Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs City Council candidates have raised a total of more than $30,000 for campaigns this fall. Nearly all of that money has gone toward advertising, whether it be yard signs, radio spots or newspaper advertisements.
In the past week, the tenor of those advertisements has become markedly more hard-hitting. While some appreciate the candidates taking their gloves off and differentiating themselves, others say the negative advertising can be misleading.
"The tenor the ads are starting to take is unfortunate and it gives you an idea of what is at stake," said Councilman Towny Anderson, who hopes to hold his at-large seat against challenger Cari Hermacinski.
At last week's City Council meeting, Anderson and other incumbent City Council members publicly addressed what they feel to be inaccuracies spread by other candidates, specifically claims made regarding the city's affordable housing ordinance and the city's recent purchase of the Iron Horse Inn.
Hermacinski's ads have been particularly blunt in their criticism of the current council. In a newspaper ad criticizing the city's watershed protection ordinance, Hermacinski claims the city used outside consultants and did not involve any other local or regional governments.
The ad angered Stephen Aigner, a Steamboat resident who served on the City's Watershed Protection Ordinance Advisory Committee. Aigner said Hermacinski's ad is untrue. He said the city only used one outside consultant, Boulder water attorney Glenn Porzak.
"The one guy who wasn't local is the best in the state," Aigner said.
Hermacinski said she stands by her ad and the research that went into it. She said her ads are her way of calling out issues and questioning past decisions. In addition to Porzak, Hermacinski said the city used consultants W.W. Wheeler & Associates. Aigner has no recollection of the firm, but Porzak confirmed Friday that W.W. Wheeler is a water-resource engineering firm that was hired by the city to create maps included with the watershed protection ordinance.
The city has an invoice on file from W.W. Wheeler for $5,357 from this year, according to City Manager Alan Lanning. Lanning, who would not respond to Hermacinski's ad but did answer questions about the ordinance, said the term "outside consultant" is a misnomer for Porzak, the city's ongoing water attorney.
"It wasn't an outside consultant, that's the wrong term to use," Lanning said. "As we do with all water-related issues that are complicated, we have Mr. Porzak to assist us."
Porzak was instrumental in the city's formulation of a recreational in-channel diversion, a decree intended to preserve water for recreational uses on the Yampa River. The RICD became law in October 2005.
In another newspaper ad Friday and in a mass e-mail sent Saturday to various members of the community, Hermacinski openly disputes claims that she is "in the pocket of developers."
"Please help me put an end to the untruths and lies that Towny is slinging around," Hermacinski writes in her e-mail. Her advertisement suggests it may be Anderson, not her, that is in developers' pockets.
"Would I like it to be different?" Anderson asked. "Sure, but there's a lot at stake. This is not a surprise. I knew this was coming."
The "in developers' pockets" accusation is one that also has been leveled against council candidates Paul Hughes, Walter Magill, Jon Quinn and Scott Myller.
The charge has been raised mostly by council incumbents - in public forums and their ads - but it also surfaced in an ad placed by the Concerned Citizens for the Future of Steamboat Springs. The ad says, "Don't let the developers and their friends take over City Council."
Forms on file at City Hall show that the Concerned Citizens for the Future of Steamboat Springs is a registered issues committee and that its members are "proponents for incumbent candidates." Cheryl A. Witt of Westminster formed the committee. A message left on Witt's home phone Friday was not returned.
In a newspaper ad placed Friday, City Council President Susan Dellinger ran an ad quoting her opponent Scott Myller as saying, "Maybe it's not the smartest thing to put signs on vacant land, but developers are who are supporting us," at a candidate forum earlier this month. Myller said Friday that he never said the quote. Former City Councilwoman Kathy Connell, who said she attended the session, also said Friday that the quote didn't occur.
"The mudslinging has started on that side," said Myller, who doesn't deny that he has the support of developers. "Developers are people, too. Yeah, they support my stand on things. But if they think I'll do whatever they ask, I'm not going to do that. They just want to see a group of people who can work as a team."
Quinn also questioned the notion that being supported by developers somehow means they have bought him.
"I certainly don't think there are developers out there who think me getting elected is going to be to their advantage," Quinn said. "Development is going to happen. The question is not 'are you for or against development.' The question is, 'how are we going to work together?'"
Quinn also said it was ironic that current council members would accuse their challengers of being pro-development. He believes the accusations are incumbents' way of "circling the wagons" and gaining an advantage.
"The only development these guys have stopped is people remodeling their homes downtown," Quinn said.
Dellinger said there seems to be more negative campaigning and inaccuracies spread this year than in any other council election she can remember.
"Anybody could say anything at any time," Dellinger said. "And I think there have been things said that are not correct."
Dellinger said public campaign events don't allow for much clarification to take place. Her suggestion to voters who hear or read criticisms is to talk to the people accused - or people directly involved in criticized processes and decisions - and question them directly.