Commissioner says ouster was a ‘lesson’ |

Commissioner says ouster was a ‘lesson’

— A part of Donna Walker doesn’t want to believe it, but she has reached the conclusion that fallout from last fall’s City Council election is the reason behind council’s vote this week that ended her tenure on Planning Commission. City Councilwoman Kathy Connell said Thursday that is not the case.

“I would hope that would not even be a consideration,” Connell said. “I would be personally shocked if anyone’s vote was vindictive. In fact, I would be dismayed.”

According to Walker, Connell may have reason to be dismayed.

“I think it’s fallout from the election,” Walker said. “I don’t like to take a bitter position, but all signs are pointing to it. I think they they’re trying to teach me a lesson.”

Walker was defeated last November in her effort to claim the District II council seat held by Arianthtettner. Stettner received 1,171 or 58 percent of the votes in that race, to Walker’s 819. One of Walker’s campaign themes was her belief that she was better suited to represent young couples and families in their 30s, struggling to make it in Steamboat Springs. She pointed out that everyone on City Council was older than 40.

“I decided to run for City Council because I feel that it is time for a change. There is a leadership void on City Council that I can fill,” Walker wrote in response to written questions from Steamboat Today during the campaign. “We need strong decision-makers that listen to what the community wants and take decisive action on what needs to be done.”

Walker was vice chairwoman of the Planning Commission and had been on the commission since December 1997.

City Council interviewed six candidates for the Planning Commission in order to fill four positions — three regular commissioners and one alternate. Among the candidates were four incumbents, Walker among them, and two prospective new members of Planning Commission. Reappointed were commission chairwoman Shelley Pastachak and Tony Connell. Alternate Dick Curtis was elected to remain in that role, and Dan N. Baker was voted in as a new member of Planning Commission.

Councilman Paul Strong was absent Tuesday night, leaving six council members to cast votes.

The vote was made in executive session, but council members said they were not aware of how their colleagues voted because they silently filled out paper ballots.

When City Clerk Julie Jordan Struble tallied the votes, Walker had received just one.

Walker said she was shocked to learn she had not been appointed to a new three-year term Tuesday night because she feels she has been doing a good job on the Planning Commission.

“I never brought, in any way, politics into my work on Planning Commission,” Walker said. “I just can’t understand it. The only way I can rationalize it, is I have to think this was purely a political decision. I kind of feel betrayed because I spoke out during the election. I thought Steamboat was different from that.”

Stettner said her approach to the Planning Commission appointments had nothing to do with last fall’s election, but rather a bigger picture.

“In terms of my own process, it was not who I was not voting for, but who I was voting for,” Stettner said. “We have a new gentleman (Baker) on board who has a tremendous set of skills. Whatever the mix was going to be, he was the person I really wanted to see in that slot.”

Stettner said she did not know what the thought process of her colleagues on council had been because of the ballot process. She characterized Walker as a hard-working person who has “really been in there doing community work at all levels.”

Stettner said she can recall a similar instance, when an incumbent on a city committee was not returned for a new term, and that turn of events caught her entirely by surprise.

Walker said she is concerned that Steamboat is moving in a dangerous direction where people will be reticent to speak out lest they offend those in a position of power.

Connell was emphatic in saying that is a trend she does not want to see develop.

“It had better not be,” Connell said. “Not as long as I’m alive and kicking. It’s very important we have a government where we have people who don’t always agree — I don’t want to surround myself with people who all agree.”

City Council President Kevin Bennett said appointing people to city boards and commissions is one of the most difficult jobs council members face. He added the vote to appoint new commission members was not a negative vote, and he was “saddened” to see the overnight story published in Steamboat Today emphasized Walker’s status instead of the people who were elected to the Planning Commission.

“We had excellent, qualified people applying and were trying to appoint the best person for the job,” Bennett said.

Some Planning Commission members were surprised at the outcome of the vote.

“I was surprised, but not shocked,” Commissioner Vince Hooper said. “I am disappointed. I think we are losing a valuable member. I think Donna has made a very positive contribution. Donna brought a perspective to Planning Commission that was helpful for me. We didn’t always vote alike. But, she really got us to think about projects in a way I hadn’t initially thought about.”

Pastachak called Walker a very rational and thoughtful planning commissioner. She praised her for being consistent in her analysis of planning issues, and not flip-flopping from project to project.

“I don’t understand City Council’s decision to not reappoint someone with Donna’s dedication, track record and competence,” Pastachak said.

Councilman Ken Brenner said the vote simply was not a vote to remove Walker, but a vote to appoint Baker.

“There was never any discussion, nor ever any intent to remove Donna,” Brenner said. “We were simply very impressed by Dan. If you had told me we were going to appoint someone who has lived here full time for just two years, I would have laughed. Dan was just completely overwhelming. He just said everything right.”

Baker has lived in Steamboat full time for two years, and part time for nine years before that. He is a consultant to a chain of 33 motels located in seven western states. He served on a planning commission in Fullerton, Calif., for eight years, and for two years as chairman. He also is a past president of the Fullerton Chamber of Commerce. He was active in the YMCA of Orange County, a member of the city of Fullerton’s economic development committee and served on the city’s Sport Complex and Hotel Task Force.

— To reach Tom Ross call 871-4210 or e-mail

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