Our view: The public deserves to know
Last week, in an article reporting on the status of an ongoing investigation into allegations of misconduct by Steamboat Springs Police Chief Joel Rae and Deputy Chief Bob DelValle, a city spokesman confirmed there may not be a final report released at the end of the investigation, which we find extremely troubling.
In light of national events involving excessive use of force by police officers, and considering the seriousness of the allegations leveled against Steamboat’s top-ranking law enforcement officials, we think a report of some type needs to be released upon the conclusion of the investigation.
In addition to the seriousness of the allegations, there is also the issue of fiscal transparency. We have not been able to report on what the investigation is actually costing the city. We have asked for that information but were told the city “is not running a summation of costs.” We do know the investigator is charging $110 per hour plus expenses for her services and the city is also paying the city of Craig $349 per day for every day Craig Police Department Captain Jerry DeLong serves as interim chief while keeping Rae and Delvalle on paid administrative leave.
Once the investigation is complete in June, the newspaper will request a full accounting of costs associated with the investigation and report it. It’s information the public deserves to know, and we would expect the city to provide it.
We understand the police probe is not being conducted as a criminal investigation, but we also have reported that investigator Kathy Nuanes has been directed to “follow the investigation wherever the investigation takes her.” In light of that information, any criminal wrongdoing she might uncover must be made public, and if the investigation remains in the realm of possible workplace misconduct, we would urge the city to find a way to release some type of report when the investigation concludes.
The public will not be satisfied if the investigation ends without resolution of some kind.
And on another front involving city transparency, the newspaper also reported last week that a series of one-on-one talks between individual council members and the head of the city’s parks and community services department had been cancelled after council members Scott Ford and Sonja Macys expressed their concerns the meetings were being conducted in violation of Colorado open meetings laws.
City Attorney Tony Lettunich wisely advised the council to stop holding one-on-one or two-by-two meetings, which are known as serial meetings, to discuss public business. These types of meetings are illegal when used by elected officials as a tactic to gain consensus on an issue. We appreciate Ford’s and Macys’ diligence and commitment to openness and transparency in bringing this issue to light in a public venue.
In an email to the council, Parks and Community Services Director John Overstreet said he wanted to meet with each council member to discuss Triple Crown contract negotiations and other summer parks and recreation plans — both topics we think deserve to be discussed openly during a city council meeting so that the public is allowed to weigh in before final decisions are made.
The possible withholding of a final investigative report and the revelation of potential open meetings violations, though unrelated, lead us to think that city officials, including the city manager and department heads, need to study the Colorado open meetings and open records law closely and abide by it. We urge the city council to be open and transparent, because that’s how good government works.
We also contend that it’s in the best interest of the city, the Steamboat Springs Police Department and the public for city officials to come up with a way to provide a report at the conclusion of the police investigation, which if nothing else, provides an outline of what corrective action is being taken to prevent possible misconduct in the future. It’s a matter of public trust and an issue of public importance. If the residents of Steamboat Springs don’t know what happened, they can’t move on and regain trust in the police department and its leaders moving forward.
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