Fort Collins City Council election: Who and what to expect on the April 2021 ballot

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A packed Fort Collins municipal election ballot will let voters decide on representatives for five of seven council seats, next steps for the former Hughes Stadium site, a plastic bag ban and a handful of City Charter amendments.

Fort Collins holds its municipal election in early April every odd-numbered year, and there are always a few council seats on the ballot. But this year’s election is especially significant because several council members are term-limited, so four of the five seats on the ballot don’t have an incumbent running. And unlike the 2019 election, there are at least two candidates running in each race.

Fourteen people plan to run for the five seats so far, according to the city’s election website. Candidates are considered “unofficial” until they submit valid nominating petitions. They have until Feb. 16 to file their nomination petitions and until Feb. 23 to officially withdraw their candidacy. This story will be updated online with any changes that occur by those deadlines.

Fort Collins’ municipal elections are nonpartisan, but the Coloradoan is sharing some information about party affiliations when available to help voters learn about candidates.

The lineup of ballot measures is still being finalized, and the exact language of the Hughes Stadium ballot measure is pending judicial review. Council is expected to finalize the plastics ballot measure at its Tuesday meeting and the Hughes ballot measure at its Feb. 16 meeting. We’ll update this story online with any changes to the measures.

The April 6 election will be conducted by mail, as usual. The city will send ballots to registered voters in Fort Collins city limits by March 19. Find a map of council districts at fcgov.com/cityclerk/district-boundaries.php.

Here’s a quick look at who and what you can expect to see on your ballot this year. Keep an eye out for continued coverage of the city election, including more in-depth stories on council races and ballot measures, campaign finance and a Coloradoan questionnaire that will be distributed to all candidates. Share suggestions for Coloradoan coverage of the municipal election with city government reporter Jacy Marmaduke at jmarmaduke@coloradoan.com.

Mayoral candidates

The mayor is elected citywide for a two-year term. Mayor Wade Troxell is term-limited this year after six years as mayor and eight years representing District 4 on council.

Three people have announced their candidacy for mayor so far.

Jeni James Arndt

Jeni Arndt

Occupation: State representative

Website: jeniarndt4mayor.com

About: Arndt, a Democrat, has represented Fort Collins in the Colorado legislature’s House of Representatives since 2015. Her legislation has primarily focused on water, agriculture, small business and public education, and she co-sponsored the 2019 law that abolished the death penalty in Colorado. Before serving in the legislature, she was a special education teacher, university faculty member and middle school principal, among other things.

Quote from website: “Representing Fort Collins at the Capitol has been a privilege. Now it’s time to bring that experience home to serve our city locally. My vision for Fort Collins is to foster a city government that is inclusive, listens and is responsive, and is collaborative, smart, nimble, resilient, connected, inquisitive, innovative and family friendly — just like the people who live here. Great cities are made up of great people coming together to govern themselves. I will earn your trust as a mayor who brings people together to get things done.”

Former City Council member Gerry Horak makes a joke about Emily Gorgol taking his seat on the City Council during his outgoing remarks at City Hall on April 23.

Gerry Horak

Occupation: Founding steering committee member of the WaterNow Alliance, steering committee member for NoCo Housing, president of Boxelder Basin Regional Stormwater Authority

Website: gerryhorakformayor.com

About: Horak has collectively served over 20 years on Fort Collins City Council, from 1981 to 1994 and again from 2011 to 2019. He was mayor pro-tem for much of that tenure and also served as mayor in 1984-85. Horak’s website lists many of his council accomplishments, including advocacy for changing the city’s position from opposition to support of the Wild and Scenic Designation of the Poudre River, helping establish the city’s Natural Areas Program and representing Fort Collins on the Platte River Power Authority board, the North Front Range Transportation and Air Quality Planning Organization and the I-25 coalition.

Quote from website: “Gerry is the guy who gets stuff done — now — no matter how small or large the task. His proven track record of public service shows that he will be a mayor for all people of Fort Collins.”

