Hermacinski says record speaks for itself | SteamboatToday.com

Hermacinski says record speaks for itself

Brandon Gee

Old Town residents Kevin Bennett and Cari Hermacinski are running against each other for the Steamboat Springs City Council District 1 seat.

— Whether or not you agree with her politics, voters would be hard-pressed to say Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski hasn’t kept her 2007 campaign promises.

Hermacinski defeated former Councilman Towny Anderson with more than 60 percent of the vote in the November 2007 election after running a campaign focused on open and transparent government, fiscal responsibility, and repairing the city’s relationship with Routt County and the Yampa Valley Housing Authority.

In the two years since, the City Council has balanced its budget, embraced the Yampa Valley Housing Authority and the Routt County Regional Building Department and reduced the frequency with which it meets in executive, or secret, session.

Although state laws allow public bodies to meet in executive session to discuss sensitive matters such as real estate transactions and personnel decisions, Hermacinski is fond of saying the laws don’t mandate such closed-door meetings.

From its first meeting Nov. 13, 2007, through its last scheduled meeting Nov. 3, the current City Council has held an executive session at about a quarter of its meetings. The 2005-07 council met in executive session at about half of its meetings.

“Whether you disagree or agree with what the person representing you is doing, you need to be accountable. The way you do it is by being open,” Hermacinski said. “You’ve got to be able to say what you believe publicly and stand behind that.”

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Cutting the frequency of executive sessions hasn’t been easy, Hermacinski said. At agenda review meetings, she said she often has to threaten to “throw a fit” to prevent an executive session from being scheduled.

Hermacinski also has publicly challenged her fellow council members and city employees about some issues. She insisted that final interviews of city manager candidates be conducted in public, despite initial objections of City Council President Loui Antonucci and City Attorney Tony Lettunich. And in an effort to scale back the city’s 2009 budget, she openly challenged former Finance Director Lisa Rolan’s prediction that sales tax would decrease only 4 percent. Through August, city sales tax revenues are down about 17 percent.

“My mom says I’m like a puppy who grabs a hold of your pant leg and doesn’t let go until it gets its way,” Hermacinski said.

Linkage suspension

There are some who feel the same way about Hermacinski, but they express it in less affectionate terms.

“In my opinion, Cari hasn’t really proved that she can work as a team player,” Councilman Steve Ivancie said. “She tends to want to cut to the chase quickly. : Some people approach this work as if they have all the answers, and I don’t.”

Ivancie, who is reaching his term limit, said he supports former council member Kevin Bennett in the race for the seat he’s vacating. He said Hermacinski too often takes a my-way-or-the-highway approach to council business and that he was turned off by her efforts to reverse some of the policies of the previous council.

“Kevin builds on previous accomplishments,” Ivancie said. “Cari seemed to come in there with an attitude to dismantle. : Kevin believes in what the good government can do. Cari’s philosophy of government is that many times, government is the problem.”

Among his examples, Ivancie cites an effort led by Hermacinski to rework the city’s affordable housing ordinance, the No. 1 policy initiative of the previous City Council. Hermacinski successfully pushed for the suspension of linkage, an impact fee, and has led an effort to replace the city’s complex inclusionary zoning policy with simpler compliance methods.

Hermacinski counts it as one of her top accomplishments on the council.

“I thought suspending linkage was really good for the community because, you know, I don’t think it’s something that’s good in any economic environment and especially right now,” she said, adding that linkage tacked on a six-figure fee to the development of even modest-sized office buildings and is thus a barrier to job creation. “We lose that kind of job we say we’re after.”

Other council members are fond of Hermacinski. Councilman Jon Quinn has gone as far as to allow his words to be used in Hermacinski’s campaign advertisements.

“She really has her heart in the right place,” said Quinn, who said he admires the fact that Hermacinski is willing to challenge city staff and others. “There’s no question that she always comes really prepared.

“I feel like Cari doesn’t have an agenda,” Quinn continued. “That she really reads the materials and tries to approach everything with an open mind and tries to make a decision that’s best for the community.”

Development issues

Asked whether she enjoys the competitive nature of a political campaign, Hermacinski’s grin says it all. Before deciding whether to run for her current two-year, at-large seat or a four-year District 1 seat, Hermacinski often said she wanted to run against the strongest candidate.

A lawyer and small-business owner, Hermacinski said she loves to debate, but she was often frustrated two years ago when incumbent candidates and a particular political committee labeled her and other challengers pawns of the development community. Hermacinski was a city planning commissioner at the time.

“I couldn’t find a case of her voting against any development application,” former Planning Commission Chairman Steve Lewis said during the 2007 campaign.

The sentiment also was fueled by a leaked e-mail Hermacinski wrote to developer Jim Cook in April 2007.

