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Melcher's departure reflects council's misdirection

By: The Gazette editorial
November 1, 2013 Updated: November 2, 2013 at 5:07 pm
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City Council members made it perfectly clear in September. If they could fire City Attorney Chris Melcher, they would. Then they cut his pay. Wednesday, he announced his resignation. Do the math.

It's another example of the council wasting time and energy on internal strife, rather than crafting ideas and laws that will make this community the envy of the country for job creation and other forms of economic growth.

Melcher has become the focal point of a power struggle at City Hall. The struggle results from a council majority that seemingly longs for something resembling the old days of a dysfunctional council-manager form of governance - an arrangement strongly rejected by a majority of voters in 2010.

The old days consisted of a municipal government with no executive branch. The council - rather than serving as a big-picture, policymaking legislative board - ran the city. It gave orders to an employee, in the form of a city manager who was typically hired from a distant place. With nine people making the day-in, day-out decisions of a large city's bureaucracy, progress was slow to say the least.

Focus was typically centered on government, not the people whom politicians were elected to serve. It's what happens when an executive role gets divided among nine part-timers with varying agendas - people who should be crafting policy.

The old system became so dysfunctional we had ranking city employees running an anti-Colorado Springs public relations campaign in the mainstream national press. We had employees, with the blessing of council, removing garbage cans from city parks to spite voters who declined a tax hike. The community entered a state of government-sponsored self-destruction.

Meanwhile, the electorate saw what Denver achieved with a government of separate legislative and executive branches and one city attorney. The mayor, who answered only to the people he served, ran the day-to-day operations of the city and could go to the legislative branch with big ideas for the community and council to digest.

Today, Denver is the No. 1 destination for young, educated professionals who want a place to settle down. Not New York, San Francisco or Miami. Denver, an hour up the road from the Springs and only slightly more populous.

While city government isn't a source of prosperity, it plays a big role in determining who chooses to live and do business in a community. It must make the city attractive and inviting, which cannot be accomplished by politicians who obsess over the inner workings of bureaucracy.

The departure of Melcher - a seasoned lawyer who graduated from Yale, the country's No. 1 law school - is a setback. It means city government must find a replacement and get that person up to speed before much can get done to make a good city better.

The council opposed Melcher because he tried to enforce the updated charter, which says the legislative branch no longer directly manages city government.

Some council members would prefer the city have two attorneys, so the legislative branch can frequently sue the executive branch in a quest to regain full power and control. They'd like the mayor to answer to the council, effectively restoring an outdated system.

If the council would understand and accept its role, talented new and veteran council members could make our city more inviting to business. They could put this city on a path to success, which shouldn't be difficult in one of the most desirable environments God created.

Thank you for your service, Chris Melcher. Before leaving in January, help get local government on the path set forth by the voters who own it. Doing so could create a lasting legacy.

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