Molly Skold

Molly Skold

Occupation: Vice president of marketing and communications for Mutual of Omaha’s real-estate arm, Midtown Crossing 

Website: molly4mayor.com

About: While Skold works for an Omaha-based company, she lives in Fort Collins and serves on the boards for Visit Fort Collins, Fort Collins Museum of Discovery and Elevations Credit Union. She’s a strong advocate for public-private partnerships and has also been involved in a range of community improvement projects in Omaha.

Quote from website: “Born and raised in Fort Collins, Molly has proven herself a strong and versatile leader, a strategic thinker whose work elevates communities and organizations. She supports disciplined growth and has a proven track record of igniting energy and collaboration on projects, programs and events that create excitement across the community, business sector and city government.”

District 1 candidates

Residents of District 1, which covers northeast Fort Collins, will vote in this race. Incumbent Susan Gutowsky has represented the district since 2019. The winner will be elected to a four-year term.

Two people are running so far, and Armstrong has submitted enough signatures to be considered an official candidate, according to the City Clerk’s Office.

Nick Armstrong

Website: nickforfoco.com

About: Armstrong is a small-business owner, author and community event organizer. He was involved in organizing Fort Collins Comic Con, Fort Collins Startup Week, Ignite Fort Collins and TEDxFoCo. He’s also board president of the Maple Hill Homeowners Association and a board member for Boxelder Sanitation District.

Quote from website: “It’s imperative that we start working together to create solutions for the ongoing historical issues in our district affecting all of our neighbors: accessible transportation, affordable housing, safety on our roads and in our communities, and a strong local economy that supports both traditional and creative businesses.

“I’ve spent most of my adult life building and organizing communities, creating platforms to share the best ideas from the smartest and most engaged neighbors, and bringing together amazing people from all around Fort Collins and beyond to work together and solve problems.”

Susan Gutowsky is sworn into City Council on April 23 at City Hall.

Susan Gutowsky

Occupation: District 1 Fort Collins City Council member

Website: susan-gutowsky.com

About: Gutowsky was appointed to council to fill a vacancy in 2019 and was elected to finish the term later that year. She’s now running for what would be her first full term on council. She previously served on the Poudre School District Board of Education from 2011 to 2019 and has been a community leader for Project Smile and Museo de las Tres Colonias, among other organizations.

Quote from website: “We are the district with the most diversity — both cultural and economic. We are the district with the most undeveloped land. I will continue to be vigilant about managing our growth through mindful decision-making while ensuring that our businesses prosper, our environment and our river are protected, and that our residents feel safe in their homes.

“Clean air and water, a living wage, access to healthcare and affordable shelter, excellent schools, and a strong economy are essential basic needs.”

District 3 candidates

Residents of southeast Fort Collins’ District 3 will pick the successor of council member Ken Summers, who isn’t running for reelection as of Feb. 1. Two candidates are running so far, and the winner will be elected to a four-year term.

Tricia Canonico

Occupation: Former small business owner, current board member of La Familia/The Family Center and Blue Rising, a Colorado political action committee

Website: triciaforfoco.com

About: Canonico is an active community volunteer who’s been involved with local political campaigns, Moms Demand Action and the Larimer County Democratic Party. She created a fundraising campaign, Feed the NoCo Frontline, early in the pandemic to purchase meals from struggling restaurants for delivery to frontline health care workers.

Quote from website: “Having lived across the country, I’ve been exposed to various cultures, people, and approaches to life. I recognize how fortunate I am to be a part of this vibrant, thriving city that is Fort Collins. I want to use my educational background in comparative politics, my professional background as a small-business owner and my experience as a volunteer and fundraiser to better serve our residents and businesses alike. I’ll bring a fresh and creative mindset to City Council with a range of professional and personal experiences.”

Gavin Kaszynski

Gavin Kaszynski

Occupation: Chief financial officer for Associates in Family Medicine

Website: electgavink.com

About: Kaszynski has about 25 years of business experience and has also served on the Fort Collins Housing Authority Board, the city’s Legislative Affairs Committee, the health care work group of the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance and the Budget Advisory Committee for Poudre School District. 

