It’s always fun to follow the continuing feud between Mayor Steve Bach’s administration and Council President Keith King’s five-person Council majority.
King’s latest biblically-tinged letter to Bach, obtained by the Business Journal, starts off on a hopeful note.
“City Council is willing…to come together and honor the Isaiah 2 mandate: ‘Turn our swords in plowshares (sic)’ and begin a new start at trying to bring all of us together to make ouir (sic) town a better city.”
To that end, King proposes to appoint five Council committees, which would make Bach even more aware of the “few things we believe are important for the effective running of the city.”
King’s issues include:
- A charter amendment that would enable Council to hire outside counsel when it disagreed with the City Attorney.
- Enabling Council to hire its own employees
- Have the budget process “more balanced and open to our suggestions both during the process of development and implementation.”
- More control of City for Champions
- Enable the Utilities board chair to sign contracts.
These “few things” aren’t exactly new. They’re the same prickly talking points that have led to repeated clashes between Council and the administration since 2011.
What King wants is a drastic shift in the balance of power, one which would strip the mayor of much of his charter-mandated authority and leave him with far less power than that wielded by the city manager in the previous form of government.
Here’s King’s letter, which he apparently did not share with Council before sending it to Chief of Staff Steve Cox. It desperately needs editing. King is famous for late night “memo marathons,” so this lengthy piece might have emerged from one of them.
Turning Swords into Plowshares
On October 2, 2014, Mayor Bach signed the resolution with the Colorado Economic Development Commission for the City for Champions proposal. While up through today this issue has been contentious and devise (sic) for our city, it does mark a new chapter in the development of the structure of the proposal that we are hopeful will start a new beginning for this project. City Council is willing to look at this and other areas of governance that we can come together and honor the Isaiah 2 mandate: “Turn our swords in plowshares (sic)” and begin a new start at trying to bring all of us together to make ouir (sic) town a better city.
As City Council and the Board of Directors for Colorado Springs Utilities, we extend a hand to the Mayor and Commissioners of El Paso County an offer to work with both of you to improve the economy and the governance of this Pikes Peak region. We extend this olive branch with the hope that you will be willing to meet with us and talk. We ask a few things that we believe are important for the effective running of the City and we will give all we can to make sure we are working productively to accomplish what is good for the community.
The new Council/Mayor form of governance has caused a division in our community that we would like to heal. We see several things that would make our job meaningful and more productive. As leaders of the Council, we are willing to address these issues quickly so we can find a charter fix that balances what Council believes will solve our issues (sic). 1) We need to have the budget process more balanced and open to our suggestions both during the process of development and implementation. We have been working on a charter amendment that will solve these issues. We would appoint Don Knight and Jill Gaebler to head up this effort. 2) We need to be able to hire our own employees. We do not ask for any new positions, we simply want to protect the five that we currently have. We will appoint Jan Martin and Andy Pico to work on that issue. 3) We need the ability to seek outside Counsel when necessary for issues that we believe are important to us. We are willing to work with the City Attorney on this issue to accomplish the opportunity of strong legal input to the Council. Merv Bennett and Helen Collins would continue on work on this. 4) We need an open and transparent process to be involved in the City for Champions proposal. Our concerns have centered on need for an accountable and transparent process and a vote of the people before we proceed with any debt. We would appoint Keith King and Joel Miller to work with the Mayor, county and the business community on this issue. We believe that a vote of the people will enhance the opportunity to find a pathway to success. We are not against the proposal, we just want it done right. Finally, 5) We need the Chairman of the Utilities board to be able to sign contracts. We will appoint Merv Bennett and Val Snider to accomplish this task. We are willing to turn in our swords for plowshares.
We ask that the changes be offered to the citizens of the city on the April ballot. We will be happy to work quickly but thoroughly to accomplish the right changes to the charter encourage (sic) the Mayor and County Commissioners to come together and finalize to join us in finalizing these issues in time for the April 2015 election.
