Questioning the status quo | SteamboatToday.com

Questioning the status quo

School Board, City Council incumbents under fire at forum

Brandon Gee

Sandy Evans Hall, right, and Dean Vogelaar listen to a city council candidate's speech at the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association's lunchtime forum at the Three Peaks Grill on Wednesday.

— When no one else submitted a question for Steamboat Springs School Board candidates at a Wednesday forum, Jon Quinn stepped up to the plate.

Quinn attended the forum hosted by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association – the first of two forums Wednesday – as a candidate for Steamboat Springs City Council, opposing incumbent Karen Post. But he also took an opportunity to question potential School Board members, noting that each of the candidates had mentioned fiscal responsibility as one of their goals. Quinn asked whether it was fiscally responsible to buy out the contract of Donna Howell, former superintendent of the Steamboat Springs School District.

The August buyout cost the school district $348,490, including taxes, fees and benefits Howell would have received regardless of when she left her position.

“I do not believe spending nearly $400,000 to fire a superintendent without cause was the best use of taxpayers’ money,” said Lisa Brown, who is running unopposed for a District 2 School Board seat.

Two other School Board candidates, who Brown has been jointly campaigning with, shared her view. Laura Anderson, who is running for a District 5 seat against incumbent Jerry Kozatch, said the decision is one of the reasons she is running for School Board. Mike Loomis, who spoke on behalf of District 4 candidate Robin Crossan, said Crossan also disagreed with the decision to fire Howell. Crossan is running against incumbent Char Rusk. All the candidates are seeking a four-year term.

The incumbents defended the School Board’s decision to let Howell go. Rusk said the fiscally irresponsible move was not firing Howell, but giving her an unprecedented contract with a large buyout clause two years ago. Rusk was appointed to the School Board in June. Kozatch said Howell’s firing was necessary for the health of the school district.

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“In a toxic environment, everyone suffers,” Kozatch said.

Critique, defense

Current City Council members also received an impromptu performance review at the Chamber forum.

The most scathing criticisms came from former City Manager Paul Hughes, who was fired by City Council in December 2005 after seven years on the job. Hughes is running against Meg Bentley for a four-year District 2 council seat.

“I believe I can help restore integrity, competence and credibility to a council that could use all three,” Hughes said. “It’s fair to say I know more about municipal operations in general, and Steamboat Springs operations in particular, than any other candidate or current member of council.”

Bentley said she is “not a politician” and focused her comments on managing Steamboat’s growth while preserving its character.

“I will support growth-management legislation,” Bentley said. “If we’re to survive with anything we value, we must adopt a long-term plan.”

City Council incumbents defended their work. Towny Anderson – who hopes to retain his two-year, at-large seat against challengers Dave McClure and Cari Hermacinski – said many of the current City Council’s accomplishments, such as affordable housing legislation passed earlier this year, won’t become evident for some time.

“What we see today is the result of 20 years of inaction,” Anderson said. “Everyone was concerned about affordable housing; we were the first council to do something about it.”

Other than criticizing council’s recent purchase of the Iron Horse Inn, McClure chose not to disparage the current council and focused mostly on his policy goals, which include establishing a vocational education curriculum in Steamboat, implementing a living wage for hourly workers and starting a city-sponsored health care program.

“We can’t limit folks who want to move here, who want to live here, who want to raise their children here,” the retired University of Tennessee librarian said.

Hermacinski, a member of the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission, said she is running solely because she is so dissatisfied with the current City Council. Among her criticisms, Hermacinski said City Council needs to focus on the needs of the majority rather than special interests and decrease the number of times it meets in executive, or secret, session.

“The idea that all should benefit from government action has been lost to some extent,” Hermacinski said. “I’m standing here because I’m unhappy with the current direction.”

School Board candidates

(All terms four years)

District 2: Lisa Brown (unopposed)

District 4: Char Rusk (incumbent), Robin Crossan

District 5: Jerry Kozatch (incumbent), Laura Anderson

City Council candidates

District 1 (four years): Susan Dellinger (incumbent, council president), Scott Myller

District 2 (four years): Meg Page Bentley, Paul Hughes

District 3 (two years): Vince Arroyo, Walter Magill

District 3 (four years): Karen Post (incumbent), Jon Quinn

At-large (two years): Towny Anderson (incumbent), Cari Hermacinski, Dave McClure

Not up for election: Loui Antonucci (District 2), Steve Ivancie (District 1)

Leaving council: Ken Brenner (District 2, term-limited), Paul Strong (District 3, term-limited)

Upcoming forums

Host: Steamboat Pilot & Today/Steamboat TV18

When: 5 p.m. Monday

Where: Centennial Hall

Host: Steamboat Springs Rotary Club

When: Noon to 1:30 p.m. Oct. 23

Where: Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel