After council vote, public likely won’t see any more findings from internal police investigation | SteamboatToday.com
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After council vote, public likely won’t see any more findings from internal police investigation

Scott Franz
A Steamboat Springs Police vehicle leaves the current police station in June.
Scott Franz

In other action

• The council voted to contribute $10,000 toward the creation of a conceptual design for a shared public safety facility with Routt County in West Steamboat. A working group of city and county officials will meet again soon to discuss the facility.

• The council held a lengthy workshop about Howelsen Hiill and its future. Council members got a history lesson on how the ski hill came to be and also discussed its joint operating agreement with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Several council members said they wanted to work with the Winter Sports Club on a new operating agreement for the future. The current agreement is up for renewal in 2017. The council will continue discussions about Howelsen in January, and the talks are expected to last several months.

— Concerned about liability issues and potentially hurting a police department in the process of healing, the Steamboat Springs City Council will not seek a more thorough summary of the recent internal investigation that led to the departures of the city’s top cops and city manager.

The council’s 4-3 vote against seeking more information to release to the public came immediately after the council met for an hour behind closed doors to receive legal advice from City Attorney Tony Lettunich and a Denver attorney who works for the city’s insurance company and specializes in employment issues.

Council President Walter Magill, who felt the initial summary of the investigation released in July was too vague and insufficient, said he didn’t support the effort to get a new summary because of the advice the council received Tuesday from the attorneys.

Magill feared releasing a new summary could create liability issues for the city and violate the confidentiality witnesses were promised during the investigation.

He also said releasing more information about the probe could hurt a police department that he said is only starting to heal after tumultuous times.

Councilman Scott Ford, who has long advocated to bring more closure to the investigation, and two new city council members wanted Interim City Manager Gary Suiter to produce a new summary of the probe, which would have outlined its scope and answered such questions as whether there was a ticket quota and whether officers swore a new oath after the passage of Amendment 64 as alleged by a former police detective.

Ford has said many of the questions surrounding the internal investigation have gone unanswered, and the city hasn’t released enough information for the council to judge whether new policies proposed for the department are adequate.

He felt another summary could be released that did not violate the confidentiality promised to the witnesses.

“I made my best case,” Ford said after Tuesday’s meeting.

In her final hours in City Hall, former City Manager Deb Hinsvark said an independent investigator found a “paramilitary culture” at the department, but several of the findings from the investigation have been withheld from the public.

Former councilman Kenny Reisman said he felt Hinsvark’s inability to convey the finality of the investigation ultimately led to her “getting fired” by the council.

Councilwoman Kathi Meyer, one of the council’s four new members, said Tuesday a new summary of the investigation would be a “fill in the blank.”

She suggested the release of more information from the investigation would not prevent the police department from healing and moving forward.

“This does not preclude us from recognizing the good work we heard from the new chief,” she said.

Councilman Jason Lacy also wanted the summary and said “doing nothing” concerned him.

“Talking about this doesn’t give any of us pleasure,” he said. “I’m not interested in details about who said what about who. But I think at the same time, some items (Ford) mentioned are not outside the confidentiality offered to the policemen.

“I’m proud of our department,” Lacy added. “They should be commended.”

Councilwoman Robin Crossan, who voted against seeking the summary along with council members Heather Sloop, Tony Connell and Magill, said she was satisfied with a report given earlier in the evening by new Police Chief Cory Christensen and suggested she wanted to look forward instead of looking back.

“It’s a new day, and it’s time to move forward,” Crossan said.

Councilwoman Sloop, who during the election suggested that a retired judge could review the reports and “give a general briefing to the public so that the community can be assured that history won’t repeat itself,” did not comment before voting against the new summary.

After the meeting, she said she agreed with the other council members who opposed the release of a new summary and thought they had good reasons.

Asked if her decision not to seek a new summary was a retreat from her views on the investigation during the campaign, Sloop said it was not.

Councilman Connell said he did not want to destroy the confidence that was promised to the witnesses during the investigation.

Earlier on Tuesday, Chief Christensen briefed the department on his priorities for his first few months on the job.

They include revamping the department’s complaint and compliment system and ensuring citizens and officers have more of a voice.

“The focus will be on giving people an opportunity to be heard,” Christensen said. “That’s the first pillar I want to incorporate, for employees as well as citizens. What is your opportunity to be heard?”

In other action

• The council voted to contribute $10,000 toward the creation of a conceptual design for a shared public safety facility with Routt County in West Steamboat. A working group of city and county officials will meet again soon to discuss the facility.

• The council held a lengthy workshop about Howelsen Hiill and its future. Council members got a history lesson on how the ski hill came to be and also discussed its joint operating agreement with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Several council members said they wanted to work with the Winter Sports Club on a new operating agreement for the future. The current agreement is up for renewal in 2017. The council will continue discussions about Howelsen in January, and the talks are expected to last several months.

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


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