Rob Douglas: Who’s driving city policy?

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The Aug. 10, 2012, edition of this column was headlined, “Will Roberts rise to Magill’s challenge?” The column examined complaints about then-Steamboat Springs City Manager Jon Roberts primarily raised by three members of the Steamboat Springs City Council — Walter Magill, Kenny Reisman and Sonja Macys — during that week’s City Council meeting.

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.

Led by Magill, the three wanted Roberts fired. After cooler heads prevailed, Roberts was granted a reprieve while simultaneously being informed by a number of council members about what they perceived as his deficiencies as city manager.

At the top of the list of complaints from Magill, and shared by several other council members, was the failure on the part of Roberts to keep the full City Council informed on issues involving public policy and the operation of the city.

At the time, the Steamboat Today reported Magill’s concerns in “Steamboat City Manager Jon Roberts’ job safe, for now.”

“Magill began the discussion by questioning Roberts’ communication with the council, the community and city staff.

“‘I’d say we have leadership issues. We have communication issues. We have collaboration issues,’ Magill said.

“Magill further criticized Roberts for taking frequent vacations and not sending council members enough emails about city issues, including the recent hiring of a public works director.”

Two months later, realizing he’d lost the support of a majority of the council, Roberts resigned. Roberts’ departure — he’s now the deputy city manager for public works and utilities in Galveston, Texas — led to the appointment of Steamboat Springs’ current city manager, Deb Hinsvark.

Unfortunately, with Hinsvark now fully ensconced, the lack of communication between the city manager and the full council again has become a problem.

While a number of Roberts’ purported weaknesses are absent with Hinsvark, Hinsvark has adopted a managerial style that deliberately keeps a majority of the City Council uninformed about potential changes in public policy even as Hinsvark is discussing and negotiating those changes with others in the community.

While Hinsvark meets weekly with City Council President Bart Kounovsky, a majority of the council is seemingly the last to know about matters of public import undertaken by Hinsvark and her management team. Therefore, at times council members are unable to answer constituent questions about actions undertaken by the management team.

When quizzed about policy changes Hinsvark is discussing or advocating with individuals and organizations across the city without first obtaining direction from a majority of the council to explore the change, some council members state with frustration, “I don’t know anything other than what I’ve read about it in the paper.”

On a range of policies that could significantly impact residents of Steamboat — including potential locations for a new police station, the creation of a parks and recreation tax district and the possible installation of parking meters — Hinsvark has moved forward while a majority of the council remained in the dark.

In the latest example, since last fall Hinsvark has been discussing with Yampa Valley Medical Center the possibility of the hospital and the city partnering to build a new police station and health center at the corner of Pine Grove Road and Central Park Drive.

Bizarrely, while hospital CEO Frank May was discussing the potential partnership with his board of directors — a partnership that would entail the city swapping property it recently obtained through foreclosure with the hospital — Hinsvark didn’t notify the majority of the City Council about her discussions until the day she thought the hospital was going to issue a press release.

So the question is, why has Hinsvark been given a pass for not “communicating” and “collaborating” with the full council when that criticism topped the list of complaints leveled at Roberts?

The simple answer is that a bare majority of the council has been content to allow Hinsvark, with the collaboration of Kounovsky, to drive public policy while most of the council remains out of the loop for far too long.

That cart before the horse style of governing is precisely why the process undertaken to build a new police station — a process Hinsvark has called “absolutely perfect” — has, in reality, been riddled with blunders.

And, it is a wrongheaded style of governing that is depriving the residents of Steamboat of meaningful and timely representation from all seven elected representatives on the council.

To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 9 months, 1 week ago

I think the heart of the problem is that City Council does not have worksessions prior to city council meetings.

The Routt County Commissioners have a full worksession the day before their official meeting. Thus, they have an opportunity to question the county manager on issues of concern without delaying votes on critical issues. It is also a chance for the public to question the information to be presented on an issue and for staff to respond and present more complete information at the meeting.

As for the process for the new police station, it has been so messed up that there is zero trust of the process and I'd expect any decision to end up being put to the voters.

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Dan Hill 9 months, 1 week ago

I think the answer to your question Rob is Deb Hinsvark. Funny, I don't remember her name on any ballot. Or maybe it's Bart Kounovsky, and she's just doing his bidding. That might be appropriate if we had an elected full-time mayor, but we don't. Time for the other City Council members to start reigning this in. If they're being left out of the loop, they need to start kicking some butts.

The site at Pine Grove and the land swap with the hospital is the closest to a good idea I've heard during this whole police station drama. But this is NOT the way you make public policy, especially for major capital investment decisions.

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bill schurman 9 months, 1 week ago

Hinsvark was and is a bad hire. She needs to go.

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Stewart Beall 9 months, 1 week ago

I agree with Rob. The “in the dark” potential land swap with the hospital looks even worse because the newly elected City Council member, Tony Connell, is the Vice Chair of the Yampa Valley Medical Center Boaard of Trustees. Is this not a conflict of interest? And if I am not mistaken, the land we are talking about to build the police station on came back to the city in foreclosure and it belongs to the city’s Affordable Housing fund.

It is time to reign in Deb Hinsvark, and Bart Kounovsky. They are rules, and laws, about performing City business in the open.

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rhys jones 9 months, 1 week ago

Stewart -- "rein in" might be better -- they reign already. Hurry, before your 15 minutes are up.

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Fred Duckels 9 months, 1 week ago

Some of the council could not wait to hire Roberts, are upcoming decisions going to show maturity?

