Council may embroil city in lawsuit with decision today

The Gazette editorial Updated: December 18, 2013 at 5:02 pm • Published: December 18, 2013 | 12:00 am 0

City Council, do not bog down this community in a costly and needless lawsuit to indulge an ongoing quest for more power and control. This community needs economic growth and good jobs, not a return to the old way of business that voters rejected when they changed the charter to establish an executive branch of government that manages city bureaucracy.

The council voted 8-1 Dec. 10 to restructure the mayor's proposed budget, at no significant savings to taxpayers. The move effectively assaulted economic development and tourism by withholding funds from the Regional Business Alliance and the Convention and Visitors Bureau, for no reason other than to show who's boss. The council took $400,000 from a beefed-up police budget, intended to enhance public safety, so City Hall can pay Colorado Springs Utilities a higher rate for watering parks. The council tried to gut the mayor's ability to manage money by turning five departments into 12, severely restricting the executive's latitude regarding money transfers within departments.

Mayor Steve Bach vetoed most of the mangled budget, and today council will decide whether to override the mayor with a supermajority rejection of his vetoes. If they do so, they'll effectively shut down city government the way Congress shut down the federal government. At least Congress had a reasonable cause, as the minority wanted to protect Americans from the disastrous launch of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. City Council, by contrast, merely wants more control.

"As your clients, can you tell us if we want to have more control over five super departments how would you suggest as our attorneys to achieve that goal..." Councilman Joel Miller asked of Deputy City Attorney Britt Haley during a Nov. 25 budget hearing.

Miller went on, explaining his belief that constituents want the council to have more "power over the purse." Since the new majority took office, all we've heard about are plans to give council more power and control. We hear nothing about visions for the community's future, goals to attract employers or ideas for legislation that would improve services to the public. It's all about internal process and allocation away from one branch for the benefit of another.

"The nine-member council, at its weekend retreat, said it's time for the council to take back its power, which slipped in the past two years under the strong mayor form of government," said a May 13 Gazette news article.

The article went on to quote Council President Keith King:

"The people who get the power are the people who seize it," King said. "I think we as a council need to exercise the power that is in the charter and code."

We respect that legislative efforts to protect public money. But this isn't a conflict involving one branch that desires to spend lavishly and another that wants constraint. This conflict, which stands to bring city government to a standstill, involves petty issues of internal process regarding sprinklers, patrol cars and other day-to-day managerial matters. Voters left those details in the hands of an elected executive so council could focus on big-picture policies that would move the community forward.

Robert Loevy, a retired Colorado College political science professor, summed it up in a July 15 Gazette news article.

"Under the council-manager form of government, the City Council was able to inject itself into the day-to-day administration of the city," Loevy said. "Now the mayor is in charge of the executive branch of the city, and the City Council has lost a lot of this power."

Council members weren't elected to amass power. They were chosen to represent a community that needs big-picture, inspirational leadership. If this lust for control shuts down local government, embroiling us in an ugly and expensive lawsuit, the council should get most of the blame.

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