Steamboat Springs A Westminster woman listed as the sole contact for a recently formed political committee, which has funded controversial advertisements about campaigns for Steamboat Springs City Council, said Wednesday that she is a Steamboat property owner trying to "advertise accurate information."
In an e-mail to the Steamboat Pilot & Today, Cheryl Witt confirmed that she is the treasurer for the Concerned Citizens for the Future of Steamboat Springs. In the past week, the committee has created and funded several advertisements that have fueled heated debate in races for City Council.
"When campaign ads and forums started this election, specific references were made to various meetings and topics," Witt said in the e-mail. "A group of people involved in those meetings and discussions were upset by what they felt was a misrepresentation of the facts. They approached me to become the treasurer for an organization that would advertise accurate information.
"Since I am a property owner in Steamboat Springs and am also very concerned about the city's future, I agreed to serve as treasurer," she continued. "Although I am not an official spokesperson for the group, I believe the community deserves the ability to make an untainted, informed decision about candidates and not hear only one side of an issue."
Witt sent the e-mail from a free account set up for the committee. She said any additional questions for the committee should be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Concerned Citizens for the Future of Steamboat Springs committee is on file with the office of Steamboat Springs City Clerk Julie Jordan. While the committee claims its members are "proponents for incumbent candidates" Towny Anderson, Susan Dellinger and Karen Post, its advertisements also have targeted District 2 candidate Paul Hughes, who is not running against an incumbent. Hughes's opponent is longtime Steamboat resident Meg Bentley.
The group was formed after an Oct. 16 deadline to report campaign finances to the city, so its financial contributors so far are unknown. There have been claims the group won't be required to file its finances until next year, but City Clerk Julie Jordan has said she fully expects the group to file its finances by a Nov. 2 deadline and has sent Witt a letter stating such.
On Monday, Steamboat Springs Planning Commissioner Steve Lewis became the first local resident to be identified as a contributor to the secretive political committee, admitting to creating and partially paying for two recent newspaper ads - one criticizing Cari Hermacinski, Anderson's opponent in the at-large race and a fellow Planning Commissioner, and another defending the city's planned purchase of the Iron Horse Inn, intended to provide affordable rental housing for city employees.
Although being touted as a success by city officials and current council members, the city's planned purchase of the Iron Horse Inn has come under fire from many non-incumbent City Council candidates.
The city has the inn under contract and is close to finalizing the $4.05 million deal. Closing, financing and renovation expenses bring the city's total cost for the acquisition to $5.8 million.
In criticisms of the deal, Hughes has said the cost to pay off the debt to fund the purchase would be more than $12 million. Such assertions prompted the City Council last week to publicly dispute the claims and cite the lower figures.
City officials, including Councilman Paul Strong and Deputy City Manager Wendy DuBord, have compared the situation to buying a house or car. When citing the cost of either, they said, you don't say how much it costs after years of paying off a mortgage or car payment.
Opponents also have criticized the fact that the Iron Horse Inn will operate at a loss. At a candidates forum hosted Monday by the Rotary Club of Steamboat Springs, Anderson admitted the inn would lose money, but calculated that the loss equated to $354 per unit per month and said that was a steal considering Steamboat's steep housing market.
City Manager Alan Lanning equated the purchase to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority's recent purchase of the Fish Creek Mobile Home Park, and said it would guarantee affordable housing remains available to Steamboat residents.
"At some point when the debt's paid off, there will be more money available for more projects," Lanning said. "This is really a self-sustaining project at the end of the day. That's why it was so attractive to us."