Utilities governance

 Utilities governance

Since 1924 when the residents of Colorado Springs voted to create a four-service municipal utility, the focus of Colorado Springs Utilities has been on the basics – providing exceptional customer service while keeping costs low. Local decision making, made possible through community ownership, assures a focus on customer service excellence, competitive rates, high reliability, and a relationship with the community that reflects local values.

Citizen-owners elect City Council, which also serves as the Utilities Board and in that capacity has the responsibility for governing Colorado Springs Utilities. As part of the recent governance process review, the Board established a new Excellence in Governance model that creates a stronger partnership between the Utilities Board and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and clearly defines expectations, roles and responsibilities through written policies. 

Governance process & structure review

The Utilities Board initiated a comprehensive review of the governance process and structure in 2015. Guiding principles for the review were

  1. it is better to review governance when the organization is performing well,
  2. community ownership and local control would be maintained; Colorado Springs Utilities, its services and/or systems, are not for sale; and
  3. the Board committed to a thorough and robust public involvement process to consider and vet all options as part of the review.

The Utilities Board studied governance process first, which is how the Utilities Board conducts business, makes decisions and works with the CEO. After developing the foundation of the Excellence in Governance model, the Utilities Board concentrated on the review of governance structure, which is how the Board is established and how members of the Board are chosen.

Governance authorities

One of the key issues in the Utilities Board’s considerations of whether to establish a separate Board structure, regardless of how it would be established, was what authorities a separate Utilities Board would have relative to City Council authorities regarding Colorado Springs Utilities. 

Public process & opinion

Citizen-owners and customers provided input during the course of the process through numerous quantitative and qualitative methods.  Created through joint Utilities Board and stakeholder input and using professional research companies, three quantitative and three qualitative surveys were conducted with customers and specifically with voters in the community. In addition, town hall meetings in every City Council electoral district were held and a community-wide telephone town hall was conducted. Comments were also received at Board meetings and through the website throughout the review.

Results & conclusions of the review

Significant changes were approved in the Utilities Board governance process prior to and as a result of the governance process review. 

Utilities Board leadership & committees

The first change the Utilities Board made to the Utilities governance process was to separate Utilities Board leadership from that of City Council. Previously, City Council and Utilities Board leadership were comprised of the same individuals.  Now, the Utilities Board Chair and Vice Chair are elected separately from the City Council President and City Council President Pro-Tem by the members of the Utilities Board. This allows leadership of the City Council and Utilities Board to concentrate on municipal government and utilities issues, respectively.

The Utilities Board also set up standing Board committees for Strategic Planning, Personnel and Finance, for increased direction and oversight. As a result of the governance process review, the Board also established a Program Management Review committee for oversight of significant programs and projects.

Excellence in governance policy

The Utilities Board developed a new Excellence in Governance model, which defines its role by detailing the fiduciary, statutory and regulatory duties; responsibilities for direction, outcome, oversight and accountability; specific authorities of the Utilities Board and City Council; partnership expectations with the CEO; and Board Instructions to the CEO. As part of the review, administrative decisions will be made at Board meetings rather than City Council. The Board is in the process of completing a governance policy manual.