Leaders’ C4C divide grows

At a hastily called press conference Monday afternoon, City Council President Keith King and Board of County Commissioners Chair Dennis Hisey voiced their displeasure with Mayor Steve Bach and with the City for Champions proposal, which could be endangered as a result.

The two officials presented letters addressed to Mayor Bach, which he had yet to see, enumerating their concerns and opposition to how the City for Champions has been handled by the mayor.

The first missive, signed by King and Councilors Helen Collins, Don Knight, Andy Pico and Joel Miller, expressed the opposition of “a majority of City Council” to the use of any “local public funds which have been contemplated in the City’s RTA application for the City for Champions projects until such time as our citizens vote otherwise.”

But their apparent attempt to act on their own might have violated the city charter (see Hazlehurst column, page 3).

The signatories also noted that it was “clear that the proposal does not contain adequate checks and balances that provide for accountability or transparency of public funds.”

In a letter signed by King and Hisey, the two elected officials characterized the “Resolution for the establishment of the City for Champions relationship to the Colorado Economic Development Commission” as “woefully unacceptable and disappointingly non-collaborative.”

Emphasizing that they were speaking only for themselves “and not necessarily on behalf of the rest of City Council or the El Paso County Commissioners,” they called for Bach to make major changes in the resolution prior to submitting it to the state EDC.

Their demands include:

• The definition of applicant must reflect the City of Colorado Springs as the signatory as was recognized by the state, but only as the facilitator of the application.

• Governance of the projects must reflect those entities considering financial participation and/or responsibility in the long-term project.

• “Financing Entity must be further defined so as to protect the taxpayers from any entity being able to bond against the general funds of the City or County without a public vote of the people.”

“This letter,” King and Hisey concluded, “represents only a sample of the issues which need to be further addressed and expresses why we will not support this resolution without major changes.”

King also said that providing local public funding for C4C through voter-approved general obligation bonds would be both less expensive and more transparent than the tax-increment funding that has been suggested.

“We could save $100 million [through lower interest rates],” King said.

“I can’t figure out how to make them happy.”

– Mayor Steve Bach

Mayor Steve Bach reacted to the two missives with surprise and dismay.

“I had lunch [Monday] at my initiation with Keith, Dennis and Tom Neppl, Chair of the RBA, to discuss the economy and jobs,” Bach said in an email Tuesday.

“I brought up C4C late into the conversation. Neither Keith, Dennis nor Tom had done so earlier. I offered that we could further define in the Resolution the parameters for standing up the SEC advisory entity, and suggested that perhaps the Council President Pro Tem (Merv Bennett) and the County Commission Vice Chair (Amy Lathen) should be in that leadership group and that the umbrella RTA Advisory Board members could (by consensus hopefully) determine the actual makeup of the membership.

“So, Keith and Dennis knew hours before their 4:30 pm media conference [Monday] afternoon that I expressed flexibility in wanting to hear feedback on the Resolution and that I wanted to work through any concerns of RTA Advisory Board members, including them, at our regularly scheduled monthly core leadership meeting [later Tuesday, though the meeting eventually was canceled, reportedly because of scheduling conflicts].

“It is very disappointing that Keith and Dennis chose a public platform to air their issues, especially just after we met for lunch and they expressed no comments except Keith saying that Council has been shut out of C4C. When I then attempted to engage in discussion with him on that concern, he did not respond.”

At the press conference, Hisey and King remembered things differently.

“We had a discussion [at lunch] that was honest and frank,” said King. “We brought up the resolution, and [Mayor Bach] said that he’s comfortable with it as it stands.”

During the press conference, Councilors Collins and Knight sat beside King. The Council president pooh-poohed a suggestion that the gathering was a de jure public meeting that must be announced at least 24 hours in advance.

“It’s a press conference,” he said.

Some other Council members expressed their frustration at not having been notified in advance.

Asked what action Council would take if Mayor Bach ignored their entreaties, King was noncommittal.

“I hope that we don’t get to that point,” he said.

Bach doesn’t sympathize with their stated concerns.

“They know that they can prevent any part of the deal from going forward if they want to,” he said. “They can just decline to approve any changes in the downtown urban renewal district, and that’s that. And if after we’ve gone through the due diligence they don’t support the stadium and events center, fine. But we can’t have the City Council and the County Commission voting on every little thing — that’s not our form of government.”

“I can’t figure out how to make them happy,” he concluded.