Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Council unloads on Melcher, sets up face-off with Bach

Posted by on Tue, Sep 24, 2013 at 8:40 PM

Colorado Springs City Council President Keith King didn't mince words with City Attorney Chris Melcher.

He said Melcher's "customer service" to Council has been "pitiful" — so bad, in fact, that given the option, "We would terminate your service to us because it’s been so poor."

But though he is charged with representing all city interests, Melcher can only be fired by Mayor Steve Bach. So instead, Council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt a resolution calling for the hiring of independent counsel for legal advice related to stormwater control issues.
click to enlarge City Attorney Chris Melcher - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • City Attorney Chris Melcher

In related news:

• Council adopted a resolution calling for a regional approach to stormwater management, which contradicts the wishes of Bach. The vote was 7-1, with Councilor Helen Collins opposing it and Councilor Andy Pico absent.

• Council also voted 6-2, with Councilors Merv Bennett and Collins dissenting, to appropriate $35,000 to help fund the work of a regional Stormwater Task Force

The trio of moves marked a new chapter in a drama that's been building for months. And King wasn't the only one who contributed some quotes to remember. 

Councilor Jill Gaebler also let go on Melcher, saying, "Not one attorney has come to a Stormwater Task Force meeting. That is one of the things I've seen, with multitudes of e-mails that have not been responded to. The fact is, your office has not been supportive of Council on this issue."

Responding to Melcher's contention that hiring outside counsel would be a "waste of taxpayer money" — since his department has several attorneys with expertise in stormwater issues — Gaebler continued, "All these lawyers you're talking about, I guess they're working on the mayor's side. We need an opinion that is unbiased and neutral and separate from your office who has all these fabulous attorneys who work for the mayor. We need a transparent and unbiased opinion."

Bach has been angling for the city to forgo a regional approach to addressing what the task force has estimated is a $850 million stormwater-project backlog, since the majority of the work to be done is in the city. Melcher has helped him explore funding options, but has been seen as less than cooperative with Council as it's tried to keep a regional solution in play.

Melcher replied to Gaebler that his office does issue independent unbiased opinions: "I have not received a request to attend the Stormwater Task Force," he said. "We simply need to know what the request is."

But Councilor Don Knight was unmoved. "We have asked on numerous occasions and he has fallen short."

Councilor Joel Miller also let Melcher have it, saying "People voted for a [mayor-council form of government] with two branches of government. So what you're saying is citizens don't have one possible avenue, and the one who gets to decide is you, who is appointed by the mayor."

Said King: "The customer service I’ve received is pitiful. I would say to you, if you feel you are trying to service us equally as well and meaningful as you serve the executive branch of city of Colorado Springs, I would be amazed that you could have any opportunity to think you are giving us decent customer service.

"We are in equal position to get legal advice from you. We have not felt and have not been given the kind of service that is due ... And that is to have the opportunity to have legal advice come to us … to where we can address issues legally and meaningfully. We have not had contact with people in your office. As far as having contact with other people, it seems we’re excluded. When it comes time to have an open dialogue and to vet an important issue, we get this resistance. I made a request with all of us sitting at the dais at Utilities. I didn’t get the answers. When I finally got an answer, it was as much a political response as a legal response."

Despite the assault, Melcher seemed somewhat unfazed by Council's interest in getting outside help. Although he said he was interested in knowing the Council's concerns, he warned Council, "If you passed this resolution and then attempted to act on it, then you would be in violation of the [city] charter and the code."

It's true that Tuesday's vote is basically symbolic until Council actually moves to hire an attorney. Its resolution backing a regional approach is as well. But make no mistake: The gauntlet has been thrown.

"The real purpose of this is to make a statement that the city and county view this as a regional issue," Councilor Jan Martin said. "It’s a way for us to agree on resolution and how we believe working on this from a regional perspective is the way to solve the problem."


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