Steamboat Springs City Council president uncomfortable with new PR position manufacturing ‘quotes’ for city officials
January 16, 2017
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Even Steamboat Springs City Council President Walter Magill eventually admitted his "quote" in a recent press release from City Hall didn't sound like Walter Magill.
"There are few ski areas that exude as much character, history and heritage as Howelsen Hill; let alone come even close to matching this amount of free skiing," the council president supposedly proclaimed in a press release recently issued by the city. "Skiing is a way of life here; so it's important that residents and visitors experience it firsthand and truly understand what makes Steamboat unique and such a special community."
Having heard the council president speak regularly with fewer superlatives at public meetings, Steamboat Today questioned whether Magill actually said those words.
Magill initially insisted the quote was his, and he had resolved to speak with more superlatives and excitement in the New Year.
But a day later, when the newspaper presented him with evidence that his quote appeared to be copied almost word for word from a years-old Steamboat Ski Area promotional pamphlet that had been produced by new city PR manager Mike Lane, Magill ‘fessed up and said Lane wrote his quote for him.
"Mike wrote it, and I approved it," Magill said. "I should have spoken up. I didn't get a great feeling out of it. I thought the message was something I supported, and I wanted to get behind the team and not make a big issue with this.
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"Lesson learned," Magill continued.
The polished, manufactured quotes for city leaders are among the first visible signs of a new PR effort City Manager Gary Suiter started investing in last year by creating a new public relations manager position.
Some are raising questions about the quote-writing practice, while City Hall is doubling down on the new strategy.
Suiter thinks the investment in public relations will help the City Council achieve its goal of improving community trust.
But after he was caught in a fib about his quote, Magill is taking the position that the city's new PR manager should not be manufacturing anymore quotes and attributing them to city officials.
"I don't think it's healthy for the council to stand back and have people write their words for them," Magill said. "It's too much detachment for me."
The words in Magill's quote appear to have been rearranged slightly from an entry in an old Steamboat Ski Area "signature story ideas" pamphlet and repurposed to promote Howelsen.
Lane previously worked as the head of the public relations department at Steamboat Ski Area.
A simple Google search of phrases from Magill's "quote" produced the old PR material online.
"Mike and I agreed that I don't want him doing quotes for me anymore," Magill said.
He said if he has something to say to the public, he'll speak it publicly or verbalize it to a reporter instead of having city PR staff write it for him.
Magill added he was the only elected official to vote against funding a new PR manager instead of a new deputy city manager.
Suiter said Thursday the manufactured quotes for city officials will continue under his leadership.
Asked if having Lane write quotes for city leaders in press releases helps the council achieve its ongoing goal of improving community trust, Suiter said "yes."
"I think it helps us get our key messages out for our issues that council feels strongly about," Suiter said.
Asked if Lane had written any quotes for him in city press releases, Suiter initially said "no."
But when he was pressed by the paper on whether quotes in recent press releases about the departure of Public Works Director Chuck Anderson and the appointment of Jon Snyder as interim director were his own or Lane's, Suiter said he couldn't recall and he would have to go back and read them to figure it out.
"I either gave them, or they were written for me (by Mike Lane) and I approved them," Suiter said. "I have had quotes written for me before by communications professionals."
Suiter also said he did not have any ethical concerns about quotes written for city officials by Lane being presented as if they were actually spoken by the officials.
He added other city staff members helped him write an outline of a speech he gave Wednesday to community members in a City 101 class about what it was like to serve as city manager.
The practice of creating quotes for city officials in press releases is new to City Hall and was not being utilized before Lane arrived, Suiter said.
Suiter said having PR professionals write quotes for city officials is an "industry standard" that he supports.
"Mike (Lane) is doing his job," Suiter said. "He is a communications professional. His job is to get out key messages. If he can communicate better than I can, I welcome his assistance.
"We're going to continue to rely on this strategy," Suiter said.
Suiter said he's fine with quotes being written for city officials by Lane as long as they endorse them.
Steamboat Today is not republishing any quotes the city includes in its press releases.