Scott Hiller and Michelle Talarico faced off March 16 at a forum, held at the UCCS downtown branch and organized by the League of Women Voters of the Pikes Peak Region. It was co-sponsored by Sixty35 Media (you can find our coverage here).
They’re vying to fill the unexpired term in District 3 which covers the city’s west and southwest. It’s an open seat because Stephannie Fortune, appointed to fill Richard Skorman’s term in 2021 after he bowed out to focus on his businesses, has chosen not to run.
Hiller is a geoscientist who’s lived here since 2017. In opening statements, he said he’s overseen large scale emergency planning projects, such as the cleanup of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. “I’ll bring a scientific approach,” he says, including to the city’s water supply situation.
Talarico has lived here for decades and runs a catering company. She’s also sat on several nonprofit boards.
Responding to questions, both said they would address a lack of diversity on city boards and commissions. Though Talarico said it was “something that keeps me up at night,” she didn’t offer a solution. Hiller defined the issue by saying, “The whole idea is you don’t want them to all be the same person.” He vowed, if elected to “actively strive” to find people to appoint who have a “wide diversity of thought.”
The candidates were asked how each would get up to speed quickly, including about Colorado Springs Utilities, given that the term is for only two years.
As chief of geosciences for a national firm, Hiller said, he’s familiar with overseeing large multi-billion-dollar projects with very little briefing or preparation up front. He often must devour thousands of pages quickly, he said. “My ability to take in and digest a large amount of information has been proven over and over,” he said.
He noted because of his experience with large projects, some of which deal with utilities, his learning curve won’t be as sharp as that for others.
Talarico said she has been “so passionate to learn about our city.
“I will continue to immerse myself in all things that I can,” she said. She acknowledged Hiller might know a lot about utilities generally, but “not about our utility.” She likened her attention to utilities to her role on local nonprofit boards where she and others “had to solve problems.”
Both said they would dedicated the time required to City Council, which can fill 40 hours a week or more.
Regarding affordable housing, Talarico said she’d advocate for the city to convene stakeholders to find solutions and that she favors infill development.
Hiller, too, said he sees a role for infill, but warned planning should include a close eye on wildfire potential and traffic congestion. “We have to be smart about infill, because when public safety becomes an issue, we have to focus on that first,” he said.
Asked about their top three issues for the district, Hiller named public safety regarding wildland fires, public safety regarding homeless encampments and homeless people setting up quarters on public streets and alleys, and parks and open space. He said he favors exploring how to recapture Strawberry Fields open space, a 187-acre tract the city traded to The Broadmoor resort in 2016 in exchange for trail connections and mountainous acreage.
Talarico said the top three issues are wildfire mitigation, homeless people who “defecate on businesses’ front doorways,” and trails, open space and parks. She agreed with Hiller; she’s willing to “look at” acquiring Strawberry Fields.
Responding to a question of how they would spend $1 million in city money if given complete authority, Talarico said she would fund drug interdiction studies. Hiller said he would look for a private partner to reacquire Strawberry Fields.
The April 4 election also features the at-large City Council race, with 11 people running for three slots, and the 12-way mayor’s race.
In other campaign news, the Pikes Peak Outdoor Recreation Alliance has made available answers of candidates to its questionnaire. Read them here.
The Executive Committee of the Colorado Springs Police Protective Association announced it has endorsed Wayne Williams for mayor.
“Mr. Williams possesses the experience to address critical community issues, especially with regard to public safety. We believe his capacity to work collaboratively with decision makers at both the local and state levels of government will serve the citizens of Colorado Springs well. As such, the Colorado Springs Police Protective Association is gratified to endorse Mr. Wayne Williams as Mayor,” the group said in a release.
Said Williams, “Virtually every mayoral candidate has identified public safety as the top issue. I’m honored to have earned the support of our front line responders who daily put their lives on the line to keep us safe, including the Police Protective Association, Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters Local 5, and Sheriff Joe Royball [sic].”