About the strong mayor proposal for Colorado Springs

Citizens for Accountable Leadership has provided a marked up charter proposed for Colorado Springs. Until a few problems are better defined or repaired by ordered discussion of the actual charter, and NOT by court order or by undereducated voters with access only to the summary on the ballot, it is not ready for prime time.

A web page with PDF files is maintained by the authors at documents . They are nicely prepared with changes and the original in marked up form. Please have a look.

The FINAL document will download as a PDF from the text (PDF) .

A companion file, public_input (PDF) purports to describe public input received and acted upon. It seems pretty incomplete and makes one wonder if there ever was any public input.

My thoughts in short:

I do believe that a strong mayor makes sense for what is no longer a small town. But. . . I do worry a whole lot about getting it right.

I'm really worried about the wording of a requirement for election of a Mayor using run-off procedures to require a majority, as opposed to a plurality in the event of more than two candidates. Leaving the details to be determined by a council allows for a whole lot of politics. Costs of run-off voting are important. The roster of voters can be very different at the time of the run-off which can involve a period of additional political maneuvering. There are voting procedures that involve voters ranking their choices on a ballot in such a way that, should their first choice be eliminated the original ballots are counted for their second choice. Calling for that in a charter is reasonable. I doubt that a vote by council could do that without being challenged in court.

The new mayor's salary has to be high enough to attract competence. HeShe will be effectively the CEO of a corporation with some 400 thousand employees. The actual salary probably ought not to be in the charter. We need something like an auction procedure to pick an attractive number.

Temporary replacement of a mayor in the event of emergency must be immediate with no room for argument. The process is mentioned in at least three places and there are inconsistencies. An unpaid Vice Mayor may be a problem.

The city auditor position is so poorly defined that it ought to be removed from the charter and left to the Council. There is a requirement for an outside auditor that makes more sense.

The whole question about city enterprises needs review. It probably should be handled in a completely separate proposal.

My real time comments as I read the proposed charter.

Italics are quotes from the FINAL document of 5/28/2010. That's the one we'll be voting on. The comments were prepared as I read the new charter with the result that some things that bothered me were treated further later in the document. I have tried to provide references. SpringsAccountabilityNow.org has provided some answers. They are included below prefixed with the initials KJW.

2-10 (a)(1) The Mayor shall be elected by a majority, and not a plurality, of votes cast for the office of Mayor according to a run-off election, the procedures for which shall be established by Council.

That is a real change that is not just about a new kind of mayor. If the result is to be obtained using run-off procedures the cost of multiple elections will be a consideration. Can Council be trusted to handle that properly? Will we have costs to the public - stamps for mail in ballots for instance - that are possibly unconstitutional? Or will one of the one-time preference voting techniques, like asking voters to rank the candidates on a single ballot, be used?

KJW: One of the constraints we faced was the "single subject rule" that is a City Code enacted in the 90's to restrict the scope and breadth of initiated efforts. In that vein, our attorneys counseled that outlining the specifics of elections was possibly a violation of that code. As a practical matter, there was discussion our working groups about different ideas as you discussed later in your questions. We were not comfortable from the standpoint of the single subject or encroaching of legislative powers of the Council. The one thing we felt was important was the election of the mayor by a majority, not a plurality. The particulars of how that would be done are currently the purview of the Council and we felt it should not be changed.

2-30 (a) If a vacancy occurs in the office of Mayor, duties and responsibilities of that position shall transfer according to Section 4-20 of this Charter, and , Council shall call an election within ninety (90) days, unless a general municipal election will occur in one hundred eighty (180) days and nominations for the office of Mayor can be timely filed in accord with municipal election law, for the purpose of electing a qualified person to the unexpired term of the office of Mayor.

Vice mayor? Is there going to be one? Sudden death of a mayor requires rapid continuation of duties without argument. In 3-20 There is a requirement that council immediately elect a replacement but immediate is a relative term that needs definition. 4-20 should be referred to as dominant so that no confusion can occur at a critical time.

KJW: Section 4-20 outlines the succession if the Mayor is unable to serve. Essentially, the mayor is succeeded immediately by the President of Council which is defined in 3-20. The election provisions were not changed and remain the same as they are outlined in the Charter.

3-10 (a) All legislative powers of the City shall be vested in the Council, except as otherwise provided by law or this Charter,

The adjective "Legislative" has been added. What does the word mean? It may have to be interpreted by a court someday. There are also "Executive" and "Administrative" functions that are not well defined. We have recently been treated to a problem with the terms "Administrative Judge" and just "Judge".

KJW: There was clarifying discussion about this issue and our attorneys, along with the City Attorney, the Chief Municipal Judge and attorneys serving on the Initiative Review Committee all felt that the terms used were regularly understood by the courts and by citizens and did not need definition. I understand the concern; I think if we tried to define it, we would likely have missed something. So that is how we landed on those terms.

3-10 (e) City Auditor, whose duties, compensation, and tenure of office shall be as prescribed by ordinance.

