Citizens for Accountable Government, the group calling for a switch to a strong mayor form of government in Colorado Springs, may find that an obscure 1992 city ordinance could derail its efforts.
The measure restricts any initiative to a single subject.
Created in response to multi-subject initiatives such as the Douglas Bruce-authored 1991 “mini-TABOR” amendment, the ordinance specifically prohibits “the practice of ‘log rolling,’ whereby diverse and unrelated matters are passed as one matter because no single matter could be passed on its own merits.”
The idea, at least in part, was to prevent “surprise and deception” at the ballot.
“I’m no expert,” said city council member Sean Paige, “but it seems to me that the single-subject rule might pose a substantial impediment to the strong-mayor initiative. It’s a significant change with a lot of moving parts.”
Bill Guman, who served on the council from 1993 to 2001, said he doubts whether the strong mayor proposal will pass the single-subject test.
“It’ll be a struggle,” he said, “based on my understanding of the proposal.”
At a town forum last week, proponents of the initiative said they had attempted to craft the initiative so that it would conform to the requirements of the ordinance.
“We didn’t include any additional compensation for council members,” said spokesman Kevin Walker, “because that would be a different subject.”
Under the group’s proposal, the mayor would get a raise from $6,250 to approximately $97,000, while council members would continue to receive $6,250.
The proposed changes to the charter are nevertheless so extensive that League of Women Voters President Jan Merritt suggested that what the citizens group was proposing was not a charter amendment, but an entirely new charter.
The initiative calls for more than 20 substantive changes in the existing city charter, all of which are said by the group to be subsumed under a single subject.
Under the proposed changes:
An elected mayor becomes the chief executive of the city, replacing the city manager.
The mayor would no longer be a member of the City Council; an at-large councilmember would be elected to replace the mayor so that the council remains at nine members.
The council would become the legislative branch of the city and would elect a president of the council.
Asked whether the amendment conforms to the single-subject ordinance in its current form, Walker said, “Our attorneys are researching that.”
Current Mayor Lionel Rivera said the council could, by a majority vote, either suspend or repeal the ordinance. That would permit any individual or group to file multi-subject initiatives. But, he said, that wouldn’t be necessary, regardless of the initiative’s length and complexity.
“If we say it’s a single subject, then it is,” said Rivera.
Paige wasn’t so sure.
“I don’t know enough about the intricacies of the process,” he said, “but I’d think that (a council decision) could be appealed.”
Rivera, meanwhile, raised a number of objections to the amendment as presently written. He suggested, for instance, that the city start paying city council members the federal minimum wage, based on a 40-hour week.
“That’d be $15,000 a year,” he said, “and the voters might agree to pay council minimum wage.”
Rivera has supported moving to strong mayor system in the past, but he’s not yet on board with the current effort. “I can’t support this amendment as it’s written,” he said.
Rivera has submitted his own version of a strong-mayor proposal under which a council president would be paid about $25,000 annually. Council members would be paid about $20,000 a year.