Recently my former colleagues on the Pueblo City Council missed an important opportunity to stand up for Pueblo’s citizens by taking a position in support of transparent campaign finance practices in our upcoming city election.
Mayor Nick Gradisar, City Attorney Dan Kogovsek and a minority on the council (council members Mark Aliff, Ray Aguilera and Ed Brown) should be applauded for attempting to address this issue in a recent resolution that was voted down by the majority.
The resolution called upon the Pueblo CARES issue committee (the group opposing forming a municipal electric utility in the upcoming city election) to fairly and openly report its donations in the upcoming race for city ballot issue 2A.
The matter arose when the Pueblo CARES issues committee reported major anonymous donations by its other similarly named committee, called the Pueblo CARES committee. The donations amounted to $700,000 and the true source of the contributions were never fully disclosed.
According to recent testimony by Kogovsek, the group appears to be using two committees with similar names and moving money between them. These practices were officially challenged in a letter by the Pueblo city clerk to the Pueblo CARES issue committee.
The letter called for full disclosure of the contributions in accordance with state law. The mayor then asked the council to weigh in by voting on a resolution that calls for Pueblo CARES to disclose who donated these funds.
Incredibly, a majority on the ouncil, who are publicly opposed to issue 2A (council members Dennis Flores, Lori Winner, Bob Schilling and Larry Atencio), all voted against the resolution calling for transparent city elections.
They stated that the resolution was non-binding and it wasn’t their place weigh in on such matters. This lack of action is very troubling because the citizens of Pueblo have very little recourse in this matter since the COVID pandemic has shuttered our district court and there is no way to seek a judicial ruling prior to the May election.
As a former council member, I firmly believe that council has a role to lead by example and stand up for what is true and ethical.
Council members should be able to separate themselves from these two distinct matters before them.
I find it interesting that The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board, which has historically called for transparent campaign reporting, is also having difficulty dealing with this issue. Why isn’t it calling upon Pueblo CARES and Black Hills to disclose their full campaign contributions in this race?
Pueblo’s citizens expect fair and accurate reporting of election donations. We also expect the Chieftain as our newspaper to challenge this type of nonsense and not be part of the problem.
The bottom line is that Black Hills’ attempt to buy our upcoming city election with its blank undisclosed checks is nothing new. The company will continue to dump in money and Pueblo voters should send them the same message that they sent to Mike Bloomberg’s efforts.
Our election is not for sale! Pueblo voters are smart and they will not soon forget what brought us to this point. We all remember just how much our bills have dramatically increased over the past 10 years.
We all remember several packed Colorado Public Utilities Commission hearings where our fellow citizens lined up to tell their emotional tales of high rates and hardship to anyone who’d listen. We all remember our low-income families and seniors who are paying some of the highest electric rates in the entire state of Colorado and how they were forced to choose between buying their prescription drugs and keeping the lights on.
We also won’t forget our small businesses and manufacturers that have struggled to pay excessive commercial rates and the impact this has had on Pueblo’s local economy, when other parts of Colorado have boomed.
The truth is that forming a municipal electric utility is the only legally prescribed alternative provided to our citizens to break away from Black Hills. Colorado law says that Pueblo’s citizens can choose to form a city utility in the event they are dissatisfied with Black Hills’ performance.
The reality is that Black Hills and its mysteriously well-funded issue committees are hoping to make people forget that they serve at the discretion of the citizens of Pueblo.
The continuance of their 20-year contract at the halfway point will now be decided by Pueblo city voters in this upcoming election.
I say vote for ballot issue 2A. It’s time to go our own way!
Chris Nicoll served two terms on Pueblo City Council. He served as the City Council president in 2018 and co-chaired the city’s Electric Utility Commission. Nicoll currently works in the field of cyber-security in the defense industry.