Council president questioned need for latest closed-door meeting on Howelsen negotiations
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night entered into another lengthy closed-door session that not all council members felt needed to take place out of the public eye.
Council President Walter Magill questioned why the council needed to discuss behind closed doors its ongoing negotiations with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club over possible changes to a 28-year-old joint use agreement at Howelsen Hill.
Council members are seeking changes to the agreement, which spells out both sides’ maintenance and operating responsibilities at the historic ski hill, to give the city more financial security in the future.
“I’m struggling with why we’re going into executive session on this one,” Magill said. “It’s a pretty straightforward agreement. We’re talking about the Winter Sports Club here, and not anybody else.”
Councilwoman Robin Crossan, who has been negotiating privately with the Winter Sports Club along with city staff and Councilwoman Heather Sloop, said the executive session was necessary to review the joint use agreement, which is a legal document.
Magill countered that the joint use agreement is a three-page public document.
Sloop said the council needed to meet behind closed doors in part because it had to protect some confidentiality on the side of the Winter Sports Club during the negotiations.
After the explanations, Magill still voted in favor of having the discussion in public, but he was overruled by all six of his fellow council members.
Crossan said Wednesday the executive session was necessary to protect the city’s interests.
“We’re negotiating a piece of paper, and in order to protect the interests of the city, I think it still needs to be done in executive session,” she said. “When you’re going back and forth, you don’t want to lay your cards out in the public until you’re done.”
Sloop did not return a message seeking comment.
Immediatley after exiting the 70-minute executive session, Magill announced the council had decided during the closed-door meeting to hold off on seeking any changes to the joint use agreement until the city had received the results of an extensive soils study on the hill.
No other council members spoke publicly.
The soils study should give the city and the Winter Sports Club a better understanding of the landslide activity on the hill and better guide future maintenance on the hill.
Asked after the meeting if he still felt the discussion during the executive session could have happened in public, Magill said he “saw it both ways.”
“To be in executive session allowed us to consider options, but we could have done the same consideration of options in open session,” Magill said.
He said the executive session also allowed the council to discuss negotiating positions on items that are going to be financially binding.
Winter Sports Club Director Jim Boyne said Wednesday he and the city have discussed several conceptual options for the future of Howelsen, including potential repair caps on mudslide damage and what a preservation fund might look like.
“We haven’t really reached any agreement yet though because we need more information,” he said.
The discussions over the future of Howelsen have attracted significant public interest in the community, and a recent meeting attracted an overflow crowd of Howelsen Hill supporters after the Winter Sports Club indicated the negotiations had gotten off to a bumpy start.
Council members reassured the audience they had made progress since the first series of meetings and were not looking to jeopardize the future of the ski area but rather enhance it in the future.
Tuesday marked the second time in less than six months the council has entered a closed-door session that some members were opposed to.
In March, Magill and Councilman Scott Ford voted against convening a closed-door session to discuss whether the council would endorse a short sale of a former city manager’s home — a move that ultimately resulted in the city not recovering the full amount of a home loan the city gave Lanning a decade ago.
Council members who supported entering that executive session said they felt they would jeopardize taxpayer dollars if they discussed the negotiations in public. Some also committed to having more public dialogue about the decision following the session.
But when they left the executive session, the council immediately voted to endorse the short sale, with most members not explaining publicly how they had come to support the decision.
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