by Pam Zubeck
County Commission Chair Amy Lathen reports that the stormwater task force met today and expects to continue working as planned, despite reports that Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach sees stormwater as a city issue.
"This whole thing has been a regional effort from the beginning and it can’t work if it’s not regional," Lathen says in an interview. "The problems are about stormwater and drainage. It’s a fact we have to deal with. Our first order of business was to collect data from all entities throughout the county: what are the problems and what are the resources, so we can begin to sort through it."
Although task force members say Bach ordered them not to, Lathen says two task force subgroups will give their reports to commissioners Jan. 17, as scheduled. She also says the task force will meet Thursday as planned at the City Administration Building at 1 p.m.
"This task force is not owned by anyone. This is all of our issue," Lathen says. "I think the whole group agreed we need to proceed as we have been."
We asked Bach's communications director, Cindy Aubrey, for a comment from Bach this morning. We hadn't heard from her as of 5:40 p.m.
———————————ORIGINAL POST MONDAY, JAN. 7, 11:44 A.M.——————————————
Mayor Steve Bach summarily dismissed citizens from a task force on stormwater management needs last week, and declared that city-owned Colorado Springs Utilities would be responsible for the city's stormwater work, according to a community volunteer and others who attended a meeting Friday in Bach's office.
Jan Doran, who has volunteered for community and city committees for at least two decades, says in an interview she's never been treated so shabbily. "Basically, we were chopped liver," she says.
Doran also says the task force has been seen as a regional panel since it was formed months ago, and its membership reflected that, with County Commission Chair Amy Lathen and City Councilor Brandy Williams serving, as well as citizens from both the city and county, and Colorado Springs Utilities representatives.
As County Commissioner Sallie Clark says in a Facebook post, regional entities "must collaborate, especially at the forefront of the watershed and flooding issues post Waldo Canyon Fire. While the City of CS is an important component, it is not an island. The regional approach that is currently underway is appropriate and necessary."
But Bach told those at the Friday meeting otherwise, according to Doran and others.
"We were told this was a mayor's task force, not a regional task force," Doran says, adding that Bach demanded the task force not present its findings publicly to City Council, as scheduled Jan. 22, or to the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners, which is to hear the presentation Jan. 17. (A high-ranking county official says the presentation will, in fact, be presented to commissioners as scheduled.)
"We were pretty well put into place," Doran says. "This was the mayor's task force and we weren't really needed. As a person who has volunteered for many years, I felt like I was being reprimanded. I've never been talked to like that."
She described Bach during the meeting as "stern, angry and very much in control," and said he "spoke in a voice that got our attention. It wasn't a friendly conversation across the table."
Robin Roberts, a member of the stormwater task force, also was at the meeting. Here's her account posted on Facebook in a discussion of what transpired:
I was on this committee and in this meeting on Friday. The way Jason [Hann, another committee member whose own Facebook post is included below] is reporting it is accurate, although I do remember that the suggestion of Utilities taking over the storm water function was just a suggestion, an option thrown out there. Here's my thing. Actually a couple of them. I volunteered (key word) to serve on this committee because I knew very little about storm water and wanted to learn more as well as do something for my community. What I learned is that storm water is a very big issue and really is crucial to this region. 889 million [dollars] in needs because we have not maintained our infrastructure in 20 years is unacceptable. Keep in mind that the 889 million does not include what is needed after the fire. We have GOT to address this issue as a REGION and stop playing petty politics over who has control of the money or who pays more into what.
Second, I will NOT be talked to by a city employee or elected official the way we were in that meeting ever again. As I have said before, they work for us, we do not work for them. The arrogance, the suggestion that we volunteers had hidden agendas, the insistence that no tax was going to be supported, the obvious beef with the utilities folks in the room, the absolute denial that a regional solution is required, and the dismissal of our volunteer hours and time was disgusting and offensive. It will be a cold day in hell before I volunteer my time on a committee for this city again.
The bottom line is that this region has significant storm water needs and instead of fixing the problem, they are making this a political issue and putting things off until the economy gets better and utilities scrubs their budget. I heard a lot of "the voters won't approve that." Hey voters, are you going to let them decide what you approve or won't approve? I sure don't want these people thinking for me.
When someone is so arrogant that no one else in the room can speak or have an dissenting opinion, there is a real problem. And the problem is with them. I wonder what it is?
Bach also told the citizen members on hand that their work was done. They were not to disclose the aggregate stormwater needs figure (apparently $889 million) and are not to pursue research on possible funding sources.
Because City Attorney Chris Melcher, who also attended the meeting, said the city's portion would be funded with money earmarked for installation of the Neumann Systems Group's emissions technology on Martin Drake Power Plant, Doren says.
"If the Neumann project is stopped, we will have more than enough to do the city's portion" of stormwater projects, Doran quotes Melcher as saying.
