Frustrations show in splits among Colorado Springs council members

February 13, 2014 Updated: February 14, 2014 at 4:59 am
photo - From left, Colorado Springs City Council members Jill Gaebler, Andy Pico, Helen Collins and Don Knight listen to testimony as the council prepares to vote on proposed electric and natural gas rates Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at City Hall. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette
From left, Colorado Springs City Council members Jill Gaebler, Andy Pico, Helen Collins and Don Knight listen to testimony as the council prepares to vote on proposed electric and natural gas rates Tuesday, November 12, 2013 at City Hall. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette  

For almost a year, the Colorado Springs City Council has put on a united front in several clashes with Mayor Steve Bach. Now, several contentious issues may be fracturing that unity.

With big issues such as an override vote on the mayor's veto, the City for Champions and a possible city charter review on the agenda this week, council members got sharp and publicly showed frustration with one another - a first for this council.

In the past 10 months, the council has been split on many issues, including recreational marijuana sales and budget ordinances. But the recent tenor is new.

"I am concerned," said council member Jill Gaebler. "We are strongest when we are solid and cohesive. To the extent that we are fractured we aren't as effective in accomplishing our strategic goals."

Conversations heated on Monday when Gaebler suggested that the council postpone its Tuesday vote on whether it should override Mayor Steve Bach's veto on its mayoral appointee ordinance. She didn't feel it was appropriate for the council to force changes on executive branch policy and felt a compromise could be reached.

"I hope both branches of government can communicate a little more and see if there is common ground before we have this vote," she said to the council.

But some council members including Joel Miller and Andy Pico, believe the relationship between the executive and legislative branches is beyond repair.

So when it came time to vote or postpone, Miller said: "Let's vote. Let's get this situation remedied."



In January, council approved an ordinance affecting interim mayoral appointees. After six months the council could request that the mayor provide a plan to fill the vacancy or council would start the confirmation process to make the appointee a permanent member, the ordinance said.

The rule would have applied to the chief of staff, city clerk, city attorney, chief financial officer and police chief. It also would have applied to the director or manager of any city department such as the Colorado Springs Airport or the public works department, where interim directors are serving.

Council members Pico and Don Knight said they worked on the mayoral appointee ordinance with the city attorney's office since August. They described the ordinance as a cleanup of the city's charter, WHICH was silent on mayoral appointees. They believed the mayor was onboard, they said. But on Feb. 3, Bach vetoed the ordinance saying in his disapproval letter to council that the ordinance "attempts to usurp executive authority over hiring and firing decisions reserved exclusively to the mayor."

Council needed six votes, or a super majority, to override a veto. Gaebler supported the mayoral appointee ordinance a few weeks ago. But this week she changed her vote. Without Gaebler, the council didn't have the votes to override the veto, and the attempt failed, 5-4.

"I was surprised that she changed her vote," Pico said. "But that is her decision."

Pico said he is discouraged by the recent votes, discussions and events at the city but does not believe there is a breakdown in council relations.

"There are fundamental disagreements," he said. "But we all get along with each other. We don't take things personal."


More strain showed Tuesday during a council planning meeting when the council discussed whether it should host a town hall on the proposed City for Champions projects.

Some council members, including King, Miller, Pico and Helen Collins said residents are frustrated that they've had no input into the four proposed tourism projects. They want the council to host a town hall where people can speak up about the proposed $250 million project.

"It would be very beneficial if we had an open forum and let people come in and talk," King said. "We owe it to our citizens to give them an opportunity to do that."

But council members Gaebler and Jan Martin said it's premature to take public comment on proposals that are not ironed out.

"Its just opens a time for people to come and complain," Martin said.

Gaebler said opponents of the City for Champions are giving out financial numbers that only are partially true and get people riled up.

"I don't think there are lies being told," she said to Miller. "But you can say one thing without saying another."

Miller fired back: "Anything specific?"

Gaebler said there simply is not enough information for the public to debate. The financial plans are being hammered out. An advisory board, headed by Bach, King and Dennis Hisey, El Paso County Commission chairman, is being formed, she said.

The City for Champions organizers are planning monthly town hall meetings, Gaebler said. The first is from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at Pikes Peak Regional Building, 2880 International Circle.

Mayor Steve Bach said he invited King to join the planned town hall meetings.

"Separate parallel public gatherings will diminish a clear and consistent two-way conversation with our fellow citizens," Bach said, adding that he was disappointed that council chose to run its own meeting.

Gaebler agrees. She worries that hosting two separate meetings sends a signal that the city and county are not working together.

Organizers for the City for Champions have said they've held more than 40 meetings around the city to present the four projects - a university sports medicine complex, an Air Force Academy visitors center, a downtown sports and events center and a downtown Olympic museum.

However, Miller said he believes the public meetings have presented only one side of the issue and have left little time for people to ask questions.

"There is no counterpoint," he said.

City Council will host its town hall meeting for residents to discuss the proposed City for Champions project from 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 27 in City Hall, 107 N. Nevada Ave.


Council president King is adamant about forming a charter review committee specifically to seek a change in the city's charter to preclude the mayor from firing City Council staffers.

He was angry when Bach fired the council's legislative assistant in January and said the city's charter should be changed to prevent such unilateral action.

But Gaebler, Martin and council member Val Snider warn that it's too soon to tinker with the city's charter, which was changed to form the city's council-mayor form of government in 2010. Snider said the council could regret a rush to make changes.

"But doing nothing doesn't solve our issues," King said.

In a Feb. 3 letter to the City Council, Bach suggested that the council engage "The Mayor Project leadership group," which worked on the city charter changes that formed the council-mayor form of government.

Gaebler said that group suggested waiting through several mayors before opening the charter to change. It would prevent permanent changes being made on personalities rather than policy, she said.

King said he won't budge on the issue of trying to prevent the mayor from firing city council staffers and intends to pursue setting up a charter review committee.

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