Colorado Springs City Council Election 2021, District 5: Nancy Henjum, Matt Zelenok, Karlie Van Arnam, Justin James-Fletcher Hermes And Mary Elizabeth Fabian On The Issues

This April, all six Colorado Springs City Council districts are up for election. District 5 can be loosely described as the central part of town. Roughly, its southern border is Platte Avenue, with Powers Boulevard to the east, and Austin Bluffs Parkway and Barnes Road to the north. It also reaches to parts of Interstate 25 and Constitution Avenue.

Five people are running to represent District 5. KRCC used social media to solicit questions from the public to see what issues are important to voters. We then used those responses to create a survey, which was sent to all candidates. Their answers as submitted are here.

Ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 6, either by mail or through the use of a ballot drop-off box. If returning by mail, the City Clerk recommends mailing the ballot at least nine days in advance of election day. Proper postage is required.

The candidates appear here in the order they are set on the ballot.

Candidate Elevator Pitch

Nancy Henjum: I love Colorado Springs and care deeply about ensuring our city’s success. We are at a critical juncture and the decisions our next City Council makes related to how we grow will determine the type of city we become. The major issues we face related to affordable housing, roads and infrastructure, our local economy, and our parks and open spaces require collaborative leaders with experience in problem solving and creating positive outcomes. My dad, Joe Henjum, an Air Force veteran who co-founded The Home Front Cares, always said, “When you see a need you can fill, that means it’s your turn to step up." I have thirty years of collaborative leadership experience that I’ve cultivated through volunteer leadership (for example, serving as board president of CASA) and in my professional life as a leadership consultant helping companies big and small navigate through times of challenge and change. I see a need I can fill and I’m stepping up to fill it.

Matt Zelenok: Growing up in Colorado Springs, this city has been my home since I was 9 months old. I have seen our city grow and change over the last 34 years into the wonderful place that it is today. However, as our government is faced with an increasingly expanding list of critical decisions to make, I am wary that we are on the right path for long-term success. I am equally concerned that our city council continues to makes decisions that impact the lives of our residents while lacking the proper input from the community. I have been inspired to run for city council in order to reestablish the voice and will of our citizens in our government. Likewise, I want to ensure Colorado Springs has a comprehensive and long-term plan that is achievable and beneficial for the entire community.

Karlie Van Arnam: I am a Colorado native and have lived in Colorado Springs since age 18. I started off earning minimum wage, renting and working full time while pursuing my education. For the last 12 years, my husband and I have raised our son and built small, successful businesses in the city. I consider my story representative of many people who live here, who have struggled, taken risks and worked tirelessly to build something in order to provide our children with more than what we started with. I am now in a position to give back to my community that has helped my family be a part of the city’s success. The city deserves leadership that cares about its present condition and the quality of life for its residents while also keeping an eye on the future. I bring this perspective to the City Council.

Justin James-Fletcher Hermes: As a Colorado Springs native I have been deeply involved in this community for the last several years. I love the United States of America and think Colorado Springs is one of the best cities in the United States. I’m a true patriot who wants to see our conservative values protected here in Colorado Springs.

Mary Elizabeth Fabian: I am in this race because I love this city. I am a small business owner, the wife of a 100% disabled veteran, mom to three great kids and the founder of non-profits and schools. In the past several years, I have watched our tax dollars being spent in less efficient ways as well as on some “pet projects” resulting in rates and fees being increased. This has affected my outcomes in my personal work with charities and my own private business so I understand how it is affecting my neighbors personally and their livelihoods. My experience in founding a school, a non profit and a personal business as well as raising a family in D5 will allow me to be a well rounded voice onCity Council.

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What purpose does city government serve for its citizens?

