Letter sends city to court

Former councilman filed complaint in October

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— The city is slated to go to court Feb. 4 to dispute a former city councilman's allegation that the city violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

Former Councilman John Ross filed a complaint with the Secretary of State's Office in October.

The complaint said the city violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act when City Council President Kathy Connell handed out a letter supporting the Steamboat Springs Water Authority co-written by City Manager Paul Hughes

On Nov. 5, the proposed water authority was defeated in the general election.

Three days later, the Colorado Division of Administrative Law set a hearing date for the complaint.

The state's administrative court will hear the case Feb. 4 in Denver.

City Attorney Tony Lettunich said the next step for the city is to file an answer to Ross's complaint, go through a discovery process to gather information on the case and file a position 20 days prior to the hearing.

"We will be responding to the complaint certainly in the next few weeks," he said. "We also have an opportunity to submit a discovery request."

Lettunich said there is a possibility the case would not go to court and could be resolved in a summary judgment.

In that case, the city would agree the facts in the complaint are not in dispute, but would argue that what occurred does not constitute a violation.

A hearing would not be needed in the case of a summary judgment, and could save the city money in lawyer's fees and the cost associated with bringing witnesses to Denver.

Ross said the burden of proof is on the person who has filed the complaint, and it is in his hands to gather witnesses and evidence.

In the complaint, Ross said Connell was passing out a two-page letter in front of Safeway on Oct. 20.

The letter was written by Mount Werner Water District Manager Bob Stoddard and Hughes, and ran in the Steamboat Today.

The letter explained the history of the two entities, the power of the proposed water authority board and why the rates between Mount Werner Water and the city were different.

The letter was prepared by city staff during work hours and also used the city's resources, which is in violation of the Fair Campaign Practices Act, Ross said.

He also pointed out that Hughes signed the published letter as the manager of the City of Steamboat Springs, and was directed to write the letter by the council.

"That is not a response as a an individual. That is a response as a city manager under the direction of City Council. That is a whole lot different than any City Council member going out and voicing an opinion as an individual," Ross said.

But Lettunich said the letter was written on Hughes' personal time and city resources were not used to write the letter.

He also pointed to a provision in the Fair Campaign Act that allows up to $50 in public funds to be spent on a ballot issue.

It is also legal, Lettunich said, for City Council members to campaign on their own time and with their own money.

Connell said the complaint is unwarranted and will cost the city thousands of dollars if it goes to a hearing.

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