Starting with stop signs, Crossan reflects on 8-year City Council service
With snow falling around her, and while donning a new ski jacket gifted to her by the city at her final City Council meeting, the council’s now-former president, Robin Crossan, posed for some photos before heading inside to reflect on her eight-year term as council member.
Asked what she thought the theme of her story as a local elected official should be about, Crossan’s answer was less about lessons learned and more about a general concern in a perceived slide in etiquette among a community she has called home for the last 23 years.
Ticking off examples, Crossan started with traffic:
“Everybody is in a hurry, people don’t stop at stop signs, people go through red lights.”
Another concern comes with hearing recently from the city’s transit director that his drivers report being “abused on a daily basis.”
“A driver last year would go home and cry every day because of the daily abuse,” Crossan said. “He finally quit.bIt’s about people being kind and giving. Thinking more about their neighbors and their community — we are getting away from that.”
Finding a positive process
The sense for interpersonal kindness is not just a reflection of Crossan’s part-time job as a guest ambassador for Steamboat Springs Ski Corp. — it also helps to understand how she views her time spent serving as a local official in the city for the last 20 years.
After moving to Steamboat with her husband, Barry, and their son in 2001, Crossan carried her experience from a career working as a facilities manager for Macy’s to the Steamboat Springs School District.
Serving as vice president and president of the district’s Education Fund Board, she would go on to spend two terms as president of the Board of Education President after winning an election to her seat in 2008.
In her new role, Crossan remembered identifying a lack of trust between school staff and district leadership, a dynamic that led the board to hire a facilitator to assist in the work ended to develop a new governing model with the goal of being inclusive.
“The staff just felt that the school district hid everything from them,” Crossan said, noting that in negotiations between the school district and the teachers’ union, “our goal was to not have executive sessions.nWe really had to turn that attitude around. I have no idea where they are at today, but I think we did a pretty good job for those few years.”
After hitting her term limit for her Board of Education seat, Crossan said she turned her eyes to City Council and, with encouragement from her husband, launched a successful campaign for the council’s District 1 seat in 2015.
Joining the council as one of four new members, Crossan recalled that the council seemed to work in a choreographed manner.
“It was like they had all talked before the meeting. It was all pre-determined.”
In her first meeting, Crossan pushed for the council to commit to holding an annual retreat session where they could introduce themselves, and lay out their vision and goals for the year.
The hope was to start the term on a positive note as the city faced several key personnel decisions — as well as an investigation into the Steamboat Springs Police Department that uncovered violations of city policy and evidence suggesting Police Chief Joel Rae, who resigned from the position in 2015, helped create a hostile work environment.
Crossan said the council kicked off a nation-wide search to fill the role before offering the City Manager job to then-interim City Manager Gary Suiter. The city then embarked on another nation-wide search, leading to the decision to hire Dan Foote as the city’s attorney.
Tense meetings surrounded the hiring decisions, but Crossan said the council showed commitment to a process that helped restore a sense of transparency among council members.
“That is what makes you feel good, whether it went your way or not, the process worked,” Crossan said.
Pressure on Brown Ranch
Regarding the often tense and lengthy City Council discussions about the annexation of the Brown Ranch affordable housing project, Crossan said she wishes she had done more to slow the overall process and increase transparency.
“I would have tried to make the process go slower, and I would have done all the meetings during regular council meetings so that the public could sit and watch us go back and forth,” Crossan said.
The city started negotiations with the Yampa Valley Housing Authority in January to iron out an annexation agreement that would bring more than 400 acres of housing authority land — acquired in 2021 with a $23 million anonymous donation — under city control as a way to oversee the construction of more than 2,000 affordable housing units.
Crossan ultimately voted against the council’s adoption of the annexation agreement in a 4-3 vote in October. The agreement is subject to a citizens’ petition filed with the city last week that includes more than 1,800 signatures. If approved, it would force the decision to a vote next year.
Although City Council meetings in recent months have regularly stretched past the seven-hour mark — and frequently included executive sessions on the matter — Crossan contended adding more public Brown Ranch discussions were needed as the community struggled to understand the annexation agreement.
“The housing authority put the pressure on the city to do this in a very short time frame,” Crossan said. “You are trying to get something right and you are only taking one hour to talk about it, and then you have to think about those ramifications. It was frustrating to see staff struggle. When they have been given a task, they will take it and they will do 110%, and to layer this on them while they were doing the 110% on their regular job, that was too much.”
In guidance to the current City Council members, Crossan stressed the importance of getting educated and listening to people in the community, and to trust city staff.
“Our staff is amazing and being able to leave staff alone to do their job is even more important,” Crossan said. “I can count on less than two hands how many times I went into (city staff member’s offices.) You talk to some of these folks that have been here for two years — it’s times 10. You have to be able to trust the people and trust the process.”
Looking forward, Crossan will take time to survey local organizations and nonprofits to see if there might be a fit for a volunteer or board member position.
In the meantime, she is ready to get back on the mountain this winter as a guest ambassador, which allows her to be “outside with people all day, making eye contact and smiling, and trying to engage with people who are not from here.”
Trevor Ballantyne is the city government and housing reporter. To reach him, call 970-871-4254 or email him at tballantyne@SteamboatPilot.com.
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