Mayor Steve Bach opened another front in the ongoing war between his administration and Colorado Springs Utilities this morning, releasing a pair of letters sent to City Council President Scott Hente on Friday.
The letters, one addressed to Hente in his capacity as Council president and the other to him as Utility Board Chair, are similar but not identical. Composed in careful lawyer-ese, the letters question whether the process by which CSU’s annual budget is presented and ultimately approved allows for adequate public input.
“I understand that CSU Management first provided the proposed 2013 Budget to the Board sometime earlier this week, and does not plan to post the Budget for public review until the week of October 15th.” Bach wrote in his letter to “CSU Chair” Hente. “This provides mere days prior to the October 17 Board meeting for the public to review the Budget, and only one Board meeting for full Board discussion. The date of the public release will not permit sufficient time for interested citizens, or indeed the Board, to adequately review a budget four times the size of the City Budget and of great complexity.”
Bach recommended that the process be changed to allow for greater transparency and more meaningful public input.
“…the compressed timeframe currently proposed by CSU Management for Board review and public comment of the proposed 2013 Budget for CSU is inadequate to allow for meaningful public comment and careful review,” he continued. “It will be difficult for the Board, much less the public, to truly understand this Budget and offer suggestions in the short time provided. The preferred approach would be to have the Budget presented at the October meeting to the Board and the public, with full Board discussion and comment, and then brought back to the Board for a final decision in November. I offer these suggestions to you in the hope that a meaningful review by the Board and the public will occur before the CSU Budget is brought forward to City Council.”
His letter to Council President Hente followed the same script, but made recommendations to Council, not the Utility Board.
It’s a distinction without much of a difference, since the city charter requires that council sit as the Utilities Board. The charter also designates the Mayor as an ex officio non-voting member of the board, a position without power or authority, but one which provides him with a reason to intervene (as if he needed one!).
Here’s the text of his second letter to Hente.
“I am writing to offer a recommendation with regard to the Council review and approval of the proposed 2013 Budget for Colorado Springs Utilities (“CSU”) currently scheduled for November. The City submitted its Budget to Council and to the public on October 1st, and is currently in the midst of two days of public discussions with Council on the Budget. As you know, the City Budget will also be the subject of a public hearing. All of these efforts provide assurance to our community that the City Budget is open and transparent, and is available to public input over an extended period of time. This effort builds public confidence in our stewardship of precious resources.
It is my belief that the same process should be followed by Council when the proposed 2013 Budget for CSU is presented to Council. Council should consider scheduling public presentations by CSU on the CSU Budget in front of Council in November, to be followed by a public hearing. These efforts would occur prior to the required two readings of the CSU Budget and Council approval. The CSU Budget is four times the size of the City Budget and of great complexity. The same careful review and public discussion that is applied to the City Budget will be of great benefit for the CSU Budget.”
Just so Hente would understand the phrase “open and transparent,” Bach helpfully attached a long excerpt from his administration’s 2013 city budget.
Bach’s recommendations make sense, but it’s hard to understand why they come so late in the process. If his suggestions offend Council’s often delicate sensibilities, the whole budgeting process may be unnecessarily contentious. It may be that the administration has been so busy with city problems that no one was paying attention to CSU, but that seems unlikely.
Expect CSU’s management to fight back with its usual cunning; expect council to defend current procedures; expect the Mayor to fuss & fume…it’s just another manic Monday.