Colorado Springs voters may be asked in April to make the city attorney an elected position and take away the mayor’s contract authority over Colorado Springs Utilities.
The proposed ballot questions are the idea of community activist Kanda Calef, who will ask the City Council on Monday to refer both measures to the April ballot.
“I’m looking for good government,” said Calef, who is associated with the local Tea Party movement and who identifies herself as a “liberty-loving patriot.”
The two ballot proposals are among four the council will consider at its informal meeting at 1 p.m. Monday.
The third proposal, brought forward by John Weiss, publisher of the Colorado Springs Independent newspaper, would ask voters to increase council’s salary from $6,250 a year to up to $48,000. The proposal calls for the increase to take effect in April 2015.
The fourth would ask voters to allow the city to spend a higher percentage of the Trails, Open Space and Parks tax on maintenance of all city parks. The city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department is sponsoring that proposal.
Council President Scott Hente said he’s been “approached by different groups” about the ballot questions Calef and Weiss are proposing.
“I am not going to tell you that they are a done deal because I don’t know that they are. I’m not going to tell you that they’re definitely going to be on the ballot because I don’t know. Obviously, my colleagues get a say in that. But I thought it was worthy of a discussion,” he said.
In an emailed statement, Mayor Steve Bach said he will “strongly oppose” the initiatives proposed by Calef and Weiss.
“The three initiatives — City Council Pay, elected City Attorney and approval of Utility contracts, are coming at the last minute at the City Council’s statutory deadline for putting any charter amendments on the ballot for voters to consider without public discussion and without open and transparent community debate,” he wrote. “It is troubling to see this rush to jam through a piecemeal approach to change the charter.”
Hente said he supports Calef’s proposal to remove the mayor’s contractual authority over Springs Utilities, a billion-dollar-plus enterprise of the city.
Under the switch to a council-mayor form of government, the mayor is the chief executive of the city government. While the mayor “shall execute all contracts,” the council oversees Utilities.
“Since almost the day the new form of a government passed by the voters, and this is before we even knew who the new mayor would be, I’ve argued that there’s a contradiction in the charter,” Hente said.
The charter says the mayor can’t veto a utility item but it gives him signing authority over all city contracts, essentially giving him veto power over Utilities, Hente said.
Calef said clear contract authority is vital to good government.
“The voters were quite clear, and they said that the council was to be in charge of Colorado Springs Utilities.Right now, I want to make that authority clear because good government includes accountability.”
Calef said she proposed an elected city attorney because the city attorney is an appointee of the mayor but also serves the council.
“Their fundamental responsibility is to represent their client. In this case, who is their client? It puts them in an awkward position if they’re serving under somebody but then they’re asked to serve someone else. It’s a very big conflict of interest,” she said.
City Attorney Chris Melcher said he preferred to provide a response on Friday.
Under Calef’s proposal, voters would be asked to establish an elected city attorney in April and then vote for a city attorney in a special election in June.
“The need for an independent city attorney who’ll be directly accountable to voters is pressing enough to warrant a special election,” she said. “This isn’t just about Utlities’ policy but also a wide range of important issues that require the scrutiny of objective counsel.”
Calef started Colorado Springs Citizens for Affordable Energy, which advocates keeping Springs Utilities under local control.
Contact Daniel Chacón: 476-1623
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