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Colorado Springs mayor says he will ignore council budget ordinance

December 19, 2013 Updated: December 25, 2013 at 3:37 pm
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Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Mayor Steve Bach plans to ignore City Council’s budget changes and carry on in 2014 as if they never were made.

Bach said Thursday that council’s attempt to limit his ability to move money within the budget violates separation of powers, and he called the council’s budget ordinance “void and unenforceable.”

“I am directing city staff to disregard council’s actions that are illegal, that violate the charter, and that means we will not be running the city government with 12 departments next year. We will operate the government with the same five departments we have in the first few years of this new executive mayor form of government.”

The council this month approved a budget ordinance that created 12 appropriations departments, instead of five. Council said it was an important distinction because the mayor can move money within a department without seeking council approval but he must seek approval to move money from one department to another.

Council member Joel Miller said the mayor created five super departments to give himself more flexibility, but there are 12 department heads and it makes sense to have 12 appropriations departments to match.

“The sentiment that this restricts the mayor -- puts him in a straight jacket, as I heard it described-- is disingenuous,” Miller said. “It would take one resolution, one single vote on a resolution is all that is needed and it brings movement of funds to people.”

Bach called the budget changes an intrusion on the core functions of the executive branch. The council received a formal legal opinion from the city attorney urging council not to change the budget format but ignored the advice, he said.

“This notion of we need to expand the number of departments to 12, further complicates city government and creates more red tape,” Bach said. “So, not only is it a legal matter, there’s a pragmatic point. We need to be more efficient, not more bureaucratic.”

The city’s charter gives the mayor the responsibility to create the budget and the format, he said. In his Dec. 19 letter to the council stating his intent to ignore a section of the council’s budget ordinance, Bach cited a 2006 Colorado case, Colorado Gen. Assembly v. Owens, “The power to appropriate does not give the General Assembly the power of close supervision that is essentially executive character.”

Council approved the 2014 budget ordinance Dec. 10. Bach promptly vetoed the section of the ordinance that creates the 12 departments. Council member Don Knight said the mayor could not veto specific sections of the budget ordinance and said his veto violated the city charter.

“Nothing in the city charter or anywhere else in the city charter allows for vetoing individual language within an ordinance without vetoing the entire ordinance,” Knight said.

Wednesday, council voted to override his veto and appeared to be braced for a possible legal challenge from Bach over the charter language. However, Bach’s move Thursday means if there is a law suit, it will be brought by Council, not him.

“I’m not going to be filing any lawsuits, I don’t need to,” Bach said. “I hope council will not do that.”

Council President Keith King said council does not want a lawsuit but insists it is the mayor who is not following the city’s charter.

“He said he will disregard the ordinance. Frankly, I don’t think he has that choice because the charter is very clear that he enforce all ordinances and that he is responsive to that and we are a city of laws.”

Bach said he is willing to sit down with council in the first quarter of the year and talk about operational issues.

“If they are political, that’s going to be difficult,” he said.

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