The first thing you notice about Chris Melcher's résumé is that he graduated from Yale Law School.
The rest of the incoming Colorado Springs city attorney's credentials aren't a bad read, either. Since the 1980s, Melcher has worked in private practices and for big companies like Adelphia Communications and the former Qwest. Most recently, the 52-year-old has been legal counsel and general secretary for Colorado College, a job that was to be eliminated next summer.
One thing you won't find in Melcher's past is experience as a county or city attorney. Yet he will lead a staff of nearly 60, representing the city and its enterprises in everything from land annexation to oil and gas drilling to installation of water pipelines.
Melcher was appointed Tuesday at Mayor Steve Bach's request, and with City Council approval. He starts Oct. 1 and will be paid $183,736, same as his predecessor, the retiring Patricia Kelly.
Melcher says he had never met Bach before the mayor called and asked if he'd be interested. Nevertheless, Bach lavished praise on Melcher in front of Council. Describing his experience, Melcher says he's managed a staff of up to 125 people, and has represented cities and counties while in private practice.
At CC, Melcher worked closely with the city parks department because college land abutted park land. He negotiated easements, joint use and joint improvements. He worked with the city planning department during the college's expansions and improvements, and with transportation on road improvements. He's also the current chair of the Downtown Development Authority board.
In the past, Melcher represented Southern California Edison in utility contracts. And he has experience with energy companies, which could come in handy as the city deals with proposed oil and gas drilling at Banning Lewis Ranch. In the mid-1990s, Melcher says, he represented the company now called Kinder Morgan, whose website calls it "one of the largest pipeline transportation and energy storage companies in North America."
There will be new ground for Melcher to cover, in matters such as annexation. But he doesn't sound intimidated: "If you work hard and you bring good legal skills to a matter, even a new matter, you can be successful."
Melcher was apparently chosen over traditional candidates like Deputy City Attorney Wynetta Massey, who has worked through the ranks, just as Kelly and El Paso County Attorney Bill Louis did.
Louis, by the way, says he met Melcher on a business trip hosted by the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce. Asked if Melcher has the right credentials, Louis says, "When you're the in-house chief legal officer, in my experience, you're not really involved in the day-in, day-out legal matters, and your job is more to pay attention to the big picture, the view from 10,000 feet. And you know, I think a well-qualified attorney with a diverse background could do that job."
That said, Louis says a person who's new to the city will have a learning curve.
"The risk to [a new] attorney is that [he] will not ask the right questions of staff and therefore will find [himself] in a difficult situation down the line," Louis explains. "Because if you say it, the elected officials are going to rely on it. And so if you say it, you'd better be right."
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