Mayor John Suthers

Mayor John Suthers' powers would change under a proposal that would give veto power over Council votes to refer certain measures to the ballot.

City Council discussed a variety of topics ranging from mayoral veto powers to a raise for City Administrator Emily Evans. The day-long meeting also touched on a pending measure to prevent city employees from keeping their jobs if they run for elective office.

Regarding veto powers, Councilor Don Knight notes the city's code and charter aren't aligned in defining the mayor's veto powers. On one hand, he's allowed to veto any measure referred to voters, including a citizen-initiated measure that requires the circulation of petitions. On the other, he is not allowed to veto such measures.

Several Council members balked at correcting the language to authorize the mayor such broad powers.

City Attorney Wynetta Massey explained that when City Council implemented the charter change to a strong mayor form of government in 2011, it didn't make sense to allow the mayor to veto an initiated ordinance.

But, she added, the question now is, "Whether that determination in 2011 is fair to the administrative branch.

"The reasoning is any ordinance that amends city code or if it’s initiated by voters, that the mayor will essentially be required to enforce it, but the administrative branch doesn’t have the opportunity to weight in about whether it was a good idea from an enforcement perspective," she said.

Council can refer measures to the ballot by resolution, which doesn't allow for a mayoral veto, but both the code and charter should be in sync, Knight and Massey argued.

Council agreed to conduct more research on what type of ballot measure would be required to bring the two guiding documents in line with one another, but postponed any effort to place such a measure before voters at the April 6 city election.

Council also discussed:

• Submitting a measure to voters in April that would lift the restriction that ballot titles be limited to 30 words.

Councilor Wayne Williams noted that El Paso County submitted a measure to voters creating the Rural Transportation Authority and imposing a sales tax to support it. The measure was lengthy, because it listed 80 projects that would be funded with the money. More is better, he says, for the sake of transparency and accountability.

• Requiring city employees who file to run for elective office to resign, unless the mayor or Council allows them to stay employed, which might be the case if an employee wanted to run for a school district seat.

Regardless, whatever measure ultimately is adopted likely will close the door behind Dave Noblitt, a firefighter who plans to run for Council in District 2, a seat currently held by David Geislinger. His candidacy didn't trigger the new ordinance, but rather it arose due to an inconsistency contained in the Personnel Policy Manual, Geislinger said.

Councilor Bill Murray said there should be no granting of waivers to sidestep a prohibition. "We spend so much time cutting the baby in half," he said. "In all these circumstances, there are conflicts of interest. If you want to run for something, you give up your [city] position. It’s as simple as that."

Council will further discuss a rule change in coming weeks.

• A report from Finance Director Charae McDaniel about the city's intent to rebate the city's 2 percent general fund sales tax to restaurants for taxes collected in November and December 2020, and January and February 2021, as a way to assist with impact from the pandemic, which brought shutdowns and bans on indoor dining.

• A proposal from HR to increase City Administrator Evans' annual salary of $103,358 by $10,358, effective Jan. 12 as an adjustment based on salary surveys of similar positions along the Front Range and nationwide.

"Most everybody is very pleased with her performance and this is something we need to do to comply with rules now in place," Council President Richard Skorman said. 

But job performance has nothing to do with it. The change is strictly to bring that salary into sync with those of similar agencies, HR director Mike Sullivan said.

Murray asked during the meeting how Evans' duties have changed or for some other explanation for why she should suddenly be paid $10,358 more. "This is pre-programmed?" he asked. "I have no documentation of why it was [increased]."

Sullivan responded by saying it's "standard procedure."

Senior Reporter

Pam Zubeck is a graduate from Emporia State University. She worked at the Tulsa Tribune before coming to Colorado Springs, where she spent 16 years at the Gazette and in 2009 joined Colorado Publishing House.