Mayor Steve Bach offered City Council an unexpected olive branch Wednesday when he appointed Wynetta Massey as city attorney and named Dan Gallagher aviation director for the Colorado Springs Airport.
Both Gallagher and Massey had been serving as interim appointees. Mayor Bach has frequently declined to forward the names of interim appointees to Council to be confirmed in their posts, a practice that Council attempted to stop by passing an ordinance compelling the administration to do so. Bach vetoed the ordinance, and Council failed to override the veto.
Coming on the heels of Bach’s peremptory firing of Council legislative liaison George Culpepper in early January, it appeared that the two branches of government would be locked in mortal combat for the foreseeable future.
After former City Attorney Chris Melcher’s rocky tenure in the office, Massey should be easily confirmed in the post. She’s worked in the City Attorney’s Office for two decades and has a deserved reputation as a careful, thorough and absolutely competent lawyer. When given the job of working with City Council several months ago, Massey quickly gained Council’s confidence.
That wasn’t easy. Without exception, Councilors believed that Melcher’s opinions were tailored to the mayor’s needs. One Councilor told me a year ago that “Melcher would say that the sun rises in the east, if that’s what Bach wanted. And if we had questioned the opinion, he’d say, ‘Well, what do you mean by sun, or rise, or east?’ He’s completely in the mayor’s pocket.”
Were they right? It may have been that Melcher was dealt a bad hand to begin with, as a rookie city attorney appointed by a rookie mayor. It often seemed that Council was principally interested in guarding or expanding its territory, while the restless and energetic mayor just wanted to get things done, never mind the legalities.
Massey clearly wants to de-politicize the position.
“I have no interest in being perceived as anybody’s spokesperson,” she said. “I just want to help the client. It’s not my job to carry messages back and forth, or to weigh the political options.”
Asked whether Massey might find it difficult to be the de facto referee for fights between the administrative and legislative branches of city government, she had an interesting reply.
“The form of government may have changed,” she said, “the people change, but the work of the city remains the same. Fifty years from now, we’ll still have to pave the streets. And there will be conflicts – for example, Utilities might want to put a line through parkland, and Park and Rec might not agree, so we give them our opinion. But we’re the City Attorney, we’re not an operating department.”
For Council members, Massey is a known quantity. They can be sure that she’ll be a fair and unbiased attorney, bound by professional ethics and institutional loyalty. For the mayor, she’ll offer the same unbiased voice. And for the 25 attorneys employed by the city, she’ll bring continuity and professionalism.
As for the airport, by allowing his name to be put forward for the permanent position, Dan Gallagher is taking a career risk. If a Council majority is still smarting over the airport-related dismissal of George Culpepper, the appointment might be rejected. That would certainly affect his future employment prospects.
Gallagher, who was appointed to the interim position in March 2013, has been in his post for almost a year. He’s been active and aggressive in attempting to reposition the airport vis-à-vis Denver International Airport. So far he’s landed new direct flights to Seattle and Phoenix, and expects that more will come.
“DIA is not a natural environment (for airline operation) now,” he explained. “You have carriers fighting for market share, even suing each other for predatory practices. One carrier increased fares in 82 of their markets, and lowered them in one – DIA. They’re operating below cost, but that won’t last, and we’ll be more competitive.”
What destinations would he like to see? Gallagher didn’t hesitate.
“San Antonio would be a good fit,” he said, “and San Diego is a natural. We’d also like an East Coast destination – maybe Newark.”
But such decisions depend on the carriers, and they need credible metrics to be convinced that Colorado Springs makes sense.
“The Regional Business Alliance did an exhaustive survey of local business travel ,” he said, “and that will really help us. The airlines are most interested in business travelers, because that’s where they make money.”
If both Massey and Gallagher are quickly confirmed in their positions, that may signal a truce in the Council-Mayor wars. That would be good news for almost everyone in the city, except for certain journalists,.
When wars end, war correspondents have to find other things to write about.