COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Much of Tuesday's marathon meeting by the Colorado Springs City Council focused on a proposed change to the city charter relating to future transactions involving city parks and open spaces.
A local parks advocacy group, Protect Our Parks, worked with city officials to determine how city park land -- most of which belongs to citizens and can't be sold or exchanged, according to the charter -- could be acquired by a private entity under a specific set of conditions.
The collaboration began after the council received heavy public criticism for previously approving two controversial land exchanges with The Broadmoor, involving a parcel near the Manitou Incline and the Strawberry Fields parcel on the city's southwest side.
POP was a vocal opponent of those transactions.
POP worked with city attorneys on a legal definition of a park, then created a list of parks that could be sold or exchanged.
"We're talking about any city park that's currently in use," said Richard Skorman, city council president. "We're not saying we will be selling or exchanging parks often. But there may be a park that is having issues or isn't being used, and someone may want to buy or trade for it. If we can get more back than we gave away, as we did with the Incline and Strawberry Fields transactions, then we should be able to do that."
To make it happen legally under the city charter, POP worked with the council to develop three options: make a public vote a requirement of any deal, have at least six of the nine council members -- a super majority -- approve a deal, or do nothing.
After a lengthy discussion among the council, city staff and POP, the council chose the public vote option. The council also voted to require a super majority before a public vote.
There was some confusion and disagreement among the council about what they were voting for and how it would work.
"This is just a first reading," said Councilman Andy Pico. "It's not binding until after a second reading. I'll approve these options today but I may vote against them at our next meeting."
Because of the confusion and debate, the council is considering another option: having the public vote on all three options. City Attorney Wynetta Massey is studying whether that can be done.
The discussion highlighted how strongly people feel about city parks.
Tuesday's vote followed a long work session Monday in which the council discussed the parks issue.
In a related matter Tuesday, a city crew fenced in the second and final picnic shelter at troubled Dorchester Park. A dozen workers spent two hours on the job at a park that has been overrun by homeless people.
Police advised the city to close the shelters to stop illegal activity in the park, particularly at night.
City officials are re-evaluating how the park is managed.
In other council business, members voted to put two questions on the November ballot.
The TABOR amendment requires local governments to refund budget surpluses to taxpayers unless those citizens vote in favor of allowing governments to keep the money.
If city taxpayers vote for a refund, the estimated amount is $30 per household.