Hinsvark reflects on tenure as Steamboat Springs city manager
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs City Manager Deb Hinsvark’s last day in City Hall was marked by hugs and well wishes from several city employees and a resolve from her seven bosses on the city council to figure out how to avoid similar departures of their managers in the future.
“How could we have done better?,” Councilman Kenny Reisman asked Hinsvark and his fellow council members Tuesday night before the council ultimately approved a separation agreement and severance package for the city manager. “We didn’t do it right. There’s no way we could look at the last six months and say the relationship between council and us couldn’t be done better.”
On Tuesday night, Hinsvark resigned and agreed to sign a legal liability release agreement. She will receive a six-month severance package worth $83,796.
Her resignation came amid some tension with some members of the council.
The council’s relationship with future city managers will be the topic of a council work session in October.
Hinsvark started with the city in 2009 as interim finance director.
She thought she would be staying for only six months, but she enjoyed her tenure and would go on to serve as finance director, deputy city manager, interim city manager and then city manager.
In the manager’s chair, she helped advanc projects ranging from the funding and planning of a new police station to a new access road into Emerald Park.
But in recent weeks and months, her tenure has been rocked by tension with some members of the council and an internal police investigation that led to the resignations of the city’s police chief and deputy police chief.
In her final hours on the job, Hinsvark talked about what she enjoyed about managing the city and also about the challenges of working with a council she said had diverse views.
The Steamboat Today sat down with Hinsvark on her second-to-last day on the job.
Here’s what she had to say.
On making the transition from finance director to city manager
“Going from the finance director where I’m part of the team to city manager where I’m helping organize the team wasn’t that difficult because of the team,” Hinsvark said. “I can orchestrate this group because it is great. But the fact is, we all agree to the rules, and the rules are we can sit in our management team room and conduct city business and disagree with each other. We can brainstorm and say the most ignorant things you’ve ever heard in your life, and all of that stays in the room. And when we leave the room, we’re a united group.”
On her accomplishments as city manager
“In this administration, our goal was to stop making plans and to start pulling plans that were good, that had validity, and to start implementing those,” Hinsvark said. “Our goal was to reinstall the community’s faith in this city government’s ability to get things done, and that’s what we worked hard at.”
She pointed to significant progress on a new access road into Emerald Park and the funding for a new police station as examples of successes of the administration.
She also counts new medians on U.S. Highway 40, the proposed downtown infrastructure improvements and an increased credit rating at the city as other big accomplishments.
But Hinsvark said the criticism and lack of support from some members of the city council “undermined” the city administration and held back some accomplishments.
“We were working to instill community trust, and there were some on council working to create distrust in this administration,” Hinsvark said.
Hinsvark said a small number of council members gave her the lowest scores possible on her annual performance review, causing the overall score to be lower.
Hinsvark said she didn’t feel the public scoring system was reflective of the majority of the council’s thoughts on her performance.
On Steamboat’s form of government
Asked about the recent frequent turnover of city managers here and whether Steamboat’s form of government plays a role in that, Hinsvark expressed support for a mayoral council system that keeps the city manager in place.
She said although she feels the city is not big enough for a strong mayor form of government, having a more powerful leader of the city council could be a benefit.
“That’s what a majority of the cities have here,” Hinsvark said of the mayor-city manager system. “It really helps provide direction. Sometimes, it was hard for me to read where the council was at” on certain issues.
She said while Steamboat’s council president has more powers than the other council members, the position is not as powerful as a mayor.
“The whole community has not determined who the council president is,” Hinsvark said.
She said having a mayor in place, who is backed by the community, could help a city manager act on more of a consensus.
“I can’t act on a direction until I have direction from four, and it’s tough,” she said.
On what led to her departure
Hinsvark pointed to a closed-door meeting with the council on July 21 and said there was friction with some members of the council.
She said she was interrupted and shrieked at by some members of the council at the tense meeting.
“I don’t need that,” Hinsvark said Monday. “I don’t wish to work in a hostile work environment.”
The council directed the city attorney to start negotiating a separation agreement with Hinsvark at their next meeting.
Emails between Hinsvark and some council members in her final weeks as city manager reveal tension with some members of council, especially councilwoman Sonja Macys, who had twice sought Hinsvark’s resignation.
In advocating to secure a legal liability release from the outgoing city manager, Council President Bart Kounovsky, who continued to support Hinsvark, said it was needed in part because he had witnessed some “boorish behavior” from other council members toward the city manager.
On Tuesday night, councilman Reisman said the council shared responsibility for Hinsvark’s departure, and he pushed the council to discuss ways to improve its relationship with its city manager in the future.
On what advice she has for the next city manager
Hinsvark suggested future administrations host more comprehensive orientations for incoming council members so the council members can better understand their role.
“This council has been too focused on operations of the city, and that’s not their purview,” Hinsvark said. “They are running fine, and when they focus on those operations, they don’t have an opportunity to create a vision and provide governance.”
She said the city will host such an orientation on Thursday for prospective city council members.
On what’s next
“That’s the most exciting thing about leaving . . . I have no clue what’s next,” Hinsvark said. “The sky is the limit.”
She said leaving the city is “sad, sad, sad.”
“I have a great team, and they will be fine,” she said. “They’ll run the city. The next manager coming in can duck their head and let them do it, and that will be good.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.