Q. & A. with Chuck McConnell, Steamboat Springs City Council, at-large candidate
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs City Council, at-large
Prior political experience: Candidate for Colorado House of Representatives; county representative for state and national candidates
Hometown: Born in Bethany, Missouri
Years in Steamboat: 12
Family: Three children, eight grandchildren
Civic Involvement: Volunteered with Routt County Council on Aging, volunteered with Communidad Integrada, annual highway cleanup project. In my career, I was a founder and later president of a Rotary Club and president of another.
Q. Two recent surveys show confidence in the city council is low in the eyes of the community and city staff. How would you work to improve the community’s confidence in the council?
A. I will be open and transparent in city council business. The community has made clear this is essential to restore confidence in the council. Another way to restore confidence is for elected representatives to be accessible. As a council member, I will be accessible and approachable, being available to answer questions will build public confidence. I will participate in an informal monthly meeting where all members of the community are invited. In these meetings, issues pertaining to city business will be open for discussion. Steamboat Springs has exceptionally good city staff. I will also be available and approachable to them, not to in any way direct their work, simply to answer questions and welcome their input on council issues.
Q. Is the city’s free-to-rider bus system still viable as is? If not, how should it be funded in the future and what changes should be made?
A. Yes, the city’s free-to-ride bus system is viable. This system is a drawing card for out-of-town visitors. It is also an excellent way for our own residents to reduce their living cost using the bus service for work and their daily activities. By reducing automobile traffic, our “mass transit” system is also environmentally friendly and energy efficient. I have attended council meetings where citizen comments praised the system and stated it was a godsend for folks who cannot afford a car. Future funding should not include converting the bus transit system to a pay situation. I do think a volunteer fee system where people could pay for a ride if they wished should be explored. This option could help defray some system operating expenses. Our transit should continue to be optimized to keep operating cost at a minimum and maintain excellent service.
Q. Does the city have a role to play in promoting affordable/workforce housing in the community? If so, what policies would you support as a council member to promote this type of housing?
A. The city’s role in workforce housing must be limited to a partnership with the private sector. The bad experience with the Iron Horse Motel showed us that the risks of public ownership and management of workforce housing is too risky. The gamble of ownership must be left to the private sector. The large number of “Help Wanted” signs is testimony to the need for entry-level employees. Bus service to Steamboat from lower cost area towns has been a good but only a partial solution. I will support a partnership whereby the private sector provides the investment and operation management and the city guides investors through the complex and often daunting regulatory process. Affordable housing would benefit Steamboat Springs with an influx of young families. Many of those families will bring location-neutral businesses and valuable work skills. Again, the private sector must provide the investment while working with the city to navigate regulatory issues.
Q. Do you support the recommendation of a citizens committee to work with Routt County to build a shared public safety facility in west Steamboat next to the county jail? Why or why not?
A. Yes, I support the citizens committee recommendation to build a shared public safety facility next to the county jail. It just makes common sense to use existing government-owned land when feasible. We will work in close cooperation with Routt County to accomplish this strategy. A shared facility softens the cost to purchase a new site for the proposed facility as well as the controversy of converting the usage of current city-owned land. I have heard some ideas recently that would go one step further — unification of the two departments. I would support a citizen/city/county committee to study the unification of Steamboat Springs and Routt County public safety operations and make recommendations as to any benefits of unification.
Q. Do you feel the city has released enough information to the public about the internal police investigation that led to the departure of the police chief and the deputy police chief? Why or why not?
A. No, the city has not released enough information on the internal police investigation. Much of the public’s recent low confidence in the city council has centered on the near total lack of information about this investigation. After all, the investigation was initiated by the city at a total cost exceeding $100,000 of taxpayer money. City council members have not seen large sections of the investigation report. It is just plain wrong that our elected officials who initiated and made funding available for the study have not had access. My concern about lack of council access is that the study could reveal valuable information regarding the need for new city public safety policy or changes to existing policy. Access to the results of the investigation could help avoid future problems like those identified in the study.
Q. Some current council members have suggested the public’s trust in the police department has fallen because of the recent internal investigation that led to the departures of the police chief and the deputy police chief. What do you see as council’s role in the wake of that investigation?
