City Council takes flak for not including more average Joes on city manager interview panel | SteamboatToday.com

City Council takes flak for not including more average Joes on city manager interview panel

Dissenters say committee lacks voices of skeptics, average people

Scott Franz

Steamboat Springs City Hall

A Steamboat Springs City Council member and one of the city's most frequent and outspoken public commenters aren't satisfied wih the composition of the seven-member citizens' panel that will help choose the next city manager.

They fear the committee lacks the voices of skeptics and the common person.

"It's the same people every time," Councilwoman Heather Sloop said about the interview committee, which includes several business leaders, a banker, a nonprofit leader, the county manager, the superintendent of the local school district and only one at-large resident. "I think we tunnel vision into a few key people in the city, and I think there's gotta be a way to give people who have a strong voice to have a place on this committee."

City Council briefly considered the idea of putting its four city manager finalists at an interview table in front of one of the city's most involved and outspoken residents.

But in the end, only Sloop wanted to appoint Steamboat resident Scott Wedel to the panel.

Wedel, a frequent commenter on Steamboat Today stories and public commenter at Citizens Hall, has often been critical of city government and the council.

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He also doesn't shy away from presenting his ideas for how the city should conduct its business.

Recently, Wedel criticized the council for discussing the proposed short sale of a former city manager’s home in a controversial executive session without publicly disclosing the rationale for supporting the sale.

Sloop thought having someone similar to Wedel or another frequent blogger would have been a great addition to the citizens' committee.

"I think it might be fantastic to have someone who is obviously very vocal in our public on the committee," Sloop said. "The bloggers do represent the common man. People do read the blogs. Why not get them involved and get some buy-in? They would have more ownership of whoever it is we hire."

Anne Small, the city's director of general services, warned the council that seating a vocal and outspoken resident such as Wedel on the committee could disrupt the interview process.

"It's not that it's a bad idea, but sometimes, those folks have a tendency to hijack the situation," Small said. "That's just my personal experience."

Sloop and Wedel disagreed.

"I don't think any of the other people we've asked are going to let a blogger hijack the process," Sloop said.

Wedel said Small unfairly characterized him.

"I've attended many of Scott Ford's (Coffee with Council) sessions, and I have not been disruptive. I have not done as described," Wedel said Tuesday. "I think it's extremely poor public process for a city employee to be making any sort of comments about the people who will be interviewing her boss, especially someone who has been critical of city staff projections."

Wedel was also critical of the process council used to appoint members to the committee.

"The word 'voter' was never said in that 55-minute discussion," Wedel told council. "You guys started naming off business special interests, large business special interests, downtown business special interests, Yampa Valley Electric Assocation interests. The voters' interest was not once discussed."

Wedel said the problems past city managers have had with council and the public in recent years, including proposed changes to a contract with Triple Crown and the downtown urban renewal authority, were not with any of those interest groups.

"I am greatly concerned about the public process being very inadaquate and unfair to what I would consider skeptics who might question the person who might become the next city manager," Wedel said.

Asked by Steamboat Today last week what questions he would have for a prospective city manager, Wedel said he would pose questions he doesn't feel candidates are regularly asked.

He said he would want to know more about the prospective manager's commitment to a fair and open process and what he or she would do to make presentations from city staff more fair and "honest."

"We need a manager that presents honest, unbiased city staff reports," Wedel said.

Council did not take applications for the resident's interview panel. Instead, individual council members threw out names of people they thought possessed good interviewing skills and who represented certain demographics, such as downtown business owners.

They also chose the heads of other government entities and organizations that regularly interact with the city manager.

The panel of residents will interview city manager finalists in early May.

Council invited a member of Steamboat Today's editorial board to serve on the committee, but the editorial board did not want to have a member serve in that capacity due to potential conflicts of interest.

Council at one point did brainstorm ways to find a resident who didn't have any ties to business interests or other organizations.

Council President Walter Magill suggested visiting the Senior Center during lunchtime to find someone.

"There's regular old folks there every day," Magill said.

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

Proposed members of community panel

Tom Sullivan — county

Sara Craig-Scheckman — nonprofit

Brad Meeks — education

Mark Walker — lodging

Adonna Allen — banking

Dennis Fisher — at-large

Rex Brice — downtown businesses