Potential conflict of interest could cause Steamboat Springs City Council to revisit police probe vote
Council President says council member's flying lessons with subject of probe should have been disclosed
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs City Council may revisit, and even redo, a vote on whether to release more information about an internal police investigation after it was revealed a council member who voted against the release of additional information has been taking flying lessons with one of the main subjects of the probe.
In a Facebook post Nov. 10, councilwoman Heather Sloop praised former Deputy Police Chief Bob DelValle as a great flight instructor after the two returned from a round-trip flight to Grand Junction. Sloop indicated in the post that it was her second flying lesson.
She did not publicly disclose that DelValle was her flight instructor before voting last week, with three other council members not to release a more thorough summary of the police investigation that led to DelValle’s departure from the police force after a nearly 30-year career.
The investigation, which was launched after a former police detective and officer accused the top police officials of creating a hostile work environment, also led to the resignations of police Chief Joel Rae and City Manager Deb Hinsvark.
After the Steamboat Today left phone messages with Sloop to discuss her connection to DelValle in more detail, she responded with an email saying she wouldn’t be available to talk until today, because she was traveling and had work meetings.
Some community members perceive the relationship between Sloop and DelValle as a conflict of interest in relation to Sloop’s vote not to release more about the investigation.
Council President Walter Magill said Monday Sloop should have disclosed her relationship with DelValle before voting on the police investigation summary.
Sloop has since modified her Facebook privacy settings so her profile posts cannot be viewed publicly.
Magill said he thinks the council should consider repeating the vote on the police investigation summary in light of the discovery of Sloop’s connection to DelValle.
He also wants to determine whether Sloop can vote on the issue without bias.
“Relationships like that are important,” Magill said. “I don’t know all of the details yet. I’d like to hear Heather’s side of it on what there is there.”
Magill said he doesn’t think the relationship with DelValle would automatically prevent Sloop from voting on releasing a summary of the police investigation, but he said she should have disclosed it, so the council could have a discussion and decide as a group.
Council members are advised by the city charter to disclose publicly any potential conflicts of interest before a vote. Fellow council members then decide as a group whether the council member should be allowed to vote on the issue after the potential conflict is disclosed.
Steamboat Springs resident Ed Miklus, who was critical of the council’s 4-3 decision not to release more information about the findings of the police investigation, said Sloop’s non-disclosure of her relationship with DelValle was “upsetting.”
“She knew she was going to be one of the deciding votes on whether to release information about the investigation when one of the main targets of the investigation was her flight instructor,” Miklus said.
Miklus expressed support for a public disclosure at an upcoming council meeting followed by another vote on the issue.
On Friday, Sloop complained about the suddenness of the vote and suggested she didn’t have enough time to “digest” the information before casting a “no” vote.
A close vote
Concerned about liability issues and potentially hurting a police department in the process of healing, Sloop voted with Magill and council members Robin Crossan and Tony Connell not to release more information about the police investigation.
Magill said Monday he felt it is a “vocal minority” that is calling for more information about the investigation to be released, and doing so would cause more harm than good.
“I see it in the blogs, but I don’t hear it from people contacting me or coming down to the podium (at Citizens Hall),” Magill said.
He said if a summary of the investigation is released, people who felt they were wronged in some way by the police department could use the summary as evidence in a potential lawsuit.
Council members Scott Ford, Jason Lacy and Kathi Meyer wanted a more thorough summary to bring closure to the investigation and help the council and public better evaluate changes that are being made at the police department.
If the council does take another vote without Sloop and no member is absent or changes his or her position, it would result in a 3-3 tie, and no more information about the investigation would be released.
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