Tom Ross: Reality TV it isn't, but we'll find a way to survive

Decisions made by this City Council will be felt for decades into the future

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Before your holiday calendar fills up, I'd like to invite you all to an open house. You won't have to dress up, but you shouldn't count on feasting on eggnog, sugar cookies and cheese balls, either.

There are actually two dates for you to stop by this month -- Tuesday and Nov. 15. The new Steamboat Springs City Council meets at 5 p.m. on the next two Tuesday evenings. December's calendar of meetings is typically irregular, making November's meetings even more significant.

You'll have to miss some of your favorite Tuesday evening television shows to attend this week -- let's see, "Gilmore Girls" is on the WB, CBS is airing "NCIS," and NBC is broadcasting something called "The Biggest Loser" -- no, I don't think it's a documentary about last week's election. Over on the UPN network, there's some piece of "reality" called "America's Next Top Model."

I would suggest that instead of watching the tube, you take in the thrice-monthly talk show hosted by City Council President Paul Strong. I'm going to resist the temptation to cast Tuesday night's installation of a new City Council as a reality TV show along the lines of "The Great Race" or "Survivor." The work at hand is too important to undermine the dignity of council. At least, not this early in the process.

This month ushers in not just a new era in city government but arguably a turning point in the community. The new council will decide what the redeveloped base of the ski area will look like and how it will function. It will influence the kinds of projects built in downtown Steamboat Springs as the pressure for redevelopment ratchets up. History tells us we'll be living with those new buildings for 50 to 100 years.

Perhaps an even more fateful question is whether city government becomes more of a catalyst for westward expansion of city boundaries. If this council can't find a relief point for the pent-up demand for entry-level housing close to Steamboat, the tempo of the march down valley will almost certainly pick up.

Ultimately, the City Council also will have to weigh the correct balance between tourism and city government's dependence on sales taxes. I won't presume to hint at what is the right path and what is the wrong path -- what is desirable and what is undesirable. My only point in writing this is to solicit your thoughtful participation in the process.

One of the first tasks in front of the City Council is to organize the search to find a replacement for City Manager Paul Hughes, who announced his retirement last week. Finding an individual as adept as Hughes has been at walking the line between serving as an extension of council's will and still proffering forceful advice will be a challenge and an opportunity. This council's ability to choose well will have everything to do with how we move forward in the next six to eight years.

Past city councils have relied upon the help of a citizens' committee in this important task. That will involve a handful of influential people. However, every one of us has a role to play in city government. I've attended more than 100 City Council meetings, and I won't kid you -- they can be tedious at times. More than once throughout the years, I've stifled the urge to stand up and shout, "Get on with it!" But until you've listened to the debate yourself and watched as a panel of citizen volunteers struggles to shape the course of the community, you don't have the standing to whine about city government.

And what fun would life be if we didn't have something to righteously indignant about? Bring your own eggnog and an open mind -- it's going to be a long night.

Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat resident. His column is published every Monday in Steamboat Today.

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