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Pueblo City Council's press conference spurs heated debate

Pueblo City Council's press conference spurs heated debate

PUEBLO, Colo. - If there was bad blood among some Pueblo City Council members, what happened during Friday's press conference didn't help.

"This is a great day in Pueblo, Colorado. It's not a dark day," said Councilman Chris Kaufman, as he began his remarks. But his optimism didn't seem to last long.

Pueblo City Council President Sandy Daff called for a press conference to defend council against accusations it illegally met behind closed doors to talk about diverting millions of earmarked tax dollars. Councilman Chris Nicoll accused council of meeting in executive session to develop new ways to use the half-cent sales tax earmarked for economic development. Nicoll said Kaufman instigated those meetings.

"Behind closed doors, we did begin this blueprint. All of us did," Kaufman said.

Kaufman said council met privately to talk about ways to spend $41 million collected through the city's half-cent fund. Council wants to use $20 million for various city projects. 

"Our community realizes that $40 million earmarked in the bank to recruit companies to come to our town is unspent opportunity. How do you get people to come to Pueblo when the perception is that we don't take care of our town?" Daff asked the crowd of about 25 people gathered in city chambers.

But neither Daff nor Kaufman felt they owed the public an apology.

"Did city council do anything improper? Absolutely not," Daff said. "In my humble opinion, Chris Nicoll has displayed no respect for this city council."

Daff said council may choose to censure Nicoll for talking to the media earlier this week about what happened in executive session. But when Nicoll took the podium, he wasn't worried.

"What happened today was more of the cover up as far as I'm concerned," Nicoll said.

Nicoll accused Kaufman of holding secret meetings because he didn't want information about a proposed ballot question made public. Kaufman eventually walked out during Nicoll's presentation, but not before Nicoll and the city attorney, Dan Kogovsek, exchanged a war of words.

"Where's your proof that any of this was discussed in executive session?," Kogovsek asked Nicoll.

"Well, when you turn off the tape, sir, there is no proof. That's the problem with executive session," Nicoll replied.

Nicoll said a recorder was turned off during that portion of executive session, as is common procedure, because council was told it was getting legal advice. But many voters are upset, arguing council wasn't seeking legal counsel. It was talking politics.

"It's opening up a bag of worms you might say," said Pueblo resident Ted Freeman.

"I'm disappointed in the way it's handled. I want to see the town strive again. I want to see everyone motivated about being in Pueblo," said Brian Mater, who lives in Pueblo and ran for an at-large council seat in 2013.

Kaufman said council will hold several town hall meetings to talk about how it wants to use money from the economic development tax. He insisted he wants the public to be part of the conversations. 

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