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Carl Dunham 9 months, 1 week ago

Ask about looking at privatization of regional building department services in "the light of day".

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Scott Wedel 9 months, 1 week ago

City has gone through enough city managers and county has gone through few enough county managers that it might be time to wonder if there is a reason for the difference.

I think the big difference is the rarity of city council worksessions. The county commissioners have a worksession prior to most every meeting where they can discuss an issue and seek more information prior to make a decision. That is their normal process.

Meanwhile, the city council only has a worksession for the budget or exceptional circumstances. It is as if the city recognizes that worksessions are a good idea, but wants to do it as rarely as possible.

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cindy constantine 9 months, 1 week ago

Obviously, we as voters just vote in Hinsvark as Mayor (or not) then her/his decisions/policies will be apparent to the voters. As an elected official the paper will obviously (or not) be scrutinizing her/his decisions and policy statements as an elected official. City Council then just becomes a less important partner in granting approval or oversight for an elected official's decisions for the "cities best interests" in how best to utilize taxpayer revenues. . . . . .

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cindy constantine 9 months, 1 week ago

I appreciate a person of action, even if not along my personal priorities, with a purpose and vision that, preferably, corresponds with my beliefs. But I want to VOTE for that individual and want their priorities to align with my vision for the city, state, country. When work priorities are divided (ie: Steamboat's City Council) the "eye is taken off the ball."

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mark hartless 9 months, 1 week ago

Who's Driving City Policy???

I think it's Dr. Seuss...

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Steve Lewis 9 months, 1 week ago

On a positive note, work sessions like Scott suggests would help the communication with all 7 councilors, which seems to be part of the problem. But work sessions do not resolve problems like councilors learning about real estate negotiations months after they begin.

I agree with the column, but I think Rob is too hard on Hinsvark. A city manager goes where the council majority, or its president speaking on their behalf, wants her to go. The premise that real estate negotiations and other events are resulting from "poor communication" makes no sense to me.

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Martha D Young 9 months, 1 week ago

If I can believe what I read, Hinsvark is a rerun of Roberts. Land swap negotiations unknown to Council? Astounding.

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Pat West 9 months ago

Maybe Roberts wasn't the problem. Since he is gone and things remain the same, that would indicate He wasn't running the show either.

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Fred Duckels 9 months ago

All this bedlam could be solved by sound leadership. If present this would not be happening. We need to resort to common sense and let emotion and ideologies remain at the door.

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Scott Wedel 9 months ago

When the city manager presents the city council with solved issued for the city council to approve then things like extended secret negotiations happen.

The craziest part about the secret negotiations is that there appears to be no reason for the secrecy. There is nothing controversial for the hospital in negotiating for a beneficial land swap.

It looks like all the secrecy was desired by the city because there might be political opposition for turning a lot for affordable housing to a commercial use. No private developer could expect to get permission for that. And then the public may be concerned over how much the city is willing to spend to improve the swapped lot.

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Steve Lewis 9 months ago

Stewart,

The street corner lot now owned by the hospital is not the one carrying community housing fund obligations. That would be the other lot discussed above - a Barn Village lot adjacent to the hospital that was set aside to meet the affordable housing obligation of the Barn Village subdivision.

I was on city planning commission then. If I recall correctly the hospital traded a needed road access easement in the new subdivision in exchange for engaging itself in the subdivision's AH obligation and thus this parcel. I'm guessing the hospital later opted for the payment in lieu option and later still defaulted on its PIL. That must be the foreclosure.

Hard to figure if a foreclosure in this case would be for the parcel or the PIL obligation, or both, but that step seems to be done. Either way you are right - the foreclosure proceeds are community housing fund property, and not part of the city's general fund.

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Scott Wedel 9 months ago

According to Routt County assessor's office records, all of the involved lots are owned by the YVMC and the city owns none.

So the terms of the exchange, it looks like the city is promising upzoning from residential to commercial, forgiving an affordable housing obligation, providing improvements to the YVMC's lot and whatever else instead of using simple money to buy a lot.

I haven't signed up for the pay to access county recorder's office so I don't know what were the affordable housing agreement and how it was 'foreclosed" without changing ownership.

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Scott Wedel 9 months ago

Oh wait, the city owns what is labelled public park next in the Barn Village which is in the vicinity.

But that was never foreclosed upon, it was granted to the city as part of the Barn Village subdivision.

Regardless, this looks like what is becoming "typical Hinsvark" of providing such a distorted description of essential facts that anyone opposing her plans could call it lying. Remember how the vacant parcel on Hilltop turned out to be Rita Valentine Park?

Rereading the original article, yeah it looks like the city is proposig trading city own park land in the Barn Village containing the iconic barn and meadow with the ski area in the background. So yep, Hinsvark is once again proposing sacrificing a public park instead of buying a suitable commercial lot.

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Scott Wedel 9 months ago

I just found that the city just did foreclose upon a large residential lot in the Barn Village. That change of ownership is not reflected in the online assessor's records.

I am not sure how in approving the Barn Village was the city put in the position of being the mortgage owner for the amount of nearly $600,000 for that lot. But I doubt it was purchased by the city and was probably extorted by the city from the developer to "compensate" for the "impact" of the subdivision. And now the parcel's obligation to do public good is as land instead of money to acquire another parcel of land.

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Fred Duckels 9 months ago

Our police dept. should "speak softly and carry a big stick" we don't need a monument located in the middle of Coney Island.

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Fred Duckels 9 months ago

Land next to the county complex is available and has been offered for the police station but I suspect that it is a little short on glitz.

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