Behind the Headlines: What does it take to run council?
Q. You recently announced your desire to step aside as council president after two years. What do you feel has been your biggest accomplishment as president?
A. It’s hard to pick which accomplishment is the most important. Certainly negotiating a long-term lease with SmartWool to establish stable income against our Steamboat Springs Airport debt is a huge one; the establishment of an airport commission is a vital step to preserve commercial and general aviation for Northwest Colorado; bringing the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation Board back to the table to work toward more efficient and equitable water rates and eventual consolidation into one water district.
However, I am most proud of something more subtle but vital to the positive future of our community. I believe under my leadership we have brought back civility to city government by encouraging positive civil discourse. For example, when I first was on council, we were at odds with county commissioners, and communication was limited. We now have monthly joint meetings and work positively with the commissioners on many common issues. We need positive energy to work together to solve the more complicated community issues facing us. I have encouraged this concept through trying to run open, friendly and efficient meetings, respecting the limited time our public has when they attend.
Lastly, under my presidency, we have made a point to become fiscally conservative and to review all city programs and expenditures.
Q. How would you do define the role of council president? What sort of personality traits and skills does the president need?
A. I believe the role of the president is to run the most efficient, effective and fair meeting possible, respecting the time and needs of the public in attendance. The role also is to ensure that the City Council is acting as a policy-making body in accordance with the responsibilities set forth in our charter and in accordance with the mission, goals and objectives set by the council. Personality traits: First, is having broad shoulders. Often, the president is the lightning rod for residents’ displeasure or lack of understanding of city responsibilities. A willingness to address difficult issues and difficult people in a positive, direct way. Most important is a true desire to promote good will. We have some enormous challenges ahead with shrinking revenues from our sales tax, an increase in population and demands for services, and the need for a more stable funding source for our city budget.
It’s easy to get bogged down and defensive. The ability to set an example for the community on how we work together is so important in leadership; the ability to build trust and to be courteous to our public, even under “attack.” A sense of humor and love of people sure help when the times get tough.
Q. Who do you think would make a good replacement as council president and why?
A. I believe that any of the elected City Council members have the ability and talent to become excellent presidents. Yet, I do believe that the skills to run an efficient, effective and fair meeting are learned more than they are innate. The president pro-tempore shares in some of the leadership responsibilities of the president and acts as chairman of the meetings when the president is absent. I therefore think that Paul Strong, our president pro-tempore, should be next in line for the presidency.
Q. The city will ask voters to approve a 3.55-mill property tax for fire and ambulance services in November. How is this tax different from the tax voters turned down in 2002?
A. For starters, this tax is smaller than last year’s tax. Another difference in this tax presentation is that the City Council will be defining where the dollars in our general fund that are now being designated toward fire and ambulance services will be used if made available. We have stated that it will be only for capital improvements. We are approaching this tax as a community investment plan whereby the approximately $1.4 million in saved fire and EMS costs will be redirected to critical capital projects for our community. If this tax does not pass, these projects will be delayed or will not be funded. We see this tax as a commitment to annual spending on important community facilities and infrasture that will help support our community businesses.
Q. The city’s police department has come under criticism recently for alleged aggressive traffic enforcement. From what you have heard, what is your opinion of the situation, and what changes, if any, would you recommend?
A. There has been public concern voiced about our law enforcement and their philosophies of such enforcement. It is important to note that this has included not only Steamboat Springs Police Department, but that of the Routt County Sheriff’s Office and Colorado State Patrol. I believe this affords us yet another opportunity to work with our county commissioners to explore these concerns and to review our present law enforcement mandates and policies. A primary role of City Council is to protect the safety and welfare of our residents. However, in that process of law enforcement, we must always examine that the basic civil liberties of our public are not being violated. It is important to note that since the City Council meeting where concerns were voiced, we have also received numerous calls and letters from residents who support our police department’s efforts concerning traffic and DUI enforcements.
Q. Police Detective Dave Kleiber has criticized the city’s system of paying employees while they are serving military duty in the reserves or National Guard. Do you think the city’s current policy is fair? Why or why not?
A. After researching our present city policy relative this issue, I find that it is a well thought-out policy that is not only legal but is more generous than many other towns and cities in Colorado. That being said, I believe that our City Council should review our present policy to see if it is indeed the one we want to continue with. The fairness issue will always be debated. Factors in our review should include financial impacts to our city, the concern with precedent-setting and any unintended consequences, and the fact that when someone is serving our country, that person is indeed willing to sacrifice his or her life for our country. We cannot forget that freedom does not come without substantial sacrifice. We will be reviewing our policy at a future meeting of City Council.
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The Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday denied Sheriff Garrett Wiggins’ request to hire another deputy that would serve as a school resource officer in two schools in the Steamboat Springs School District.