2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Proposed City Attorney ethics policy does not answer key questions, City Council says

Published: July 8, 2014, 6:07 pm, by Monica Mendoza

Several Colorado Springs city attorneys could not answer City Council president Keith King’s question Monday:

 If the City Council asks a city attorney to work on potential legislation, does the executive branch – meaning the Mayor – have access to the work product before it’s complete?

 Attorneys at the City Council work session Monday went around and around on the point that the City Attorney’s Office represents the entire city and that includes both the legislative and executive branches. There naturally would be a sharing of information, they said.

 But there has been three years of growing distrust and several incidents where City Council members asked the City Attorney for legal advice and then found that the legal advice was presented to the mayor before it was presented to the council.

 Is there any privacy for the “client?” King asked.

 The question was raised as the City Council reviewed a proposed City Attorney Legal Ethics Policy, which outlines the functions of the city attorney’s office.

 City Attorney Wynetta Massey took on the project after three years of major thrashing between the former City Attorney Chris Melcher and former and current City Council members over legal advice.

 In September, City Council members told former City Attorney Chris Melcher they would fire him if they could because they didn’t trust him to give them an unbiased opinion – one that did not side with Mayor Steve Bach’s point of view.

 It had been an ongoing theme from the previous council after the city changed from a council-manager form of government to a council-mayor form of government.

 King had said council members would not receive legal opinions from Melcher. Instead they would get pages of policy pushing the mayor’s agenda that did not answer their questions.

 It has become such a hot button issue for the council that it could lead to a ballot question in April, where City Council asks voters to approve a charter change that allows the council to hire its own outside attorney.

 Council told Massey the document was a “good start” but some were not satisfied.

 “Where this still falls short is concerning the issues we have had over the last three years — a clear separation between advocacy and advice. I don’t’ see this document doing this,” said council member Don Knight. “The opinions we have had so far, that are supposedly legal advice, and they advocated one side or the other. I’m looking for how to address that.”