In return, we are willing to do the following: 1) Head up a study group of citizens and business people to look at the governance of utilities (sic) and determine if there is a better way to manage it and keep the rates low. 2) As a united voice of Council we will work to structure the best possible governance of the C4C proposal and help to make it economically successful and supported by the citizens of the city. 3) We will work with the Mayor to accomplish the development and implementation of the budget so that the executive and legislative branches are fully engaged to improve the economy of the Pikes Peak region. To that end we are willing to participate in a Summit for Economic Development that will include both our Council and Utilities role. 4) We are willing to conduct Town Hall meetings throughout the city and county to fully hear from our citizens what they believe is necessary to get our city united and moving forward. We must engage them in that conversation. Finally, we are willing to work with our Legislators and Governor in the upcoming General Assembly to create a new effort to fully create jobs and enhance the growth of the Pikes Peak region.
Council has no desire to continue this division in our city so we extend this olive branch. We do it in good faith and hope that it will be received. We look forward to moving this city in the direction that we can all support.
Bach’s response was quick and measured. In the weary tone of a parent scolding an unruly child for repeated transgressions, he rebutted the claims and demands in King’s rambling missive and proposed a different “path forward.”
Here’s Bach’s mercifully brief email, sent before the election concluded.
Keith, thank you for your 11.02.14 “Turning Swords into Plowshares” paper (copy attached for reference) which you emailed to Steve Cox.
In reply, may I suggest a path forward:
- Any Charter Amendments that might be proposed should come forward from the community, not from elected officials. We should trust our citizens to decide what, if any, Amendments to bring to the voters with Council and the Mayor weighing in – perhaps through a series of public debates. A broad-based citizens group such as Colorado Springs Forward (CSF) could be a good shepherd for the discussion of possible Charter Amendments. This is such a critical subject for our City that I propose CSF might engage Dr. Bob Loevy, a respected political science scholar, and other outside experts to help guide the conversation, which could include Council employees, Council input on the budget and Utilities contracts.
- It is time for the community to carry forward the City For Champions initiative with elected officials providing a supporting role. Dennis Hisey and you (with Amy Lathen and Merv Bennett as alternates) continue to be members of the RTA Advisory Board, which will be led going forward by the distinguished citizens throughout the Pikes Peak Region who also serve on the Board. Other El Paso County Commissioners and City Councilors are also welcome to attend. Importantly, City Council has the ultimate authority over whether the Colorado Sports and Events Center is built given your control of the Urban Renewal Authority. While I continue to support the Center in concept, the City needs to be comfortable with the due diligence. For any financing to be used for the Center similar to what Council previously approved for Copper Ridge, University Village and Ivywild, Council must approve a new ordinance updating the Downtown Urban Renewal Area and Plan.
- Jobs and the Economy: A critical priority where City Council and the Mayor should be able to work harmoniously to drive an agenda. I’d welcome an ongoing collaboration with Council on how Colorado Springs can become the most business friendly city of our size in the country. We can also work together to support strategic quality economic development initiatives to generate stable, well-paying primary jobs. As you know, I’ve been in discussions with the Governor’s Office on innovation ideas which I can share with Council, and would appreciate Council taking a separate, proactive role in working with the State Legislature. Your idea of a Summit for Economic Development sounds good, and I’ll be glad to work with you on planning and implementing that event.
- City Council and the Mayor should focus on their respective roles and core responsibilities. That means Council should concentrate instrumentally on Colorado Springs Utilities and land use policies (infilling) where it has unilateral control, while the Mayor should manage the Municipal Government within the annual appropriation approved by Council. The voters were clear in their direction in 2010 when they voted overwhelmingly to change our form of government from an elected City Council-appointed City Manager model, with the nine (9) City Councilors essentially overseeing the day-to-day City operations, to an elected City Council-separately elected executive Mayor, who now has broad operational authority.
- City Council and the Mayor should accept the City Attorney’s Office written legal opinions. Council was unhappy with Chris Melcher, the previous City Attorney, but was comfortable with Wynetta Massey, Deputy City Attorney, who was then acting as Legislative Counsel. Most Councilors wholeheartedly endorsed Wynetta’s promotion to City Attorney. Now, Council is still uncomfortable with the City Attorney’s Office opinions under her leadership. I understand that Council wants legal opinions it likes better, but the Charter is clear on the City Attorney’s role and authority, which should be respected. We should also consider “best practices” from successful cities elsewhere with our same form of government such as for Denver, CO, which has had an executive mayor form of government for many decades and with one (1) appointed City Attorney assisting both the Legislative and Executive Branches.
Thank you for your consideration of my above suggestions.