No tip-toeing around thorny topics as city leaders talk

January 18, 2012
photo - Steve Bach was sworn in as Colorado Springs' first "strong mayor" in June. He and city council members continue to work out kinks in the new governance system. Photo by The Gazette file
Steve Bach was sworn in as Colorado Springs' first "strong mayor" in June. He and city council members continue to work out kinks in the new governance system. Photo by The Gazette file 

Mayor Steve Bach and the City Council crowded around a small table Wednesday and hashed out a long list of issues facing Colorado Springs, including a handful of thorny topics that have dogged their relationship in recent months.

While there were a few tense moments, the tone was largely positive and the mayor’s executive team let out a round of applause at the end of the 1 ½-hour meeting.

City officials walked away saying they felt re-energized and eager to collaborate and improve communications between the executive and legislative branches of the voter-approved council-mayor form of government.

Bach called the meeting “very energizing” and said he was “really encouraged.”

“I thought it was a healthy dialogue,” he said. “We clearly have some things that can get a lot better in terms of communications. I just appreciate council doing this.”

Among the issues discussed:

• The implementation of the changes that council made to the 2012 budget came up first.

On Tuesday, Councilman Bernie Herpin said Bach didn’t plan to hire an additional code enforcement officer even though the council appropriated $84,295 in funding for the position.

But Bach said his administration was “moving forward to implement all of the changes,” including hiring the code enforcement officer later this year and spending $175,000 for tennis court maintenance and repair, an expense that Bach vehemently opposed.

“We are going to implement what council wanted to do,” the mayor said.

• The need to draw up a strategic plan, which is required by the city charter, ignited a somewhat heated conversation about the council’s lack of staff support.

“This has got to be known,” Councilwoman Lisa Czelatdko said.

“We have 3.5 staff members for City Council. We have a total budget for nine individuals that is only $9,000 more than your mileage, sir,” she said, talking directly to Bach. “We don’t have a lot of institutional support so if we’re going to add a strategic plan on top of land planning, on top of Utilities … we don’t have the proper tools to perform.”

Bach noted that council’s staff had increased from one full-time employee to four under the new form of government. But he said he was open to giving council more support.

“You have to have the ability to get things done. I appreciate that,” he said.

Councilman Merv Bennett at one point tried to sum up the next step for creating a strategic plan and said the number of employees working for council was “irrelevant.”

But Bach said it was.

“It’s relevant to the extent, Merv, that the suggestion by Lisa is you have no resources. In fact, your resources have gone up 300 percent. If that’s not enough, somebody tell me,” he said.

City Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin told Bach that it was unfair for him to characterize it as a 300 percent staffing increase.

“We have added 1 ½ people to now help us figure out this whole new form of government where all other resources that we used to have at our disposal are no longer available,” she said. “To say we’ve increased our staff by 300 percent and why can’t you get it done, I just don’t think is fair.”

• The mayor explained why he refused last month to sign lines of credit for Colorado Springs Utilities, which the council oversees. One of the reasons was because it encumbered “the full faith and credit” of the city, he said.

“It was not intended to be obstructive,” said Bach, who is required by the charter to sign all city contracts. “The intent is not to get in the way.”

The lines of credit had been previously approved by council, and Councilwoman Brandy Williams said the council shouldn’t vote on contracts the mayor hasn’t yet signed off on.

“We were under the impression that everything was ready to go,” she said.

Council President Scott Hente said he and City Attorney Chris Melcher have already had that discussion.

“One of the things we expect is that when it comes to us, that it’s already gone through that review,” Hente said. “One of the requests I made to Chris is, ‘I don’t want this to ever happen again.’”

Melcher said he was “equally surprised and disappointed in the process.”

“It did not come to me or my office for proper review,” he said. “As council was caught off guard, we were caught off guard so we are working with Utilities to make sure that never happens again.”

Contact Daniel Chacón: 476-1623
Twitter @danieljchacon
Facebook Daniel Chacon

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