A Monday afternoon memo from the city attorney's office to the Colorado Springs City Council about stormwater issues reignited city councilors' desire to have their own attorney.
Council members told Mayor Steve Bach about their frustration Tuesday morning.
"It seems like the city attorney is working with the mayor and we get a filtered look as opposed to what is legally possible," said city council president Keith King.
King had sent a variety of questions to the city attorney's office related to governance, fees and taxes associated with stormwater issues.
The memo didn't answer the questions, King said. Instead, it advanced the idea of a city-run stormwater program, something the mayor endorsed Tuesday morning in a press release, King said.
There is, and has been, an ongoing conflict of interest when council asks for legal opinions - especially if the council is at odds with the mayor, King said. The councilors said answers to their legal questions are not promptly provided and typically reflect the mayor's position on an issue.
"This continues to be a level of frustration for us," King said. "We get a policy statement rather than an answer to our legal questions."
Council members discussed the need for a separate outside city council attorney at their council retreat in May. Over the past two years, since the change to a "strong mayor" form of government, the council has repeatedly expressed concern, and sometimes anger, over the role of the city attorney.
Last year, the council and City Attorney Chris Melcher had a heated debate over who is the client - the mayor or the city council - especially when they disagree. Council has clashed with Bach over the budget process, utilities and contracts.
Melcher told the council in May that he looked at 50 cities that operate under a "strong mayor" form of government, including Denver, and found that the cities each had only one city attorney's office to represent both the mayor and the council.
But council member Don Knight said council members are not getting the information they need on legal issues, including the current lawsuit against the city filed by retirees of Memorial Hospital.
"I had to do a lot of my own digging," he said.
Bach told councilors they could hire their own attorney but they had to come up with the money.
This year, the city has about $680,000 in its budget for the city attorney's office to hire outside attorneys for help on legal matters. That figure does not include outside attorneys hired by Colorado Springs Utilities.
Council member Merv Bennett felt so strongly about the council having its own attorney that he said he would kick in his $8,000 annual city travel budget. King said the council will look at its 2014 budget and consider setting aside money to hire an outside attorney when they think one is needed.