“It’s been a great week!” said Colorado Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Doug Price, reacting to City Council’s decision 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),” Martin said in support.
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 Bach’s veto and restore the funding, while Keith King stuck with his original vote to withhold.
“Like it or not,” said 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.”
Those 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 Council didn’t hesitate to override Bach’s veto of Council’s earlier allocation of $1.1 million for park watering, which would have taken $600,000 from 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.
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.
Later, knives flashed as Council challenged Mayor Bach with a 6-3 vote to override his veto of its action establishing 12 city departments for purposes of appropriation, instead of the five that Bach had presented in this and two previous budgets.
In his veto, Bach asserted that Council had violated 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 in the appropriation ordinance that would thwart the Mayor’s exercise of legitimate executive authority.” He cited Colorado Supreme Court decisions from 1978 and 2006, ruling against the Legislature in similar quarrels with governors.
Councilor Don Knight moved to override Bach with an 822-word motion, carefully crafted in dense legalese. Ten “whereases” preceded the actual motion, each citing legal authority for Council’s 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 creation of five departments for appropriation as opposed to 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. Some councilors were equally in the dark. Neither Martin nor 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 the word comes from the Latin compromittere, to promise mutually, Gaebler called upon her colleagues to avoid a 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.”
Reached later, Bach was more blunt, preparing to make the following statement Thursday in a letter to Council:
“Your actions exceed your authority and violate our charter. These sections (a portion of section one and all of section three of the appropriation ordinance) are illegal. I will instruct city staff to ignore them.”
Bach called Council’s actions “puzzling. … We’ll have to take $1 million out of reserves to fund park watering. We must be responsible in running city government, and and taking a million out of emergency reserves to fund recurring expenses is not prudent. Also, (Utilities CFO ) Bill Cherrier offered to extend CSU’s conservation rate for another year, but Council ignored him, saying it wasn’t a long-term solution. It doesn’t seem to make sense.”