by Pam Zubeck
Once again, the issue of whether Colorado Springs City Council is getting the sound and unbiased legal advice it needs has arisen.
This is not a new issue, as the daily newspaper would have its readers believe. The Independent has been reporting on this for the last two years, most recently in a cover story ("Chris cross," March 6, 2013).
Recently, the City Council, which includes six new members who took office on April 16, expressed concerns all over again that City Attorney Chris Melcher, who was hired by Mayor Steve Bach and can be fired by him, might not give Council the straight skinny on legal matters in which the Council could be at odds with the mayor.
And Bach also can dole out healthy rewards to Melcher, like he did last year when he laid $25,000 on him for handling the Memorial Health System lease, although the city paid an outside attorney $1.5 million for that project. We reported on the bonus here.
Reasons for Council's concerns about Melcher are well-documented in the cover story referenced above.
During Bach's monthly news conference this morning, he was asked about the matter again by the daily's City Hall reporter.
Basically, his message to Council is, take him to court over it.
Specifically, he said:
"I'm surprised there continues to be that conversation, honestly. I talked with Keith King at length and Merv Bennett after they were named president and president pro tem, and our city Charter says there will be one city attorney who supports the mayor and city council" as well as other city entities.
"If the City Council wants to have their own attorney, they need to go to the voters and ask the voters to change that," he added.
He then noted that 50 cities, including Denver, with the same council-mayor form of government (in which the mayor acts as a CEO) have a single city attorney.
"So what is this really about? Honestly, this is an attempt to change the charter without changing the charter, and that's not legal and that's not right," he said, noting Melcher has assigned one of his associates to provide legal assistance to the Council so Council has its own attorney. (Council has expressed concern, though, that the associate, Wynetta Massey, reports directly to Melcher; how unbiased could her legal advice be?)
Bach then gave his suggestion Council sue him.
What I've said to Mr. King is that, and I hope this day does not come, the City Council has recourse, and it's not just about the city attorney. It's about a lot of other things as you well know in terms of this new Council wanting to change the balance between the mayor and council. I told Mr. King and Mr. Bennett, if you truly think the city attorney is not properly advising you, you can always file a petition with the district court. If they don't like what I'm doing, don't believe I should be doing the things I'm doing, and if we can't come to some compromise ... they can file a petition with the district court and ask for a summary judgment. I hope that day doesn't come.
There's just one little problem with that. Do you really think Melcher would allow Massey to file such an action? Doubtful. So how does Council file such a case? Unlike in the past, there are no attorneys on Council. Maybe they could ask for pro bono help from some gutsy lawyer in the community willing to take on such a politically risky case. Or maybe not.
Bach is right when he says the charter could be changed to allow Council it's own legal counsel. That has happened elsewhere in the country. And it should be noted that Council, not the mayor, submits ballot measures to voters.
In other matters at the news conference, city officials announced a plan to spend almost $6 million on parks maintenance and repairs following the April 2 election at which voters gave the city permission to use more trails, open space and parks money on repairs, rather than new development and acquisition.
Among the projects are turf reduction ($467,000), playground replacement ($250,000), ADA improvements ($150,000), installation of artificial turf at Skyview Sports Complex ($2.2 million), irrigation renovations ($250,000) and tennis court replacement at Memorial Park ($1 million), among other projects.
The city will replace 95 lights downtown and in Acacia Park with LED lights, which will save energy while providing brighter lights, which Bach equated to a higher level of public safety. In addition, the building in Acacia Park is being remodeled into a visitors center to be staffed between Memorial Day and Labor Day to help tourists make the most of their visit.