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Leaked emails show Bach defied council wishes

By: DANIEL CHACÓN
January 19, 2012
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photo - Mayor Steve Bach Photo by Daniel J. Chacon/The Gazette
Mayor Steve Bach Photo by Daniel J. Chacon/The Gazette 

Mayor Steve Bach assured City Council members Wednesday that his administration will implement all the changes they had made to his 2012 budget.

But behind the scenes a month ago, the mayor had different intentions.

According to confidential emails leaked to the news media, Bach told his executive team Dec. 16 that he was “not required” to hire an additional code enforcement officer.

Just a day before, a supermajority on council had overridden one of the mayor’s vetoes and appropriated funding for the position.

“Notwithstanding Council’s appropriation, you stated thatI (sic) am not required to hire the individual. Therefore, we will not do so without my prior, written approval in the future,” Bach wrote in an email to City Attorney Chris Melcher and other officials in the Bach administration.

The mayor’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment Thursday.

In the Dec. 16 email, Bach also directed Melcher to provide a legal opinion supporting Melcher’s statement that council had the authority to move money for council dues into a “newly created Council Department budget.”

In a Dec. 19 email, Parks Director Nancy Johnson, who also serves as the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, wrote that a council proposal to spend $175,000 for tennis court repair and maintenance had been shelved.

Former Chief of Staff Steve Cox “has advised me to hold off in starting a process to spend the tennis court repair money,” Johnson said in the email to Bach.

Melcher weighed in Dec. 21, saying a legal opinion about whether the mayor could disregard two of the council’s budget changes was forthcoming. The confidential emails obtained by The Gazette do not include Melcher’s legal opinion.

“In general terms, the legislative branch of government has the authority to appropriate funds and make requests for how those funds are to be spent, but it does not normally have the authority to require that funds are expended by the executive branch in a particular manner or by particular division under the authority of the executive branch,” Melcher wrote Dec. 21. “We are researching this question as well, since it has implications for both the tennis court issue and the second code officer issue."

But during Wednesday’s Mayor’s Counsel Meeting in which the mayor and council members tried to repair their rocky relationship, Bach said the council’s budget changes were in the works.

“My direction to staff is to implement all of the final changes,” he said.

Councilman Bernie Herpin said he went to the meeting “prepared for battle.”

“When I first read the emails, it appeared to me that the mayor was looking for a legal opinion that would allow him to not spend the money in a manner in which the council had approved the budget,” he said.

“Of course, he started off the meeting saying, ‘I’m going to implement the budget as the council approved it,’” Herpin said. “I probably could have fallen out of my chair if I wasn’t sitting upright.”

The chain of confidential emails was forwarded by Budget Manager Lisa Bigelow — it’s unclear if intentionally or accidentally — to council liaison Aimee Cox, who shared them with council President Scott Hente on Friday.

Bigelow did not return a call for comment.

Hente said he was troubled initially by the emails.

“I was disturbed that it seemed to be going against the spirit of what the City Council had passed,” he said.

Hente also expressed frustration that the mayor didn’t seem to be following the process outlined in the city charter in which the mayor submits the budget and council has the authority to override a mayoral veto.

“I was frustrated … about the fact that it looked like we were implementing a different process than what I was led to believe was going to be the process we were going to use,” he said.

But Hente said he had a private meeting this week with the mayor, who told him the emails “did not tell the whole story and the whole story is what we heard yesterday.”

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

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