A decade starring in ‘City Theater’: Walter Magill reflects on Steamboat City Council tenure
November 13, 2017
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Steamboat Springs City Council members get stuck spinning in circles late at night and, as Councilman Scott Ford likes to say, become 'lost in the sagebrush,' it's been Council President Walter Magill who often reins the council back in and steers it in a more productive direction.
"I have a great deal of respect for Walter," Ford said Monday. "He has been able to manage what I would call the contentious conversations.”
It's a skill Magill has undoubtedly gained from having served for a decade on the council, six years longer than any other council member currently serving has put in.
Ford said council members inevitably get frustrated with one another at times, but Magill hasn’t let that spill over and get in the way of managing sometimes contentious meetings.
“He offers rounded pragmatism," Ford said.
Magill's nickname for the council is unscripted 'city theater.'
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You never know which way the meetings will go, he says, and that excites him.
"And I always enjoy public comment," Magill said last week as he reflected on his council career.
Magill will chair his final minutes of a council meeting Tuesday night in Citizens Hall and end a council career that included four city managers and big changes in the community.
He has to step down due to term limits.
A small business owner with young children, Magill first ran for the council when he was in his 30s.
During his initial campaign, Magill said he wanted council meetings to be televised and he also said he thought the council was spending too much time analyzing city planning approvals.
No residents challenged him in his following two elections to the council.
While Magill insists he's ready to leave the group he has served since 2007, he still sounds like a council member who is ready to tackle city issues for another decade.
As he listed off his accomplishments over the years, he included just as many things he'd still like to see the city accomplish.
In under two minutes, he explained his vision for Howelsen Hill that includes a new parking garage near the rodeo arena and a new restaurant at the base.
He lamented that the city never got a trail all the way out to Heritage Park, Silver Spur and Steamboat II.
Parking will continue to vex the city, he warned.
But there's plenty Magill is proud of, ranging from helping to get council meetings televised to executing millions of dollars of downtown improvements to finally landing the new police station.
He thinks the council handled the arrival of the new marijuana industry responsibly.
And he served on a council that had to make tough budget cuts during the Great Recession.
"I never got my name on a building, which is OK with me," Magill said.
Magill said the best thing councils he has served on did was to be fiscally conservative.
"City staff works hard, and they have a lot of good ideas, but at times, the idea to grow the city employee count has got to be curtailed," he said.
Magill said he approached every vote on council by first asking himself whether it would make Steamboat a better place in five years, or in 10 years.
"The work's not done," he said. "But I'm not going to leave with regret. It was a lot of fun to be on the council. I learned a lot about Steamboat Springs both locally and regionally. And I appreciate working with the staff.
"I feel like it's time to step away," he added.
Magill, who owns a local surveying and engineering company, was named president of the council back in 2015.
He had to steer the city’s elected officials forward during a tough time.
Former City Manager Deb Hinsvark had just been forced out by the council back then, and an internal police investigation had found evidence of a hostile work environment, harassment and violations of city rules at the Steamboat Springs Police Department.
Fast forward to today, and Magill said he thinks the city is in good hands and on the right track.
Behind the scenes, Magill said council members get a lot of “thank-you’s” for their service.
“It’s not that difficult to be on council,” Magill said.
Anyone who has watched recent council members could likely sense Magill's long tenure was approaching the end.
He appears to speak on issues with more passion and lets it show when he's growing impatient with a lack of action by the council.
He also pitched the idea of $1 lift tickets at Howelsen that instead ended up increasing the number of free skiing Sundays.
"I'm gonna miss him," Ford said. "I'm going to miss his historical knowledge. He's done a good job, and I'll also miss his sense of humor. He had some great witticisms."
Former Councilman Jon Quinn was first elected to the council the same year as Magill.
Quinn recalls meetings often went past 11 p.m. back then because the council was weighing such things as the Steamboat 700 annexation and development proposals in Ski Time Square.
"I remember it being an honest-to-god challenge to make it through those meetings," Quinn said. "One of the ways I kept myself awake was to watch Walt and (former city attorney) Tony Lettunich to see who would nod off first. Those were marathons back then."
Quinn said his hat was off to Magill for continuing to serve on the council for so long.
"To have given that much time and energy and commitment to the city is admirable," Quinn said. "It's a huge time commitment, and it's a huge commitment in terms of energy."
So what's next for Magill?
The soon-to-be former councilman said he plans to be involved in helping to shape the vision for Howelsen.
He's also thinking about lobbying Routt County and the city to work on a trail extension that would finally get to west Steamboat.
Magill will be honored Tuesday night at a reception at Citizens Hall shortly into the council meeting, which starts at 5 p.m.
"I'll continue to stay involved," Magill said. "I love this place."