Quote from website: “The compassion I have as a healthcare professional combined with my experience and skills from the business world make me uniquely qualified to help our great city at this crucial time. I know what it takes to heal our people, and revitalize our economy. …

“As a finance professional I have spent a lot of time creating and working with budgets. I will help make sure that the City government is transparent, and that your tax dollars are used effectively and efficiently.”

District 4 candidates

Residents of southwest Fort Collins will elect the representative for District 4, which is currently represented by appointee Melanie Potyondy. The rest of council selected Potyondy from a pool of applicants to fill the vacancy left by former Mayor pro-tem Kristin Stephens, who now serves as a Larimer County commissioner. 

The race currently includes five candidates, all of whom applied to fill the vacancy earlier this year. Potyondy has submitted enough signatures to be considered an official candidate, according to the City Clerk’s Office. See the candidates’ positions on the most pressing issues facing Fort Collins in previous Coloradoan coverage.

The winner will be elected to a two-year term, which is the amount of time that was remaining in Stephens’ term.

Jess Dyrdahl

Occupation: Assistant director for student government at Colorado State University

Website: jess4foco.com

About: Dyrdahl has served on Leadership Fort Collins’ steering committee, worked at Horse and Dragon Brewing Company and was an adjunct faculty member for CSU’s President’s Leadership Program.

Quote from website: Dyrdahl lists COVID-19 response as her top priority.

“City Council can play a role in a variety of ways. Council can encourage residents to follow the current guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19. Council can continue advocating to state and federal legislators to receive more funding to support businesses in the community, especially our small, locally owned businesses. Council can continue to support resources such as rental, utility, and child care assistance. In terms of mental and social impacts, council can show support for initiatives surrounding behavioral health services, whether it is improved access, reduced substance abuse or promoting better overall health.”

Erin Hottenstein

Erin Hottenstein

Occupation: Associate trainer and vice president of operations at Public Speaking for the Professional

Website: erinhottenstein.com

About: Hottenstein is a former print and broadcast journalist, former Board of Trustees president at Foothills Unitarian Church and founder of Colorado 50-50, an organization that promotes women’s leadership.

Quote from website: “I’m excited to put my experience as a small-business owner, community volunteer, and parent to work for the betterment of my district and all of Fort Collins, where I’ve lived for more than 20 years. …

“My experience as a small-business owner — and a mom of school-aged kids — means that I truly understand the impact of the pandemic on our city. Fort Collins City Council administers millions of dollars in CARES Act funding to help folks cope with the COVID-19 crisis. I will work tirelessly to ensure the CARES funding has the broadest impact possible for businesses and families.”

Shirley Peel

Shirley Peel, left, and Trish Wadsworth stand in front of Christian Core Academy's new home in Fort Collins July 16, 2019. After more than a decade of moving from church to church, the school secured a permanent location. It will begin serving students in the 2019-20 school year.

Occupation: Retired, community volunteer

Website: None listed 

About: Peel founded and is now a board member of Christian Core Academy. She’s also a member of Larimer County’s Citizen Review Board, a former teacher and school volunteer, and external vice chair for the Larimer County Republican Party.

Quote from website: Not applicable. See Peel’s positions on the most pressing issues facing Fort Collins in previous Coloradoan coverage.

Melanie Potyondy

Melanie Potyondy will fill the vacant District 4 seat for Fort Collins City Council. She's among the people planning to run for the seat in April 2021, when it's up for election.

Occupation: School psychologist with Poudre School District, District 4 council member

Website: melanieforfoco.com

About: Potyondy is a member of Colorado Department of Education Mental Health Advisory Committee and regional representative for Colorado Society of School Psychologists. She previously served on the city of Fort Collins Women’s Commission and as a negotiator for the Poudre Education Association.

