Steamboat city council, school board candidates face off at election forum | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat city council, school board candidates face off at election forum

Bike Town USA President David Scully

— Thursday night's election forum at The Steamboat Grand brought out differences among the three candidates in the Steamboat Springs City Council District 1 race on the issue of pay raises for city employees.

Candidate Clark Davidson promised he would see that city staffers were fairly compensated. He went further to suggest that measures need to be taken to improve the security they feel in their working environment.

"I will ensure the city staff is fairly compensated and provide a positive work environment." Davidson said in his introductory remarks.

Davidson added that he thinks city staffers have valuable contributions to make in the decision-making process but the sense he has is they are reluctant to engage in those discussions because they "fear repercussions."

The Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors, the Routt County Republican and Democratic parties and the Steamboat Pilot & Today hosted the forum, which was attended by about 75 people. Pilot & Today Editor Lisa Schlichtman served as moderator.

City employees saw their compensation frozen and had their hours reduced by 10 percent at the height of the 2009 recession. However, City Council this month has been contemplating extending market raises to some employees based on a survey of workers in other mountain towns with similar job descriptions.

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Asked by Schlichtman, "Do you support the city's proposed market-rate pay raise plan for employees?" candidate Tony Connell said looking at comparable communities and arriving at a percentage raise might not be the best approach.

"I do believe there are some market rate increases that should be done," Connell said. "But rather than going position by position and looking at only mountain towns is probably not the way to go."

Connell said instead of looking at 4 percent raises, he thinks city government should be offering contingency fees.

"We should hold the line until we see that we are clearly out of the woods," Connell said.

Candidate John Fielding rejected the idea of giving raises right now, particularly dipping into city reserve funds to do so.

"I think it's a very bad idea," Fielding said. "They make an average of $500 more a month than their private-sector counterparts."

He contended that city employees enjoy more vacation time annually and better health insurance benefits than many private-sector employees. Giving pay raises could put the city in a difficult position if tourism were to dry up for six to nine months, he added.

Davidson was more supportive of raises for city employees than his opponents.

"I think a vast amount of city employees deserve raises," Davidson said. "I don't think they need to be jumped up a lot — it should be done over time. City employees in some departments make plenty,” others not.

Earlier, in his introductory remarks, Davidson was critical of the hiring process that led to the promotion of Deb Hinsvark to city manager.

"A current refrain I hear is a concern over our current city leadership," Davidson said. "Right now, our city has undertaken a new nationwide search for a director of parks and recreation," as it should.

He went on to observe the same approach was not taken when the city manager's job opened and added that now, instead of investing in its staff, the city is trying to build a new police station.

Candidates for two contested Steamboat Springs School Board seats also took part.

Roger Good and Tony Rosso are candidates in District 1.

As a former executive in the technology field, Good said, he worked internationally and that prepared him to address the paramount challenge for the Steamboat school system: “How do our students compete in the global economy and the global job market?"

Rosso said the expectations of the community are driving the success of the Steamboat public schools.

"What we have to do is set the bar higher and make sure we're the top school district in the state,” he said. “I think we have the community, the administrators, the teachers and the students to do that."

Candidates Joseph Andrew and Randall Homan are facing off in the District 2 race. Although he has not been elected to a term on the board, Homan was appointed this fall to temporarily fill a vacancy on the board, even as he runs in his first School Board election.

Asked by Schlichtman what the most important issues facing the school district are, Andrew, who attended grades K-12 here and runs two businesses, replied, "security."

"I'm talking about maintaining our current academic standards,” he said. "And also financial security for our teachers and their families so they stay in Steamboat and maintain high academic standards."

Homan who has been an assistant principal at a large elementary school in another state and currently teaches business and wood shop in the South Routt School District, said the Steamboat district has to find a way to build on the accolades it already has won.

"We're trying to create 21st century students," he said. "What curriculum do we have to offer so students become global citizens now that the world is flat. It's a small world now."

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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The forum will be rebroadcast on TV 18 at 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through Election Day. The video also will be posted on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website.

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