Kathy Connell: What’s your view on the court controversy?
April 10, 2004
Q. The Steamboat Springs City Council signed off on a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers this week opposing the location of a new Routt County Justice Center even though county commissioners had made it clear they don’t plan to reconsider the location. What impact do you think the council’s decision will have?
A. I would hope that the Army Corps of Engineers would see that there is a practicable alternative to the location of the courthouse next to the jail. Despite the efforts after the election, the City Council thinks more exploration needs to be done as to how the courthouse can remain downtown before they issue their permit. Our request is not about wetlands in and of itself, it is about revisiting how we can keep and preserve our courthouse and government function within the downtown.
I would hope one positive impact of our decision is that our residents feel that their City Council has appropriately responded to our constituents who have come to recognize the potential negative impacts of losing our courthouse function in our downtown. If we can get more time through the delay of the permit and a successful appeal, another positive impact would be for the county commissioners and the City Council to explore more thoroughly the existing downtown site.
Q. If you were a county commissioner, how might you have handled the justice center decision differently and how would you respond to the steps the council has taken?
A. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I frankly think that the majority of the public does not have a clear appreciation of the enormous amount of effort, time and money that has been spent on this issue by the Routt County commissioners and consultant. So, I really understand their reactions and level of frustration at this point in the process with the public outcry.
That being said, I think that both the City Council and county commissions should have been more pro-active after the election in first revisiting the downtown site. The city was never asked, for example, to explore how we could relax the parking requirements, nor did the City Council members ask that of themselves. However late in the process, our residents have come to understand the research of other communities as to how important it is to preserve our government functioning in the downtown.
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Traffic and economic impact issues are now being realized and our citizens have asked us for support to find time to revisit these concerns.
My belief is that the public did not deny the location; they denied the taxation and the cost. It makes sense to revisit that, regardless of how late in the process.
How would I respond? I would like to think that I would take a hold of my frustration, take a deep breath and call for an immediate joint meeting with the city so that we could sort through fact, fiction, inform ourselves and the public about monies that would need to be spent and take the next steps together.
One of the biggest pitfalls government representatives face is in the timing of when to act after public process has taken place. So often we fail to ask ourselves is this enough public process? In this case, the judge has made an order that impacts timing. This is why I like the idea of a joint appeal to allow time to revisit the downtown again. It’s a matter of dollars and cents, and I feel the county has tried hard to get this done in an affordable fashion.
It will be even more costly to the community to delay this process, are we prepared to pay for that cost? If we have the opportunity to re-visit this, we have the chance for more community buy-in for future decisions both bodies make.
Q. Officials from both the city and county have said the justice center location decision could drive a wedge between the two entities. As someone who worked to repair a previously strained relationship between the city and the county, how concerned are you that this decision will cause old wounds to resurface, and what can be done to prevent that from happening?
A. They key word in your question is “could.” I think the efforts the City Council and county commissioners have made in the past three years to communicate and understand the different mandates and operations of each body has made a huge difference in preventing driving a wedge between the two entities. I think the City Council, residents of Steamboat and our staff understands the amount of frustration the commissioners feel at the timing of this public outcry and we need to respect their feelings. At the same time, the commissioners and council members need to allow each other to be human and then move beyond that to consider the greater good of the whole community. … And we may still differ in opinions of what is right. This process allows us to continue to find and absorb more information about possible solutions. Process is frustrating, can be costly and takes longer than we often have. In the case of the judicial facility, I can understand the frustration vented. Let’s focus, though, on the future solutions not the sensationalism of expression of human feelings. Let’s respect our differences of opinions, not attack each other. How boring it would be if we all thought alike. We get nowhere on community issues when we do not respect differing opinions.
Q. What are the issues that are most likely to be affected by a strained relationship between the city and county?
A. I do not think there will be issues affected by a strained relationship because I think both bodies have developed a real respect and appreciation of each other’s responsibilities. I surely understand the individual county commissioners’ level of frustration, and I think it is perfectly acceptable for each of us to agree to disagree. We would not be representing our broad community if we agreed on everything. They key is for us to respect each other and to continue to have frequent and open dialogue and to resist attacking or speculating about what each other is thinking. The issues facing both bodies, including the justice center, are not one-dimensional and do not have simple solutions.