Rob Douglas: Scott Ford is a model citizen

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Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

This week, the Steamboat Today reported that economic analyst Scott Ford terminated his relationship with Yampa Valley Data Partners because of political fallout resulting from Ford’s public statements to the Steamboat Springs City Council criticizing the timing and terms of the pending sale of the city’s downtown emergency services building.

As the Today reported, “According to Ford, (Data Partners Executive Director Kate) 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.”

Also according to Ford, after a series of conversations with Nowak, he resigned because he was given three options: terminate his relationship with Data Partners, provide only contracted services with limited public interaction, or continue as before but limiting public activity seen as controversial.

In his resignation letter to Tyler Jacobs, Data Partners’ board chairman and a Steamboat Today employee, Ford noted that the pending sale of the emergency services building was not a matter that Data Partners was involved with and that he was acting as a private citizen when he criticized the deal. Ford set forth what he saw as Data Partners’ bias, writing, “I am confident that if I would have taken a supportive position we would not be having this conversation.”

Ford’s resignation letter makes it clear that Ford views Data Partners’ ultimatum as an assault on his rights as a citizen. “In a career that has spanned almost 40 years, I have never had an organization that I was associated with attempt to limit my rights as a private citizen to speak out. From my perspective, any attempt to do so would be shameful. Too many people have sacrificed much more than I have been asked to in order to protect this fundamental right of citizenship.”

In addition to the financial harm done to Ford by Data Partners’ Hobson’s choice of an ultimatum, Ford’s allegations raise constitutional and legal questions about whether his right to freely criticize the government and his professional relationship with Data Partners were interfered with by a government official and a business association executive — no matter how subtle that interference may have been.

Before this sordid chapter in Steamboat politics deters others from speaking openly on matters of public concern, all those involved should sit down and repair the damage done to Ford in a manner that will restore the sense of community that is the cornerstone of Steamboat.

Citizen participation in government was so important to the Home Rule Charter Commission for Steamboat Springs and to the voters who approved the charter in 1973 that they codified their vision in the prefatory synopsis of the charter, stating, “The underlying concept of this document is the need for a flexible and responsive government. Such a philosophy emphasizes popular involvement and encourages citizen involvement in all matters of local and municipal concern.”

In a city built by those who toiled to create a sense of community — even before those words were recorded in the charter — Scott Ford is a model citizen who gets involved “in all matters of local and municipal concern.” We need more citizens like Ford, not fewer. The Yampa Valley is blessed with citizens who have a broad range of backgrounds and talents that our elected representatives can benefit from as they make difficult decisions about the future of the valley. But, they will only benefit if those citizens feel they can step forward without fear of retaliation.

To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Comments

Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

Yes, it is crummy that YVDP gave him the choice to be silent or be fired. But YVDP was put in the position by the City and Chamber that pay YVDP. By raising the question of data bias, they were both threatening YVDP's funding if Nowak couldn't silence Scott Ford.

But what really outrages me is that interim City Manager basically said that if you disagree with my plans then I cannot trust your data. Hinsvark would have not questioned Scott's impartiality if he had agreed with immediately selling the public services building. And of all of the people involved, Hinsvark is the one whose job function requires her to respect citizens whom chose to oppose a city plan.

Hinsvark does not claim to have found any errors in the data and ask if those errors might have been the result of bias. The whole question of biased data is a smoke screen because Scott Ford gathered the data long before city proposed what Scott Ford came to oppose. So, Hinsvark's data bias claim would require Scott Ford to have known what City would have done months after receiving the data and then biased the data to affect City policy to his will. And even if he had done that then he failed because the City went ahead with the bad idea anyway. The idea of data bias simply is ridiculous.

It is abundantly clear that Hinsvark brought up data bias only as a club to beat on YVDP to force YVDP to squelch Scott Ford. And that is intolerable efforts by the city to silence a political opponent by costing him his job.

If I was on the city council then I'll tell Hinsvark that she needed to fix what she broke or she is fired. That the city cannot allow any city employee to use the city's power to pressure a political opponent to be silent.

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Werner Schnydrig 1 year, 3 months ago

It strikes me that the interim City Manager is behaving in a tyrannical manner. Hope this is simply a phase she will grow out of.

