Steamboat economic analyst Scott Ford ends relationship with Yampa Valley Data Partners

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Scott Ford

— After more than a decade of working with Yampa Valley Data Partners, Scott Ford is moving on.

The oft-cited economic analyst who handled data work for the nonprofit organization said he decided to resign after he felt he was pressured to not take public stances on controversial civic issues.

Along with Roger Good, Ford wrote an open letter to the Steamboat Springs City Council critiquing the timing and terms of the city's deal to sell its downtown emergency services building to BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger for $2.1 million.

The letter circulated while Yampa Valley Data Partners Executive Director Kate Nowak was on vacation during the first part of December. When she returned from vacation, Ford said, Nowak approached Ford about his involvement with the letter.

According to Ford, Nowak questioned why he had become so involved in the opposition to the sale and that the line between him and the organization as a whole was too "fuzzy." Ford also said Nowak told him Steamboat Springs Interim City Manager Deb Hinsvark and Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association CEO Tom Kern were upset about Ford’s stance on the issue and questioned the reliability of future economic data and information coming from what could be seen as a biased source.

Nowak declined to comment for this article.

Ford said that he did not link himself with Yampa Valley Data Partners when expressing his stance on the building sale and that his letter co-authored with Good was written from the perspective of a private citizen about an issue YVDP was not contracted to work on.

Hinsvark acknowledged that she talked with Nowak after Ford and Good's letter was circulated, but she said she didn't discuss issues related to the city's funding of Yampa Valley Data Partners (the nonprofit received some city funds in 2012) or Ford’s status with the organization. She declined to discuss the nature of the conversation with Nowak.

Hinsvark said she used some economic data from Ford in an early presentation on the deal to sell the emergency services building. Ford said he did a quick calculation of the economic footprint for the companies involved in the sale that was passed from the Chamber to Hinsvark.

Kern said Tuesday that he was sorry to hear that Ford had resigned, and that Ford had always provided solid economic data and information. While he acknowledged that he spoke with Nowak after Ford and Good's letter opposing the sale was circulated, Kern declined to comment on the nature of their conversation.

Following conversations with Nowak, Ford said he was presented with three options: terminate his relationship with YVDP, provide only contracted services with limited public interaction, or continue as before but limiting public activity seen as controversial.

Ford turned in a letter terminating his relationship with YVDP to board Chairman Tyler Jacobs, who works for the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Jacobs and other YVDP board members declined to comment about Ford's departure, but Jacobs issued a statement on behalf of the board Tuesday.

"It was Scott Ford's choice to terminate his relationship with Yampa Valley Data Partners," the statement read. "YVDP wishes to thank Scott for his past service and we wish him all the best in the future."

“It broke my heart,” Ford said about how the issue has been handled. But he said he wasn’t willing to compromise his ability to speak publicly on civic issues.

As a result, his lengthy tenure with Yampa Valley Data Partners is over.

Ford, a self-described numbers geek, said he took to work with YVDP like “a duck to water.”

“After a while, you understand how to operate the databases quickly,” he said. “How you take data and do the necessary analysis so that it becomes actionable information. And that’s the key: How it becomes actionable.”

Life goes on, Ford said, and he “still dig(s) data.”

“I just discover so much stuff. So my antenna is always on looking for data,” he said. “I enjoy the insights that it gives — an understanding of what I would call the complexity of our mosaic.”

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206 or email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

It is extremely disturbing that YVDP Executive Director Nowak, Interim City Manager Hinsvark, Chamber CEO fail to understand what is data research provided by a data guy like Scott Ford. A data guy is not selectively providing facts to justify his master's arguments. A data guy is objectively saying what are the numbers. Scott Ford sources his numbers so anyone can also look up the numbers and see if Scott Ford cherry picked numbers.

As a person that has followed Scott Ford's sources to delve deep into Census and other numbers, I have never found any indication of cherry picking or distorting the meaning of numbers.

It strongly appears that the City via Hinsvark and the Chamber via Kern believe that in giving money to YVDP that they are not buying independently researched facts, but political loyalty.

And most distressing, YVDP Executive Director Nowak agrees. Instead of challenging the City and the Chamber to find any bias in Scott Ford's numbers, she chose to challenge Scott Ford over his political views.

