Steamboat Springs A City Council retreat Saturday that was billed as an opportunity for City Manager Alan Lanning to discuss philosophy with council members appears to also have served as an impromptu review of the city manager.
The half-day retreat was conducted almost entirely in executive, or secret, session. On the Thursday before the retreat, City Council President Loui Antonucci said it was necessary to conduct the meeting in private so council members and Lanning could freely air any frustrations or concerns with one another. State statute permits governmental bodies to meet in secret to discuss personnel matters.
Antonucci said he did not know what level of concern, if any, existed prior to Saturday, but he felt the private setting would lead to a more candid and productive meeting.
"If we just put a Band-Aid on this, it's just going to fester," Antonucci said last week. "I'm just trying to read between the lines and set us up for a successful retreat with Alan."
In the week before Saturday's retreat, Lanning expressed little concern and said he and the council simply needed a chance to get to know one another better.
"It's just designed to talk about some philosophies and expectations," Lanning said last week. "We haven't had a chance to meet yet and just talk to each other - all those touchy-feely things."
Lanning compared the meeting to a "job interview" at which he planned to discuss his background and strengths as a municipal manager.
On Monday, Antonucci said the meeting had a positive outcome and that Lanning's job was "probably not" in danger.
"It was good," Antonucci said Monday. "It really was. I walked into that thing not knowing what to expect. I didn't know if he wanted to stay with the current City Council, and I didn't know if they wanted to stay with him."
City Council President Pro-Tem Cari Hermacinski also said Monday that Lanning's job is not in danger and agreed with Antonucci that Saturday's session was a fruitful one. Hermacinski, who campaigned heavily against the frequency with which the previous City Council met in secret, said Saturday's executive session was appropriate.
On Tuesday, Lanning said he would not discuss the details of a discussion conducted in executive session.
The current City Council is drastically different than the one that hired Lanning in 2006. The November 2007 election saw three incumbents defeated and five new members elected to the seven-member body. The new council not only brought a new policy direction but also questioned the actions of the previous City Council and moved swiftly to reverse some of its decisions.
The city's purchase of the Iron Horse Inn to provide workforce housing was heavily criticized. The previous council and city staff considered the purchase a slam-dunk, and Lanning continued to express his belief that it was a wise purchase even after the new council started to question it. City Council ultimately found there was no fiscally responsible way to sell the property, but it did abandon an original plan to spend $1 million renovating it.
The previous City Council set the wheels in motion last year to end the city's relationship with the Routt County Regional Building Department. That move came at the urging of city officials who have documented several years' worth of concerns with the county department and preferred to hire a contractor to provide building services for the city. The issue was the subject of many tense meetings, some of which included fiery comments from Lanning.
But the new City Council has decided to try to work out its problems with the county, an idea denounced by Lanning at a December City Council meeting.
"We've been working at this for over 20 years," Lanning said at the December meeting. "We've been highlighting problems for 10 (years). How long does it take before you finally decide its not going to work?"
City Council extended its contract with the county and decided to try mending the rift at a meeting in January. Councilman Jon Quinn expressed his feeling that the controversy was the result of clashing of personalities.
"And if that's the case, then quite frankly there might need to be some personnel changes," Quinn said at the January meeting.
When later asked whose personalities he was referring to, Quinn replied, "No comment."