City manager’s exit being negotiated
August 10, 2015
Steamboat Springs — City Manager Deb Hinsvark may not have enough support from her seven bosses on the Steamboat Springs City Council to continue working past Sept. 1.
At a closed door meeting last week, a majority of council members directed City Attorney Tony Lettunich to negotiate a possible separation agreement with Hinsvark that would have her leave next month.
“We just don’t have a majority (of council) supporting her anymore, so that’s the direction we’re heading,” Council President Pro-Tem Scott Myller said Monday.
Myller said the council could meet as soon as Friday afternoon in a special session to discuss the negotiations and decide how to proceed.
The meeting is poised to divide some members of the council, with some wanting to see the city manager exit and others wanting to stay the course.
Council members still supportive of Hinsvark acknowledged she had recently made some missteps, but they said they don’t want to let go of a “fiscally-brilliant” city manager, who they feel has excelled at balancing budgets and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the city.
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Council members who appear ready to let the city manager go have expressed frustrations about her communication with the council and the public and were not satisfied with her recent handling of a police investigation that looked into the conduct of the city’s police chief and deputy police chief.
Councilman Walter Magill and Myller expressed support for Hinsvark on Monday.
Myller said he appreciates how Hinsvark doesn’t shy away from proposals that prove to be controversial such as attempting to cut back bus service to save money.
“Once every few items she gets in trouble for it, and to me, that’s expected when you’re out there pushing items,” Myller said. “If you weren’t accomplishing anything, you’d just sit in your office and not get in trouble.”
Magill said he isn’t ready to approve a severance agreement and fire the city manager.
“I do think she’s done some good things, and if she has to depart, it’s been a good run,” Magill said. “She’s managed the city well. I still have confidence in Deb doing her job.”
Hinsvark has come under fire from some other council members in recent weeks for such things as her handling of the internal police misconduct investigation, the release of information from that investigation and for her apparent attempt to forgo a second public hearing on a controversial proposal to allow Triple Crown and extra traffic into Emerald Park.
Frustration between several council members and Hinsvark reportedly boiled over last month behind closed doors after Hinsvark allowed the public and the media to see a vague community summary of the police investigation before the council had a chance to review it.
Councilman Scott Ford said the event left the council frustrated and “thunderstruck.”
Ford and Councilwoman Sonja Macys, who requested last week’s executive session to discuss Hinsvark, have twice sought the city manager’s resignation in recent months because they were not satisfied with her leadership style.
Ford would not comment on the executive session last week, and councilwoman Macys has not returned two phone calls to discuss the meeting.
Council member Tony Connell also would not comment on the meeting, and Council President Bart Kounovsky did not return a message seeking comment.
Calls and emails made to the city attorney last week and again on Monday to discuss the executive session were not returned.
The confirmation of council’s direction to have Lettunich negotiate with Hinsvark came on Monday in the form of a leaked email.
Preparing for new leadership
An email, which was leaked to the Steamboat Today on Monday by a community member, shows city staff is already preparing for a new city manager to be hired.
In the email sent the day after the executive session, a top member of Hinsvark’s management team acknowledged that a separation agreement with Hinsvark was being negotiated.
The management team member offered City Attorney Tony Lettunich suggestions on how to find an interim city manager and how to hire a recruiter for a new city manager.
“Just wanted to get ahead of this – September 1st will be here very soon,” the email concludes.
Several council members were tight lipped when asked about the executive session last week, while a handful of others would only go as far as to say Hinsvark’s future with the city wasn’t certain.
Council members Kenny Reisman and Magill suggested Hinsvark’s fate could be impacted by the release of more information from the recent police misconduct investigation.
“She’s got good people working for her, and she’s strong in finance, but we’re looking a little bit further into management of the police department,” Magill said.
Many of the findings from the investigation, which focused on accusations the city’s top cops created a hostile work environment, are still being withheld from the City Council and the public.
Hinsvark was accused of not adequately responding to complaints about the department more than a year ago, and an investigator ultimately found there wasn’t enough evidence to prove or disprove the allegation.
“It’s been a bumpy road, especially over these past six months, and I think that’s where it’s at,” Reisman said when asked whether Hinsvark’s future was in question. “We’ve reviewed her (job performance) during this time, and as these police reports continue to come out, it’s our responsibility to review her work and her ability to manage the city.”
Reisman said the public’s trust in the police department, city staff and the council itself has taken a big hit recently and each group holds some level of responsibility for the drop in confidence.
“We’ve all got to keep working within our roles to regain that trust and that confidence of the public,” Reisman said.
Hinsvark said she could not discuss her future plans on Friday.
She did not respond to a message on Monday to talk about the potential separation agreement.
Hinsvark has served as city manager since March 2013.
She was previously deputy city manager and finance director for the city.