Simply put, it is clear that no one should believe the City or the Chamber when they cite numbers, particularly if those numbers are from YVDP run by Nowak.

This should be a major local story on how the City and Chamber are not interested in facts, but using their money to silence a political opponent. It is also the end of YVDP as a credible organization by Nowak's acceptance that their customers are also buying political loyalty.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 3 months ago

Scott Ford, I'm sorry to read this story. Your passion for the workings of this valley is legendary. It is hard to imagine any citizen could care more about our road ahead than you. This price is unfair, but you made the right choice.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

The public and the City Council should demand an investigation of whether interim city manager actually had communications to YVDP regarding the political activities of a YVDP staff member. It would be the worst sort of anti-democratic action if the city manager expressed concerns to any organization about their member's political activities. And considering the extraordinary efforts by interim city manager Hinsvark has taken to attempt to silence a critic of the sale and construction of public services buildings then why should anyone believe that they are getting honest and balanced opinions from city staff? If Hinsvark is going to reach that far into YVDP to stop criticism then obviously no one in the city staff is going to dare mention any doubts or criticisms. And so staff reports should be expected to have no critical thinking and just follow Hinsvark's directives. And as someone that has read city staff reports, this explains a lot. As I have posted on earlier threads, the city staff reports have no sourced research to support the claims, but are political arguments.

It would be a blatant corruption of the political process if the one time that city officials complain about Scott Ford is when he opposed a proposal by city staff.

It is also a disgrace and a corruption of the democratic process for the Chamber to receive city funding and to attempt to suppress political activity of a person in the community.

The price for Hinsvark and Kern is exposure on how they play hardball politics to get their way and how they public should distrust them. (Remember Chamber CEO Kern also promised 145,000 occupied airline seats if the airline subsidy tax was approved, which turned into about 110,000 seats with many vacant seats after the election. So this sort of "ignore the facts, approve what the Chamber wants" is nothing new.).

As for YVDP, hopefully there is someone left in that organization that understands their most important asset is their reputation for integrity and that Executive Director Nowak just destroyed it by caving to client concerns about a staffer's political activity.

The immediate price for Scott Ford may be high, but he preserves his reputation.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

What should have happened was for Hinsvark to say nothing. The situation to be worried about the perception of bias is when YVDP and Scott Ford argued FOR something wanted by the City. In that situation then it would be possible for the public to wonder if YVDP was being paid to research data and publicly argue for the City's proposal.

But when YVDP staffer Scott Ford argues against a City proposal then that demonstrates YVDP and Scott Ford's INDEPENDENCE from the City and gives greater credibility for when he supports a City proposal. Thus, Hinsvark is not complaining about YVDP's reputation for providing honest facts, but about Scott Ford's independence. That is far worse than anything previous city manager Jon Roberts ever did.

And YVDP Executive Director Nowak should have asked Hinsvark and Kern if they had any evidence of biased data from Scott Ford. Nowak could have double checked Ford's work to be sure there was no bias. And if she found none then should have told Hinsvark and Kern to perform anatomically impossible acts upon themselves.

So now we have city government and YVDP exposed as being run by people with no concern for the facts, but primarily concerned with political obedience.

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John St Pierre 1 year, 3 months ago

Facts are the facts....... when a plan does not work out, the sign of the a true leader is to say "you know after reflection and reviewing the facts maybe this is not such a good plan" its not dig in your heels and ignore the facts and plow forward come hell or high water.... what wold be really convincing is the city manager and the council members who are pushing this to put their jobs on their line and tell us if it does not work out they will resign..... much like the way it works in the real world...
It seems that the city is still rudderless........

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

Rudderless?

More like Titanic with a forceful interim City Manager demanding full speed ahead through the icebergs. And any ship officer that questions that policy is court martialed and sent to the brig.

This is not rudderless. It is fundamentally anti-democratic.

Instead of seeking all sources of informational and moving ahead with a well considered decision, the intent is to ram through the decision that the building must be sold at a discount to BAP.

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Kriss Bergethon 1 year, 3 months ago

I knew Scott Ford's name long before I had ever heard of YVDP. The knowledge, credibility and contribution of Scott will continue, and YVDP will fade away to wherever they were before they hired Scott.

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Clay Ogden 1 year, 3 months ago

Kriss ... well said. I've known Scott for 15 years or so and worked with him for years in numerous roles. His credibility with me is rock solid.

