City budget chief exiled
Lisa Bigelow, who has worked for the city for nearly 20 years, was placed on paid administrative leave for 30 days last week, the latest casualty of Mayor Steve Bach's administration. No reason was given for her departure, but Bigelow sent an e-mail chain to City Council liaison Aimee Cox in January that embarrassed the mayor, who was jockeying to undo Council-ordained spending. (He later agreed to honor Council's wishes.)
The mayor also said publicly that the e-mails were "leaked," adding, "It could not have been inadvertent, in my personal opinion."
City Chief of Staff Laura Neumann, however, denied outright that Bigelow's departure stemmed from the e-mail leak.
The mayor also wasn't happy that Bigelow included merit increases for city employees in the 2012 budget after Bach had declared a pay freeze. Bigelow might have misunderstood the mayor's directive, since past city leaders had frozen pay across the board but left merit increases intact. — PZ
Power discussion delayed
City Attorney Chris Melcher had put together a chart and accompanying document to bring clarity to the issue of separation of powers ("Law without order," News, Jan. 26; "'A power grab, pure and simple,'" News, Jan. 19) on Monday, but Council members wanted more time to review the document. They'll revisit the issue in two weeks.
Melcher's assessment says the mayor need not have repaired tennis courts or hired an additional Code Enforcement officer, despite Council apparently having ordered as much when it overrode mayoral vetoes in the budget process. Melcher notes that case law regarding powers is mixed, but says that he generally believes hiring and firing is an executive duty dictated only by the mayor. Other expenditures, he says, can be appropriated by Council, but Council lacks the authority to force the expenditure, he states, unless the item is considered a "major legislative budget determination."
Other attorneys cited in past Indy articles have disagreed with that assessment. Melcher has insisted only he can offer Council legal advice. — JAS
Mayor talks transparency
If you read the story last week ("Now you see it ..." News, Feb. 9), you know that the city took an illegal amount of time, 17 days in all, to respond to a recent Independent open-records request.
When the city released the information, after our deadline last week, the results went to every media outlet in town, in accord with a new policy. A media expert, Poynter Institute's Al Tompkins, has said that policy "smells of punitive action," since "information is the currency of journalism."
Tuesday, at the mayor's monthly news conference, transparency was a hot topic. The mayor said he was concerned that the city took so long to respond to the Indy.
"What bothers me is if we're not responding completely or in a timely manner," he said. "And if we aren't, you should hold us to task for this. ... I'm as frustrated as you are, because I still hope, if nothing more, in terms of this administration, we will be known as a group of people who want to build a dialogue."
The mayor also agreed, at the Indy's request, to meet with management of local media operations to talk about the new policy of mass distribution for open-records requests, though he said his decision was firm "for now." Bach insisted the policy wasn't punitive, but also said it was done after his government was inundated by "a tsunami" of requests based on the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA).
"When we get so many requests on top of each other, it is hard for us just physically to respond," he said. "And maybe its an anomaly. Maybe this, too, will pass. But I would like to get to a point where you don't have to do a CORA."
See Ralph Routon's Between the Lines column for more. — JAS
Lawyer to assist city
City Attorney Chris Melcher once again has hired an outside attorney for help, as he has for Oil and Gas Committee work and an investigation of claims made by the city's former financial officer. This time, the assistance is in negotiating a lease for city-owned Memorial Health System. Melcher chose James Wiehl of St. Louis, who works with international firm Fulbright & Jaworski.
The city is trying to reach a lease deal with University of Colorado Health System to take over Memorial for at least 40 years.
No word on what Wiehl's services will cost. We asked the city Feb. 10 about that, and were told it would take a week to respond.
Those fees, as well as other expenses associated with the lease, will be paid by UCH, which wouldn't answer a question about how much would be too much when it comes to picking up the tab. Instead, Bruce Schroffel, UCH's chairman and president said in a statement Monday, "We recently had our first meeting with the city's negotiating team, and it was a very positive start."
Representing the city will be Melcher, Wiehl, Mayor Steve Bach, a Realtor, and Council members Merv Bennett, a retired YMCA executive, and Brandy Williams, a civil engineer.
Melcher didn't talk with Larry Singer about the negotiation job. Singer, an attorney and health care consultant from Chicago, worked with a citizens committee in 2010 that recommended Memorial be converted to a nonprofit agency. He also advised the Council Task Force on Memorial last fall. — PZ
Springs boosts bike event
Colorado Springs City Council and Mayor Steve Bach agreed informally this week to support a new bike tour around the perimeter of Colorado Springs. The city plans to contribute up to $89,000 for police, fire and traffic services for the event, being organized by Littleton-based Spectrum Marketing.
The Tour of Colorado Springs will cost about $100 and is expected to draw 1,500 to 2,000 cyclists in late June. It will stretch for 105 miles, through downtown, Fort Carson, the Air Force Academy, Black Forest and the Garden of the Gods, among other attractions. Less ambitious riders can opt for 80 or 40 miles. Organizers expect the ride to have a $2 million to $3 million economic impact, to raise money for local charities, and to grow annually to become a "signature event" in the Springs. The race was modeled after El Tour de Tucson, which attracts 9,000 cyclists and earns millions for charity.
Bach said he hoped to have a more organized economic policy in the future to address subsidies for events, but supported funding the tour for now. Councilor Angela Dougan argued against the subsidy, saying the tour should charge more to cover costs — something organizers said would limit participation.
But others were more cheerful. Councilors Tim Leigh and Bernie Herpin noted the event would build the city's sports culture and boost tourism. Council President Scott Hente got a laugh when he remarked, "I think you may want to take this down, because I'm in complete agreement with Tim Leigh today." — JAS
More students need help
The number of recent Colorado high school graduates entering college in need of remedial work increased 11 percent in the 2010-11 academic year over the previous year, according to a recent study produced by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. The study found nearly a third of graduates need remedial education.
The number is significantly higher, 58.2 percent, for students enrolling at two-year colleges. The study also found that remediation had very little affect on retention, at least at community colleges.
Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, also executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, issued this statement: "We must continue to collaborate with our colleges and universities, school districts, and private partners to meet the needs of the state's increasingly diverse students and increase the number of well-educated Coloradans." — CH
Who votes how
Nonpartisan voters group Citizen Center has filed a federal lawsuit against Secretary of State Scott Gessler, as well as six county clerks, seeking to change election practices that, they allege, deny many Coloradans the right to an anonymous ballot.
Citizens Center claims in a statement that the majority of counties are "engaging in various improper practices that deprive voters of their right to secrecy in voting." These practices include bundling and storing mail-in ballots in their original envelopes, and including identifying marks and bar codes on other ballots.
"Several county elected officials have adamantly stated that voted ballots cannot be reviewed by the press or public because they are traceable to the voter," the statement reads. "This begs the question: Why should anyone, including government officials, be in a position to keep records that allow them to know how their fellow citizens vote?" — CH
Incline gets closer
There's still plenty more to be done before the Manitou Incline can formally open to the public, but Colorado Springs City Council could take a giant step forward in two weeks, when it considers approving an intergovernmental agreement. Manitou Springs is also considering the agreement.
The Incline, a steep trail up Mount Manitou that is illegally hiked 350,000 to 500,000 times a year, sits on property owned by Colorado Springs Utilities, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway and the U.S. Forest Service. Colorado Springs would manage the trail alongside a friends group, while Manitou Springs tackles traffic and parking issues. — JAS
Compiled by Chet Hardin, J. Adrian Stanley and Pam Zubeck.