Massey’s career has brought her to local pinnacle as city attorney

Filed under: Focus,Legal,Photo,Print | Tags:,

Living her dream

City Attorney Wynetta Massey has worked for the city of Colorado Springs the past 24 years, culminating in the top spot at the city attorney’s office.

City Attorney Wynetta Massey has worked for the city of Colorado Springs the past 24 years, culminating in the top spot at the city attorney’s office.

Four nanoseconds into your visit with Wynetta Massey in her office, you can tell she’s laid back, a family woman and she knows how to laugh.

On her bookshelves are the scripts of Monty Python, the British comedy troupe. You’ll also see her college degrees proudly displayed as well as many photos of her daughter, Alena, whom Massey will laugh and call “the girl.”

Within moments, you’ll also see evidence of the intellect and thinking characteristics that paved the way for her to become city attorney earlier this year.

Truman times

Massey, now 49, grew up in Independence, Mo., near Kansas City, in a house where her parents still live.

Independence, Mo., is also the home of former President Harry S. Truman. There, “Everything’s Truman, Truman, Truman,” Massey said.

Massey recalled that while she was in junior high school, Bess Truman would call the band director in the fall and tell him which Sousa marches Truman would like the marching band to play as they marched by her house, two blocks away.

Massey played B-flat clarinet in marching band and the contra bass during concert season, “Because I liked sitting in the back with the tubas,” she said. “I like low tones.”

When she was about 12-13 years old, “there were three things I could do really well,” she said.

She loved to read, and it didn’t matter what she read. She also liked researching information; in fact, her mother still has the 1964 Encyclopedia Britannica she used growing up.

The third skill for which Massey had a penchant was arguing.

“So, where can you take those three skills?” she asked.

“It was pretty much law school.”

She comes from a family of teachers; there are no other attorneys in her family. She received her degrees at the University of Missouri, Columbia, and the University of Kansas, both within two hours of her home.

In law school she developed an attraction for municipal law. For two years, she clerked for the city of Kansas City, Kan., and “I really liked the local government stuff. It deals a lot with land use, dirt.

“Dirt law, I get that.”

Massey’s mother’s family had spent some time in Colorado while growing up, and both her mother and aunt earned degrees from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

They encouraged her to take a job here after law school.

“They said, ‘We need to vacation in Colorado,’ ” Massey said.

“I’d never been more than an hour and a half away from home,” she said, figuring, “I need to get out and do this on my own.”

While she said she appreciated the loving, supportive environment of her close family, moving to Colorado “fed their need to vacate and my need to be on my own.”

City law

Her first job in Denver lasted a year. She realized that if she was going to be marketable as an attorney, she would need more experience prosecuting in a courtroom, so when such a position opened up with the Colorado Springs city government, she jumped at the chance.

Massey was offered the job on a Friday, and “I was at work 8 o’clock Monday morning.”

That was February 1990, and since then, she’s stayed with city government. Originally, she was assigned to the prosecution department at municipal court, eventually working her way up the ladder.

After being named interim city attorney for several months after predecessor Chris Melcher’s departure, she was appointed to the position of city attorney, the chief legal officer for the city, by Mayor Steve Bach. She officially assumed that permanent title in April.

Bach said he named her because of her institutional knowledge, experience and leadership skills.

“She’s very knowledgeable,” said Councilwoman Helen Collins. “She’s probably the most knowledgeable about city ordinances. If you ask her a question, she has the answer. She’s very articulate.”

As interim city attorney, and as the city attorney’s liaison to City Council prior to that, she earned broad support of the elected representatives.

As city attorney, Massey oversees 42 employees, most of whom are attorneys.

The divisions in her office include prosecution, litigation, corporate, utilities and administration.

She has also worked under former city attorneys Jim Colvin and Pat Kelly.

She loves her job

Massey loves the variety her job offers — there’s something new every day.

“If you’re a bond attorney, all you do is bonds. If you’re a dirt attorney, all you do is real estate,” she said.

“Here, I get … the land stuff, we get First Amendment, Second Amendment, Fifth Amendment, 14th Amendment — they’re all over the place with regard to the constitutional stuff. Then, you get some really interesting basic stuff that just helps your neighbor.

“One of the things I love about my job is that I can spend $12.5 million of somebody else’s money and I can buy 796 acres of open space that everyone is going to enjoy,” Massey said, referring to Red Rock Canyon. “I like the variety, and I like feeling like you’re actually helping people.”

When asked what she loves most about her job, she quickly answered, “The people. Everybody in this office. They’re all wonderful people, and we work really well together. They’re all very intelligent, collegial and they all care very much about the client.”

When it gets political

Massey emphasized the attorneys are there to provide legal advice and guidance to their client.

“The problem is, our client is this big government entity, and everybody has ideas of how the government’s supposed to work,” Massey said. “Those become politicized.”

And, “depending on the task, we behave in different ways,” she said. “There are some days when you have to stand up and say, ‘Well, the law’s pretty clear. This is your answer.’ ”

The attorneys see themselves acting as the advisor. Constituents can believe the attorney is “taking a stand,” Massey said.

“Fundamentally, we don’t give a flying you-know-what what the political decision is with regard to the advice we give. We’re just required to give them the advice.

“We really don’t have a dog in that fight, but people, they see things as black and white — you’re either for me or you’re against me.”

A financial example

Massey brought up the budget snafu of 2013 between City Council and Mayor Bach. The city attorney’s office gave its opinions to its client, and “Council read the opinion one way and took action, and the mayor read it one way and took action,” Massey recalled.

In the end, the clients must come to agreement, she said, for one reason. “You guys have to figure it out politically because I can’t help you. The law is not going to help,” Massey said.

It is the job of the elected officials to take all the information they’re given and make the best decision.

“Sometimes, it’s not about me. It’s not about the attorney’s office,” she said.

Massey said she’s simply the attorney.

“I’m not going to call press conferences and comment on this opinion,” Massey said. “That’s not my job. I’m not the spokesperson.”