Council sends 2 issues to voters, rejects 3 ballot proposals

DANIEL CHACÓN Updated: January 22, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: January 22, 2013

Colorado Springs voters will decide in April whether to allow the city government to spend a bigger portion of the Trails, Open Space and Parks tax to maintain all city parks.

Voters may also decide whether to give council members a pay raise, though that ballot proposal requires a second reading next month.

Three other ballot proposals were rejected Tuesday.

Mayor Steve Bach proposed a full charter review that would include council compensation.

“I think that’s healthy, and I think we can do that together and involve the public,” Bach said in an interview after the meeting. “I think we can we step through that in a matter of, I hope, six months, maybe 12 at the most, and really come to consensus there.”

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TOPS ballot proposal

The council voted 7-2 to ask voters to modify the TOPS tax to allow the city to spend a bigger share to maintain all city parks.

Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin and Councilwoman Brandy Williams opposed the ballot proposal because it won’t include a so-called maintenance of effort provision to ensure the city uses the money to supplement, not replace, general fund dollars on parks if voters approve the change.

Parks supporters advocated for the provision, but the mayor opposed it.

“This whole ballot measure is basically a risk because we can’t agree on this maintenance of effort,” Martin said. “I would like to include the maintenance of effort, understanding full well that it is not legally binding, but in order to try to bring a broader base together to help us pass this measure.”

Opponents of the provision said it would tie the mayor’s hands.

“I don’t believe it is the mayor’s intent to loot and plunder the TOPS fund so that he could direct park money elsewhere,” former Councilman Tom Gallagher said.

Bach said it was “bad policy” to have a maintenance of effort provision just for parks when the city has so many other services.

“Respectfully, are we saying here that parks is more important than the police department or the fire department or transit or stormwater improvements or roads and bridges?” Bach asked.

Bach proposed “a strategy for the future” that includes growing the city’s rainy day fund and a “general fund covenant” that spells out, in principle, how much the city should spend on parks and other services.

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Council pay

The council was split on whether to ask voters to give members a pay raise in 2015.

But the decision to refer to question to the ballot passed, with council members Lisa Czelatdko, Scott Hente, Jan Martin, Val Snider and Brandy Williams voting in support.

A group of young professionals, aided by John Weiss, publisher of the Colorado Springs Independent newspaper, brought the ballot proposal forward. They said the current $6,250-a-year salary limits who can serve on council and that increasing the pay would increase the pool and diversity of candidates.

“I want to be a part of making this city a better place,” supporter Tony Gioia said. “There is absolutely no way that I could serve on council the way it is now.”

Councilman Tim Leigh said he admired the group’s efforts and that he has long advocated for attracting what he calls “young creatives” to Colorado Springs. But he said the timing was bad with the roles and responsibilities of council in flux.

“The role of the council is in the process of morphing,” he said.

Others, including former Councilman Sean Paige and Ralph Braden, a vice president with Springs developer Nor’wood Development Group, echoed Leigh’s sentiment.

Braden said he supports the concept of increasing council pay but that the mayor’s idea of a charter review made more sense.

“I want this to pass. I don’t want it to fail,” Braden said.

Bach said he will oppose the ballot question in April.

“We should consider council compensation as part of a bigger subject, which is their roles and responsibilities going forward,” he said.

***

Utilities governance

After a tense and somewhat heated debate, a proposal to replace the City Council with an elected board of directors to oversee Colorado Springs Utilities died on a 6-3 vote.

Only Council President Scott Hente and President Pro Tem Jan Martin, who proposed the ballot measure, and Councilwoman Lisa Czelatdko, voted in support.

“We felt that this utility, which I might add is a phenomenal asset to this community, has been a whipping boy for no reason at all, and we felt it was time to stop that and try to move in a different direction,” Hente said before the vote. “It was a reaction to what we thought was an attempt to take this utility and turn it into something that it’s not.”

