After year of controversies, Steamboat Springs City Council working to update its code of ethics |

After year of controversies, Steamboat Springs City Council working to update its code of ethics

Steamboat Springs City Council members applaud during a groundbreaking ceremony for the Yampa Street improvement project.
Scott Franz

— The Steamboat Springs City Council has started the process of updating and clarifying its code of ethics at the end of a year when some council members found themselves under fire for behavior that some community members felt was unethical.

On Tuesday night, the council members weighed in on the first reading of an updated code of ethics that aims to bring more clarity to what constitutes a conflict of interest and what gifts, such as tickets to events, the council can and cannot receive.

The updated code also outlines a procedure for penalizing council members who violate the rules.

On a few occasions this year, the council has found itself in hot water for claiming certain gifts and for not disclosing potential conflicts of interest.

Two of the council’s important decisions were reconsidered and reversed after it was discovered council members who initially voted on the issues failed to disclose potential conflicts of interest.

The first case happened when it was discovered Councilwoman Heather Sloop had been taking flying lessons with a top former police official at the same time she voted against releasing more information about an internal investigation that looked into the conduct of that police official.

The second conflict of interest case occurred when council members forced Councilman Tony Connell to step down from a revote on a pot shop’s proposed move to Curve Plaza after it was discovered Connell had heated disagreements with the pot shop’s prospective landlord and his other pot-growing tenants.

The new proposed ethics code still leaves it up to the council to ultimately decide whether council members should or should not vote on items because of potential conflicts of interest.

But City Attorney Dan Foote said the new code would give more specific definitions of potential conflicts and non-conflicts.

For example, the new code defines what constitutes a private interest and what types of social relationships might constitute a conflict.

The new code also addresses what types of tickets to local events the council could accept for free.

Council members faced a strong outcry in the spring when they initially voted to have first priority on concert tickets and VIP lanyards that had been donated to the city because the city had financially supported the events with taxpayer dollars.

Some charged that the council was violating its code of ethics for moving to accept the tickets.

The council reversed that decision and directed the city not to accept any more free tickets from nonprofits it donates tax money to.

It was this event that led Foote to recommend the council revisit and possibly revise its code of ethics.

The new code clarifies what gifts elected officials can accept and states that they can accept tickets to a sporting, recreational or cultural event “where the city official’s attendance is reasonably related to the official or ceremonial duties of the official.”

The new rules also would prevent council members from appearing in municipal court if they are not the subject of the court hearing.

Council President Walter Magill was recently the subject of an ethics complaint from the city’s municipal court staff after he appeared in court to represent some of his business clients.

Officers of the court found Magill’s behavior to be “intimidating.” Foote felt Magill’s appearance wasn’t proper because it threatened the independence of the court as council members appoint the municipal court judge.

The council on Tuesday debated some aspects of the new ethics code, including whether to allow council members to appear before some of the city’s various boards and commissions.

But the council wasn’t ready to approve the new code yet.

It tabled the discussion until a meeting in January.

The council hasn’t made any broad changes to its ethics policies since 2002.

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

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