Q. & A. with Erin Walker, Steamboat Springs City Council, District 3 candidate
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs City Council, District 3
Prior political experience: No
Hometown: Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, but Steamboat Springs is now my hometown
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
Years in Steamboat: 1 1/2 as a resident but I’ve been coming here since I was 12 years old.
Family: Locally, I’m lucky to have a large group of friends and mentors that I already consider family. My dog Finnegan rounds out my “loved ones” here in Steamboat. I have a very close relationship with my family back in Ohio, and they visit so often I don’t have a chance to miss them.
Civic involvement: Locally, I am a member of the Young Professional’s Network and on the Yampa Valley Gives fundraising committee. In Denver, I was a member of the Young Professionals History Colorado Board, volunteered as a mentor in the Goodwill Industries in-school program, founded the Denver Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals Group and was a member of the 2010 Impact Denver Class (an invitation-only leadership program).
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. The first step is to listen. It is hard to have confidence in a group when your concerns aren’t heard. The second step includes hiring a city manager who is experienced, willing to work under the direction of the council, learn the history of Steamboat and to lead the city staff. The third is to establish a vision for the community with their input. This includes revisiting the community plan and recent surveys in order to make unemotional decisions with the long-term goal in mind. Once a decision is made, everyone on council should get behind it and work as a team.
A. As a member of city council, I would lead by example to communicate respectfully, work collaboratively and behave transparently. I have done all of these throughout my career in nonprofit while convening people from various sectors, with different agendas. Through effective communication and compromise, solutions are possible.
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. According to the current transit staff, they are comfortable with 2016 budgets and the system is currently viable. However, the key to budgeting for transit is long-term planning. The council, in conjunction with city staff and community input needs to put together a vision for transportation as a whole and then determine how it should be funded. One long-term issue is planning financially for buses that will need to be replaced starting in 2019. For the vision, we need not look further than ideas that were researched and put together by the transportation group at the chamber prior to the economic downturn. Also, other mountain communities are solving their transit challenges through various funding strategies, and we can look to them for best practices. Once the best plan for Steamboat is put into place, we can figure out the strategy to fund it.
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. This is an issue that affects our business community tremendously. Employees coming to Steamboat cannot find places to live affordably. Affordable housing is also one of the top concerns from the community survey. While is it a challenge, I do not believe it is something our city government can solve on its own. The city should not be in the business of managing housing. The city should continue to support Yampa Valley Housing Authority, a much needed organization in this community. Council, with the city staff, can also look at the development code and other policies to simplify and remove barriers to development. Lastly, I believe we will need to consider the West Steamboat Area Plan in order to begin to address the affordable and attainable housing issue as a whole.
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. I do. This process was a perfect example of how a committee of concerned and knowledgeable citizens can come together, vet ideas and find a solution that works for the community. The shared facility is a fiscally sound and efficient solution that will save the city money while promoting collaboration between the city and the county. I would fully support it as a member of council. Steamboat has many individuals with depths of experience in the business, government, education and nonprofit sectors. Utilizing this expertise makes perfect sense when attempting to find solutions to a variety of challenges we face.
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. The community has a right to an explanation as to how the conclusions of this investigation were reached. As a council member, I would have both the desire and the right to read the conclusions of the investigation. At that point, after meeting with legal counsel, council should decide what should be released to the public. I believe it is important that the community is allowed to see what transpired and understand the changes that will be implemented. However, this needs to be balanced with the rights of those that were asked to testify and were promised confidentiality in doing so.
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. The council’s role in this situation is to establish a vision as to what is expected of a new city manager. Under normal circumstances, it is council’s responsibility to ensure they hire the most experienced city manager. It is the city manager’s responsibility to hire a police chief. However, the process is moving forward without a permanent city manager. In this case, I believe two city council members should be on the citizens committee interviewing candidates. We need to ensure the police chief Steamboat deserves is hired through an open and transparent process. This includes someone who is fair, treats others equally and promotes a safe community. After the new chief is hired, he/she must be directed by the city manager to implement the 18 recommended policy and procedure changes determined through the investigation.
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. Steamboat is blessed with a plethora of parks and recreation facilities that are very important to our quality of life. Quality of life is of the utmost importance to residents. As a member of the new council, I would work as a team with the city employees and the community to establish a long-term goal for creation of new and maintenance of current spaces. Once a vision is agreed upon, council, with community input, should create a funding plan that may or may not include a taxing district or property tax. I’m open to looking at all options and finding the best one for our unique place. Overall, when considering tax plans, we need not look further than the 2005 and 2011 tax reports submitted by the Tax Policy Advisory Board. These reports outline suggestions for the city in regards to both sales and property taxes.
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 did not speak with any prior to deciding to run. My conversations were had with close friends and business leaders. Since deciding to run, I have met with seven previous and current council members and will continue to meet with others throughout this process. I have also met with a previous city manager. I learned a lot in regards to the necessary strategies of a campaign from all of them. Secondly, each person reiterated the importance of listening to the community and maintaining an open mind when discussing challenges. The third and most important is that no matter what the viewpoint of each individual I talked with, everyone in this town cares about Steamboat as passionately as I do. Everyone wants to maintain the amazing quality of life we have while trying to address our challenges.
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 feel Steamboat deserves someone willing to dig in and learn everything there is to know about our history while also integrating themselves into our community. Flexibility, ability to communicate with and manage city staff, willingness to be directed by the city council and overall experience should all be considered. In speaking with a previous city manager and others who have been successful in government roles, the common thread is ability to communicate effectively, transparently and respectfully with both their employees as well as their bosses. It is also my opinion that a city manager should respect the city charter as it outlines roles and guidelines for both the city manager and council and their interactions.
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. Because the city is so dependent up sales tax, it is imperative that businesses in the area feel supported by council. As a council member, I would push for more communication and collaboration between the two groups, to help us become more successful as a whole. Anything that city government can do to consider the needs of local business and provide services, as appropriate, is imperative to our future. This includes supporting the repeal of SB 152358 in order to allow for more reliable Internet service, making sure we support downtown infrastructure improvements and ensuring solutions for childcare and affordable housing are found. While the city cannot solve all of these issues, council can be leaders and encourage collaborations whenever possible. Until Steamboat citizens decide to rely on different tax structures, it is the city’s duty to listen to and assist those that contribute to its largest revenue stream.
I started coming to Steamboat when I was 12 and hiked my first backpacking trip at Three Island Lake. I’ve seen how Steamboat has changed while maintaining its’ unique charm. I am blessed to be here now and am invested in our future. I am running for city council because it is time for a fresh and independent perspective. As a part of the Young Professional’s Network, I would be a liaison for young professionals to our city government. I hope to be a piece in the puzzle as the next generation engages in civic duties. I have no agenda. I’m open-minded and will put in the effort to educate myself on all sides of the issue. Working in nonprofit for 15 years has given me the experience needed to effectively communicate and collaborate with diverse groups of people. At each organization I’ve worked for, I’ve improved transparency, something very important in the nonprofit industry. I’ve raised and allocated funds under tight budget constraints. Working for two chambers of commerce gave me insight on community development and helping businesses succeed. It would be honor to apply these skill sets and go to work on your behalf.
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