Sadly, this makes a murky situation with questionable due diligence even murkier. It’s really quite an unfortunate turn of events for everyone involved.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

What is most shocking is that there is no dispute of any data. No hint that Scott Ford provided biased or incomplete data to the city or Chamber. No hint that his opposition is based upon data not provided to city.

There is not even a suggestion that his opposition is based upon data and based upon YBDP work. The letter arguing against going forward is simply a good management practices argument.

Paper should be asking for a copy of the correspondence between Hinsvark and YVDP related to this issue. Paper should be asking eachcity council member if they were aware of city staff's attempt to suppress a political opponent? And if they think that is acceptable.

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bill schurman 1 year, 3 months ago

Scott, perhaps this is a subject matter for the PILOT to look into as part of it's "investigative" reporting that they claim that they'll be doing in the "new" Sunday edition.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

Bill,

Think the paper has the bravery to call city employees and ask if they feel able to dissent from the arguments presented by city managers. Ask if they think the city staff report on the sale of public services building and how that jumpstart economic redevelopment on Yampa St is unbiased or if staff reservations and concerns were not allowed to be in the report.

I had a conversation with two city employees some months ago that told me that if they were to tell the city council of their high skill level and how they deserved pay raises that the city would fire them. At the time I found that hard to believe. But with what Hinsvark just did to Scott Ford, it does suggest that city management does not tolerant dissent. And at least some city employees know that.

1

bill schurman 1 year, 3 months ago

Frankly, I was amused when I read that the PILOT will engage in "investigative" reporting. I'll believe that when I see it.

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john bailey 1 year, 3 months ago

well, don't we need to know why the bird fell out of the tree when the train went by . guess mr. ford's not pretty enough for the city. we're laughing at you guys, you know that right, ah country livin...............LOL

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john bailey 1 year, 3 months ago

bill, they gotta hire an investigative reporter first, all they do now is fluff. oh look at the pretty children..................

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Kevin Nerney 1 year, 3 months ago

Hey Scott (Ford that is ) if you need a ride let me know as I'm in charge of that railroad. I wasn't the first and you won't be the last but it is getting as crowded as a subway at rush hour.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 3 months ago

This is still sinking in.

I'm so bummed for Scott Ford. He loved his work. How can it be expressing his opinion is now beyond the pale? For heaven's sake, the man writes a local column. The letter Hinsvark and Kern object to was signed by 70 citizens. Obviously Ford was presenting a solid and widely held argument. It was a mistake by Nowak to agree Ford's political capital there was tied to his YVDP work. Ford's capital was the argument itself, and the 70 who endorsed it.

Let's hope that Nowak reconsiders this situation.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

"Let's hope that Nowak reconsiders this situation."

I hope the City Council is appalled that their interim city manager spoke to YVDP's Nowak about Scott Ford's political involvement on an issue. I hope the City Council writes a letter of apology to YVDP and Scott Ford regarding the unacceptable statements made by their interim city manager that stand against an essential value of a democracy - freedom of political activity without fear of government retribution.

Note sure if it is possible to completely undo what happened because Chamber CEO Kern is within his rights to insist any consulting firm that receives money from the Chamber will completely toe the Chamber's line. What's the point of having accurate lodging forecasts or economic readings if the person providing the data might politically oppose something supported by the Chamber? (sarcasm).

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

It is bad enough that it was the interim city manager that complained to an organization about the political activities on their employee.

That this is political retribution by the interim city manager is made clear if you consider that the city council includes

  • a lawyer whom represents a cellular phone company installing towers around the county. She is able to go before other government boards not as an elected city official.

  • an executive in a leading real estate company that can do his job and no one believes that city of SB is involved in that company's real estate transactions.

  • a computer consulting company that can advocate for technology infrastructure without being claimed as creating a bigger market for his company

And yet the interim city manager can work with them without complaints of conflicts of interest, but instead can see conflicts of interest in the job of a person that opposes a proposed city plan? Any way you look at this situation, it reeks of political retribution.

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jerry carlton 1 year, 3 months ago

I will summarize the 10,000 words above in a very few. Federal government =State government=Steamboat government. "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." I know Scott Ford personally and his integrity is uncorruptible. Unfortunately 98% of politicians are easily corruptible.

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