Our View: City’s credibility takes huge hit | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: City’s credibility takes huge hit

The revelation Tuesday night that a close relative of a member of the Steamboat Springs City Council had been hired to vet the final police station sites was shocking to say the least. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that council member Tony Connell was an investor in one of the sites his brother-in-law was hired to assess.

The information surfaced near the end of a six-hour council meeting during what was supposed to be a closed executive session to proceed with purchasing one of the police station sites. Council members Sonja Macys and Scott Ford pushed for the discussion to be held in open session, and if that had not occurred and talks had happened without a reporter and members of the public present, the serious conflict of interest likely would not have been exposed.

As a result of the revelation, the city manager's and the council's credibility has taken a huge hit, which has thrown the whole police station project into question and damaged public trust.

How City Manager Deb Hinsvark could think hiring Connell's relative to offer recommendations on a property purchase that Connell could potentially benefit from was a good idea is beyond our understanding. The decision illustrates a serious lapse in judgment. We also think it was a major misstep for Connell to suggest his brother-in-law as a possible resource in the first place. Connell maintains he didn't know his brother-in-law had actually been hired, and based on the fact that the entire council seemed to have been kept in the dark about the situation, we believe him.

Hinsvark did take the blame — sort of. When she was asked about the conflict of interest, she stated, "I did not consider what just having him there being the person to gather the data might do to the entire process."

"My mistake."

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But she also stated, "This is a small town, and there's two degrees of separation on every little thing we do, so I didn't consider this to be an issue."

That statement indicates that Hinsvark still might not "get it." conflict of interest is a serious issue, and one our city manager should be skilled at recognizing and avoiding.

We also believe Hinsvark should have had the wisdom to suggest removing the U.S. Highway 40 site from consideration when she learned it could only be voted on by five of seven council members due to conflicts of interest that caused Connell and Council President Bart Kounovsky to recuse themselves. And two of the five remaining voters — Macys and Ford — had made it clear they weren't ready to decide on a location. That left three council members to decide the issue, which was not enough. It also must be noted that a capital decision of that magnitude should not have been left to a vote of three people.

This situation also provides an excellent example of why government business should be conducted in open session. If this issue had been discussed in executive session, council members would not have been able to divulge the reason behind this breakdown of the police station site selection process. The public and the press would have been left with more unanswered questions about a process that already is wrought with mistrust.

At issue

A conflict of interest involving the vetting of police station site properties was revealed during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting

Our view

City manager’s lapse in judgment has damaged public trust and placed police station project into question