Jan 23, 2014 1:55 AM by Zach Thaxton
A man fired by Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach after less than a month on the job as a research analyst for City Council says he's a "political pawn" in the ongoing power struggle between the executive mayor and the City's legislative branch. George Culpepper laid down the gauntlet against Bach Wednesday evening in a special meeting held by City Council for the explicit purpose of hearing Culpepper's grievances.
Occasionally welling into tears, Culpepper explained what he perceives as a culture of fear among City staffers, nervous "they might be next" to be fired by Bach. "Three weeks ago, I didn't think I was next," Culpepper said. "But I was next." Culpepper says he was fired for making contact with Alaska Airlines regarding whether Colorado's legalization of possession of recreational marijuana would affect airlines' relationships with airports in the state and Colorado Springs Airport in particular. Culpepper says he was asked to research those potential consequences by City Council in his role as a legislative analyst. He says that once Bach got word that Council was making specific inquiries of airport carriers through Culpepper without Bach's knowledge or approval, he was promptly terminated. "I know now that since my job was to gather information for you, analyze matters for you and, if asked, advise you, it was only a matter of time before I would be terminated by the mayor," Culpepper told Council.
Culpepper explained that he was initially offered "$12,100 and three months' health and dental in exchange for my agreeing to a confidentiality, non-disparaging agreement" by City Human Resources Director Mike Sullivan, but that the offer was later rescinded, he believes at the direction of Bach.
City Council intently listened to Culpepper's prepared remarks against the stern advice of Interim City Attorney Wynetta Massey. "It is the legal advice of the City Attorney's office that this matter is solely within the purview of the mayor and that this matter should not be discussed in open or closed session," Massey said. She explained that, according to the City Charter, all City employees, with the exception of the City Auditor and the CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities, are "under the supervision and control of the mayor." Since Culpepper's firing was a personnel issue regarding an employee of the mayor and not the City Council, Massey advised that Culpepper's remarks not be heard by Council in public or in private. Council proceeded anyway and listened as Culpepper explained the hardship his firing has caused for him, his wife, and their two children. "You, as Council, and the people of Colorado Springs should know how the mayor is conducting himself in this matter," Culpepper said, "that he is willing to treat employees as political pawns."
Against Massey's legal recommendation, some Councilmembers made statements of their own on the issue. "This mayor has essentially paid off former employees to keep them quiet with hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars," said Councilor Joel Miller, who said he has been personally threatened by the mayor. "During a meeting with Mayor Bach last year, he informed me that if I persist in airing grievances on Facebook and other media, there would be 'consequences.'," Miller said. Council President Keith King said the City's legislative body needs to have someone who can assist them in research and analysis without fearing they could be fired if their findings conflict with the mayor's. "I'm not doing this for tension. I'm not doing this to ratchet up anything," King said. "I'm doing this because I was elected to serve the people of Colorado Springs and to do a good job as part of the legislative body."
Mayor Bach was not present for Wednesday's special meeting, which followed the regular monthly meeting of the Colorado Springs Utilities Board. The City has hired an outside law firm to handle the Culpepper issue and has largely avoided comment on the matter.