A. Hiring a new police chief will be our opportunity to restore the public’s trust in the police department. This will be our chance to bring on a police chief that reflects the values of our community. Steamboat’s police force will ultimately reflect the values and character of its leader. The hiring process must ensure that the new chief has a track record of establishing collaboration between his agency and the individuals and organizations served. Once a new chief is in place, the city manager must make sure council public safety policies are understood and implemented. I am surprised and disappointed the new police chief will be hired before the new city manager and new council are in place. I would support formation of a police commission represented by city council, citizens and the new chief to review future police actions and practices.
Q. The city’s parks and recreation commission does not believe the city’s vast portfolio of recreational amenities is adequately funded by the city’s general fund. Is it time to create a parks and rec district with its own property levy to remove that category from the general fund?
A. Parks and recreation and the activities they support are critical to Steamboat Springs’ residents. They play a major role in the joy we all derive from living here. The city’s parks and recreation commission and their employees have done an excellent job with the resources they have to work with. The city council is tasked with prioritizing the many demands on the general fund. This can leave some departments with less funding than they believe is necessary to achieve their goals. I would favor creating a parks and rec district if it can be done on a tax-neutral basis and after a positive public vote. I believe the new district could be established in cooperation with the city council and without a net increase in tax burden on our residents.
Q. How many current or prior city council members did you speak with before deciding to run for office? What were the three most important take-aways you had from those conversations?
A. I have spoken directly with four current council members since I made the decision to run for city council and three former members. I also participated the “Step Up and Serve” forum the Pilot sponsored in June where four former council members provided first-hand perspective on service as a council member and answered questions. My objective has been to learn as much as possible from those who are and have been closest to the decision making process. Three of my significant takeaways were: 1) always do the homework by closely studying the council packet before council meetings. I am retired, and I commit to full-time representation and meeting preparation; 2) restarting the “work sessions” of earlier councils is a must. I certainly support this and will gladly participate; 3) communication, openness and honesty with community members is essential to be effective. I am 100 percent behind this recommendation and actually enjoy being accessible to my fellow residents.
Q. One of your first major jobs as a council member would be hiring a new city manager. What would you look for in a city manager?
A. I will take an active role in selection of the new city manager. I will look for a person who is fully qualified and experienced with a proven track record of success as a city manager in other similar cities to Steamboat. Equally important is selecting someone who communicates effectively. Our new manager must be capable of understanding policy decisions of the council and have a demonstrated history of working collaboratively with city staff to effectively implement those policies. Council members must also confirm that the new city manager understands and lives by the values of our Steamboat Springs community. Given the history of short tenure with past city managers, this hiring decision is one of the most important jobs we will have as a new council.
Q. The city’s general fund is almost entirely dependent upon sales tax revenues. Does the city do enough, too much, or not enough to stimulate sales tax receipts?
A. Past Steamboat Springs’ city councils have done a satisfactory job stimulating sales tax receipts over the years. The Tax Policy Advisory Board (TPAB), which met in 2010 and 2011, presented a comprehensive report on Steamboat’s tax policy in January 2012. This 13-member board concluded that Steamboat Springs had thrived using the current system of sales tax funding. They found that there was no immediate requirement for added taxes. They further recognized that there had been steady growth in sales tax receipts over time. Sales tax receipts have continued to be strong since the TPAB’s 2012 report recommendations. I agree with the TPAB conclusions.
Open ended question: How can the new city council effectively “get the job done” for the citizens of Steamboat Springs?
A. I am running for city council because I love Steamboat Springs and as a council member, I can do better. I commit to communicate and work as a team with other council members to resolve issues and bring the best leadership possible to our council. Many leadership and problem-solving roles throughout my career provided me with the skills to accomplish this goal. I further commit to solving problems as quickly as possible and to resist “kicking the can down the road.” We see too much divisiveness in national and state politics that results in gridlock while significant issues are left hanging. Our city council will best serve the people who elect us as their representatives by expending the time and energy to quickly, efficiently and intelligently solve problems. Our residents have expressed their frustration because important issues just never seem to get resolved. These delays along with a lack of transparency have played a role in lost confidence in city leadership. As a new council, we will resume open work sessions, which will go a long way toward getting the job done.
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