City officials look at revamping ethics complaint process after ‘hostile’ public hearing
Steamboat Springs City Council members agreed Tuesday to take a closer look at the city’s ethics complaint process, which occurs when a member of the public makes a formal allegation claiming a council member, council-appointed commissioner, city attorney or city manager has used their position unethically.
A contentious board of ethics hearing Sept. 28 raised questions about the city’s process.
Steamboat resident Wendy Harvey, a local real estate agent and short-term rental property manager, claimed council member Heather Sloop inappropriately used her position on council to advocate for overlay zones that restrict short-term rentals in her neighborhood.
“I believe she has serious personal interest in pushing the proposed short-term rental ban forward,” Harvey said. “I believe the councilwoman is using her position in City Council to control what happens in her neighborhood.”
Harvey did not attend the September ethics meeting, and later said she didn’t know she could attend.
During the meeting’s public comment period, several of Sloop’s neighbors accused Harvey of acting in personal interest and that she was attempting to censor Sloop. The neighbors also often engaged in personal attacks against Harvey in her absence.
The ethics committee, which includes Council President Jason Lacy, council member Lisel Petis and City Manager Gary Suiter, recommended the complaint be dismissed. Petis was not present at the meeting where the decision was made.
“It is with regularity that the public or other people perceive a difference of opinion as a conflict of interest,” Suiter said. “(Sloop’s) comments were made in the context of representing the community and representing community character.”
The ethics committee is tasked with making recommendations to City Council, which can also opt to revisit an ethics complaint. Ultimately, City Council upheld the board’s recommendation and dismissed Harvey’s complaint.
During Tuesday’s regular council meeting, however, Harvey and her husband, Brian Harvey, told council members they felt the process was extremely unfair as Wendy Harvey was not notified on how the complaint process worked.
“This process appears to be severely flawed and unethical in its own right,” Brian Harvey told council members. “(Sloop) used this as an opportunity to blindside my wife, to go after her character and not the merits of the complaint.”
Brian Harvey alleged, in the wake of the initial complaint, several fake Facebook accounts were created and used to harass and intimidate his wife.
All seven council members agreed the Sept. 28 meeting was unnecessarily hostile and began discussions about how to revamp the complaint process to ensure it is fair to the complainant, while still being transparent.
As a starting point, the city now has information on its website informing complainants about what to expect after filing a complaint. Complainants will also be contacted directly with the same information, Steamboat City Attorney Dan Foote said.
Council agreed to revisit the issue at an upcoming retreat.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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