Quote from website: “I pride myself on being a helper and a doer. In addition to being a public educator and mental health provider for many years, I am an avid volunteer at the local and state level. … On a more micro scale, I have worked hard to make my neighborhood in west Fort Collins a better place for my family and community, spearheading a project to replace damaged signage, building and maintaining a Little Free Library, and going on ‘garbage walks’ in my free time (I own my own trash grabbers!).”


Sidna Rachid

Sidna Rachid

Occupation: Retired, community volunteer

Website: None yet, but residents interested in learning about Rachid’s campaign can contact her at sidnarachid@hotmail.com.

About: Rachid is a former Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer for the Eighth Judicial District, former chair of Northern Colorado chapter of ACLU Colorado and League of Women Voters of Larimer County volunteer. She has an MBA in accounting and has lived and worked in Egypt and Qatar.

Quote from website: Not applicable. See Rachid’s positions on the most pressing issues facing Fort Collins in previous Coloradoan coverage.

District 5 candidates

Residents of District 5, which covers central-west Fort Collins and the Colorado State University area, will elect the successor of term-limited Mayor pro-tem Ross Cunniff. Two people are in the running so far, and the winner will be elected to a four-year term.

Jeff Hansen

Occupation: Architect and project manager with Vaught Frye Larson Aronson Architects (VFLA) 

Website: None listed, but he has a Facebook campaign page at facebook.com/JeffHansen4FortCollins

About: Hansen has been a member of Fort Collins’ Planning and Zoning Board since 2014 and has been involved in development of many city strategic plans, including the updated Housing Strategic Plan. His campaign slogan is “(re)connect Fort Collins: ALL voices heard, ALL issues understood, ALL options considered for the future of Fort Collins.”

Quote from website: Hansen lists affordable housing among his top priorities on his Facebook page, along with economic recovery, affordable child care and environmental sustainability.

“Housing costs in Fort Collins continue to rise faster than incomes. After seven years of service on the Planning & Zoning Board, Jeff has been involved with many of the city’s strategic plans including ongoing effort to develop a Strategic Housing Plan. After such lengthy involvement, he is committed to ensuring the plan will be implemented and viable not only for the short term but for future generations.”

Councilman Kelly Ohlson poses at the Raptor Observatory on the East side of the Cathy Fromme Prairie Natural Area on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, at in Fort Collins, Colo.

Kelly Ohlson

Occupation: Community volunteer, member of  Fort Collins Land Conservation & Stewardship Board

Website: kellyohlson.com

About: Ohlson previously served as Fort Collins mayor, mayor pro-tem and council member. He first served on council in the ’80s and returned from 2005 to 2013. His website includes a list of his accomplishments during his time on council, including leadership in the creation of the city’s Natural Areas program, climate action, social justice and downtown improvements. Between council terms, he’s sat on the city’s Natural Resources Advisory Board, the first City Plan Citizens Committee, the Citizen Budget Committee and others.

Quote from website: “As a former city council member representing District 5, (Ohlson) worked tirelessly to improve our neighborhoods and community — investing in open spaces and natural areas, parks and trails, supporting local business, seeking solutions for climate action, and showing compassion for our most vulnerable citizens. He has won many awards for his leadership in public service, historic preservation, recycling, and natural areas and open space protection. Kelly is an experienced and proven leader who believes that Fort Collins is a unique place to live, work, recreate, raise a family and retire. He believes in standing up for the citizens of our community and in being a strong and effective voice for their interests and concerns.”

Ballot measures

Hughes Stadium site

Text: To be determined

Background: Community group PATHS (Planning Action to Transform Hughes Sustainably) gathered thousands of signatures supporting a ballot measure that would direct the city to attempt to purchase the former Hughes Stadium site from Colorado State University and zone it as 100% open space. 

It’s not yet clear whether the ballot measure will include the directive for the city to purchase the land. City Council sent the ballot measure to a district court judge for a declaratory judgment after city attorney Carrie Daggett said she was concerned that the purchasing directive could be considered an “administrative” action that is legally inadmissible in a ballot measure.