Martin agreed, saying the city-owned utility has been under attack for the last 1 ½ years.

“If we keep it up, it will have a long term impact,” she said.

Martin criticized City Attorney Chris Melcher, saying she and Hente had asked him to flesh out a ballot proposal for voters to consider and that she was “extremely disappointed” in the end result.

“Anytime council comes forward with an idea that the executive branch doesn’t agree with, then we are stonewalled, just like we have been on this one,” she said.

Bach defended Melcher, saying Hente and Martin didn’t give Melcher enough time. Hente and Martin surprised the mayor and many, if not all, of their colleagues last week when they unveiled their proposal, which they didn’t take to Melcher beforehand either.

“Three business days to craft legislation, frankly, to give away our most important asset,” Bach said. “I apologize, but I strongly differ with that comment, councilor, and that attack on the city attorney.”

In an email Tuesday night, Melcher said: “We support the Council’s decision to postpone indefinitely the proposed CSU ballot measure, and allow for a thoughtful discussion of the critical issues affecting the future of CSU and its consequences for the entire community.”

The draft ballot measure could have turned Utilities “into a separate quasi-governmental entity and caused significant unintended harm to the city and the entire community,” he said.

***

Contract authority/elected attorney

The council voted 5-4 to postpone indefinitely a ballot proposal to take away the mayor’s authority to sign Colorado Springs Utilities’ contracts.

Initially, council members Lisa Czelatdko, Scott Hente, Jan Martin and Brandy Williams cast the dissenting votes. After a re-vote, Hente voted in favor of discarding the ballot proposal, and Councilman Val Snider voted against.

In a separate vote, the council voted 7-2 to shoot down a proposed ballot measure to make the city attorney an elected position. Hente and Martin cast the dissenting votes.

Canda Kalef, a Colorado Springs woman who proposed both ballot measures, withdrew them at the last minute.

“I think that there are many conflicts in the charter that need to be addressed,” she said. “These two that I pointed out are just, I found them very quickly, so I’m sure there’s many more to be found if we dig a little deeper.”

Kalef started the group Colorado Springs Citizens for Affordable Energy, which advocates keeping Springs Utilities locally owned.

“I was under the impression that there would be more support for a charter commission if I dropped those two,” she said.

The mayor said he would support a charter review committee rather than a charter review commission, which apparently has more power.

“I think now there is a push from a lot of citizens that would like a charter commission, so I think that would be a better way to proceed if we can,” Kalef said.

***

Drake task force

The City Council confirmed the appointment Tuesday of nine people to serve on the Martin Drake Task Force despite concerns by Mayor Steve Bach about two of the nominees.

“I’m just concerned that as paid lobbyists, they might taint the results,” Bach said Monday about Sarah Brittain Jack and Steve Durham.

Jack said she is a consultant, not a paid lobbyist, and Durham said he used to do work for an organization partially funded by the coal industry. Both denied a conflict of interest.

Council members Angela Dougan and Tim Leigh voted against the recommendations made by their colleagues and task force co-chairs, Lisa Czelatdko and Brandy Williams.

Dougan said she was concerned that the task force didn’t include members from different parts of the city.

“My entire district is not even represented by someone on this task force,” she said. “This is a communitywide decision.”

Leigh questioned how the nominees were vetted.

“There are folks on there that have former ties, if not current ties, with the coal lobby,” he said. “There’s certain other political operatives, either former or current, who are on there. Whether they have clean hands or not, there’s the appearance that they don’t.”

Others appointed to the task force with Jack and Durham are: Alan Hale, Dan Malinaric, Diana Dean, Howard Brooks, Jason Doedderlein, Robert Holzwarth and Tom Zwirlein.

The task force will recommend a consultant to perform a study of Drake, a coal-fired power plant downtown that has been the focus of a debate on whether it should be outfitted with scrubbing technology to produce cleaner energy or decommissioned.

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