Steamboat Springs City Council president under fire after being hit with 2nd ethics complaint
October 14, 2016
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs City Council President Walter Magill found himself apologizing and defending his leadership position this week after he was criticized by some of his fellow elected officials for being hit with another ethics-related complaint.
It was also revealed Tuesday that some city employees have lodged complaints against Magill for his behavior in recent months.
Asked about the nature of the latter complaints from city staff, City Manager Gary Suiter declined to discuss them further, saying they were personnel matters.
Suiter said he needed to protect the confidentiality of the employees who lodged the complaints.
The latest ethics complaint against Magill stems from his participation in a Sept. 21 municipal court hearing in which four clients of Magill’s surveying and engineering company faced fines for using outdoor areas in the Captain Jack subdivision for storage without displaying the proper permits.
Some of the city's municipal court clerks said they found Magill's participation and conduct at this court hearing "intimidating" and inappropriate for a council member who helps appoint the municipal court judge every two years.
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The clerks reported the council president questioned at the court hearing why the city had ticketed some of his clients and chosen to prosecute them.
The complaint against Magill was given to the council by City Attorney Dan Foote.
Foote said the court alleged Magill went beyond providing testimony and was trying to influence the proceedings by advocating for a favorable resolution for his clients.
After the court hearing, Magill emailed city staff suggesting changes to the court process.
Magill defended himself Tuesday, saying he was not trying to use his role as council president to improperly influence the hearing.
He said he was trying to expedite the process and help his clients show they had permits for the storage.
“Certainly, in hindsight, I should have checked with my city attorney, but I honestly did not try to attempt to influence the proceeding in favor of the defendants,” Magill wrote in a letter to the council. “I was merely trying to provide information to court that the defendants did not have access.”
Magill apologized to court clerks who found him intimidating and said he planned to never appear in council chambers again, unless it was for a council meeting.
In a rare admonishment of a council member, Foote said he concluded Magill's appearance at the municipal court hearing was inappropriate and threatened the independence of the court.
Foote said while there currently are no written city rules about council members appearing at municipal court, he felt they should only appear if they were the subject of a hearing or if they were providing testimony as a witness.
He referred the issue to the full council Tuesday to gauge whether the council wanted to adopt a new written policy to prevent members from appearing at municipal court hearings in the manner Magill did.
Foote also asked if the council wanted to discipline Magill for his conduct.
The council decided not to discipline Magill, but some members had strong words for their council president.
And based on Magill's reaction, he felt his presidency was at stake.
"While I understand we all make mistakes, I am concerned about the number of issues I have seen," Councilwoman Kathi Meyer told Magill.
Meyer also questioned whether Magill had recused himself from all the votes on land use proposals that financially benefit his surveying company, as Magill claimed he had.
Meyer said it was important for the council to build public trust.
With nearly a decade of experience on the council, Magill is the most tenured member on the dais.
Councilwoman Robin Crossan said council members need to be on their toes “all the time.”
"I'd expect our president as best as possible to not make mistakes," Crossan told Magill. "You've been around long enough."
Magill has served as council president since November.
During his tenure, the council has found itself at the center of multiple controversies, including two undisclosed conflicts of interest that forced re-votes.
Public outcries also led the council to reverse its decisions to not release more information about an internal police investigation and to call dibs on free concert tickets and VIP passes.
Magill was also the subject of an ethics complaint earlier in the summer.
A resident who had a proposal to expand his deck denied accused Magill of corrupting and improperly influencing the variance hearing in January.
That ethics complaint was dropped in July.
Magill said Wednesday the formal complaint against him from city staff stemmed from a comment he made to a city employee about the employees giving the council a low approval rating in the latest employee satisfaction survey.
He said his comment was misconstrued and was meant as a joke.
He added he had apologized for that comment.