“I am very concerned about the direction this (City Council) is taking this community,” Hermacinski wrote. “I would like to see more vocal and represented involvement of the development community and wonder if you, as a group, are turning your minds to the November elections when 5 of the seats will be up for re-election.”

Hermacinski said she sees no problem with the e-mail or other efforts to reach out to the development community. At the time, she said, about 35 percent of the community was employed by the development and real estate industries.

“You have to make sure you’re reaching out to large demographic groups in a campaign,” Hermacinski said. “I’ve never made a decision that I don’t believe is good for the community at large.”

To a lesser degree, the tag has stuck with Hermacinski. Council candidates Bennett, Ken Solomon and Jim Engelken have said they think the current council is too pro-development, citing decisions such as one amending development standards at the base of Steamboat Ski Area to allow buildings as tall as 105 feet.

Before Hermacinski had chosen which council seat to run for, Engelken said that whoever faced her would be running against “the combined weight of the entire development community.”

Hermacinski said she doesn’t regret any of her votes as a council member, and she thinks she handles issues fairly, regardless of who is involved. She also has been criticized for voting in favor of an ordinance last year that would have prevented city accountants from reconciling building-use-tax deposits on open permits issued during the previous three years. Although Hermacinski was in favor of reconciling permits going forward, she said it was unfair to retroactively enforce the previously ignored reconciliation process.

“Any constituent group would expect that kind of fair treatment from me,” she said. “This time it just happened to be developers.”

Moving forward, Hermacinski described herself as “a pretty boring politician” who will remain focused on the same core issues such as open government and fiscal responsibility. She also is excited about a couple of issues coming up, such as an ordinance that would allow hens to be raised in city limits and a new activity being developed by Routt County Riders and the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. that could help boost local tourism.

“I think that the future of Steamboat, in terms of diversifying its tourism base, is based on all kinds of biking,” she said.

Highlights of Cari Hermacinski’s political career

March 25, 2003

The Steamboat Springs City Council appoints Hermacinski to the city Planning Commission. Her four-year tenure included opposition to later-adopted affordable housing policies known as linkage and inclusionary zoning and support for most development applications including the Edgemont project at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area.

Nov. 6, 2007

Hermacinski defeats incumbent Councilman Towny Anderson by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in the race for a two-year, at-large seat on the Steamboat Springs City Council. The decisive victory followed a contentious campaign that saw Hermacinski and other candidates accused of being “in developers’ pockets.”

Nov. 13, 2007

After being sworn in, a new City Council elects Hermacinski its president pro tem over Councilman Steve Ivancie in a 4-3 vote. Hermacinski wastes no time overturning the work of the previous council and leads a successful push to repeal a moratorium on the demolition of structures deemed historic while a committee was reviewing the city’s historic preservation ordinance.

Winter 2007-08

Hermacinski leads an effort to remove the City Council from quasi-judicial liquor licensing decisions due to liability concerns. The decision followed the controversial revocation of a liquor license held by a Ski Time Square restaurant and bar owner. A hearing officer now hears such cases.

July 19, 2008

City Council reaches a severance agreement with former City Manager Alan Lanning. Hermacinski and Lanning disagreed on issues including the city’s purchase of the Iron Horse Inn, but Hermacinski denies accusations that she intended to fire Lanning from the outset of joining council. The city later hires Jon Roberts to replace Lanning.

August and September 2008

Hermacinski votes in favor of applications from proposed annexations Steamboat 700 and 360 Village to extend the urban growth boundary by a combined 432 acres. Both efforts failed and forced the two developments to reduce their size.

Sept. 26, 2008

Hermacinski voted in favor of an ordinance that would have prevented city accountants from reconciling building-use-tax deposits on open permits issued during the previous three years. The ordinance failed, 4-3. While Hermacinski was in favor of reconciling permits going forward, she said it was unfair to retroactively enforce the previously ignored reconciliation process.

Nov. 18, 2008

Reversing the practice of recent years, the City Council adopts a 2009 city budget that does not include deficit spending and a reduction in city reserves. Hermacinski, one of the main proponents of reducing the budget, votes against the budget because she still thinks revenue projections are too optimistic. Early in 2009, as revenues continue to fall, the council is forced to make drastic cuts including a furlough program for city employees.

Feb. 10, 2009

Hermacinski’s efforts to rewrite the city’s affordable housing ordinance bear fruit when the council votes, 4-3, to both repeal the linkage impact fee and also begin work to replace inclusionary zoning with simpler compliance methods such as a fee in lieu.

July 7, 2009

Council votes unanimously in favor of an ordinance simplifying the development application process for projects at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area. The new process allows buildings as tall as 105 feet by right. The previous height limit was 67 feet, but variances were allowed if mitigated with “public benefits.”

Oct. 13, 2009

Hermacinski is in the minority of a 4-3 vote approving the annexation of Steamboat 700.