Steamboat Springs City Council members weigh in on city’s controversial new PR practice | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat Springs City Council members weigh in on city’s controversial new PR practice

Scott Franz

The Steamboat Springs City Council poses for a photo that was included in the city's 2015 annual report.

— Steamboat Springs City Council members have different views on the city’s controversial new PR tactic of having a public relations manager manufacture quotes for city leaders in news releases.

While most of the council members say they won’t let quotes be written for them, some supported the practice.

"I don't have such a problem with it," Councilman Tony Connell said. "I think a professional person is much clearer than I am. I'm just not that articulate. I appreciate having a script and answers scripted for me."

Connell, who plans to resign next month because of increased demands at work, encouraged his fellow elected officials to utilize the city’s new PR manager for help with their future communications to the public.

Councilwoman Robin Crossan shared Connell's position.

"You know what you're thinking, but it's hard sometimes to write that down and get that point across," she said. "I think it's a fair thing to be able to do” to consult with a PR professional or other council members.

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But several other council members said they won't let the new communications position help them produce more polished quotes in city news releases.

Councilwoman Heather Sloop gave an impassioned speech against the practice.

"Our words are our words, and if you mince them, what are they? They aren't ours," Sloop said. "Our community relations manager's job is to give that transparency and be open and honest about what the city is doing, not to relay our words in a different message. If he needs something for a quote, then he can get it directly from us and not relay a different message. We are representatives of the people, and we are people."

Sloop said the city hired the new PR position for greater transparency, not to "posh up" the city.

"Nobody should be going 'you know what, hey you can say this better.' No, because it makes us look false and not transparent," Sloop said.

"Well said," Councilman Scott Ford said after Sloop's speech.

Council members Jason Lacy, Walter Magill and Kathi Meyer also said they would not let the city's new PR manager manufacture quotes for them.

But Meyer said she saw both sides of the discussion.

She also said the new PR position should be given some time to settle in.

"Mike Lane (the city’s communications manager) has only been on the job two weeks, and everybody is still kind of figuring out how he is going to fit into the new structure," Meyer said.

The city's new PR strategy of manufacturing quotes for officials was revealed when Magill was caught in a lie to the newspaper last week about the originality of his quote in a recent city news release.

Magill initially said he provided the quote, and he had resolved in the New Year to speak with more superlatives and excitement.

But when the paper presented him with evidence that his quote promoting Howelsen Hill was copied almost word for word from a years-old PR pamphlet Lane produced at his previous job at Steamboat Ski Area, Magill admitted Lane wrote the quote for him and he approved it.

Magill then took the position that it was too detached for the council to let a PR professional write their words for them.

The council president brought up the discussion on the new PR tactic Tuesday night when the council was reviewing its goals, one of which is to improve community trust.

City Manager Gary Suiter defended the new PR practice and said he has had communications professionals write quotes for him as well.

Suiter called the practice an "industry standard" that he thinks will help the council achieve that goal of improving community trust.

Suiter also said the council members make themselves accessible to the public, and he will not let the new PR position hinder the public or media’s access to city officials and staff.

Steamboat Today will not republish any quotes included in city press releases.

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