City councilman says decision to call dibs on concert tickets, VIP passes was ‘boneheaded’
Steamboat Springs — After getting an earful from disappointed constituents, some Steamboat Springs City Council members appear ready to walk back their decision to allow council to call first dibs on some free concert tickets and VIP passes.
“I’ve got to classify this as a boneheaded decision,” Councilman Scott Ford said Monday. “I think there’s consensus that we need to unwind it. I think we’re working really hard to build community trust, and this is one of those decisions we need to unwind pretty quickly.”
“We don’t need this brain damage,” Ford added.
The “dibs” controversy was ignited last week at a council meeting when a majority of the council broke from recent tradition and decided council members should have first pick of free Strings concert tickets previous councils have donated to either city staff or to nonprofits.
The council also called first dibs on a set of VIP lanyards to the Free Summer Concert tickets at Howelsen Hill.
Both moves left fewer tickets and VIP passes available for downtown volunteers and city staff members.
The outcry that ensued could lead the council to consider ending the city’s practice of receiving tickets and VIP passes to the events it sponsors with taxpayer money.
Several residents have called council’s moves selfish, wrong and something they would only expect to see reported on in the pages of a satirical newspaper such as The Onion.
On social media, some residents went as far as to suggest they might look into initiating recalls of council members who advocated for having first choice of the tickets or passes.
Others made internet memes — or witty photos with captions — comparing some of the council members to greedy middle school students calling dibs on items at the expense of city employees and nonprofits.
The controversy comes at an inopportune time for a relatively new council that is focused on building public trust in the wake of some tumultuous times in city government.
“We made a mistake,” Councilwoman Kathi Meyer said Monday.
Meyer said prior to council’s discussion last week, she told city staff via email to donate her tickets to MainStreet Steamboat and city staff.
She said she now feels she should have spoken up publicly at the meeting when it appeared council was agreeing to give itself first choice of the tickets and VIP passes.
“If I want to go to something, I will spend my own money to go to something and that will be my position,” Meyer said.
Council members Tony Connell and Heather Sloop advocated a different position at the meeting last week.
Connell said the council had been working harder than previous councils and deserved having first choice of the tickets and VIP passes.
He and councilwoman Sloop led a charge late in the council meeting to give council priority with the tickets and VIP passes.
When it appeared the council was ready to stick with tradition and donate all of the VIP passes to city staff and downtown volunteers, it was Sloop and Connell who influenced the vote and publicly stated they wanted to take advantage of the passes.
Asked Monday whether she stood by the decision in the wake of the public backlash, Sloop pointed out she and the council voted, 5-2, in favor of the VIP pass distribution.
“I said I was fine with the vote either way,” Sloop said.
She also said she had not heard directly from any constituents who were critical of the decision.
Told about specific criticism former elected officials, business leaders and community leaders have made about the decision in recent days, Sloop said she would not respond to generalizations.
Connell did not return a message on Monday.
Council President Walter Magill and councilman Jason Lacy were the only two members of council to ultimately vote against the motion that gave the group first choice of a pair of VIP passes to the Free Summer Concerts.
Right before the vote, Councilwoman Robin Crossan said she was concerned there would not be enough VIP passes for city staff if the council had first choice on any.
Meyer said at council’s next meeting on Tuesday, each individual council member should clarify whether they still feel they should have first choice of the tickets and passes.
Ford is suggesting the city go a step further and look into going without all of the free tickets or VIP passes it gets for sponsoring events with taxpayer money.
Decision gone ‘sideways’
Ford said Monday he was personally disappointed the decision went sideways and strayed from an initial idea to give some tickets and perks to new downtown volunteers who will be working for MainStreet Steamboat Springs this summer.
The councilman said he believes the city should not be receiving the tickets and VIP passes for its taxpayer-funded sponsorships in the first place.
He added ideally, the nonprofits who put on the events would benefit themselves by keeping and selling the tickets and passes that normally are donated to the city.
Minutes from an April 2012 City Council meeting show that then Council President Bart Kounovsky got unanimous approval for donating the Strings tickets to city staff that year.
The backlash the current council has gotten about its ticket decision came up Friday at an informal Coffee With Council meeting.
Connell reportedly further angered some residents at this meeting when he sought to defend the council’s decision by handing out a spreadsheet showing how much council members had been working recently.
Ed Miklus, a Steamboat resident who spent years as a school superintendent in New Jersey, said the action didn’t sit well with some constituents in the room.
“I told Tony ‘this worksheet means nothing,'” Miklus said. “I told him ‘you ran for City Council and I would assume that you ran because you wanted to give back to the community, not that you were getting paid (or getting perks). If that’s not the reason for you being on council, you need to resign.'”
Miklus said what the council did with the tickets and VIP passes “really upset this community and did a lot of damage to the reputation of the council.”
“I think people resent politicians getting special deals that the rank-and-file citizen does not get,” Miklus said. “Why are you on City Council? Are you on City Council on pure motivation to help and improve our community, or are you on council to get a ski pass and the health care benefits?”
Miklus said he felt some council members have come to realize the damage the vote had done to the council, and they were now dedicated to finding a way to undo that damage.
“This council has suffered a blow to its reputation and its integrity, and they know it,” Miklus said.
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