Observers say strong-mayor system needs time to settle

March 28, 2012
photo - Mayor Steve Bach during his swearing-in ceremony Tuesday, June 7, 2011. He was the first mayor elected under the new strong-mayor form of government. Photo by MARK REIS/The Gazette file
Mayor Steve Bach during his swearing-in ceremony Tuesday, June 7, 2011. He was the first mayor elected under the new strong-mayor form of government. Photo by MARK REIS/The Gazette file 

Colorado Springs’ strong mayor form of government hasn’t hit the one-year mark yet, but people from various corners are suddenly weighing in on what should happen next.

Despite the varying views, people who have expressed their opinions publicly agree on one thing: The city should give the new system more time to play out before tinkering with it.

The group that launched the governance change initiated the conversation Tuesday when it issued an op-ed piece stating that additional charter changes “to clarify some big-picture aspects of the roles of council or mayor” may be needed in the future. But not in the immediate future, the group said.

“Because there’s been so much discord between the mayor and the council, we felt that we needed to get together and talk about it,” Mary Ellen McNally, a former city councilwoman and one of three spokespeople for the group, said Wednesday.

“We concluded, and I totally agree, that it’s really too soon to change the charter, that we have to give it more time,” she said.

The switch to a strong mayor form of government from the long-standing council-manager system was overwhelmingly approved by city voters in November 2010. It went into effect last year.

The group’s op-ed piece apparently prompted the mayor’s office Wednesday to release an analysis that longtime Colorado College political science professor Bob Loevy provided to the city in January.

“We thought it would be useful perspective to share. I believe it is good for public discussion,” Cindy Aubrey, Mayor Steve Bach’s chief communications officer, said in an email.

In an interview, Loevy said he has been sharing his views about the new form of government in the community and that he put them in writing after he ran into City Attorney Chris Melcher at City Hall. Melcher is the former chief legal officer at Colorado College.

Loevy recommended seven charter changes. They include amending the city charter to put Colorado Springs Utilities and Memorial Health System “under the direct control” of the mayor and increasing the number of council district seats from six to nine.

“We’ve reformed the charter so that the strong mayor has this great visibility and responsibility, but the real thrust of my work is that we have not reformed the council,” Loevy said.

But Loevy said the city should give the governance change more time to percolate.

“We should let at least a decent amount of time go by to see how the present system is working. I think two years would be an appropriate length of time,” he said.

Loevy’s analysis sparked a review by former Councilman Randy Purvis, who disagreed on various points, including giving the mayor control over Utilities and Memorial.

“The mayor was elected as the chief executive officer of the city government, not of the hospital or of the utility department,” Purvis wrote.

But Purvis agreed that Colorado Springs should be patient.

“Rather than embark on charter changes that strengthen one party’s hand at the expense of the other’s, the current system should be allowed to continue to work out the folkways and customs for a few more years,” he wrote.

Bach is in no rush either.

Bach “is working hard right now to implement the new form of government that the voters overwhelmingly chose,” Aubrey said in an email. “As time goes by, the Mayor will evaluate.”

The mayor and council members have had general talks about possible charter changes, but no recommendations have been brought forward.

“It’s on the periphery,” Councilwoman Brandy Williams said.

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

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