Eleanor Hasenbeck: Bingo and other ways to survive a 5-hour Steamboat Springs City Council meeting
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — If you live, work or shop in Steamboat Springs, Steamboat Springs City Council makes decisions that impact you, from how you carry out your groceries to the taxes you pay. Most of those decisions happen in long meetings on Tuesday nights in downtown Steamboat.
For me, City Council started as part of the job. Local government was the boring part of the job required to get to first write about wildlife and energy at the Craig Press, then to write about land, water and the forest at Steamboat Pilot & Today. Now, I appreciate City Council meetings as my Brazilian grandmother undoubtedly appreciates her morning telenovelas. Each week, a new piece of the story is revealed.
I don’t think I can ever make a City Council meeting sexy, but in writing this, my goal is to encourage you to get engaged with the city’s decision-making process in some way, whether it’s watching the meeting online or just reading through the agendas.
This week is my last week at the Pilot, as I recently accepted a position at the Colorado River District. I’m leaving behind a community I love, a hope that readers better understand their local government and an opportunity for you to win a copy of Ski Town Shenanigans by showing up to a City Council meeting and completing the bingo card below.
You’ve got two chances for upcoming meetings: City Council’s regular meeting on Dec. 3 or its Dec. 10 work session. You don’t even have to get off the couch, as you can tune into the live stream available at steamboatsprings.net/agendas. You can also head into the archives and watch a previous council meeting at the same address.
To participate, fill out the bingo card below and submit it in person to the Pilot’s office at 910 Yampa St. or by sending a photo of your completed card to email@example.com. We’ll select two lucky winners on Dec. 15.
I’m incredibly grateful to so many folks in this town who have trusted me with their stories and to so many people who have helped me along the way. I’ll still be working for Routt County, though I’ll be wearing a different hat. The Colorado River District manages, protects and advocates for water in western Colorado and across the greater Colorado River Basin, which the Yampa River is a part of.
So, to my successor at the Pilot and in hopes of getting you tuned in to a City Council meeting, here’s some advice to make the best of a long city council meeting.
Pay attention to the agenda or be ready for the long haul
While I’ve already spent more hours than I’d care to count in Centennial Hall, most people can tune in and out to catch the agenda items that are most important to them. In my experience, few people besides city staff and council members themselves stay for the entire meeting.
If you do choose to sit through the entire meeting, which typically goes for four to five hours, remember City Council meetings are a marathon, not a sprint. You need to pace both your attention span and your snacks.
There are three ways to go about it if you don’t plan to sit in council chambers all night:
- Sit there until the council gets to your agenda item. This is more time consuming, but you’ll be less likely to miss the nuances of the meeting or miss your agenda item altogether.
- Watch online, and pop into council chambers when the group is nearing your discussion item. Tune in to the live stream of the meeting, and head downtown when your agenda item is on deck.
- Watch all or part of the meeting online. If you don’t want to give public comment, this is a good option, though you’ll likely miss some details of discussion, like the telltale looks between planning applicants and council members asking them pressing questions and maybe a bad joke or two.
If it’s a complicated issue or negotiation, even one agenda item can receive more than an hour of discussion. In this case, remember: pace your snacks.
Snacks are key
Assuming you’re in it for the long haul, you are going to need snacks. If you ate a 4:30 p.m. early dinner, you’ll be hungry again by 8 p.m. If you didn’t eat beforehand, you’ll be even more hungry.
Again, pacing is critical. Don’t eat all of your snacks in the first hour. Sure, break into those carrots sooner if you missed dinner, but when it’s 8 p.m. and the council has been discussing one tedious, specific line of an ordinance for an hour, you’ll need the pick-me-up that a long-awaited snack can provide. For me, that’s sparkling water and a mozzarella string cheese.
You should be strategic in your snack selection. Discrete snacks that you can set down or seal up and return to later are best. That means no crinkly chip bags that will rattle every time you reach in and no pungent tuna salad or Limburger cheese.
If you’re behind the dais, discrete snacks are even more important. The microphone can pick up slurps and loud crunches, so you should be ready to lean away from the mic or risk having your chomps documented in the public record. You also can’t bite into a whole apple right before you make a motion, so be sure your snacks are in bite-size pieces, so you can swallow quickly before you speak up.
If you did bring a noisy snack, bust it out in the 10-minute break that the council typically takes around 7 p.m. Limburger, though? Go eat that in your car.
Read the packet
For maximum City Council meeting enjoyment, you have to read the documents included in each week’s agenda packet.
When there are frequently months of meetings building up the background on an ordinance, the documents included in the packet can help you get up to speed. Attending or watching the meeting without having looked at these documents is akin to reading only the dialogue inside of the quotation marks in your favorite novel. You’ll get many of the important pieces, but you probably won’t understand the whole picture.
Your public comment will sound smarter.* Your skin will appear 10 years younger, and you’ll be the envy of all of your neighbors who don’t know what’s going on.*
At a minimum, read the city staff’s memo summarizing the issue you’re interested in, which is typically only a few pages long. If you don’t actually want to watch a four-hour-long meeting, spending 15 minutes a week reading through staff summaries will keep you tuned in to what’s going on in city government.
*Results not guaranteed.
Choose your seat wisely
Everybody has different goals when picking a seat in City Council chambers.
Some want to be able to pop up to the podium quickly and make a quick escape after giving a presentation or public comment. For those, I recommend an aisle seat or the front row.
Some want to take photos from their seat. Your best bet is the back row. Unless of course, you plan to get out of your seat to take the photo, then follow the same advice as those looking to make a quick escape.
Some, myself included, want to avoid being on the City Council livestream. To avoid being caught on camera, sit on the south side of the room, either in the third row or farther back. Anywhere behind the podium is fair game for screen time as city staff typically film presenters and public comment.
Some need to take notes. You should choose one of the seats with a swing-out desktop. There are only a couple of left-handed desks, so if you’re a lefty, you might have to scout the room a bit to find one.
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