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Springs city attorney, council battle over stormwater issue

By Lindsay Watts, Weekend GMC Anchor/Target 13 Investigator , l.watts@krdo.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 07:55:41 AM CST
Updated On: Sep 27 2013 07:06:57 PM CDT

City council members are talking about the showdown over stormwater and the continuing problems they say they're having with the city attorney.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -

City council members are talking about the showdown over stormwater and the continuing problems they say they're having with the city attorney.

At Tuesday night's meeting, council unanimously decided to hire outside counsel to consult about stormwater, and they also voted to cut city attorney Chris Melcher's pay by $4,000. Council members say neither Melcher nor any attorneys in his office have attended a stormwater task force meeting.

"(Melcher) does not provide any opinions or any assistance on the stormwater issue," said council woman Jill Gaebler. "We would just like to have any opinion. We would like any assistance on this issue. This is a huge critical issue. We had three people die this summer--this is easily the most critical issue of our city."

Council members have complained for months about Melcher not giving them the legal help they need. On Tuesday, Council President Keith King told Melcher he would fire him if he could.

"There's been numerous times where it seems, when we ask a question, we have an answer that comes back to us that's maybe not a legal summary of what we're trying to do, but a politically structured answer," said King.

King said he thought outside legal help on stormwater would cost less than $5,000 and that money could be found in the city attorney's office budget since there are open positions there as well as money allotted for outside counsel.

Under the strong mayor form of government, Mayor Steve Bach appoints the city attorney and has the ability to fire him. While the city attorney is supposed to represent both the mayor and council, some argue there's a bias when the mayor and council are at odds, which is the case on stormwater. Council wants to collaborate with El Paso County and Pueblo city and county while Mayor Bach supports a city-run stormwater program which he plans to unveil Oct. 9.

"We are disappointed that the mayor has not involved us or communicated with us on his big roll out on Oct. 9," said Gaebler. "It's another example of how we are just told how the executive branch thinks we should move forward, but we aren't working together on the issue."

KRDO has worked for weeks to set up an interview with Melcher. The city's communication chief said Melcher had to cancel due to a family emergency about 30 minutes before the interview set for Friday morning.

Council members said there have been no meetings scheduled with Bach or Melcher to talk about how to move forward since Tuesday's council meeting.

Council member Val Synder said he believes the strong mayor form of government doesn't lend itself to settling disagreements between the executive and legislative branches.

"I wish I knew how to make things better," said Snyder. "But when you have different people working on different projects, different personalities in the mix, it's just tough to collaborate at times."

King is remaining optimistic, reiterating several times that council, the mayor and city attorney will get issues resolved.

"We want to put this behind us and we want to move forward," said King.

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