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Gazette Premium Content City Council flexes muscles, anticipates mayoral vetoes

DANIEL CHACÓN Updated: December 13, 2011 at 12:00 am

Steve Bach may be Colorado Springs’ first strong mayor, but the City Council is starting to show that it has muscles, too.

A council majority on Tuesday rejected the mayor’s request to suspend performance-based pay increases for civilian employees for up to a year. Bach had requested the hiatus until the completion of a compensation study.

Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin said she didn’t want to be at odds with Bach. But she said the mayor’s office failed to deliver on a promise to provide the council with additional information either late Monday or “first thing” Tuesday morning.

“We didn’t receive it until we got to the dais,” she said. “You just can’t ask us to make these kinds of decisions … without the information that we need to do that.”

The 2012 budget could trigger the next face-off between the mayor and council.

Bach has called a news conference for 2:30 p.m. today to announce what is likely a line item veto of changes the council made to his 2012 budget, which the council passed on second and final reading Tuesday.

The council’s changes include an additional $175,000 to repair and maintain city-owned tennis courts and $10,000 in funding for the Old Colorado City Historical Society.

“While a majority of (council) members supported our revenue forecast and an increase in employee sharing of health care premiums, Council nonetheless voted to make other changes to our Budget, including increased spending on nonessential programs,” Bach said on his website last month.

Anticipating that Bach will exercise his veto power, the council has scheduled a special meeting for 1 p.m. Thursday to consider any mayoral vetoes. The meeting will occur before the start of the Utilities Board meeting, held in the south tower on the fifth floor of the Plaza of the Rockies, 121 S. Tejon St.

The council can override a mayoral veto with six votes.

City Councilwoman Lisa Czelatdko, who proposed the additional funding for tennis courts and the historical society, said she believes there are enough votes on council to override a mayoral veto.

“To see out of a $222 million budget such very minimum proposals that really, truly do look out for the community … should really be commended,” she said.

City Councilman Merv Bennett voted in favor of the budget but said he would support the mayor if he exercised his veto power.

On Tuesday, Bennett was among the three council members who voted to support the mayor’s proposal to suspend performance-based pay increases for civilian employees. The other two were Angela Dougan, who voted against the 2012 budget, and Tim Leigh, who said he supports the mayor.

“After studying the financial condition of the city, I think it is irresponsible to do anything but support the budget recommendations made by staff and the mayor,” Leigh said. “They have spent nearly a year crafting a short- and long-term financial plan for the city that will help us march down the road to financial sanity, and ultimately, solvency.”

The pay increases for civilian employees, which total about $750,000, were included in the 2012 budget. But Bach, who called for a salary freeze when he took office, said they were included without his knowledge or approval.

Bach said Monday that he would do lay-offs or terminate employees if the council didn’t approve his request “and we have a difficult revenue year.”

The city’s Policy and Procedures Manual says employees who start working at the bottom of their salary scale “shall” be eligible for pay increases if their performance is satisfactory or better at the end of their probationary period.

Chuck Fowler, chairman and CEO of The City Committee, a group of business leaders who analyzed city operations, said the group uncovered what he called the “automatic pay increase policy” last summer.

“The mayor is following up on his campaign promises regarding a serious problem that all council members knew about, have known about,” Fowler said.

“Nothing is coming fast and furious,” he added. “Perhaps various council members need to pay attention better. After all, personnel policy is their charge, and it’s time they get on with it. If they agree in principle, why hasn’t a council member proposed the change the mayor has advanced? Where’s the urgency from these council leaders?”

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