What matters most in democracy is not division or disagreement, but decency and decision. That society, after healthy debate, moves forward with the majority’s wishes, accompanied by an appropriate respect for the minority’s opinion.
That’s when the republican features of our system of government get their chance to shine. And now that the “whether” on 2D has been decided by the people, it’s time for a new Council to demonstrate some shrewd flexibility on the “how.”
In line with that thought, the MACH Steering Committee plans to communicate one statement and make two requests of the City Council at the next opportunity.
First, we do not intend to request or campaign for a new measure on the 2020 ballot. Some have suggested this, to extend 2D’s term from 15- to 25-years, in order to correct the City’s submission error (the MACH Steering Committee and City Council compromised on a 25-year term ballot measure to send voters this past August, and City staff erroneously submitted a term of 15 years to the county). We prefer to work with the funding already approved by voters in November.
Second, the voters’ wanted funds to be collected starting this month, on the order of $400,000 per year. Only error and mistake prevented that from happening. As such, we ask the new Council to honor those wishes by replacing the rough equivalent of those lost funds that would have accrued if the majority’s wishes had been implemented. Further, as we believe the MACH is best administered on an annual scale—granting this seed money would ensure the first year’s revenue would be available to fund community art, culture, and heritage efforts starting in January 2021 (as opposed to waiting for a full year of funding until July 2021).
Finally, we request the City Council form appropriate governance structures to hammer out implementation details. Once MACH revenue estimates are complete and projections are assigned, it’ll be time to move out smartly on the library modernization. In some form, the City Council, its existing committee structure, in close consultation with the Creative District and Friends of the Library, will ensure these voter-supported projects serve the widest public interest.
As Manitou Springs rapidly approaches the 200th anniversary of the first American to summit Pikes Peak this summer, and the City’s 150th birthday next summer—now is the time to work out how the Manitou Springs Arts, Culture, and Heritage initiative will move Manitou forward in 2020.