Rivera proposes charter changes to 'fix' strong mayor system

DANIEL CHACÓN Updated: January 11, 2011 at 12:00 am • Published: January 11, 2011

Colorado Springs Mayor Lionel Rivera is proposing a series of charter changes for the April ballot to fix what he says are deficiencies in the voter-approved initiative to switch to a strong-mayor form of government.

In the months leading up to the November election, Rivera gave proponents of the strong-mayor form of government an outline to consider. Rivera had spent weeks researching and developing the outline.

But he said the group brushed him off and purposely left out key provisions in their ballot initiative to get the measure to pass.

“Their response back to me was, ‘Mayor, you’re making this too complicated. We just want something that’s simple and that will pass. After it passes, it’s up to you guys to fix it.’ That’s what they told me,” Rivera said Monday.

But Rachel Beck, a spokeswoman for the backers of Issue 300, said the group was trying to stay within the confines of the state’s single-subject rule, which limits measures to a single subject.

“We limited the scope of our ballot initiative because of the law, not so that it would pass,” she said.

But Beck said the group welcomed any improvements to its ballot initiative.

“We just hope that time will be given for public comment and discussion before it goes on the ballot,” she said.

The council will consider the proposed charter changes in two weeks.

Among the changes Rivera is proposing:

• Revise the makeup of the City Council from five at-large and four district council members to six district representatives and three at-large.

“In my research, for every city that has a strong mayor, either all the council members are district reps or the majority are district reps,” Rivera said. “The reason for that is with the strong mayor, I think you need more direct contact from a district rep to the people who live in the community.

“More district representation allows that and allows the district representative to have a smaller area to be responsible for.”

Under Rivera’s proposal, the two at-large candidates with the least number of votes in April would serve only two-year terms. The city clerk would then redistrict six districts in 2013.

“To me, that’s the only way you can break and start over with the new system,” he said.

• In what will likely generate stiff opposition from anti-tax activist Douglas Bruce, Rivera wants to base the “surplus revenue” that Colorado Springs Utilities transfers to the city — also known as the PILT, or payment in lieu of taxes — on a formula that the council agreed to in the last rate case for electric and gas. The mayor and council would have to agree to any future changes by a joint resolution under Rivera’s proposal.

• Increase the pay of council members to minimum wage based on a 30-hour work week, raising their annual stipend from $6,250 to about $11,400. The new pay would take effect in 2013.

“Having it take effect in 2013 means that no sitting member of council would be entitled to the increase unless they ran for re-election,” he said.

• Rivera is also proposing a change in the charter to require a two-thirds supermajority of council to remove a municipal judge. Under the new form of government, municipal judges serve at the will of the mayor.

“There should be at least another layer of oversight,” he said.

• Rivera said City Attorney Patricia Kelly suggested a change to allow the new mayor to attend the council’s executive sessions.

Councilman Randy Purvis said during Monday’s council meeting that he didn’t “necessarily agree or disagree” with Rivera’s proposed charter changes because it was the first time he had seen them. However, he said it may be more prudent to empanel a charter review commission to do a more in-depth analysis.

“I’m sure that there are other items that you haven’t discovered or that are still lurking out there that do need to be addressed and should be addressed,” he said.

Councilman Tom Gallagher agreed, saying former City Manager George Fellows told him the switch to a strong-mayor form of government required more work than what was submitted to voters by the backers of Issue 300. Fellows opposed the ballot initiative.

“George summed it up very well. He said, ‘If you’re going to have a strong mayor, you need to write a charter for the strong mayor. You just can’t go through a council manager charter and scratch out city manager and slide in mayor.’ And that’s what we’re finding,” Gallagher said.

Call the writer at 476-1623.

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