Ad treasurer speaks out

Woman explains involvement with City Council campaign group

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— 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 sbscitizens@gmail.com.

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.

Iron Horse

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."

Comments

Gadfly 7 years, 1 month ago

Two problems: 1) If it will really cost $12 million to pay it off, why are they insisting that the real cost is only $5.8 million? 2) If it's true that they will cover all losses from the affordable housing fund, who told them they could have our money for their project? This deal looks worse all the time. If I want a glass of milk, I buy a quart, not a cow.

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stmbtisoutofcontrol 7 years, 1 month ago

Out with the incumbents. Their secretive actions and back-stabbing techiques need to go. There is no accountability or transparency in our current Council. They seem to be an arrogant bunch who deem that they can do anything they want.

We need a breath of fresh air.

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techno_babble 7 years, 1 month ago

Did I understand this article correctly? Will we taxpayers be subsidising employee housing by $354 per unit per month?

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ptaylor 7 years, 1 month ago

stmbtisoutofcontrol I have no idea why you feel that the incumbents are secretive?? The person in Westminster has listed her name as treasurer, stated why the group was started. IS it POSSIBLE that there may be a group of people that AGREE with the incumbents ideas and may WANT to support that? Why is it so important to know who they are?

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rodcarew 7 years, 1 month ago

Given our land values, all affordable housing is and always will be subsidized by someone: either the community or a developer (when it's required). If it wasn't required to be subsidized, then more developers would be building it of their own accord, which they're not. If we truly value AH, then the subsidy is what we have to accept as the cost of doing business. It's an investment in our community. For those who dont' like it, WHAT IS YOUR SOLUTION? All you want to do is bitch. Long term, this will be looked at as a good decision.

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WZ4EVER 7 years, 1 month ago

I think that disclosing the persons behind these ads is important...when you read these blogs, anonymity is OK, as that's the general rule - if you don't like it, don't post to them or read them. However, ads in the newspaper espousing an opinion carry a different weight as they are read by everyone and it DOES matter who is talking. Good for Steve Lewis for stepping up (although only after criticism was voiced). How about the rest of you, whoever you are?

I can't understand any reason for secrecy in these ads other than fear. Who is behind all this? - it makes a difference no matter which side of the issue your are on; certain persons and positions carry more emphasis or credibility (both positive and negative) depending on your personal point of view. Absent any accountability, they just look mean and dishonest. We can and should do better than this.

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 1 month ago

I don't see a difference between anonymous ads and anonymous online postings. Both can't be held accountable for what they say and just like on the web, you can look away from the ad in the paper.

Both have the right to their opinion and by putting it out in the public, people have the right to call them on it. I agree with WZ4EVER that Steve Lewis deserves props for stepping up to name himself, whether I agree with his position or not. What I do find interesting is that since he claims to be behind the Cari H. ads and put some interesting attendence numbers for her in that ad why Cari hasn't come back and addressed those specifically. If it's not true, dispute it with numbers she can prove, because it looks like she missed a few some things in meetings. That could lead people to think she can't back her claims up.

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sportzmama 7 years, 1 month ago

I'm not here to "bitch" but I do wonder why this would be only for city employees? I work in the private sector and certainly can not afford housing here. I did know that coming in, but it's difficult none the less. If the City is going to purchase something, thus using public funds, which, as we know come from our taxes, I don't think the property should be used solely for City employees. It should be open to anyone who meets qualifications for affordable housing.

As far as secrecy, deceit, etc. by the current City Council, I don't buy that at all. Steamboat is an emerging community and we're faced with some unique situations, so I think it's ok to get creative in our problem solving.

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yampaman 7 years, 1 month ago

ptaylor: allow me to take a crack at your question. . .

Political campaigns--whether it is for US Senate and President or county commissioner or town trustee--are required by law to report how their campaign activities are being funded. Full and immediate disclosure is generally the best way to help voters monitor the influence of campaign money and vote with full knowledge of who is "paying for" and "endorsing" a political message (such as a newspaper advertisement).
The political committee headed by Cheryl Witt of Westminster, Steve Lewis and others was formed to promote the election of incumbent government officials and defeat their opponents. By "knowing who they are," as you put it, we can weigh the information that's presented in the ad (the message) with who is putting the information out there (the messenger). In politics, the messenger is always as important as the message itself, if not more important. (I would also argue that placing campaign display ads in this one-newspaper town requires a higher standard of transparency than these blog postings, but that's a discussion for a different time.)

In forming this secretive campaign committee, our community has been provided with scant information on the messengers, other than they include a Front Range resident who owns and rents out a vacation home condo at the base area and probably is not eligible to even vote in this City Council election. Steve Lewis came forward as the committee's"spokesman," but did so tardily and awkwardly and with an apparent ax to grind. Voters should consider this: if the Cheryl Witt/Steve Lewis attack ads are based on truth and verifiable fact, then why use a secretive political committee to deliver the message with ad in the newspaper? There are many ways to SUPPORT candidates you AGREE with and want to see elected or re-elected: talk to your neighbors, make phone calls, send out letters of support, even make a campaign contribution (which your candidate must dutifully report on his or her campaign finance reports). That takes integrity. To get involved this way, through a cloak-and-dagger committee that pays for hatchet-job newspaper ads, is nothing more than cowardice. And they know that because that's why they hid in the first place, and recruited Cheryl Witt to sign the papers because they wanted to distance themselves from their words. And that's why our community deserves to know who is involved in this group.