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john bailey 1 year, 3 months ago

hum, city keeps getting ickier. most things scott wedel says make me just shake my head, but this time , i gotta tell ya , go get em scott. this is a sham. wonder if any of our visitors see this and wonder?

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Zac Brennan 1 year, 3 months ago

Yes, John a guest commented to me after watching a city council meeting on Steamboat channel 10 how angry and mean the mood appeared to he and his wife.

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john bailey 1 year, 3 months ago

i figured so, Zac, i try to explain our town , to my visitors , that imagine an onion , as you peel the layers back, you may not like what you see. the county on the other hand. ahhh the county, fresh air and at least you know what the smell is and where its coming from,...not sure if i mentioned this, GO BRONCOS ;0)

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maynardshort 1 year, 3 months ago

I presume that the column today, is but an extension of "The Best of The Boat" !

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Fred Duckels 1 year, 3 months ago

I don't know anything about the data or it's conclusions but I signed the letter because it seemed that in poor times we seldom see any private sector wheeling and dealing. Why are those fresh from the Iron Horse debacle with no skin in the gam so eager to right the ship?

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

Fred,

Sad to see that you signed the letter. Just as Scott Ford's integrity is now in doubt by writing the letter, your integrity and general competence should be doubted by the city. Certainly, by signing the letter then your business sense and ability to manage are to be questioned.

That is why Hinsvark's communications to YVDP regarding Scott Ford is so evil. When disagreeing with the City becomes grounds for the City to question a person's integrity then anyone not on board with the City is under threat. And so then local business owners dare not speak against the City.

This week is was to squeeze YVDP to get them to silence Scott Ford. Who else gets silenced? Oh, that's right, we will never know because people just went silent to keep their city contracts. Hinsvark doesn't even have to threaten them any more. They now see the consequences of speaking up and it isn't pleasant. So now they know to say nothing and not be seen so that the City and Hinsvark have no reason to notice and question their integrity.

And what does Public Services Director Joel Rae really think about the prospect of moving into temporary facilities with only a vague sketch of a plan for building new facilities? Pretty obvious that independent thinking is not appreciated in Hinsvark's City Hall. It is always easier to get on board than to walk the plank.

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Mark Ruckman 1 year, 3 months ago

This could have been simply avoided if Mr. Ford had stated in his letter and any public commentary that his views are as a citizen and in no way associated with YVDP.

The fact he didn't state such, one could wonder if he was using his association to throw more weight behind his statements. Only one person knows for sure.

Maybe the right way to handle this situation was to ask Mr. Ford to signify when he was speaking for YVDP and as a citizen, then if he crossed the line fire him.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

Is everyone supposed to list all of the organizations they don't represent? He wasn't representing an EDC, CMC, fly fishers, a local political party, any religion and so on. Thus, since he did not state he was representing the YVDP and did not mention the YVDP as his employer or in any other way, there was no reason to believe he was representing the YVDP

Since any one person can be part of many different organizations, unless someone says they are representing an organization then it is understood that they are not representing any organization. Sometimes when an organization is concerned that there might be questions if a person is representing them then the organization will release a statement clearly stating that the person is not representing them on this issue.

The more common case of confusion regarding representation is when someone or some group mentions their employer or church as a part of who they are. So the organization is mentioned, but it is never said whether they were representing the organization.

I believe that Scott Ford handled it correctly because his letter and the newspaper article on the letter never mentioned YVDP. So he had not created any impression that was his responsibility to clarify. If YVDP thought he was too closely associated with them then that is normally handled by releasing a statement say he does not represent YVDP on this issue. That would have been end of a nothing story.

But when Hinsvark raised the issue of data bias and YVCP"s Nowak agreed then he had to resign to maintain his reputation for data integrity which includes that he does not adjust the data to meet the political objectives of those requesting the data.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

I still cannot get over the audacity of Hinsvark suggesting that Scott Ford's rare political activity could be claimed to affect "the reliability of future economic data and information coming from what could be seen as a biased source.”

The credibility of YVDP flowed from Scott Ford and not just from his reputation, but because he sourced all of his data. And if you asked him then he would say exactly how he got his data. Scott Ford did not gain any credibility or enhance his reputation by working with YVDP. His reputation had been established for years. YVDP had no reputation other than Scott Ford's contributions.

