At a special media briefing this morning, Mayor Steve Bach praised council’s decision to restore funding to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Regional Business Alliance and the Police Department–but expressed dissatisfaction over Council’s apparent decision to fund park watering costs by taking $1.1 million from the city’s emergency reserve fund, and firmly rejected Council’s administrative restructuring.
A 6-3 Council majority overrode the mayor’s veto yesterday, thereby upping the number of administrative departments from five to 12. The changes were made to increase governmental transparency by reducing the mayor’s ability to move money between different departments. Such a move, claimed supporters of the measure, was not merely appropriate, but mandated by the City Charter, which specifically established twelve departments. In their view, the mayor’s two previous budgets had ignored the implied mandates of the charter, and created five departments out of thin air for administrative convenience.
“We’re following the charter here,” said Councilor Andy Pico at Monday’s meeting. “This isn’t some power grab. We’re not just making stuff up.”
Citing opinion from four city attorneys, Bach confirmed that he would not abide by Council’s decision.
“(Council’s actions) are void and unenforceable on their face,” Bach noted. “I’m instructing city staff to disregard them.”
In a letter addressed to City Council, Bach laid forth the legal basis for his de facto veto of Council’s veto.
“Functionally, the ordinance has no immediate impact because in the aggregate Council approved all funds request for the five major departments in the Mayor’s budget,” he wrote. “However, the Mayor reserves the right to transfer funds in the future within these five departments to respond to unanticipated emergencies, budgetary shortfalls or economic necessities in the public’s best interest.”
Any such action might provoke a lawsuit by City Council, should a majority of its members think it worthwhile to initiate such a battle. Asked how what such a multi-year, taxpayer funded legal battle might cost, Bach gave a discouraging estimate.
“I want to make one thing clear,” he said. “We won’t be filing any lawsuits – that’s up to Council. But I’m told that the total cost might be between $750,000 and $1 million.”
Nevertheless, he held out an olive branch.
“We need to have a discussion,” he said of his relationship with Council. “I’m told that Council doesn’t trust me – I’d like to know specifics. I need to know what the concerns are. I hear ‘check and balances,’ – [but] what does that mean?”
Bach indicated that he’d even give some ground on departmental restructuring, suggesting that the Park Department be designated as an appropriation–to alleviate fear expressed by some parks’ supporters that the administration might raid the park’s budget.
Councilors Keith King, Val Snider, and Jill Gaebler attended the press conference, but had no immediate comment.