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 1 month ago

Yampaman- see my comments about the percentage numbers Lewis used in his "attack" ad. Cari hasn't shown any numbers to dispute it. Being that Steve's on the same Planning Commission, he, along with Cari would have access to those numbers, correct? Where are her numbers to back up her votes and dispute his claims?

As for cloak and dagger...that's what runs this forum. While you are not an elected official yourself...that we know of...you post is pretty obvious being opposed to the PAC in question. How do we know you aren't a Cheryl Witt equivalent posting here? Does it make a difference because this forum doesn't cost money to post instead of posting an ad?

To put it simply: What is the difference between someone posting "Support So-and-So for Whatever because our current So-and-So is an incompetent whatever" on an anonymous post here compared to an anonymous person/group buying an ad in the paper saying the exact same thing?

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corduroy 7 years, 1 month ago

I'd really love to see more candidates touting themselves and why we should vote for them, not just slamming another candidate.

Come on, play nice!

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yampaman 7 years, 1 month ago

"What is the difference between someone posting "Support So-and-So for Whatever because our current So-and-So is an incompetent whatever" on an anonymous post here compared to an anonymous person/group buying an ad in the paper saying the exact same thing?" Kielbasa-: very good question, but ask Lewis or Witt. There must be a difference because they could have made their points anonymously here instead of the cost and bureacracy or creating a political committee and paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for the newspaper ads. Perhaps it has something to do with the size of audience of the newspaper, and the "legitimacy" of newspaper advertisements vs. the nature of blogs as somewhat illegimate on-line scribbling.

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steamvent 7 years, 1 month ago

Steve Lewis: Look before you leap! For once perhaps you might want to explore the truth ... step up and deal with it. You didn't step up like a man with integrity regarding your subversive smear, did youi? You were outted by the newspaper with a great piece of investigative work. Why should Council candidates who have the courage to run for office waste time and effort defending themselves against your carelessly slung mud?

Here is the truth about missed 2007 Steamboat Planning Commission meetings to date:

Kathi Meyer - 1 Rich Levy -1 Cari Hermacinski - 3 Dick Curtis - 3 Scott Myller - 3 Steve Lewis - 3 Nancy Engelken (Chair) - 4 Dana Stopher - 11

An operative word in the process of responsible community members participating in volunteer work endeavors like the Planning Commission is RESPONSIBLE. Try it, Steve. It just might feel good.

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wzstfu 7 years, 1 month ago

I hope all of you who have posted here are voters. This thread has probably been the most intelligent discussion I have ever read on the paper's site. Some very good points have been raised in regards to anonymity. Lewis and Witt could have remained completely anonymous by posting to this site or creating a blog. Instead they took the route of placing a campaign ad and forming a committee. As yampaman has pointed out, there are laws that must be followed. I would also like to agree with corduroy - stop the bullying and get down to business. It's time for change - do not re-elect any of the incumbents.

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stmbtisoutofcontrol 7 years, 1 month ago

Go Steamvent! The facts speak for themselves. Isn't strange that the imcumbents (and others) have to run a smear campaign RATHER than relying on the facts and their success stories? Isn't it time that the City start working with the County and not against it? Isn't it time that the City stop listening to its lawyers and instead listen to the people?

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 1 month ago

Actually, steamvent, all it shows is that Steve Lewis (he did the ad about Cari with the % number), who is not in an election this year, showed up just as much as Cari (and Scott Myller). It looks like BOTH (all 3) were shy about going to meetings. Dana Stopher seems to be the only one at some meetings, from the look. Even the Chairperson didn't attend much. Still, that doesn't make me see how this disputes the % numbers...it only reinforces it.

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Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 1 month ago

Dang! Read that backwards. My bad. I misread that steamvent put the numbers as meeting missed, not attended. So that still reinforces the numbers Lewis gave out. It also means Dana Stopher had better things to do, possibly; not the only one in attendance. Sorry about that!

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steamboatcrazy 7 years, 1 month ago

I think second homeowners are taking over the town. We do not need somone from the "big city" stiring up the chit. They should keep there noses and there politics there. I feel we need to take a closer look at the entire political process. If you fee strong about a position then stand up and be counted and let everyone know who you are.

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stmbtisoutofcontrol 7 years, 1 month ago

Just wait for next week when the incumbents will open up the floodgates with negative advertising. It will be negative and "anonymous".

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RoxyDad 7 years, 1 month ago

Back to the purchase of the Iron Horse. This is to be used for housing city employees like bus drivers. WHY DOESNT THE CITY JUST PAY THE BUS DRIVERS MORE PER HOUR.

  1. That way the employees can pick where they live
  2. They can choose who they live with (instead of the current 4 per house.
  3. They can be married and live with their spouse instead of other employees
  4. They can qualify for a mortgage and buy their own place
  5. The city will not have to become a landlord with all of the associated problems. What is the city going to do with disputes between roomates? What about damage caused by the residences. What about the constant maintenance and upkeep of a older building? What about liability if someone gets hurt on the property and more....

Take all those costs into consideration and divide by the number of employees that can be housed. Take that number and give it to them in salary and be finished with the whole process. If there is a time when there are not enough workers (like now) then the costs will be lower because they are not being paid. With the iron horse the cost will always be there and will actually increase when there are not enough employees because they are expected to contribute 350.00 per month.

Pay the employees more and be finished witht the problem.

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Zalobar 7 years, 1 month ago

Remodel the IronHorse into Condos, Sell them on the free market as studio homes. Make a reasonable profit then buy the next property at the other end of the road and do the same thing. If there are more small attainable units available for ownership it should be good for the towns employee base needs. It will cost us taxpayers nothing. Do not sell them to flippers or employers. Also, Pay the employees more and be finished with the problem.

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