Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Veto overrides: Win some, lose some

Posted By on Wed, Dec 18, 2013 at 11:58 AM

In a confusing two hours of debate today over numerous budget items vetoed last week by Mayor Steve Bach, City Council set the stage for a lawsuit over charter powers and acquiesced to funding for two premier organizations that aid local economic development.

First, the latter. Council sustained Bach's vetoes of items that would have withheld $1.3 million in funding from the Convention and Visitors Bureau and $35,000 in funding from the Regional Business Alliance. That means those organizations will get the full amounts sought: $2.6 million for CVB and $70,000 for RBA.

Those votes were split this way: On CVB funding, the vote was 4-5 to override, with Don Knight, Helen Collins, Andy Pico and Joel Miller voting for the override. Similarly, the vote on the RBA's funding was 4-5, with Collins, Pico, Keith King and Miller voting in favor of the override.

On the larger issue of Charter powers, Council voted 6-3 to override Bach's veto on creating 12 city departments rather than five. The vote was 6-3, with Councilors Jan Martin, Jill Gaebler and Val Snider siding with the mayor.

click to enlarge Council allocated money from city reserves to fund city parks and fill a $1.1 million hole Mayor Steve Bach had left in his 2014 budget proposal. - TODD MORRIS
  • Todd Morris
  • Council allocated money from city reserves to fund city parks and fill a $1.1 million hole Mayor Steve Bach had left in his 2014 budget proposal.
Said Martin: "This one [of the veto override votes] is most likely to end up in a court battle. I’ve always been a supporter of transparency of local government. There’s enough blame to go around for both legislative and executive branches for how we’ve come to where all our heels are dug in and no one is willing to give in. We have to ask what’s best for our community and moving forward, I don’t believe a court case drug out over the next year is good for our community."

But Councilor Pico outlined the majority's view, saying the issue is fundamental to governance under the council-mayor form of government adopted by voters in 2010. He said the City Charter specific lists 12 departments, and Council confirms mayoral appointments of department heads for those 12 departments.

"We are following what the Charter says," Pico said. "This is not some simple power grab between the two branches. It’s about whether we’re going to follow the Charter or not."

The idea is to prevent the mayor from moving money among certain areas without Council, and by extension, public scrutiny, Pico said.

"That’s not exactly canceling Christmas as it’s been portrayed," he said. "It’s not a turf war. It’s about following the Charter."

A separate vote, which split 6-3 the same way, dealt with Council's decision to label certain other budget adjustments as "major legislative budgetary determinations" to enable it to legally amend Bach's budget.

On those budgetary determinations, however, Council failed to override the mayor's veto except on one measure: parks watering. Council amended the budget to fill the $1.1 million whole left in the budget by Bach by taking $565,000 from the Police Department's $5 million budget increase and another like amount from city reserves.

That vote was 7-2 with Councilors Collins and Knight voting against the override, to fully fund parks watering.

A subsequent vote to reduce the police budget by $565,000 fell one vote short of overriding Bach's veto, meaning all of the money for parks watering will come from the city's reserves. The vote was 5-4 with Pico, Knight, Snider and Councilor Merv Bennett in opposition. Six votes are needed to override a veto.

Several councilors urged the administration to bring it a measure that would avoid pulling all the money from reserves. Council, sitting as the Utilities Board, isn't friendly to Bach's idea of a permanent reduced water rate for parks, because borrowing agreements would be jeopardized by adoption of special water rates and because such a move would force all ratepayers to subsidize the city.

"This is a matter of paying your bills," Councilor Miller said. "Nobody has a choice not to pay their water bill."

The majority on Council refused to override the mayor's veto on allocating $123,183 for an emergency operations deputy director. This vote was 3-6, with Snider, Martin, Knight, King, Gaebler and Bennett voting in opposition.

Council voted unanimously not to override Bach's veto on placing that money into the police budget, meaning Bach can hire the deputy director and take the money from police — status quo of Bach's original budget.

The actions balance the $246.6 million budget for 2014.
  

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