Question and answer with Steamboat Springs City Manager Jon Roberts
New city manager lands in ideal spot for active lifestyle
April 12, 2009
It’s Monday, Feb. 23, and City Manager Jon Roberts is closing in on his first week as the city of Steamboat Springs’ top administrator. Roberts sat down with At Home just after a gathering of all city employees to discuss unpaid leaves to help ease the city’s budget shortfalls. Up next is a weekly meeting with the top two members of the City Council.
Like many of his days to come, it is one of endless meetings. Roberts’ schedule has been so hectic that there hasn’t been much time to add any personal touches to his City Hall office. But sticking out among the area plans, studies, tax policy reports and other official publications is a copy of “Hiking the Boat II,” a gift from a member of the city’s finance staff who marked her favorite local hikes. Roberts, formerly the city manager of Victorville, Calif., can’t wait to check them out.
In choosing their city manager, Steamboat Springs City Council members were clear they wanted more than an able bureaucrat to run the day-to-day operations of the city. They also hoped to gain an involved member of the broader community. With hobbies such as skiing, skydiving, hiking and scuba diving, Roberts certainly appears to mesh well with Steamboat’s active lifestyle.
At Home: You have lots of adventurous hobbies. Has that always been the case?
Jon Roberts: Yeah. I think it started as a boy growing up. My parents always took the family on adventurous vacations. : Growing up on Catalina Island : we had access to the entire island, so from a very early age I was backpacking, snorkeling, surfing. : My wife and I, when we met in college she liked to backpack, so the two of us then kept backpacking. Then once our children were born we continued that active lifestyle because we wanted our children to be raised in an active environment.
AH: Why was that important to you?
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JR: To give them a well-rounded exposure. These days, children, young people, I think, have a very intense schedule in terms of academics and sports. : We always wanted them to have that balance in terms of appreciation of nature, self-reliance and, you know, getting away from the hectic schedule that even kids follow these days. : We’ve brought all three of our children here before applying for the position. All three of them are very excited about Steamboat and coming to visit whenever they can.
AH: They’re all grown and away?
JR: Two of them are in college, and one is out of college.
AH: You mentioned earlier that you are afraid of heights. How does somebody who’s afraid of heights muster up the courage to sky dive?
JR: (laughs) It’s a different experience. There really isn’t a sensation of falling when you’re free falling. It’s much more a sensation of flying. After the parachute opens and you’re closer to the ground, I just work to overcome those feelings that I could fall. : Just through practice you start to build confidence to overcome the fear.
AH: You’ve mentioned your wife, LeAnn, a bunch and you’ve said before that she would be the better part of the deal with you coming here.
JR: (laughs) More interesting.
AH: Could you elaborate?
JR: Sure. She came from humble beginnings in east Texas and through commitment to academics in high school she was able to earn a scholarship : so she started out at Cal Poly Pomona in the aerospace engineering program. And I think in her junior year she switched to the civil engineering program, which is where we met, and earned a civil engineering degree. : Then she went on to work on her master’s degree : and then our first son was born, and she just completely changed her priorities to raising children. : And their success – particularly the two getting into the Air Force Academy, which academically is very difficult to do – I credit that all to the fact that she took all of her academic skills and applied it to them.
AH: You mentioned being an engineer, and before you were hired, you talked about traffic in town and how you thought there was a few simple things that could be done to alleviate it, but you didn’t want to divulge that. Do you care to share that now, what your ideas are for alleviating that a little bit?
JR: In through town here you’re trying to do several things, which is pretty typical of Steamboat Springs. You have a retail center where you want very friendly pedestrian activity as well as convenient parking. But at the same time you have a federal Highway 40, which serves to move traffic, so those are somewhat competing interests. : I’m aware of some of the latest technologies where you use detection systems to detect the number of vehicles and the number of pedestrians. : The central computer system then makes decisions about allocating time to either your main-through traffic, your pedestrian traffic or your cross-street traffic. And it can customize those programs depending on the time of day, the day of week and the demand.
AH: The City Council was pretty clear they wanted to see a manager who is visible and involved and out in the community a lot. What organizations do you plan to join and how else do you think you’ll fulfill that desire of theirs?
JR: I’m not someone who spends much time sitting behind my desk or even inside of City Hall. : So a large amount of my time will be spending time out in the community both during working hours and before and after working hours, as well. I will join as many organizations as practical. : But in addition to that, even organizations that I’m not a member of, I intend to participate in their meetings, develop a line of communication and be very involved and very visible.
AH: Do you have any phobias (other than height)?
JR: I don’t think that this is a phobia, but I have a real concern about the direction of this country. I’m very concerned about how deeply partisan we are politically and how it’s become a case of, “My side must win at all expense.” And I’m concerned that we’re placing the interests of our political parties ahead of the best interests of our nation.
AH: Do you see any of that in Steamboat?
JR: I have not seen that yet. : The council meeting that I attended had the Thunderhead project, which was a very controversial project, and I did not see that sense that : “Our side must win at all costs.” To me, I see that at the federal level, and certainly in California at the state level, but no, I have not seen that yet (in Steamboat).