Steamboat City Council member pushes for more transparency after city’s hiring of his relative stirs controversy | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat City Council member pushes for more transparency after city’s hiring of his relative stirs controversy

Scott Franz

— Steamboat Springs City Council member Tony Connell is working to turn an uncomfortable moment in his council career into a teachable moment.

After being involved in a situation that many of his fellow council members perceived to be a conflict of interest, Connell is apologizing and proposing that the council adopt new written disclosure forms to help prevent similar events in the future.

Several City Council members were critical of city staff’s recent decision to hire Connell’s brother-in-law to vet police station sites that included a property Connell himself has a financial interest in.

Although he recommended the city talk to his brother about the police station project, Connell said he wasn’t aware the city hired Will Welch until an hour before the Jan. 6 council meeting that Welch attended to brief the council on the building sites.

Connell stepped down from the police station discussions because of his financial connection to the potential building site.

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He has since apologized to his fellow council members and the city for the situation, writing in his most recent council report that his errors “led to intrigue and questions which derailed the important questions and deliberation” about the police station.

“I could have solved those questions quickly through proper transparency, disclosure of details and disclosure earlier in the process so that council and the public had time to digest the information,” he wrote.

Connell now is proposing that the council consider using a new written conflict of interest disclosure form to be more transparent and avoid similar situations and controversies in the future.

“What I am suggesting is that I learn from this experience and use some of the best governance practices I have learned from my education on the Yampa Valley Hospital Board,” Connell wrote. “On that board, conflict of interests are fully described in a written form rather than someone just announcing a conflict and leaving the room.”

Council members regularly step down from agenda items because of potential conflicts of interest, but the specific conflicts are not always disclosed to the public.

Connell provided an example of what a written conflict of interest form would look like by including a completed one in his council report that describes his potential conflicts of interest regarding the police station sites.

He specifically describes how he has a limited financial interest in the site on U.S. Highway 40 just south of the Hampton Inn.

He also describes how Welch told him he thought city staff was going to send out a request for proposals, or RFP, that Welch would respond to.

RFPs essentially open up a hire to qualified candidates who want to bid on them.

Connell added he was unaware city staff hired Welch until City Manager Deb Hinsvark called an hour before the last City Council meeting asking where Welch was.

“I take the public trust seriously and have proposed changes to the council for more complete disclosure and transparency when conflicts, or appearance of conflicts, are disclosed and questioned,” Connell wrote in his council report. “I want to use my own miss-steps as an opportunity for process improvements.”

Read Connell’s full disclosure forms and his letter to the council and the city below.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10