PATHS tried to get the matter dismissed in court, but Eighth Judicial District Judge Juan Villasenor didn’t grant the motion. The matter is up for a status conference and oral argument hearing on Tuesday morning, and council is expected to move forward with finalized ballot language on Feb. 16.

Single-use plastic bag ban

Text: To be determined

Background: The majority of council is on board with a council-initiated ballot measure that would ban single-use plastic bags at large grocery stores and impose a small fee for paper bags. The measure, if approved by voters, could later be expanded to include other retailers and other types of single-use plastics with additional city review and community engagement.  It would take effect in May 2022.

Council is expected to vote on the measure, including finalized language, at its Tuesday meeting.

Charter amendments

There are five city-initiated charter amendments on the ballot. The city considers them all to be relatively minor housekeeping-type amendments.

City-Initiated Proposed Charter Amendment No. 1

Text: Shall Section 4 of Article II of the Charter of the City of Fort Collins, pertaining to the election of the Mayor Pro Tem and other Council organizational matters, be amended to clarify that the election of the Mayor Pro Tem shall occur at the meeting at which newly-elected Councilmembers take the oath of office and further to provide for election by Council of a new Mayor Pro Tem in the event of a resignation from that position?

In other words: This change would clarify when council is supposed to select a new mayor pro-tem and what council is supposed to do after a mayor pro-tem resigns.

City-Initiated Proposed Charter Amendment No. 2

Text: Shall Section 8 of Article VIII of the Charter of the City of Fort Collins, pertaining to campaign contributions for city elections, be amended to remove the stated prohibition on campaign contributions and expenditures and instead provide that Council shall by ordinance establish prohibitions on, and requirements for, campaign contributions and expenditures for city elections, in addition to limits on contributions to support or oppose candidates for Council?

In other words: This change would remove a section of the City Charter that bars political parties, city employees, public service corporations, and other people or entities “owning, interested in, or intending to apply for any franchise or contract with the city” from making monetary on non-monetary contributions to City Council elections. The city’s existing limits on campaign contributions would remain.

The city is addressing this because of concerns about whether this section should apply to city employees and because of “developments in the law that may impact Section 8’s restrictions,” according to staff materials presented to council.

Charter Amendment No. 3

Text: Shall Sections 9 and 11 of Article V of the City of Fort Collins Charter be amended to provide that City Council may make supplemental appropriations from not only the City’s actual and expected revenues in a fiscal year, but also from all other sources of funds the City receives or expects to receive during the fiscal year, and to provide that the City Council may designate by ordinance as non-lapsing its annual and supplemental appropriations for capital projects and for federal, state and private grants and donations until the completion of the capital project or until the earlier of the expiration of the federal, state or private grant or donation or the city’s expenditure of all funds received from such grant or donation, but without limiting the City Council’s ability to terminate earlier any such capital project or federal, state or private grant or donation?

In other words: These changes would clarify a few things related to city funding:

  • Council can pay for city expenditures using funds from sources other than city revenue, including grants and proceeds from debt issuance and borrowing.
  • When council uses grants to fund city spending, that funding doesn’t lapse until the city has either used all the funding or the grant expires, whichever comes first.

Charter Amendment No. 4

Text: Shall Section 17 of Article II of the Charter of the City of Fort Collins, requiring an independent audit of city books and accounts at least annually, be amended to increase the time for publication of a summary of such audit to seven (7) months after the end of each fiscal year, instead of five (5) months?

In other words: This change would give the city two more months to finish its annual audit and publish the summary in the Coloradoan. Staff have sometimes had trouble completing the audit within five months of the end of each fiscal year, so they’re asking for additional time.

Charter Amendment No. 5

Text: Shall Section 5 of Article VIII of the Charter of the City of Fort Collins, establishing the Board of Elections, be amended to replace a reference to “Municipal Judge” with “Chief Judge” in conformance with a 2017 update to that title?

In other words: This change would update the charter to reflect the current title for the judge who presides over the city’s municipal court. The city changed the title from “municipal judge” to “chief judge” in 2017.

Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.