Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Mayor's Proposals Going To Voters
By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
Mayor Martin Chávez might get a lagoon at Tingley Beach after all.
He notified city councilors on Tuesday that the bond projects they approved this month aren't the ones scheduled to go on the Oct. 6 ballot. Instead, it's his proposals that would go before voters.
That's because the council missed a deadline for acting on the projects, Chávez contends. A city ordinance gives the council 60 days to act on bond projects proposed by the mayor.
It took councilors about 90 days to amend and approve the bond package.
City Attorney Bob White authored a one-page opinion saying the mayor's proposal "automatically became effective by operation of law upon the expiration of" the 60-day period, which ended in early March.
But several councilors struck back late Tuesday and accused the mayor of circumventing the council members because they didn't approve his "pet" projects for the ballot. Some said they're willing to consider going to court to uphold their legislation.
"This is outrageous," Councilor Brad Winter said. "It's overstepping (his) authority."
Chávez, for his part, said he can submit a new proposal, which he plans to do even though he believes his earlier proposal is in effect.
"We need to sit down and find compromise and middle ground," he said.
The issue centers on the city's general-obligation bond program, which goes to city voters every two years to pay for roads, streets, parks and other construction projects. The mayor's $160 million proposal was introduced at a council meeting Jan. 5.
The council held several hearings and ultimately amended and approved the bill April 6.
A city ordinance says the council "shall approve the Capital Improvements Program as proposed or shall amend and approve it. Council action shall be within 60 days after it has been submitted by the mayor."
The mayoral administration argues, then, that the council clearly failed to approve or amend the program within 60 days of its Jan. 5 introduction. The council, meanwhile, argues that it merely had to take "action" on the program within 60 days, and it did so by referring the proposal to a committee, which met in late February and voted to defer final action until later.
At stake is what construction projects go before voters this fall.
The mayor's proposal totaled $160 million, including funding for a swimming lagoon at Tingley Beach and a massive soccer complex near Interstate 40 and Paseo del Volcan.
The council ultimately cut funding for both projects. Councilors argued that public testimony favored pushing that money into neighborhood park projects instead.
The council adopted a $155 million proposal by a 7-2 vote a veto-proof majority.
It's not the first time Chávez has basically set aside a council-approved budget. Last year, for example, he said he would ignore some of the council's instructions for the city operating budget because councilors had overstepped their legal authority by intruding on executive functions.
As for this year's bond program, Chávez said Tuesday that he and the council actually agree on 95 percent of the projects. Instead of just imposing his proposal, he said, he will negotiate with councilors to develop an acceptable bill.
"I think the public expects us to work together, and that's what I want to do," Chávez told reporters Tuesday afternoon.
Shortly thereafter, five councilors Winter, Michael Cadigan, Debbie O'Malley, Rey Garduño and Council President Isaac Benton held a news conference critical of the mayor.
"I see this as a blatant grab for power," Cadigan said. The mayor is trying "to take the City Council completely out of the government."
He said the council had asked about the 60-day rule in one of its meetings, but no one from the city Legal Department responded.
O'Malley said the real issue is that "we said 'no' to Tingley, and I think he's very angry."
Benton said he's concerned because White, the city attorney, is also supposed to represent the council.
Garduño said the mayor "should run for City Council" if he wants to do their jobs in addition to his own.