City Council's power grab may lead to costly court battle

The Gazette editorial Updated: December 10, 2013 at 10:51 am • Published: December 10, 2013 | 12:00 am 0

Colorado Springs City Council cannot get stronger by weakening the mayor. Council will increase its relevance only by leading this community in a direction of growth, prosperity and jobs.

A front page Gazette story Sunday explained how a budget battle threatens to land City Council and the mayor's office in a long and expensive court battle. This battle is not about how much money is spent, and where. It is mostly about taking over city management responsibilities currently exercised by the mayor. A council majority ignored stern warnings from the city attorney's office about violating separation of powers established by voters in 2010, when they amended the charter to create an executive branch headed by an elected, full-time mayor.

Voters changed the system because the city manager government had become dysfunctional and unanswerable to taxpayers. The old system had no separation of powers, and few checks, because the legislative branch controlled the executive.

Since the change, the executive branch has managed day-to-day workings of city bureaucracy, hiring employees and managing money details within the constraints of a budget proposed to and approved by City Council.

This year, a council majority sought more power and control over detailed, inner workings of city bureaucracy and devised a maneuver that would severely limit the mayor's ability to move money within budget departments. It did so by increasing the number of proposed departments from five to 12. By segmenting the budget, council seeks to reduce the executive's latitude in making managerial decisions within the budget. It's an effort to move us back in the direction of an old broken system voters wisely abandoned.

All of this resulted after countless hours of boring, uninspiring meetings in which the legislative branch could have instead crafted legislation that might result in economic vitality and jobs. Voters wanted one elected person, answerable to them, to manage details. They wanted a legislative body to focus on big ideas and plans for a better tomorrow. Had voters wanted council to micromanage the executive, they would have kept the system they had.

It's a good bet voters, wanting jobs and economic opportunity, didn't visualize a legislative branch that would cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from the mayor's proposed police budget to pay for watering parks. It's a safe bet they wanted a legislative branch that would work with the Regional Business Alliance to bring tourists to town; not one that would interfere with the organization's funding to indulge a vendetta against the mayor. It's an equally safe bet they wanted a council that would help tourism flourish; not one that would interfere with funding of the Convention and Visitors Bureau to show the mayor who's in charge.

The meetings in which council micromanaged the budget - time that will lead to a costly court battle - resulted in nothing significant. Even by one councilman's assessment, nothing much was accomplished in terms of the desire to gain power and control.

"It's a fact that the relationship between council and the mayor have been strained especially over the budget - the execution of the budget," Councilman Don Knight said. "But when you look at the details, council moved less than $1.5 million, less than four-tenths percent."

City Council can do so much better than this. We do not doubt that council cares passionately about this community. But any success they might have will only come from bigger, more innovative ideas and economic development. Council can start today by embracing organizations like the RBA and CVB. Partner with them, and others, to help jump start important work to make this a better place to move to and visit. This council can take us to a great new level by enacting legislation that will nourish the community. It's a better role than day-to-day management of four-tenths a percent of the budget. City Council, stop playing small ball. Stop belaboring details toward no positive end. Think big and lead this community to success.

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