Nancy Henjum: Many headlines these days point to the disfunction of national politics with its polarization, but when I’m out knocking on doors and having phone conversations with my District 5 neighbors, I often say it’s actually the decisions of our local political leaders that most impact our daily lives. Housing, land development, transportation, road repair, utilities management, trails and open space, and support for small business—how city government approaches these and many other issues determines whether your neighborhood is thriving, whether jobs are available, whether you’ve got a decent park to take your kids to. In short, protecting and enhancing our shared quality-of-life is the most important purpose city government serves for its citizens. And many of these issues are non-partisan and non-ideological. They are about common challenges that people face everywhere and that call for thoughtful conversations, imaginative planning, and practical problem-solving.

Matt Zelenok: I believe government should play a minimal role in the lives of its citizens. There is a need for an entity to do things that ordinary single citizens cannot such as; building roads, schools and employing public safety officers.

Karlie Van Arnam: The purpose of local government is to create an organized systems that allows for citizen input and collaboration to identify local needs and determine the best way these needs can be met. Local government is responsible for creating an environment that fosters economic growth and a quality of life for all of its citizens. Local governments greatest responsibility is the influence it has when shaping the future of our city and attracting a culture and population consistent with the vision of our residents.

Justin James-Fletcher Hermes: I believe city government should be a true representation of the people by giving a voice to every citizen. I believe in empowering people by supporting community leaders throughout our district.

Mary Elizabeth Fabian: It is the responsibility of the government to provide the necessary infrastructure that an individual is less able to create. Roads, Public Spaces and in Colorado Springs’ case - Utilities. As a representative of the people within the government, my primary responsibility would be to act as a liaison and represent the needs and interests of all of Dis

What are your Top 3 priorities?

Nancy Henjum: As I’ve campaigned throughout my district, I’ve consistently heard from our neighbors, community advocates, and business owners that how our city continues to grow is a major concern. Related to that concern, these are my three top priorities:

  • Supporting our local and small businesses through a post-pandemic recovery with access to the same benefits, incentives, and other resources the city dedicates to attracting national companies.
  • Strengthening our neighborhoods so they that are safe and accessible for people from 8 years to 80 years of age, with adequate transportation and attainable housing.
  • Investing in our parks and open spaces that are so essential to our identity, economy, and quality of life. As for the “how," local government works best when input from citizens is regularly sought and easy to provide. The issues our community faces are complex and no single person has all the answers. I would work to take on these priorities through the same leadership approach that has guided my work in the community and through my professional life.

Matt Zelenok: Upgrading our transportation infrastructure, promoting economic recovery and improving public safety. I will ensure our roads are repaired in a timely manner, and ensure money being collected for road improvement efforts like "2C" actually go to our roads instead of being diverted to other construction efforts. Promoting economic recovery will be lengthy but I believe in supporting our small businesses in any way possible, while connecting them with the resources they need to survive through the Chamber/EDC and the Small Business Development Center.

Karlie Van Arnam: My top priorities include affordable housing, government transparency, park and trail maintenance/improvements and public transportation. Colorado Springs is a beautiful place and our population is growing rapidly. It is my goal to collaborate with residents, associations, other council members and government agencies to create thoughtful and comprehensive policy regarding these issues that will positively impact our very diverse population and encourage sustainable growth.

Justin James-Fletcher Hermes: Transforming the Citadel- Bringing the limelight back to the Citadel Mall and encouraging community leaders and investors to be creative with the space we have as other cities have reinvigorated big box malls. Affordable housing- I believe we need to remove some of the regulations and red tape that provide a high barrier to entry for investors and builders in this community. I think retool Colorado Springs has some great initiatives that will help provide affordable housing. There are many opportunities for infill in our community and we need to focus on those locations first before expanding further east. Converting vacant commercial space is much more cost-effective and does not require the new infrastructure that new communities need. Infrastructure- This desperately needs to be a priority for our city. With the amount of growth we will be experiencing over the next several years we must be on the forefront of infrastructure.

Mary Elizabeth Fabian: Infrastructure - As I walk through neighborhoods, especially the more established neighborhoods that are further from downtown, collecting signatures I repeatedly hear concerns about roads, growth and how we will manage congestion. Growth is good, but as leaders of our community we should guide our community planning to address these concerns possibly by redeveloping areas that are currently vacant or run down and always considering the unintended consequences. We should also ensure our tax dollars are spent on road improvements that meet or exceed industry standards with a forward thinking mindset so that the same roads do not have to be fixed year after year.

