Tension mounts between Bach, city attorney

DANIEL CHACÓN Updated: August 16, 2011 at 12:00 am • Published: August 16, 2011

A power struggle is emerging under Colorado Springs’ new strong-mayor form of government.

The first sign of growing tensions among city officials appeared in a series of charter amendments that City Attorney Patricia Kelly drafted for the November ballot.

The ballot proposals, outlined in an email that Kelly sent Friday to Mayor Steve Bach and the City Council, include a charter change that would take away the mayor’s authority to appoint the city attorney, giving it to council instead.

Another proposal calls for the mayor to execute contracts only for the city government but not for Memorial Health System or Colorado Springs Utilities.

The power play comes just two months after Bach took office as the city’s first strong mayor.

Up until now, city officials have been transitioning to a new form of government in a collegial manner.

But many joked that it was only a matter of time before their so-called honeymoon came to an end.

Bach said Tuesday that the proposed charter changes “inappropriately shift authority from the mayor to the City Council.” He also said he was disappointed that Kelly, who reports directly to him, didn’t make him aware of the proposals beforehand.

“These charter amendments were a surprise to me,” Bach said.

“There was no discussion with me before they were distributed to the council, which is disappointing in the sense that I think there ought to be a dialogue between the City Attorney’s Office and the mayor,” he said. “I hope this is strictly attributable to everybody being really busy.”

To read Kelly’s memo to the mayor and council, visit the City Desk blog by clicking here.

Kelly refused to discuss the matter, city spokesman John Leavitt said in an email.

“She feels it is inappropriate to comment about items that are under consideration before council,” he said.

Council President Scott Hente said the proposed charter change to take away the mayor’s authority to appoint the city attorney was Kelly’s idea.

“I’m not sure that will make the ballot,” he said.

Former City Councilman Sean Paige said Kelly is “trying to undermine the will of voters” who approved the strong-mayor form of government. She’s doing so “in a very self-serving way” and should be fired “or given a chance to exit gracefully,” he said.

“It’s no surprise that the city attorney would be pushing a ballot measure designed to place her office under direct control of council, rather than the mayor, since she has this council leadership eating out of her hand,” he said. “She isn’t interested in answering to anyone she can’t manipulate, charm or baffle with her legalistic B.S.”

The council is scheduled to consider the ballot proposals next week. Bach said he’s asked several council members to considering holding off on the ballot questions, with the exception of the one involving the future of Memorial, which he called a separate matter.

“I think we need to have a more comprehensive look at the charter. We’ve only been doing this for two months,” said Bach, who took the oath of office in June.

“We should have a charter review committee, not a commission, but a committee, take a look at all this, and we need to have a thorough discussion. We can’t have thorough discussion on one day’s turnaround,” Bach said.

Kevin Walker, who helped draft the ballot language for the strong-mayor form of government, which voters approved last November, agreed.

“There’s certainly some reason to take a look at some of these questions. I think, though, that they should be a little bit more vetted and thought-out before they get put on the ballot,” he said.

“This is the first time anybody has even seen this language, and I think it takes more time than that to put it on the ballot. I don’t think there’s anything that pressing that couldn’t wait until the next election,” he said.

During his State of the City address in June, Bach said Colorado Springs would ultimately have to consider other charter amendments to “clean up” the strong-mayor form of government. For example, he said then, the mayor no longer has any statutory involvement with Memorial or Utilities, both city-owned enterprises, but the mayor is legally required to sign all contracts for all departments.

Bach said Tuesday that he asked Steve Cox, his chief of staff, to ask Kelly to prepare a possible charter amendment that would give him the authority to delegate the signing of contracts.

But in one of her proposed charter amendments, “she carves out any involvement whatsoever on signing of contracts for Memorial Hospital and for Colorado Springs Utilities,” he said. “That is not what I asked for.”

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