Q. & A. with Richard Levy, Steamboat Springs City Council, District 1 candidate
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs City Council, District 1
Occupation: Massage therapist (self-employed), U.S. Forest Service wilderness ranger (seasonal)
Prior political experience: Steamboat Springs Planning Commission, 2007-present; City council candidate, 2011; URA Advisory Council, 2006-2007; Affordable Housing Working Group, 2005; City council candidate, 1997.
Hometown: Trenton, New Jersey
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: 22
Family: one beautiful partner, Sarah Westendorf
Civic involvement: Northwest Colorado Stewardship, 2003-2005; Trappers Lake Sierra Club Executive Committee, 2000-present; Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley Executive Committee, 2003- present
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 new council will have to earn the trust and confidence of the community. We can do that by taking the time to publicly discuss all decisions. It is impractical to expect our community to be aware of every decision if we depend on them reading agendas and minutes. We should widely publicize all agenda items and better utilize the city page in the Steamboat Today to keep our citizens aware. We can improve relationships with staff by staying within our roles as defined by the Steamboat Springs City Charter: City council is tasked with providing clear direction to the city manager, not to staff. It is the role of the city manager to implement only these goals through our knowledgable staff. In order to assure clarity, all city council members must be support decided goals regardless of how they voted.
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. No, the system is not viable as it is. Last winter city council tried to expand service while reducing funding. These changes were untenable to those that need dependable bus service. Employees were late for work. There were long waits for visitors in the middle of winter. A well designed bus system can address our current community goals of sustainability, affordability. Only with a predictable bus service will visitors and locals make a more sustainable choice and use public transit. Our high cost of living affects everything, from employee turnover to affordable child care to reduced sales tax collections. Reducing the cost of transportation will improve the quality of our lives and strengthen our economy.
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 Routt County Business Climate Study, August 2015, found four in 10 businesses are having trouble finding employees. Many said that “increasing employee housing was the most important action the city could undertake to improve business climate.” We know that rental housing is essentially at 100 percent occupancy. Housing is the largest expense for Steamboat’s families. Many residents are spending more than the recommended portion (30 percent) of their incomes on housing. There are a number of strategies in use around Colorado to address workforce housing, inclusionary zoning, linkage, dedicated taxes, lowered development fees, government participation and incentives. We could study this forever. The private sector has not created supply to meet demand. Inclusionary zoning and/or linkage requirements were determined the least painful answer in 2006. The answer is to re-institute these requirements. Payment in lieu dollars can be leveraged as was done in YVHA’s Elk River Road project.
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. A joint facility has demonstrated to be a win-win solution. The need for expanded facilities are well documented. The costs are far less than the original $19.5 million proposal. The real controversy was lack of a clear public process. This committee worked openly to cover all the bases (location, cost, logistics) and they explained their methodology. The current city council allowed this project to go from a capital project expected in 2021 to a last minute sale of the current facility without a relocation plan. Hopefully, we can get the county and the city to agree on what is needed and get this project initiated.
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. Public safety is a community issue. Our police force has a difficult task. The dangers are increasing while respect is decreasing. Still, the culture of our police department needs to be compatible with the philosophy of our citizens. This metric is important to the police as it is to a new city manager. I do not understand why we cannot release a report with all the names removed. City council and the city manager are responsible for overseeing all city operations and have the responsibility to inform its citizens of issues concerning governance.
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 police department is not a stand-alone department. The city manager oversees the police department. City council oversees the city manager. Better communication and transparency up and down the chain of command needs to occur so that responsibilities can be fulfilled. Additional steps should be taken once we have the complete results of 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. Parks are important. New taxes are not always popular. We need playgrounds for children; recreation space for health, entertainment and socialization; open space for peace of mind. Right now we have a burgeoning capital improvements projects and parked projects list. I can’t see additional funding coming from the general fund at this time, when critical infrastructure needs are waiting. I would support a parks and recreation district referendum going forward to the voters.
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. Running for public office is an extremely personal decision. I have spoken to my partner, friends and government officials. I have been a candidate before and have spoken with council members about my candidacy. Our discussions have ranged from campaign strategy to city policy to council disfunction. More importantly, I have been involved with a number of campaigns — Big Box Ordinance, Workforce Housing and Steamboat 700. This has helped me develop a better understanding of how decisions and policy become successful. During my time on Planning Commission, I have learned the importance and shortcomings of our Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan and how it directs our community vision. Lastly, I have a better understanding of the immense amount of work that is required in order to be a effective elected official. I am able and willing to do the necessary work.
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. A new city manager will have a number of challenges. Regaining the community’s trust is a top priority. Communication and transparency would be important qualities. The ability to enact the wishes of the whole city council might be next. Unfortunately, there is no way to look into a crystal ball and know exactly how a well-qualified candidate will perform. We also cannot foresee all possible problems that will arise in the future. Understanding a candidate’s ethics and philosophy will be good indicator of how well someone will fit into Steamboat’s environment.
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. It’s not the city’s job to generate sales tax. It is the city’s job as part of its “core services” to create an environment where businesses can prosper, for its citizens to live a self sufficient lifestyle and to create a place that visitors will want to visit and return to. Investing in efforts that reflect our culture will pay great dividends. The core trail is a great example of a community asset that locals and visitors enjoy. It reflects our healthy lifestyle. Last year, the city’s bus service created a negative perception among all users. Visitors might not return to Steamboat, they might spend less due to time wasted waiting. Keeping everyone out of their cars reduces transportation spending and increases disposable income that can be spent here. This supports our community’s goal of greater sustainability.
I love my 15-plus years of experience doing the community’s business. I enjoy discussing, deliberating and debating with people of varied perspectives to come to the best outcome. I am deeply invested in the public process. My time served on various public committees and my eight years as a Steamboat Springs planning commissioner has taught me to listen to all sides and how to come to a thoughtful decision. When faced with complex topics, I am always ready to learn more. When doubtful of staff’s proposals, I am not reluctant to challenge their assumptions. I have learned to accomplish this in a civil and open manner. Since 2005, I have been appointed to the Affordable Housing Working Group, the URA Advisory Council and to the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission. We need a slate of city council members that are willing to do the hard work to come to solutions to our most pressing problems and to create a vision for our community going forward. If given that opportunity, I will to do all the work necessary to be an effective elected official.
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