“It’s been a great week!” said Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Doug Price, reacting to City Council’s decision Wednesday morning to sustain Mayor Steve Bach’s veto of a proposed $1.3 million cut in the organization’s budget, following on the heels of the state Economic Development Commission’s support of the City for Champions proposal.
Mayor Bach’s veto was sustained by a 5-4 Council vote, with Council President Keith King reversing his previous vote to withhold funds. He was joined by Councilors Jan Martin, Val Snider, Jill Gaebler and Merv Bennett.
“I wish that more people knew what the CVB has done (in promoting visitation in the region),” said Martin, reiterating her support for the organization. “They do a remarkable job, and we need to support them.”
In a similar reversal, Council also restored $35,000 in withheld funds to the Regional Business Alliance. Don Knight joined the majority in voting to sustain the Bach’s veto and restore the funding, while Keith King stuck with his original vote to withhold.
“Like it or not,” said Councilor Merv Bennett, “the RBA is the only organization in town dedicated to job creation.”
Councilor Joel Miller didn’t change his earlier stance, saying, “To continually fund organizations because that’s the way we’ve always done it flies in the face of our efforts to optimize and maximize our (tax) dollars.”
The two actions were important victories for the business community, which had been angered and dismayed by Council’s earlier decisions. They were also victories for Bach, who has vigorously supported the RBA and CVB.
But even after Bach’s unanticipated success in obtaining $120 million in state tax increment funding for the City for Champions projects, Council didn’t hesitate to override other mayoral vetoes.
Council first overrode Bach’s veto of Council’s earlier allocation of $1.1 million for park watering, which would have taken $600,000 from the general fund reserves and $565,000 from the police budget. Confusingly enough, Council then restored $565,000 to the police budget by failing to override Bach’s separate veto of their original action in pulling money from the police.
That implies that all of the parks watering allocation will come from general fund reserves. It may be possible for Bach to switch money around within the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, and fund a portion of the watering bill without raiding reserve funds.
Council also restored funds for a deputy director of the Office of Emergency Management, supporting Bach’s argument that they were interfering in a purely administrative decision.
But knives flashed as Council directly challenged Mayor Bach with a 6-3 vote to override his veto of their previous action establishing 12 city departments for purposes of appropriation, instead of the five that Bach had presented in this and in two previous budgets.
In his veto, Bach asserted that Council’s action violated both the City Charter and the Colorado Constitution. City Council, he stated in a letter that accompanied the veto, “cannot interfere with the administration of funds … by crafting creative language and mechanisms inn the appropriation ordinance that would thwart the Mayor’s exercise of lehitimate executive authority.”
In support, he cited Colorado Supreme Court decisions from 1978 and 2006, which decided similar quarrels between governors and the General Assembly by ruling against the Legislature.
In response, Councilor Don Knight moved to override Bach’s veto with an 822-word motion, carefully crafted in the densest legalese. Ten “whereases” preceded the actual motion, each citing different legal authority for Council’s proposed actions. In the motion, he argued that the mayor’s action in vetoing a section of a proposed ordinance without vetoing the entire ordinance was itself illegal, as was his original creation of five departments for appropriation as opposed to the 12 specified in the charter.
It appeared that the long, complex motion had been crafted by an attorney. If so, it wasn’t legislative legal liaison Wynetta Massey, who confirmed that she’d never seen it before Knight read it from the dais.
At least some councilors were equally in the dark. Neither Jan Martin nor Val Snider had copies.
“They’re just preparing for the lawsuit,” Martin said with a shrug.
Councilors in support of the override took turns portraying themselves as guardians of truth, justice and the American Way.
”We’re following the charter here,” said Andy Pico. “This isn’t some power grab. We’re not just making stuff up here.”
“My vote is based on what I think is right and the rule of law,” said Miller.
Jill Gaebler, by contrast, spoke of compromise. Noting that the word comes from the Latin compromittere, to promise mutually, Gaebler called upon her colleagues to avoid an unnecessary confrontation with the mayor.
“This is not the right time for this,” she said. “We will have a lawsuit on the front page of every newspaper every day.”
Martin agreed, saying that it was time to work on building community.
“I believe that of all the items, this one is most likely to end up in a court battle, “ she warned. “I hope we’re on a path to move forward. I think the city is tired of quarreling.”
Both Mayor Bach and a majority of City Council appear to believe that important matters of principle are at stake. That may make meaningful compromise difficult, and a lawsuit all but certain.
In such an event, it’s difficult to predict the winner, but easy to identify the losers.
That would be the taxpayers, who will fund both sets of lawyers.