Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Council complained about Melcher months ago

Posted By on Wed, Sep 25, 2013 at 2:35 PM

Jan Martin: Frustrated then and now. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Jan Martin: Frustrated then and now.
On Tuesday, Colorado Springs City Council flexed its muscle by approving an ordinance appropriating $35,000 for research relating to a regional stormwater control effort. It also adopted two related resolutions. One endorsed a regional approach to stormwater management, which includes El Paso County and Colorado Springs Utilities, and the other, approved unanimously, called for Council to hired independent outside legal counsel for advice on stormwater issues.

Council also rolled back City Attorney Chris Melcher's salary to $183,736, which is the same as his salary when he started in October 2011. Council essentially reduced his salary from $187,529 by the amount of the $3,793 raise his boss, Mayor Steve Bach, had since given him. (He also received a bonus along the way.)

Bach's administration argued against the first three actions, asserting the City Charter places all city legal matters in the hands of the city attorney, who's appointed by the mayor, and that Council has no entitlement to its own independent legal opinion on anything. But during the dustup at an informal meeting with Council on Tuesday morning, Bach acknowledged Council's authority to set Melcher's pay, as prescribed by the charter.

"I acknowledge your authority to set the salary," Bach said. "To bring this forward in a vote today without discussion with me … to cram down his salary, I think is inappropriate. It’s disappointing we would have it come down this way.

"I met with [Councilor] Jill Gaebler. I met with [Council President] Keith King. I met with [Council President Pro Tem] Merv Bennett, all of whom have expressed serious concerns about our city attorney. I asked all three of them to give me something in writing I could then use as the basis for a counseling session if it’s serious enough to take action on. If the performance is unacceptable, let's deal with that."

Councilor Don Knight called Bach on that statement, saying, "There was a letter sent by the previous Council. There was a letter sent by President King in June of this year." He added that Council adopted an ordinance a year ago directing the city attorney to redo language in a Memorial Hospital document. "That still has not been done," Knight said. "I think we’ve expressed our desires in writing and verbally."

We don't have the June letter Knight referred to, but we did obtain a copy of a letter sent to Bach by former Council President Scott Hente and then-President Pro Tem Jan Martin, dated Feb. 15, 2013.

The three-page letter is a detailed account of how they say Melcher had fallen short, from failing to inform Council in a timely way of litigation, to chronically failing to meet deadlines with legal advice and on agenda items, to providing policy opinions instead of legal advice. Here are a few examples:

• "Council and Utilities Board [comprised of Council] requests for legal services are not responded to promptly. Legal packets are laden with copies of case law without analysis. Options and alternatives are often not provided, and the means for pursuing alternatives are not described."

• "The City Attorney has released personal statements to the media in conflict with City Council and Utilities Board direction and without notification to City Council or Utilities Board."

• "When City Council requests ordinance or policy drafting, language presented does not always reflect the direction given."

Read the entire document here.

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