Colorado Springs got its first glimpse last week of one key provision of the city's new strong-mayor government: the veto.
Following a shared-power arrangement that mimics our national government, the mayor sent his budget to City Council in October. Council amended that budget to its liking, finalized it, and sent it back to the mayor on Dec. 13. The next afternoon, Mayor Steve Bach announced he was vetoing six of the changes Council had made.
But Council turned the tide once again, overcoming four of the mayor's vetoes with super-majority votes on Dec. 15.
It's a familiar tug-of-war in Washington and elsewhere, but in Colorado Springs, some citizens and media characterized it as a "power struggle." And quite a few say the Council should fall more in line with the mayor — especially when it comes to the 2012 budget.
"I think it's obviously a sign of an emerging power struggle which was to be expected under the new form of government," former City Councilor and libertarian blogger Sean Paige says. "...I'm not saying the Council shouldn't assert itself, but my advice would be to assert itself over serious things."
Mayor Bach seemed to downplay that view. While he initially called Council's amendments "irresponsible," he sent an e-mail following the Council's overrides stating, "City Council has the last word on this matter and we respect that. Our focus will remain on transforming City government to be fiscally sustainable."
It's unlikely that the budget amendments will be a game-changer for Bach, since they represent a tiny percentage of the $225 million general fund budget.
In fact, the mayor chose not to veto several of Council's amendments, including those that added $25,000 for the Starsmore Discovery Center and Helen Hunt Falls visitor center, $21,653 in additional funds for Rock Ledge Ranch, and $24,000 extra for Accessible Coordinated Transportation, a group of nonprofits that provide rides for seniors and people with disabilities. (However, the mayor cautioned that those entities, along with the Colorado Springs Regional Economic Development Corp., the small business incubator, and the small business development center, could expect no city funding in 2013 if the revenue forecast doesn't improve.)
Council did override Bach's veto to add $43,000 for changing a legislative communications position from half-time to full time, $175,000 for city tennis courts maintenance and repairs, and $84,295 for an additional code enforcement officer (Bach's original budget added one, but Council made it two). Council overrode another veto, keeping the Colorado Municipal League and Pikes Peak Area Council of Government dues in City Council's budget — and out of the mayor's direct control. Finally, the Council voted to amend the budget to fund the added items out of the city's previous savings.
After being advised that it lacked enforcement powers, Council chose not to challenge Bach by asking the parks department to grow its own flowers. The mayor's veto also remained in place in disallowing $10,000 allotted for the Old Colorado City Historical Society. Councilor Lisa Czelatdko, who had pushed for the money, was surprised when she was the only Councilor to support overriding Bach's veto.
"I was furious," Czelatdko says. "I still don't know what happened."
Only Councilor Angela Dougan voted "no" to override, supporting Bach on all seven items.