Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Douglas here.
As we prepare to turn the calendar from 2008 to 2009, the Steamboat Springs City Council is poised to hire our newest new city manager. Before doing so, the council should - as Ricky famously said to Lucy - do some 'splainin.'
The next city manager will be the third in as many years. And, as those playing the home edition of the Steamboat Springs City Government game know, the current finance director is quitting having never completed a full lap around the board, while the city clerk seems trapped on the "involuntary leave" square.
As if a management team where most nameplates begin with the word "interim" is not difficult enough, the council itself is short on experience with five of seven members having just finished their freshman year.
Meanwhile, because of four changes in the past six years, the 2008 edition of the Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Porcelain Doll collection isn't even available. The manufacturer is waiting to see whether Shalee Cunningham lasts long enough to warrant production of her own figurine.
With all the former city officials living on the dole around here, we easily could staff another entire city government and still have a leftover school administration or two to spare.
Ski Town USA has morphed into Severance Package USA.
Although responsibility for all the upheaval during the past four years lies with a wide array of folks in and out of elected office, the current council bears the burden of setting a course that returns tranquility to Steamboat governance. In so doing, the council needs to explain what has transpired in the past year and provide a vision for the future.
This is even more critical because, to date, in a year that has seen tremendous turmoil within and without City Hall, the council has done an inadequate job of communicating with city residents about what has happened, why it happened and what goals they have for the next year.
As with many elected bodies, this council seems to have forgotten that it has an affirmative responsibility to keep the citizens of Steamboat informed and that simply hearing their own voices within the confines of City Hall on Tuesday evenings doesn't fulfill that obligation.
So, before selecting and installing the next victim to be named city manager, the council needs to have an open and honest conversation with city residents concerning a wide range of issues, including:
- Why did the council's relationship with former city manager Alan Lanning fail?
- Why did the council's relationship with soon-to-be former finance director Lisa Rolan fail?
- What has the council learned from the Lanning and Rolan failures to prevent similar failures?
- When will the status of City Clerk Julie Jordan be resolved so that this critical position does not remain in limbo for an extended period?
- Given the recent history of failure in filling top management positions with applicants from outside the city, why has the council chosen that path again?
- Are there no qualified candidates within city staff to fill the city manager vacancy?
- Are there no qualified candidates within city staff that could be groomed for the position of city manager while Wendy DuBord holds the position?
- What steps has the council taken to encourage current city staff to apply for the position of city manager?
- Is the council concerned that current city employees feel alienated by the developing trend of seeking top managers from outside the ranks of current staff?
- How will management prospects from within the ranks of current city employees be developed and encouraged when the top jobs are offered to those from outside the city?
Those 10 questions are a fraction of those that easily come to mind regarding just the issue of personnel. Throw in questions about important upcoming policy issues such as annexation, affordable housing and budget priorities, and the necessity of hearing from the council prior to retaining a new city manager is all the more apparent.
In other words, it's not what the candidates for city manager think that is most relevant and important to city residents - it's what the current crop of policymakers is doing and thinking that is raising questions across the community.
So, before the council invites the public in to ask questions of the city manager finalists, the council should invite the public in to ask questions about the council.
To reach Rob Douglas, email