Economy - Colorado Springs has enjoyed a certain amount of recession-proofing due to our proximity to the area’s military bases. However more and more businesses and families are leaving District 5 because of the lack of affordability. Our economy needs to be inclusive and supportive of all citizens. Council members should be in communication with small business owners in our community on how to encourage them to flourish in balance with attracting big box stores. By equitably focusing on and encouraging small and large businesses we are able to support our economy and sustain the long term economic health of the community as a whole.

Public Safety - Our Community deserves for every person to feel safe and protected and served by our Police Force. In order to do this, we need to do a better job of retaining our Force and recruiting additional officers. This is done by showing support from our community and understanding the layers and the personal impacts of those responsibilities. An open discussion about the best solutions, areas of improved collaboration on all sides, and how to create the most effective Force is necessary and I am willing to be the person to help facilitate it

Candidate Comparison

Where do the candidates stand on the issues? We've lined up a comparison below. For more in-depth information, click on either "Yes," "No," or "It's Complicated."

On The Issues

As Colorado Springs continues to grow, development has increased and rents and housing prices have gone up. What are your ideas for balancing growth with supporting that which is already here?

Nancy Henjum: Candidate did not provide an answer.

Matt Zelenok: Candidate did not provide an answer.

Karlie Van Arnam: Candidate did not provide an answer.

Justin James-Fletcher Hermes: I think we have to have proper infrastructure and hold the developers accountable for the new communities being developed. Like I said before if we get creative with the spaces we already have in the city we can solve the affordability issue and increasing rents.

Mary Elizabeth Fabian: We have a community that people love to live in and this is a good thing! The balance is to ensure that as we plan and grow that considerations are made to house people of all economic fortunes. This requires planning and collaboration with those who are investing in building out our communities and ensuring that codes and zoning will support an overall vision of a community where those who work can also live.

Should Colorado Springs continue to spread out and grow to the north and east, or should the city focus on more and denser infill projects within city limits?

Nancy Henjum: Candidate did not provide an answer.

Matt Zelenok: We must balance our growth to not only grow outward, but to also grow from well inside the city boundary. I believe there must be a different approach to infill projects currently underway in the city limits in order to promote higher density housing developments.

Karlie Van Arnam: I believe both of these scenarios have merit. The city should be looking to repurpose underutilized commercial space to transform it into multifamily affordable housing and mixed use spaces. This must be a collaborative effort between existing citizens, developers, and local government to ensure we are considering the individuality of neighborhoods and the needs of current residents. Future development to the north and east must embrace mixed use zoning to allow housing and businesses to exist close by so our citizens can live near where they work and play. The city must also consider the direct impact to utilities and rate increases to the current and proposed residents as well as the impact to public and private transportation when considering development plans.

Justin James-Fletcher Hermes: Obviously you have to have growth north and east and new developments have to be considered. However I think the city should encourage investors to look at infill projects before considering a new development. The cost of the infrastructure and utility fees and other development costs makes new developments more expensive. If we already have the infrastructure and police and fire department in that area it makes a lot of sense. Just look at the taxes on a new build compared to infill projects. Infill should be the priority and expanding further out from the city after the fact.

Mary Elizabeth Fabian: I do not see this as an either/or scenario but instead one where we should infill when appropriate - for instance abandoned shopping centers and retail spots that could be reimagined - AND spread into additional space. What needs to be considered at all times is the impact on our transportation and utilities along with the cost for additional road upkeep.

What should be the city's infrastructure investments over the next 10-20 years?

Nancy Henjum: Candidate did not provide an answer.

Matt Zelenok: Roads, Roads, stormwater, fiber optic network

Karlie Van Arnam: Sustainable growth relies on adequate investment in infrastructure to include roads, public utilities, open space, and transportation. As our populations continues to grow we must ensure the investments we are making in infrastructure today can meet the needs for future demand.