Accounts of the meeting shared with David Neumann, owner of Neumann Systems Group, prompted Neumann to send a letter to Melcher on Sunday night, saying:
You are being quoted by a number of sources as expressing extreme prejudice toward our company and CSU as part of a Storm Water meeting last Friday which was presided over by the Mayor and held in the Mayor's office.
Additionally, we are in receipt of a letter from you to two council members which instead of providing them with legal guidance on how to determine conflict of interest you single out the employees of our company and employees of CSU as being the definition of a conflict of interest.
Further evidence of your extreme bias toward our company and CSU is shown in your negotiating a deal with the Sierra Club that involved damaging our company and a CSU project approved and budgeted for by the CSU Board. You attempted to cut a deal with a radical environmental group that could have resulted in a $400 million loss in ratepayer assets and a 30-50% increase in electric rates and may have prevented the Drake plant from receiving required emissions controls.
Additionally, we expect that any meeting discussing the merits of our contract or our company's past, present or future relationship with CSU will be discussed openly with an opportunity for public comment. Furthermore, we demand that you release to the public the records of past private meetings dealing with our contract with CSU so that the public may determine whether your conduct is appropriate to your position.
Finally, based on information from two separate Council Members, your alignment with Councilmember Leigh has become clear and it appears that you are attempting to stonewall or deflect the Ethics investigation of Councilmember Leigh.
We can only wonder why you have not taken action directly against Councilmember Leigh when you have explicit examples of his providing false information to the public and the Board. It is obvious that you have examined our contract with CSU in detail. Therefore, when Councilmember Leigh says the contract title says it is for "Experimental" equipment you know that is false. When he says the CEO did not sign it you know that is false. When he says there are no specs, you know there are over ten pages of specifications. We are prepared to present over twenty separate counts of ethical and legal violations by Councilmember Leigh should we be given the chance.
Request that you explain to the public how your actions above and other related actions you have done as required by the Mayor are consistent with the appropriate conduct of the City Attorney. Perhaps you can also explain the responsibilities any lawyer has to avoid conflicts of interest. How is it possible for you to do the will of your boss the Mayor under threat of termination, while simultaneously representing the best interests of the City, the Council and Colorado Springs Utilities when their interests are in conflict?
David K. Neumann
Here's how Jason Hann, the aforementioned task force member who didn't attend the meeting, reacted to accounts of how Friday unfolded. This is posted on Facebook:
As part of the Stormwater Business task force for Colorado Springs I've spent a few days in meetings and several hours working with many in the business community on our Stormwater issues. Recently our team was asked to provide a debrief to Bach, Melcher, Neumann and few others. Utilities were also present and the chair of the Stormwater task force. As reported back to us on the task force so unfortunately I don't have direct quotes...
Melcher stated that NO regional cooperation would take place and if there were collaborative efforts for projects the City would be at the helm. Bach commanded that he knew there were several agendas at the table and that he was going to tell us what our agenda is. Bach stated there will be NO tax recommendation and that while his administration existed, CSU was going to be responsible for paying for stormwater. That CSU needed to "scrub" their budget again (despite the City not being able to execute a zero-based budget themselves). That the Neumann cleaner technology should be removed and that would provide millions right away and for years to come.
After continually being "dressed down" and told the group's task was NOT to provide solutions, that is what the City is for and would do (yet hasn't done for years), and that we were only supposed to give information regarding the metrics/numbers, our research, time and work was a waste. Many volunteers from the community gave our time and expertise only to be addressed like employees and yet it is the other way around. Melcher and Bach work for us! The City, despite ample hours being spent on analysis and research by City and County engineers, plans to hire a consultant to confirm the information provided by the task force (which was already completed once) - more money wasted. Bach then stated your services here are done and left the room, ending the meeting. Appalled and infuriated many of us are! The condescending tone and arrogant nature in which Bach and Melcher conducted themselves told many of us we will NEVER volunteer for the City again.
Everyday, it seems, we hear of an infrastructure failure like a water main break or leak that impacts homes, businesses and transportation. Why? Because the region is looking at a $889 MILLION dollar infrastructure issue. What was put out publicly to the community is NOT accurate. Bach specifically told the chair that she will NOT release this number publicly until confirmed by the outside agency. Well, I don't work for Bach and believe we should all know what we face as a community.
You want to know what is really going in your local government…please, please dig into more than what the media shares. They do a great job but often there is so much that goes on behind the scenes even they can't report on the REAL reason our community isn't realizing our full potential. Our leaders are corrupt and act upon personal agendas NOT our best interest. Demand for better Colorado Springs…we live in an amazing place and if we aren't willing to protect it, guide it and care we do not deserve it.
You want transparency…there some of it is. Yes, this is the type of "leadership" we are saddled with. "Are you not entertained?"
We've asked Bach's communciations director to seek a comment from the mayor about the meeting. If and when we hear back, we'll update our post.