Steamboat Springs Seven former members of the Steamboat Springs City Council, including two former presidents, are the latest to challenge the ethics of current Councilman Ken Brenner.
Brenner and colleagues on the current council said the move by the former council members was a political stunt designed to discredit Brenner during an election year.
"This is no small issue," Kathy Connell said Wednesday. "We want people who lead our city to serve by example. I think council, as a body, has got to start to respect others and respect its position."
Connell served on the council for eight years and as its president from November 2001 to November 2003. Connell attended Tuesday night's City Council meeting with former council president Mary Brown and former council members Paula Cooper Black, Les Liman, Pete Wither, Carol Fox and Bud Romberg.
"Because there are those of us who have served on council and who have worked so hard to act in an ethical manner, it makes us question the integrity - collectively and individually - of the council," said Cooper Black, who was elected to council in 1987 and served for 12 years before retiring in 1999.
Romberg said that in ethical questions, "perception is perhaps more important than actual reality."
"I do think it's very important that the council does everything it can to make sure that it has the trust of the community," said Romberg, a council member from 1999 to 2003. "The position on previous councils has always been, 'if there's a question, bring it up.'"
At a council meeting Feb. 6, Steamboat Springs resident Bob Maddox questioned Brenner about the complimentary ski pass Brenner has for years received from Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. Brenner said the pass is related to his volunteer work in ski coaching and race management, not to his work as a council member. That position has been supported by ski officials; still, Brenner returned the pass last week.
"Ken has dealt with it and returned the pass. I consider the issue closed," City Council President Pro-tem Steve Ivancie said at Tuesday's meeting.
But later, during the public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting, former City Manager Paul Hughes accused Brenner of using his council position to request free golf at Haymaker Golf Course last summer.
Brenner said he simply accepted an invitation from Haymaker professional Hank Franks to play a nine-hole round and inquired about the possibility of acquiring golf passes for council members and city staff.
Councilman Towny Anderson said by not disclosing the ski pass, Brenner made an "error in judgment" that does not warrant the resulting backlash, which Anderson described Wednesday as "a not-so-subtle going for blood."
"It's pouncing on an opportunity to go after somebody, and it comes across with virtually no credibility whatsoever," Anderson said. "This is a pathetic attempt to discredit Ken."
Connell said the incident is "not a witch hunt" by former council members or by Hughes, who was fired by the council in December 2005, when Brenner was council president.
"In my mind it has nothing to do with Ken personally, it has to do with his behavior as a political figure," Cooper Black added. "We would feel that way about any council member that acted inappropriately."
Connell said "there are hard feelings" toward Brenner from some community members and local political figures, partly due, she said, to previous council campaigns.
In November, five of the seven council seats - including those held by Brenner, Anderson, Karen Post, Susan Dellinger and Paul Strong - will be on the ballot.
"Of course every citizen has the right to ask ethical questions of their elected officials, and we want to reflect a high standard of ethical behavior," Brenner said. "Are we suddenly aware of an ethical problem with our City Council or is this just a really early beginning to the fall election campaign?"
Anderson agreed. He called the accusations "political grandstanding."
Cooper Black said she hopes the council will further consider ethical questions at future meetings.
"It's a small town, and everybody knows what's going on," she said. "The fact that the questions have arisen means they deserve to be discussed in public."