UPDATE: Bach vetoes parts of budget ordinance

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Bach: Council can't overstep into his domain. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Bach: Council can't overstep into his domain.

UPDATE: Councilor Jill Gaebler tells us via email: "I did vote to approve the budget on the first vote, so am likely to vote in favour [sic] again, but I am also open to a compromise depending ... the Mayor's budget concerns."  

—-ORIGINAL POST WED., NOV. 26, 2014, 2:16 P.M.———-
Less than a day after City Council took action on the 2015 city budget, Mayor Steve Bach issued vetoes of parts of the ordinance.

And whether Council will override the vetoes will depend on how Councilor Jill Gaebler votes. She was absent from the Council meeting on Tuesday when the vote was 5 to 2, with Helen Collins and Val Snider voting against it. Joel Miller didn't attend the meeting, having resigned on Monday to seek the mayor's seat next year.

Council must have six votes to override a mayoral veto, although a veto override last year was ignored by the mayor, who contended the action was "illegal."

In a news release issued Wednesday, Bach said the appropriation ordinance included conditions and requirements "expressly designed to restrict executive authority in running the City and administering the budget."

The City Attorney’s Office, he said, ruled "these attempts to control executive functions through creative language violate the separation of powers established by the City Charter.”

Specifically, Bach vetoed a portion that specified 12 departments, rather than six as contained in his budget proposal. Bach argues that the Council’s Charter authority to amend the budget doesn't extend to changing the form of the budget. Dividing the budget into 12 departments, which Council wants to do in order to prevent the mayor from moving money around without Council approval, would "usurp" the mayor's authority, Bach said.

“This provision will restrict the ability to make necessary mid-year adjustments, respond to economic conditions and unexpected emergencies, and unnecessarily expand the size of government and bureaucratic processes,” the mayor said in the release.

Another section of the ordinance would prohibit spending city money on severance pay unless authorized in the city's Personnel and Policies and Procedures Manual, and another portion would allow Council to initiate amendments to the budget at any time.

Bach called those provisions "a bold and improper intrusion upon executive functions."

He also maintains Council can't interfere with his decisions to enter into employment contracts that might include severance payments.

Bach has come under fire for spending more than $1.6 million during his three and a half years in office to get rid of city employees. His chief of staff, Steve Cox, was paid more than $92,000 in severance when he left as economic vitality director in July 2012, right after the Waldo Canyon Fire, and has since been hired back at a salary approaching $200,000 a year. Even those who resigned, like former City Attorney Chris Melcher, got severance pay.

As for the Council initiating budget changes mid-year, Bach says, "This action would be tantamount to enabling Council to make organizational, operational, and financial decisions that would limit the Mayor’s ability as the executive to adjust the budget and the operations of the City during the fiscal year. As such, this provision clearly violates the separation of powers set forth in the Charter."

Bach says his vetoes are in the public interest. "In the end, it would be a disservice to the public to blur the line between the executive and legislative branches of government, and to tie the Mayor’s hands in running an efficient municipal government if and when budgetary adjustments become necessary. These proposed provisions would do precisely that.”

We've asked Gaebler how she plans to vote. We've also asked Council President Keith King for a comment. If and when we hear back from them, we'll update.

Meantime, Council spokesperson Eileen Gonzalez says another dispute also lies at the heart of the mayor's vetoes. "Some Councilmembers have questioned whether the Mayor has authority to 'veto' sections of the appropriations ordinance, or only certain 'line items,' or dollar amounts," she says via email.

Any bets on how the City Attorney's Office will come down on that question?

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