by Pam Zubeck
Language for two proposals to change the city charter is now available, thanks to the woman proposing them, Kanda Calef.
Calef has been active in Republican Party politics locally and has been watching closely Mayor Steve Bach's push to bag the coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant to make room for lower downtown development. Last month, she spoke against the city cutting a deal with the Sierra Club that would have held off a lawsuit while the city studies retiring Drake. (The Utilities Board, aka City Council, rejected the club's deal.)
One measure would move the mayor to the sidelines in Colorado Springs Utilities business. Under the current City Charter, the mayor is an ex-officio (non-voting) member of the Utilities Board (comprised of City Council). Yet, the Charter ascribes authority to the mayor to sign all contracts, which the city's legal team, which reports directly to Bach, has interpreted as including Utilities contracts. So Bach has asserted his authority over Utilities contracts.
Here's the language for that measure:
Ballot Question: Should the City Council be held accountable for all contracts signed by Colorado Springs Utilities?
Notwithstanding any other provisions of the City Charter, City Council shall exercise authority over execution and approval of any contract involving Colorado Springs Utilities provided there is a majority vote.
"By giving the council the full authority, we're making sure the buck stops with them," Calef said in an interview after we caught up with her after she gave a TV interview today.
The second measure would require the city attorney to be elected, not appointed by the mayor and confirmed by City Council. If passed, this measure would mean that if Chris Melcher wants to keep his nearly $200,000-a-year job, he'd have to convince voters he's the man for the job in a June election. Then, he'd have to convince the Council to keep his pay the same. The ballot measure gives salary authority to the Council, which would have to set the pay above $90,000 and couldn't decrease pay during the tenure of a serving city attorney.
"It's about accountability," Calef says. "It removes him from political infighting. The city attorney is in an awkward and impossible position being pulled in two different directions," she adds, referring to the mayor and Council at times being at odds over legal interpretations. Since Melcher works for Bach, what Bach says typically goes.
Here's the wording of that measure:
As a footnote, it's more than curious that Bach, during an interview with FOX 21 News on Thursday, said that "a lobbyist for the coal industry" was proposing the two measures.
That reference took Calef by surprise, triggering this response from her:
What's he talking about? I think he's confused. Who does he think I am? I'm just a mom who has gotten a lot of support on Facebook. I'm a grassroots person. Why is he doing that? Drake runs on coal, and I've been saying this is cheap energy we have, but it's kind of a dangerous move for him to base it on whatever he feels at the time. I thought, "Wow."
Bach also complained in the FOX 21 interview that Calef's measures (as well as a measure to increase pay for City Councilors, headed by Independent publisher John Weiss) are coming at "the last minute, literally, at the statutory deadline, without any public discussion. I find that very troubling, that there would be a rush at the last minute to jam through a piecemeal approach to changing our Charter."
Calef and Weiss plan to discuss their proposals at Monday's informal Council meeting. Council must vote on a first reading of any proposed ballot measures for the April 2 election no later than Jan. 22, says City Clerk Sarah Johnson. Second reading would follow two weeks later.
Calef doesn't see that schedule as last-minute. "I believe this is something that can be discussed for at least another month before it will have a final vote [by Council]," she says.
One final note: The FOX 21 interview is also notable for Bach's dismissal of the Independent's cover story from Dec. 12, "Misfire: How city leadership left residents — and their heroes — exposed during the Waldo Canyon tragedy." But that's a story for another day.