Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs In December, the city of Steamboat Springs held an open house in the bays of the fire station located in the emergency services building on Yampa Street to promote the city’s plan to sell the building to BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger as the first step toward constructing new police and fire stations at undetermined locations.
During that community forum, then-Interim City Manager Deb Hinsvark was asked by a concerned citizen why the city was rushing the sale and why the city hadn’t sought the services of a real estate professional to market the facility to ensure the city would get the best price possible.
Hinsvark dismissed the question with a curt, “That’s not the way it’s done.”
Fortunately, even though Hinsvark and a majority of the Steamboat Springs City Council ignored a veritable who’s who of longtime Steamboat residents who came before the council that same month to oppose the sale of the emergency services building, the sale imploded because Hinsvark’s ill-conceived plan to temporarily house the police department at the Iron Horse Inn didn’t comply with the city’s building code.
On Tuesday, the city held an open house at the Steamboat Springs Community Center to promote a plan to construct a new police station on three acres of Rita Valentine Park.
This time, through the collective voice of more than 100 Steamboat residents, it was Hinsvark who was effectively and resoundingly told, “That’s not the way it’s done.”
The reaction to Hinsvark’s decision to pursue constructing an 18,000-square-foot police facility in a residential neighborhood, by slicing away a piece of a long-established park that has withstood previous repurposing attempts of far less magnitude, was so predictable it calls into question Hinsvark’s understanding of the character and fabric of Steamboat.
It also calls into question Hinsvark’s political acumen when it comes to the City Council she serves.
The odds that the current council — or any council in the foreseeable future — would approve a ballot measure asking the electorate to appropriate a portion of Rita Valentine Park for a police station are between zero and none.
Given this latest blunder in a series of missteps that have cascaded from a public policy that was flawed from the start — attempting to sell the emergency services building at a bargain-basement price to stimulate “economic development” and “revitalization” on Yampa Street — it’s time for the council to revoke the latitude it handed Hinsvark to “leave no stone unturned” while searching for possible locations for new police headquarters.
In short, it’s time for the council to take control of the process before Hinsvark damages the credibility of the council and city management even further. Otherwise, the next proposal might be met with actual pitchforks instead of the figurative ones on display Tuesday.
It’s also time — in fact, long past time — for the council to specifically direct Hinsvark to stop using Public Safety Director Joel Rae as the point person for the location and construction of new police and fire stations.
As police chief, Rae should be seen as impartial on matters of public import while maintaining the trust and confidence he has earned over years of exemplary service to the city as a police officer, police chief and public safety director. Common sense dictates that the chief law enforcement officer of Steamboat, or any other community, should not be the public face for the site selection and construction of the largest and most expensive publicly funded facility to be built in recent history.
That truism should have been all the more apparent to Hinsvark as the project has been highly controversial from the beginning. In fact, more than once — including at the past council meeting — several council members have indicated they are uncomfortable with Rae walking point on the constantly morphing police station proposal.
If there’s an upside to a process that has been marred from conception because of the council’s mistaken belief that the city should drive private economic development, it’s that the most appropriate location to construct a new police headquarters is finally under consideration.
Where is that location?
The current emergency services building on Yampa Street.
To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.