Desperation for power intact after council restores funding

The Gazette editorial Published: December 22, 2013 | 12:00 am 0

A majority of the Colorado Springs City Council did the right thing this week and restored full funding of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Regional Business Alliance and the Police Department. They put the community's interests first, setting aside part of a petty power grab that has halted meaningful progress throughout 2013.

Council members Keith King, Val Snider, Don Knight, Jill Gaebler, Jan Martin and Merv Bennett chose to allow full funding of the Convention and Visitors Bureau at a time when our economy desperately needs more tourism. Council members Andres Pico, Helen Collins and Joel Miller held firm in trying to withhold funds.

Knight, Gaebler, Martin, Bennett and Snider allowed full and immediate funding of the Regional Business Alliance. King, Pico, Collins and Miller continued trying to starve the alliance, despite our need for good jobs.

Knight, Pico, Snider and Gaebler voted to restore $400,000 the council had taken from the proposed police budget. To carry out a grudge with the executive branch of government - based on the council's desire for more power and control - a majority had originally altered the budget so the money would go for watering grass rather than keeping residents safe. Miller, Collins, Martin, Bennett and King continued making grass a priority. They fell one vote short of a super majority needed to override the mayor's veto of the council's previous safety-for-water ploy.

The outcome, in all three votes, will benefit this community. Despite an agenda to restore council control over the day-to-day operations of city bureaucracy, the system worked and common sense prevailed.

Alas, not all has been mended between the city's legislative and executive branches of government. Though the council restored funding for three essentials, a super majority 6-3 vote overturned Mayor Steve Bach's veto of a council decision to create 12 appropriations departments. The mayor's version of the budget included five, which gives the executive branch more latitude to quickly respond to emergencies and transfer funds within departments. By creating 12 departments, the council substantially restricts the ability of executive branch decisions regarding transfers of funds.

This is not an issue that pits fiscal restraint against lavish spending. Rather, the council's move counters the will of nearly 60 percent of voters who chose to put routine management of City Hall into the hands of an elected executive who answers directly the people. Voters created an executive branch to enhance accountability, so that one man or woman could be held responsible for City Hall's response to emergencies and overall level of public service.

The council's insistence on micromanaging daily City Hall operations probably violates the law, as established by the city charter. Multiple city attorneys, along with outside lawyers, have expressed opinions stating that the council violates the law by chopping up appropriations departments. The council has authority to add departments, but not to tinker with those established by the executive branch. Enforcing the charter, as voters approved it, means upholding separation of powers.

The Colorado Supreme Court has already ruled, in City and County of Denver vs. Blue, that a city's legislative branch cannot substitute its own budget format for that established by the executive branch. We hope the council won't retry established law.

Again, we thank the council for giving up some of its agenda to undo the will of voters who overwhelmingly empowered an elective, executive branch of government to execute management-level decisions.

We hope council members drop their desire for heavy-handed control over minor, day-to-day financial decisions. The executive branch cannot govern effectively if it must wait for the City Council each time rapidly changing events require inner-departmental transfers of funds. The legislative branch should control the size and scope of government. It should steer the ship and stop tinkering with the motor.

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