Sample ordinance: "The Auditor shall immediately approve all reports by the Council." What about 3-160, Independent Audit?

KJW: With the Single subject rule, we did not try to change anything on the City Auditor. There are some ideas floating around on changing the Auditor. We felt the audit function under Council was the best place as a check and balance with a stronger executive.

3-10 (f) The Council shall review and approve by ordinance personnel policies and procedures for all City employees, including civil service employees, but specifically excluding employees of City Utilities and the City's health system;

There is a real possibility that a change is already required here based on acceptance of at least one of the Bruce missives.

KJW: That was an important change. The current policies and procedures are adopted by the manager and can be changed by the City Manager. That is not a proper function for the mayor.

3-70 (1) In any ordinance appropriating funds, the Mayor may disapprove specific line items without disapproving the entire ordinance. After disapproval of specific line items, the ordinance shall be returned to Council to complete the over-ride process as outlined above as to each line item vetoed.

The line item veto is probably a good idea. But its constitutional heritage is in question. It is certainly not OK for the federal congress to allow it. It may, or may not, be allowed in local government.

KJW: When this was discussed, our attorneys did not raise any constitutional objections. I have not asked the question definitively though but I will.

3-70 (2) an ordinance approving bonds to be issued by any City enterprise; an ordinance pertaining to Article VI,

This amounts to approval of ownership of Utilities by the city. It's not so clear. The subject needs to be aired in public well before the election especially as it contradicts items already voted on. 4-30 (c) has the same problem.

KJW: The ownership of Utilities is not addressed in our Amendment. We were attempting to keep the Mayor effort out of the decisions on how to organize or deal with Utilities or the Hospital. They are worthy of their own efforts, both of which are under way.

3-80 Every ordinance shall be published twice in a newspaper or newspapers of general or limited circulation within the City to ensure general coverage in the City with the first publication to be at least ten (10)

This ought to be changed while we're at it to include publication on the internet or a subscribed version of a e-mailing list. What would really be nice is a requirement for working HTML links to all documents referred to in such ordinances. See also 3-140 about "printed" stuff.

KJW: Single subject and we propose no change.

4-30 The Mayor shall not hold any other paid employment position during his or her term in office.

We'll have to pay the mayor at a rate something like the CEO of a corporation with 300,000 employees if we put that requirement on her (or him). Is managing his own investment portfolio a paid position? Are there conflict of interest rues? (13-50) for instance.

KJW: Subject to interpretation, but we felt that they can certainly handle their own portfolio. That is not the position of an employee.

13-20 (a) The Mayor shall be paid an annual salary adjusted by ordinance every four years to coincide with the start of a new mayoral term and shall reflect any change, up or down, over that four-year period in the most local consumer price index for all urban consumers (CPI-U) published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, beginning with an annual salary of $96,000.00 for the first Mayor serving under the Council-Mayor Government in April 2011.

That seems way too low for a full time job. Some sort of auction-like discovery process would be a better way to set the initial salary. BLS data has a terrible record in federal reports of CPI these day. They have recently decided not to include fuel and food from the "core" measurement. The result is less than appropriate CLI increases in Social Security and military benefits. Folks in Colorado Springs are particularly sensitive to that because of the large federal presence.

KJW: This was perhaps the most discussed issue and continues to be discussed. The history of paying elected officials in Colorado Springs is difficult. We surveyed the 10 cities larger and smaller than us to determine the range of salaries, this falls in the lower third. Given our tax burden, we felt that was an appropriate number. It is not commensurate with a corporate salary; there is an element of public service involved in taking the position. It is not unheard of for a Mayor to be paid less than employees that work for him. Indeed, our previous City Manager's salary in 2009 was more than any elected governor or Mayor in the US. If you have followed the situation in Bell, CA, you know that City managers are also often overpaid.

13-50 If any officer or employee is required by law to give bond, he/she shall not be deemed qualified for such office or employment until such bond has been duly filed.

Will that apply to the Mayor? Who will pay for the insurance? It looks as though the Mayor will have to be a rich man in order to accept the job.

KJW: This provision is for Engineers, attorneys, and other professionals that state law requires a bond capability. That is not a Mayor.

15-60 Nothing herein contained shall be construed as preventing the submission to the people of more than one Charter amendment measure at any one election.

Interesting. Two amendments can be approved while they include conflicting text. Sigh. It's too bad that the major change to the charter doesn't include repairing some of the detritus. Are we going to have two "Big Mayor" choices in the next election?

KJW: There are many things in the charter or policy that might be worth changing. But be practical, all things cannot be done at one time. Our idea is a good first step!

Tue Aug 10 13:56:56 MDT 2010
Douglas P. McNutt, PhD
The MacNauchtan Laboratory
7255 Suntide Place
Colorado Springs, CO 80919-1060
voice 719 593 8192
dmcnutt@macnauchtan.com Subject: StrongMayor