Those of us who attended Tuesday’s City Council meeting, or watched it on TV, learned one thing: Council is mad, mad, mad! In fact, they’re MAD AS HELL, and they’re not going to take it anymore!
Who are they mad at? Our honorable Mayor Steve Bach, whom they characterize as contemptuous, dismissive and unyielding when he refuses to let Council usurp administrative functions that belong in his domain.
With many a pained grimace and an abundance of crocodile tears, Council President Keith King condemned Mayor Bach for his “unlawful” acts, and accused him of failure to bow to the rule of law. Pledging fealty to the U.S. Constitution, the Colorado Constitution and the City Charter, King announced that Council would ask a court to make a declaratory judgment on the matter, which would presumably settle things once and for all.
A declaratory judgment can be defined as “the legal determination of a court that resolves legal uncertainty for the litigants.” In this case, the dispute appears to center on Bach’s refusal to honor Council’s claim that there are 12 separate city departments, not five as Bach claims. Council twice has sought to impose its view on the administration by overriding Bach’s veto, but Bach has refused to honor the overrides.
Following the most recent override, Bach sent a letter to Council characterizing the override as “null and void,” and said that he would ignore the vote. In other words, get lost!
“Though Council has the power to pass an annual appropriation ordinance,” Mayor Bach wrote, “it cannot then interfere with the administration of the appropriated funds either explicitly or implicitly by crafting creative language and mechanisms in the appropriation ordinance that would restrict the Mayor’s exercise of legitimate executive authority.”
It’s not at all clear that the administration would cooperate with King and his Council allies in jointly seeking a declaratory judgment. It’s equally unclear whether the administration could be forced to abide by any such decision — it’s not as if Council could seize control of the police force and arrest the mayor and his minions.
So what is the dispute really about?
Remember what Jerry Seinfeld said when a network exec asked him what his eponymous show was about?
“It’s about nothing,” Seinfeld replied.
[pullquote]You can go on being jailhouse lawyers, you can complain about the system all you want.[/pullquote]This dispute is about power. King and his colleagues bitterly resent the mayor’s extensive powers under the City Charter. They believe that Bach is arrogant, uncooperative, power-mad and intransigent.
If he is, so what? Mayor Bach holds all the cards in this particular poker game. He can interpret the City Charter as he pleases because, as George W. Bush once said of himself, Bach is The Decider.
King doesn’t like it. Never mind that the number of city departments is a purely administrative function, and that city government runs more smoothly and efficiently without having to ask Council’s permission to transfer funds among 12 departments. The Council president and his allies just want to have the power to delay, alter or refuse as many administrative transfers as possible. Cats want catnip, dogs want bones and veteran politicians like King want power.
Years ago, when King served as a Republican state legislator, he gave newly elected Democratic Rep. Michael Merrifield a chilly welcome.
“How does it feel to know that none of your bills have any chance of passing?” King asked Merrifield.
Just as Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary might have said “Welcome to the NFL!” after sacking a rookie quarterback, King was letting Merrifield know who was boss.
Council wants to change things. Many of them want to hire and fire their own employees, have their own attorney, change the city’s administrative structure and strip power from the mayor. They’re fond of referring to the “so-called strong mayor system.” They want to be the bosses.
Wake up, Dudes! The voters opted to change the system because they were fed up with Council. No one cares about you, least of all the voters.
You can go on being jailhouse lawyers, you can complain about the system all you want, but it won’t do you any good. Bach may not be in office six months hence, but do you think that Amy Lathen, John Suthers or Mary Lou Makepeace will back down and let you run the show?
They’ll look you in the eye, smile and make nice. But they’ll convey a simple, understandable message.
Welcome to the NFL.