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Outsider

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Random musings on a beautiful late fall morning ... It sure looks as if the public is mad enough to make life uncomfortable for the county commissioners. At this writing, it appears that two commissioners (Tom Huffman and Chuck Brown) will have to fight serious recall campaigns. Meanwhile, the County's legal basis for siting the courthouse addition wherever it damn pleases may be doubtful. Here's why:

The addition is to be financed by so-called Certificates of Purchase (COPS), in which the County creates a supposedly independent entity, which builds the courthouse addition and leases it back to the County. The entity uses the County's annual lease payments to pay off the COPS. After the COPS bonds are paid off, the County buys the improvements for $1. Nice little piece of legal fiction, which enables the County to bypass the voters.

But wait a minute! According to county officials, the courthouse project isn't subject to the City's development review process, because, as a county project, it's exempt from city land-use regulation.

That's why the commissioners, although they're willing to go through the process, have publicly stated that they won't abide by its results.

See the problem here? If it's not a county project -- as the County claims, when financing it -- then it's subject to development review, like any other private project. But if it is a county project, and not subject to development review, then the County has unlawfully contracted long-term debt.

Now if the City Council has the cojones to take on the County and simply announce that they're treating this as a private development project, all hell will break loose. The underwriters (George K. Baum & Co.) will be at substantial risk, the County could be forced to refund investors in the COPS notes, and the commissioners, as well as the county attorney, would look like morons.

You see, if, after a year or two, the County had to abandon the project and refund the COPS bonds, they'd be on the hook for interest payments. The whole fiasco might cost the taxpayers a million or two.

And who would pay? Who knows? Expect a citizen group and/or bondholders to file suit against George K. Baum & Co., based on the simple premise that they've got money, they're not a government, and they are therefore eminently sue-able.

But wait still another minute! The City's not gonna do one thing to inconvenience the County. For one thing, City Attorney Pat Kelly is married to same-named former County Attorney, Clerk & Recorder and Bill Owensappointed District Judge Pat Kelly.

For another, the County's financial adviser (George K. Baum & Co.) has a lot of influence with the City's financial adviser (George K. Baum & Co.). So if our Council members ask their city attorney, or their financial adviser, how they ought to proceed in this matter, what kind of advice are they likely to get?

Guess what? The city attorney's office has already told 'em that the County's position is a strong one; of course, none of the case law involves a home rule city, which might strengthen the City's position.

But remember, timid Council members, this is the same city attorney's office that recently tried to legally enjoin this newspaper from using material that said City had supplied to one of our reporters. That's called "prior restraint" in legalese, and, since the Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, such lawsuits are singularly meritless (legalese for stupid).

Meanwhile, it looks as if, at long last, Red Rock Canyon will be preserved and become publicly owned open space. Thanks to the voters, both in the city (TOPS) and statewide (GOCO), we'll have a chain of magnificent parks and wild lands extending all along our city's western boundary.

But if we're going to close the Red Rock Canyon deal, as well as ensure that Section 16 remains pristine, we'd better vote to extend the TOPS tax for another 15 years in April.

TOPS passed easily in 1997 but next year there'll be a wild card. My guess is that Council's decision to extend city health insurance to same-gender couples will be an issue in next April's election.

It's entirely possible that thousands of suburban conservatives, who might not otherwise vote, will flock to the polls to register their disapproval.

It remains to be seen how this will affect individual Council races, but it can't be good news for the TOPS tax extension.

And if TOPS goes down, it'll be another example of the first law of politics: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.

-- jhazlehurst@csindy.com

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