Ken Brenner's decision to step down as president of the Steamboat Springs City Council and the subsequent appointment of Susan Dellinger to replace him is a move that can strengthen the council.
Brenner was wise to recognize that he is in a better position to advocate for the issues he feels passionately about from a council member's chair. Brenner's political track record makes him a polarizing figure, and that can have a negative impact on the policy-making process when he is in the president's chair. By itself, his leadership of the county's Democratic Party made it difficult for him to work with some groups and individuals.
"I think Ken did the right thing," fellow council member Towny Anderson said. "His passion, his advocacy can get in the way of high performance (by the council)."
Historically, Dellinger has often sided with Brenner on council issues. There are those who perceive her as a solid part of the voting majority that includes Steve Ivancie, Karen Post and Brenner. Some will perceive last week's change as no change at all.
But we believe Dellinger can bring a more pragmatic approach to council business. Dellinger, who was elected to the council in 2003 when she defeated incumbent Bud Romberg by just three votes, is not the political lightning rod Brenner is.
It says something that Dellinger was elected unanimously by her council colleagues to replace Brenner. The hope is that, as president, Dellinger can help guide the council toward consensus rather than try to steer it toward one particular agenda. Council members agreed there is a need for the council president to facilitate and moderate - rather than advocate - in policy discussion. In an appearance before the newspaper's Editorial Board on Tuesday, Dellinger said she is prepared to accept such a role.
One of Dellinger's most immediate challenges will be working on the city's often-adversarial relationships with other entities. The council's relationship with the county commissioners is not what it should be. Also strained is the council's relationship with the Yampa Valley Housing Authority. And the council's consideration of a new watershed ordinance, which Brenner ardently supports, is sure to generate some opposition from the county, area water conservation districts and nearby communities.
Give Brenner credit for recognizing that stepping away from the president's seat allows him to better represent his constituents on council.
"You bet I noticed a difference," Brenner said the day after his first meeting with Dellinger as president. "I felt much more comfortable making a counterpoint than I would as president. And I woke up (Wednesday) morning and took a big sigh of relief, because it is no longer my job to respond to every request to represent the council. You'd be surprised at the amount of responsibility."
Dellinger has a lot of work ahead of her. This council has tackled a number of major issues and has several more coming up from affordable housing to water rights. Dellinger would do well to remember that, as president, leading toward consensus and compromise is often more productive than leading toward a particular point of view.