Steamboat Springs City Council could meet in executive session Tuesday to discuss recent police investigation | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat Springs City Council could meet in executive session Tuesday to discuss recent police investigation

Closed-door session could focus on options for bringing closure to investigation

Scott Franz

— Steamboat Springs’ new top cop on Tuesday night will tell the city’s elected officials that while it has been a tough year for the community and his department, there is “a sense of encouragement that the culture of the department is changing for the better.”

If you go

The Steamboat Springs City Council meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Citizens Hall on 10th Street. Public comment is accepted on all agenda items. General public comment on items not on the agenda is taken at 7 p.m. or at the end of the meeting.

Other agenda highlights include:

• A discussion about a shared public safety facility with Routt County in West Steamboat

• A discussion about Howelsen Hill operations and the ski area’s future

"The men and women of SSPD are ready to put the past behind them and move forward in a positive way serving this community," Police Chief Cory Christensen wrote in a memo to the Steamboat Springs City Council.

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Christensen will outline in more detail what he has seen in the department during his first weeks here and what steps are being taken in the wake of an internal investigation that led to the departures of Steamboat’s former police chief, deputy police chief and city manager.

On the same evening, the City Council could meet in a closed-door session with City Attorney Tony Lettunich and a Denver lawyer who represents the city on employment issues to receive some legal advice and discuss what options the council might have to bring closure to the investigation.

What closure means for a council that just seated four new members isn’t yet clear.

Interviews with council members on Monday revealed there could be a debate over whether to revisit the investigation and release more information, or focus more on moving forward with a new police chief.

“To me, we’ve kind of closed the book on a lot of it,” Council President Walter Magill said. “We have a new direction with Police Chief Christensen.”

Magill added he doesn’t think anybody gains by digging into old allegations when the former directors of the police department and the city manager are gone.

However, Magill said he still would like more of a summary of what the investigation found.

Other council members are continuing to express support for releasing more information from the police investigation, which was initiated by accusations the former top police officials created a hostile work environment.

The city’s Interim Police Chief Jerry Delong decided to withhold several reports from the internal investigation, saying the release of some of the information to the public would "cause substantial harm to the operation and functioning of the police department" and would also violate confidentiality that was promised to witnesses.

Councilman Scott Ford said Monday he is not interested in "salacious details" from the investigation, but he still has several questions and wants to better understand the investigation’s scope.

He again noted the city spent six figures on the investigation, and the public still hasn’t seen many of its findings.

Was there a culture of retaliation as a former police detective alleged?

Was there for-profit policing?

Ford said these are some of the questions he still has, and he doesn’t have the context he needs yet to evaluate whether suggested policy changes at the police department are sufficient.

"I’m certainly not in favor of doing nothing, and I’m not in favor of handing out eveything because of the sensitive information in those reports," Ford said. "But there’s a middle ground, and that’s what we’ll talk about tomorrow."

Councilwoman Kathi Meyer, who along with three other brand new council members made bringing closure to the police investigation one of their campaign platforms, said she believes a better executive summary of the investigation can still be released to the public.

"For me, doing nothing is not an option," she said.

When Lettunich was asked Monday about the purpose of the potential executive session with the council, he was dismissive in emails to the Steamboat Today, and he did not comment beyond saying "read the agenda."

The agenda says the council could meet with Lettunich and the Denver attorney to discuss "Police Department Investigation; Criminal Justice Records Request; Chief Delong's Decision; related liability issues.”

Last month, Lettunich told the council that closure for the investigation could mean different things.

"Closure can either mean what’s happened has happened and that’s it, and closure can mean let’s talk about it some more, so it’s like an unclosure closure," he said.

Ford said if the council does decide to meet in executive session, he believes Lettunich would offer advice to the council "on the whole policing situation" and the council would discuss how it could bring closure to the reports.

Ford said while it would be tempting for the council to do nothing and focus only on moving forward, he believes the council needs to have a discussion about what it wants to do next.

"For us to go ‘we have a new world now’ let bygones be bygones, what assurance can we have that things have changed when we don’t know what we’re changing?," Ford asked.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

If you go

The Steamboat Springs City Council meets at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Citizens Hall on 10th Street. Public comment is accepted on all agenda items. General public comment on items not on the agenda is taken at 7 p.m. or at the end of the meeting.

Other agenda highlights include:

• A discussion about a shared public safety facility with Routt County in West Steamboat

• A discussion about Howelsen Hill operations and the ski area’s future