Justin James-Fletcher Hermes: We need to focus on building up our local airport and getting a commuter train that connects Denver to Colorado Springs. As a city we also need to be looking at expanding roads that offer adequate access to the highway.

Mary Elizabeth Fabian: Considering innovative options for less costly public transportation, ensuring that the parks and open spaces we have are maintained while growing additional spaces at a healthy rate. Tackling and building an way to handle our homelessness issues before they become a problem our community can not get their arms around. Training and MAINTAINING our Police Force so that our budget items can be focused on ensuring that we have CRT and Police teams fully equipped as opposed to training the force for others.

What do you see as priorities or gaps in efforts for economic diversification?

Nancy Henjum: Candidate did not provide an answer.

Matt Zelenok: We must diversify our local economy to reduce the reliance on the military as the single largest economic contributor. Offering incentives to new and innovative business that will increase high paying jobs will be essential to grow our local economy.

Karlie Van Arnam: A diversity of job types, income levels, industry and background is essential to a healthy economy. To support a diverse labor force, the city must also have a diverse housing market to meet the needs of all our citizens. Increasing housing accessibility and affordability should be a priority.

Justin James-Fletcher Hermes: I think we must make affordable housing a priority. It’s not about just creating more apartments. We have to find a way to make homeownership attainable for Colorado Springs citizens. The more flexible we can be with regulation and different building approaches the better off we will be.

Mary Elizabeth Fabian: Candidate did not provide an answer.

As the city celebrates its sesquicentennial, what do you see as the number one success of the city in the last 150 years, and what is the number one issue the city has not gotten right, either through lack of trying or some other reason?

Nancy Henjum: Candidate did not provide an answer.

Matt Zelenok: Biggest success - preserving our natural landscape and resources. Biggest issue -allowing external influence in our local government and allowing these individuals to profit from the city while allowing the taxpayers to pick up the bill.

Karlie Van Arnam: I would like the city to continue to works towards inclusiveness while embracing and encouraging diversity among our citizens. Colorado Springs needs to be a place that works for ALL of us regardless of our backgrounds, beliefs and preferences. We have a great community and the local government has the duty to attract a culture and population consistent with the vision of our residents.

Justin James-Fletcher Hermes: I think city of champions and the blueprint that has been rolled out by the city over the last 9 Years is a huge success. Growing up here I never remember seeing a crane downtown. It’s such an exciting time for Colorado Springs and a lot of that has to do with the city of champions initiative. I think the way the bike lanes were implemented is a major concern for many Colorado Springs citizens.

Mary Elizabeth Fabian: Having traveled across the United States and the World, Colorado Springs truly is a unique and beautiful place to live - specifically because of the forethought of our founder and his desire to provide us untamed beauty through our parks and open spaces. From anywhere in our city, a 5-10 minute drive allows us to be in nature and that is invaluable. Our growth was not managed well as apartments were not built and advocated for in the 90’s and early 2000’s to the rate that we now know that we need them. I would not want Colorado Springs to become a community of the elite that has to bring in our service professionals from outlying communities.

Is there anything specific you'd hope to prioritize on the council?

Nancy Henjum: Candidate did not provide an answer.

Matt Zelenok: Candidate did not provide an answer.

Karlie Van Arnam: Candidate did not provide an answer.

Justin James-Fletcher Hermes: We live in one of the most patriotic cities in the United States of America. Let’s make sure we show our support for the men and women who currently serve or have served our country and for our local police force, sheriffs department, the fire department and all first responders.

Mary Elizabeth Fabian: Colorado Springs is the place that I have called home and raised my children. It has been my “land of opportunity” and I have focused my energies for many years to giving back. It is important to me that our district and community as a whole is represented by individuals who understand that they are merely the voice for the community and have a responsibility to consider and represent those needs and concerns above all other things. District 5 has been poorly represented and an example is Rustic Hills. It is time for our Council to represent the citizens of Colorado Springs in a responsible, forward thinking, holistic way.

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