Proposed Charter Amendment 1 a “Solution” in Search of Problem

Change can be good, but change for change sake can be foolhardy. Take the Citizen-Initiated Charter Amendment No. 1 on your Fort Collins City ballot. It calls for the creation of a full-time city council with commensurate compensation.

Before getting to the main reasons why this is ill-advised, let’s address the fact that the main proponent of this measure is also running for city council. Is the objective here really to fix something that’s broken or provide a known community activist with a full-time, taxpayer-funded job? I’ll stop short of ascribing motives, but it’s not a good look.

There are many reasons why this is a bad idea, but here are the five main reasons for opposing Charter Amendment No. 1.

First, this is a ‘solution’ in search of a problem. Look around you. Does Fort Collins look like a community in crisis? On the contrary, it is one of America’s most vibrant and livable places. So what are they trying to fix? Proponents have failed to define a problem.

Second, city council is a public service. If we were a big city like Denver, Chicago, or Dallas, service on the city council might be full-time. In Fort Collins, Colorado, the job of city council is definitely not full-time. On the contrary, the volunteer-servant leader model has served us well.

Charter Amendment No. 1 would be a fundamental change to city government and the community. We would change from volunteer leaders to full-time paid politicians. Do you actually think the quality of the decisions would be any better under this new model?

Third, pay is not a barrier. Proponents of this measure say low city council pay limits who can run. The evidence says otherwise. Single moms, pregnant women with jobs, retirees, married fathers with school-aged children, professors, and self-employed people have served on the city council from recent memory. Then look at the large number of people currently running. There’s no real barrier.

Fourth, this will get expensive. There’s the pay and benefits for council members, but that’s just the beginning. The work of seven full-time people will add an administrative load to City Hall necessitating support staff. Here’s betting a small staff in the beginning will grow over time. Looking at big city city councils, it’s conceivable that in time every council member would have their own staff.

Then there’s the expense of seven people working full-time to justify their pay. Fees, regulations, and new ordinances will pour forth, all with direct or indirect costs to residents.

Fifth, this is a Charter change. Automatic and inflexible pay increases will be built into our key governing document. There may be other pressing issues that need money, but the council members get paid first.

Aside from what could be construed as self-interested motives of proponents, there is no compelling argument for elevating service on the city council to a full-time job with attendant full-time pay and benefits. Charter Amendment No. 1 is a non-solution in search of a non-existent problem.