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City politicians should worry lots less about themselves

By: The Gazette editorial
September 27, 2013 Updated: October 4, 2013 at 7:51 am
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Knock it off, City Hall.

The Colorado Springs City Council and Mayor Steve Bach need to stop bickering and find a way to work things out. The legislative and executive branches are supposed to keep each other in check. That doesn't mean they must bludgeon each other while trying to reallocate power.

"Confrontation should always leave a person's dignity intact," academician A.J. Anglin said.

Tuesday's first big punch was thrown by the City Council in a meeting that brought us seemingly endless confrontation between the mayor and the council. At the end of the day, a city employee's dignity had been treated like flotsam.

None of the conflicts had meaningful nexus to policies that could clear the way for businesses to create good jobs and move our economy forward. Rather, the two branches bickered for hours about the internal workings of city government.

The most notable conflict involved City Attorney Chris Melcher, a competent lawyer who graduated from the country's most prestigious law school. Melcher finds himself in a no-win position, given the internal politics, and Tuesday he paid for it.

The City Charter gives the City Council and the mayor one attorney to share. It's a system that works in other places. Denver has one attorney for the legislative and executive branches, and it works as it does for most cities. The attorney general of a state represents a variety of agencies that sometimes move in different directions.

Making one attorney work for multiple branches of government requires politicians to put interests of the community ahead of their own. In doing so, they find themselves spending most of their time working toward common goals. That means the lawyer can assist each side in achieving outcomes, rather than winning wars.

When the goal of politicians becomes winning internal power struggles, as we are seeing in Colorado Springs, the attorney winds up in the middle of a battle. Since our recent City Council elections, things seem to have gotten worse, not better. Both sides can take some blame, but their mutual employee incurs the battle scars.

After council members initiated the conflict Tuesday, they spent four hours arguing with Bach about the city attorney. They voted to vet their frustrations by slashing Melcher's pay by $4,000 - an ugly move. Council President Keith King and other council members say Melcher represents the mayor's interests, which are often counter to the council's.

Perhaps that is true, but one can't blame Melcher. Given a council and mayor who choose conflict over progress, he is caught in the middle. It would appear hard to represent council members who said they would fire him over concerns he won't give unbiased opinions.

And remember, the mayor hires and fires the attorney.

In days leading up to the knock-down-drag-out, Bach recommended meeting with former Denver City Attorney Cole Finegan to learn how one attorney can successfully represent more than one branch. Bach logically worries that separate attorneys for the legislative and executive branches could lead to endless bouts of each suing the other.

That meeting needs to occur, with Finegan or another expert. Bring in psychologists and social workers, if necessary. Do what's needed to end this ridiculous spat among people we elected to represent the hard-working, taxpaying people of Colorado Springs.

For most, the great recession has not ended. We need politicians to worry more about them; less about who has more clout at City Hall. Our city leaders are better than this. Get over yourselves, agree to get along and then move our city onward and upward.

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