Updated: January 12, 2014 at 10:16 am
The clash between the Colorado Springs City Council and Mayor Steve Bach may be nothing more than necessary growing pains under the new form of government.
Or it could be teeth-gnashing, heel-digging personalities that won't budge.
Council President Keith King said he is hopeful that compromise may be in the air in 2014. Any ballot questions, whether on City for Champions or stormwater funding solutions, fall under the control of the council, not the mayor. And with competing ideas, something will have to give, King said.
"It will be interesting to see how it plays out," King said. - Here are a few of the sticking points:
Less than two weeks after six new council members were seated, Bach sent a letter to the Airport Advisory Commission, which answers directly to the City Council, and said the airport staff would no longer attend its monthly meetings. Staff typically prepared enplanement, financial and planning reports for the commission. Bach said their time would be better spent on air service development. Councilman Joel Miller, who once sat on the airport commission, was concerned that the council had not been consulted about the change and said Bach's move undermined the council's ability to monitor city agencies. It marked the beginning of a rocky relationship, publicly and privately.
Bach and a group of civic leaders had quietly worked for months on a City for Champions application to the state's Regional Tourism Act program, created as a way for local governments to receive sales tax rebates on projects that bring in tourists. King said the council was left out and learned about the proposal for four major tourism projects in The Gazette. "I think it would have been beneficial for council to hear about this besides reading it in the paper," King said. Bach demanded that King retract the statement and said the previous council had been briefed in a closed meeting and agreed to spend $75,000 on the application development. But who was told what and when was lost in the politics. The council, in September, decided not to endorse the City for Champions proposal with a resolution as two neighboring cities, Monument and Manitou Springs, had done.
Council members told City Attorney Chris Melcher in a public meeting that they would fire him if they could because they did not trust him to give them an unbiased opinion - one that did not side with Bach's point of view. But Melcher is an appointee of the mayor, so firing wasn't an option. Instead, they trimmed his salary by $4,000. Bach told the council the move to single out Melcher was shameful.
"To me, it's retribution because you don't like his legal opinions," Bach told the council.
King said council members get pages of policy pushing the mayor's agenda from Melcher that don't answer their questions. The council approved a resolution to hire an attorney to advise it on stormwater issues. The council and the mayor are at odds on how to pay for and manage stormwater projects.
In October, Melcher announced his resignation effective Jan. 31.
Bach pitched his plan to pay for stormwater needs ahead of the Pikes Peak Regional Stormwater Task Force. He wants voters to extend an existing bond debt, slated to retire in 2016, for 20 years to pay for $175 million in stormwater projects.
His stormwater funding plan would not raise taxes or fees and would spend more than $20 million a year for five years on flood control projects, he said. The debt would be paid for by the city's general operating fund.
The City Council - not the mayor - has the power to place measures on the city's ballot. The council has vowed to work with El Paso County commissioners on a regional stormwater solution.
The 2014 budget process ended with Bach saying he would ignore the City Council's budget format changes and carry on in 2014 as if they never were made.
Bach said the 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." He directed his staff to disregard the budget ordinance. The council had approved a budget ordinance that created 12 appropriations departments, instead of five. The council said it was an important distinction because the mayor can move money within a department without seeking its approval but must seek approval to move money from one department to another. Bach said Colorado case law is on his side.
King said the council does not want a lawsuit but insists it is the mayor who is not following the city charter.