Neither has Scott Ford been afraid to comment on controversial issues in the past. In fact, he has commented on the most controversial issues such as SB 700 and airline subsidy tax. No one then claimed there was confusion between Scott Ford and YVDP or that created a looming issue of data bias. The difference this time is that those were more ambivalent comments and those city managers didn't care. But this time interim city manager Hinsvark wanted him stopped and used her power to force YVDP to squelch Scott Ford or to expect a loss of funding (since obviously city wouldn't want data from a "biased" source).

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mark hartless 1 year, 3 months ago

Pretty sad.

Want to find out who the bad guy is in almost every situation?

One usually needn't bother rummaging through all the details; just find out who wants the matter put out into more light and who wants it kept in silence and darkness.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

Seems to me that if Hinsvark applied the standards to herself that she applied to others then the problem of who is being represented is a truly serious problem.

As interim city manager she certainly can speak for the city council. So was there a meeting (that failed to be noticed) where the consensus opinion of the city council was that YVDP had a problem and the City of SB officially needed to communicate the city council's concerns? Or did Hinsvark falsely represent that city council had concerns regarding YVDP and Scott Ford?

As interim city manager she can speak for city administration. But city administration is to be nonpolitical and it would be highly unprofessional to speak towards speculative situations or contractor performance without specific factual issues. Thus, speaking for city administration then it would be highly unprofessional to communicate to YVDP any speculative concerns that their future work could be questioned by YVDP's consultant's political activities. If there was no hint or suggestion that YVDP's previous work was biased then that makes the allegations even more unprofessional.

Hinsvark could have been acting as a private citizen when communicating her concerns to YVDP. Though, it appears clear that YVDP's Nowak and their board believed that Hinsvark was representing the city. As a private citizen is the scenario in which it was not extremely unprofessional to express her concerns to YVDP.

Scott Ford as a data guru has an ethical obligation to report the requested data without bias. The professional obligation is to provide the data allow with the data's sources. Thus, anyone can check for bias by looking at the integrity of the sources and whether the reported data accurately reflected the data source. There is no evidence or suggestion that he ever failed to meet his professional obligation. Since the professional integrity is not a mere matter of reputation, but by sourcing, then the data geek's personal life or political activities does not affect the integrity of the data. Therefore, Scott Ford's political activities never violated his professional ethics.

Meanwhile, Hinsvark either falsely represented that these concerns about YVDP were the consensus of the city council or grossly violated the ethical responsibilities of city administration to not raise speculative concerns regarding a political opponent. Her ethical violations are not mere appearances, but substantial violations of her ethical obligations.

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rhys jones 1 year, 3 months ago

Scott is absolutely correct. Since Hinsvark was acting in her official capacity, and it cost Scott not only financially, but in damage to his professional reputation, I could see how her action exposes the city to monetary damages. Surely there's a shyster out there somewhere who would gladly take this on a contingency basis.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 3 months ago

I doubt Scott Ford would have a legal case worth pursuing.

Hinsvark didn't break any laws. Failing to follow ethical standards is not illegal. And city could argue in court that Scott Ford enhanced his reputation by quitting so there was no damage done. And YVDP could always argue that Scott Ford was too expensive and they were just about to get rid of him when this happened so there are no damages.

The importance of Hinsvark's actions is not really Scott Ford whom is better able than most to stand up for his rights. The real victims are every local business and citizen that now has to consider how the City could use it's power to punish those that speak against what Hinsvark wants. Oak St property owner Steve Lewis now knows that a vindictive interim city manager could deep six plans to revitalize Oak St if he speaks up. Duckels Construction could easily find itself getting fewer city contracts if Hinsvark doesn't like what Fred is saying. And so on.

And with Chamber on her side then it becomes hard to stop her. And with the city council members being silent on this issue and the paper declining to follow up then it will be hard to get the needed public response to stop this sort retribution for opposition political activity from city government.

The point of political retribution is like shooting a hostage. The point is that Hinsvark is willing to do it. No one else needs to be shot to make the point that she is willing to cross that line.

Notably, she has not apologized. A timid YVDP board twisted logic upside down and backwards to defend her actions and retain city contracts. Apparently, this is where the story is supposed to end.

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