Council pushes to hire its own attorney to deal with regional stormwater needs 

Making waves

A super-majority of Colorado Springs City Council was expected to adopt three measures Tuesday, after the Indy's press time, that could set up a big confrontation with Mayor Steve Bach.

Bach and City Attorney Chris Melcher contend that Council can't legally hire its own attorney, a position that's tied the legislative body in knots over the last couple of years ("Law without order," Jan. 26, 2012; "Chris cross," March 6, 2013). In the meantime, Melcher, hired by Bach for his first municipal job and confirmed by Council in September 2011, has issued opinions and made legal moves expanding mayoral authority on various issues.

Here are the Council measures, all of which pivot around stormwater:

• A resolution that calls for taking a regional approach to stormwater management, including creating a long-range financing plan; evaluating the economic impact of addressing stormwater needs; hiring outside counsel with expertise in stormwater issues to develop alternative governance and funding options; and conducting a survey to gauge public support for stormwater projects.

• An ordinance to appropriate $35,000 from the city's reserve fund to help pay for the measures outlined in the regional resolution. The regional effort also includes El Paso County commissioners, who were to approve the regional resolution Tuesday, and Colorado Springs Utilities, for which Council serves as the board of directors.

• A resolution authorizing the hiring of outside legal counsel for the stormwater work.

The trifecta represents the Council's boldest attempt yet to assert its role as a body designed to provide a check against the mayor.

Developer John Cassiani presented the regional Stormwater Task Force's numbers Monday: $850 million in needed capital improvements for drainage and nearly $11 million a year in ongoing maintenance. Normal funding available is only $2.2 million annually for capital and $1.7 million for maintenance.

"There needs to be a dedicated source of funds to get this thing done," Cassiani said.

The task force's next steps are to choose a governance model — either a district or an authority — and to design ballot measures for fees that would be paid by all property owners, nonprofits and government entities included.

An outside attorney is needed, Cassiani said, to make sure legal work for a new entity is as bulletproof as possible against a legal challenge. (The city's Stormwater Enterprise, which began charging fees in 2007, was disbanded after voters approved Issue 300 in 2009.)

Council President Keith King suggested using the Fountain Creek Watershed, Flood Control and Greenway District as a vehicle, but Cassiani said the new agency needs to be as simple as possible, unencumbered by other obligations. Besides, four people from Pueblo County sit on the watershed district board, and the new agency envisioned by the task force wouldn't include Pueblo, he said.

Larry Small, the former Springs vice mayor who runs the watershed district, said every model has advantages and pitfalls. "The only wrong answer to this problem is no answer," Small said.

King, who authored the legal-counsel resolution, said he'd invited the mayor to collaborate on the stormwater effort, but hadn't heard back. Bach, who was expected to speak to Council on Tuesday, has scheduled the release of his plan for stormwater Oct. 9.

In response to an Indy question, King says if Melcher represents the mayor's stormwater plan in opposition to Council direction, the client — Council — will decide if a conflict exists. If that happens, the resolution states that Council's outside counsel would act independently from the city attorney.


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