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Major city business seems likely to elude the lame-duck Council

Putting it off


Editor's note: For an update on the stormwater resolution, and why Council actually did not consider it in Tuesday's meeting, click here.

As of late, Mayor Steve Bach has had his eyes on the future. Specifically, a future with a different City Council.

As the April city election draws near, Bach has indicated he views the current legislative branch of the city as a lame duck. And more and more, meaty issues have disappeared from Council's plate.

Though Council has sole power over deciding what measures make a city ballot, a few measures that were expected to limit mayoral authority have been squelched before Council has had a chance to consider them. After the mayor publicly announced in January that he opposed changes to the City Charter, citizen-driven proposals that would have altered it disappeared. Around the same time, Council asked City Attorney Chris Melcher to deliver ballot language for a measure that would have asked voters to change Utilities governance — a move that many saw as intended to prevent mayoral interference in the enterprise — but Melcher delivered ballot language that didn't meet their expectations, and the idea was dropped.

Now, Council also finds itself in a wait-and-see position related to two issues that have dominated much of their last few months: stormwater management and the city's attempt at instituting a panhandling ban.

Stormwater stalemate

On Feb. 19, El Paso County Commissioners fussed over the wording of a resolution that, for them at least, was lacking in controversy.

After resolving small snags — like whether the term "flood control" was less politically problematic than "stormwater" — the commissioners unanimously passed a resolution to partner with Colorado Springs and other communities to solve issues related to the region's huge backlog of stormwater-infrastructure projects.

No one there mentioned Bach. But maybe someone should have.

Here's why: For the regional solution to work, City Council needs to pass the same resolution as the county. Council was expected to consider doing so Tuesday, after the Independent's deadline, but at Monday's informal Council meeting, passage sounded doubtful.

Various Councilors said the resolution should be delayed, including Councilor Merv Bennett, who thought Council and the mayor should plan a work session ahead of any decisions.

"I'm afraid [the resolution is] going to set in process a train moving down the track that will be hard to stop," he said.

The resolution, though not legally binding, is a promise to join a regional group that will identify possible funding — including taxes — for stormwater projects. The mayor, however, has said he wants Colorado Springs Utilities to foot the bill for nearly $687 million in city stormwater projects, and gave a presentation to Council Tuesday outlining several reasons to delay.

In a document prepared for Tuesday's media briefing, he states, "It is appropriate for the current Council to table the County's proposed 'Joint Resolution' to respect the next Council's right to participate in storm water decision making, and to give us a few months to determine the true scope of the problem and the best way for our City to manage and fund our storm water improvements."

Panhandling delays

Council has also been expecting to decide whether to pursue a challenged downtown panhandling ban in court, after a district judge prevented it from taking effect in December on grounds that it was likely unconstitutional.

But on Feb. 19, the same day commissioners were wrestling with the stormwater resolution, Melcher effectively put off the time that the city must make that decision. His unopposed motion moved a court meeting from March 18 to the week of May 20, a month after the new Council will be seated.

In his motion, Melcher stated, "Defendant's decision-makers include the Colorado Springs City Council, which meets only bi-monthly, and the Mayor of Colorado Springs. Because of their schedules and the year-end holidays, opportunities to consider and discuss options since the Court's December 18, 2012 ruling have been limited."

But Council President Pro Tem Jan Martin says that's disingenuous, and that Melcher hasn't followed through with a Council request to put an item on the agenda.

Melcher tells a different story.

"The legal proceedings in the City 'no solicitation zone' had a required status conference on February 26, 2013, unless the parties requested more time to consider future decisions in this matter," he writes in an e-mail to the Indy. "The City Attorney discussed the ordinance and the court proceeding with Council in Closed Legal [session] on February 11, 2013, at which time the guidance from Council was for the City Attorney to take additional time and present a final recommendation on the matter in early March. In order to accommodate Council's guidance, the Office filed an unopposed motion for a 60 day continuance of the proceedings, which was granted by the court."

Martin says that she doesn't recall asking for any such delay, and other Councilors couldn't be reached on the matter. (Closed meetings are not public record.) But whatever happened behind closed doors, the effect of change of date will be leaving the next Council to ultimately decide the fate of an ordinance it didn't pass. And, to Martin, that's upsetting.

"The current Council," she says, "has been in place for two years and in many cases has lots of experience with these issues, such as the panhandling [ordinance] since we were the ones who put it in place in the first place. And stormwater — we've been working on that for the two years everybody's been in office. ... Who better to make those decisions than the Council that is most familiar with those issues?"

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