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Steamboat Springs city government highlights and lowlights of 2016

Scott Franz
Landscapers put down sod and plant trees at the new Workman Park on Yampa Street in the summer.
Scott Franz

— It’s been an eventful year for our city government.

A new city manager was hired.

Police station plans advanced.

And the Steamboat Springs City Council called dibs.

Pet pigs even entered the fray late in the year when city officials sat down to make revisions to the animal code.

From successes at Steamboat Springs Transit to transparency concerns in Citizens Hall, here are my city government highlights, and lowlights, of 2016.

Feel free to leave your own in the comment section below.

Highlights

Police station plans advance

After the prospect of a shared law enforcement facility on the west end of town sputtered to a halt last year, 2016 was the year the City Council and Routt County commissioners got the ball rolling again.

Both sides are pitching in a significant amount of money on conceptual plans for the facility.

The groups have made so much progress, Routt County Commissioner Tim Corrigan had this to say earlier this month: “I don’t see this project not getting done, we just need to deal with the details and get to the finish line.”

Moonscape paved

Remember when driving on Snapdragon Way felt more like an extreme offroading adventure?

No more.

The pothole-ridden road was repaved in 2016.

The city of Steamboat Springs also invested heavily in pedestrian and cycling improvements on Central Park Drive.

The project added bike lanes, a roundabout and new crosswalks at the city’s busiest commercial shopping center.

Housing highlights

The City Council and Routt County commissioners saw an earlier affordable housing investment bear fruit when developers broke ground at the Reserves at Steamboat.

The Reserves, which is nearing completion, is a 48-unit apartment project targeted at households making between 40 and 60 percent of the area median income.

The project was backed by $400,000 from a community housing fund that is overseen by the city and the county.

In another highlight, a steering committee spent months studying local housing shortages and recently presented findings to local elected officials.

Officials praised the committee’s work, saying they could not have gotten a better report from a paid consultant.

Bus service milestones

It was a good year for Steamboat Springs Transit, which saw increased ridership and successful recruiting efforts for seasonal drivers at a time when other ski towns struggled.

To cap off the year, Steamboat Springs Transit Manager Jonathan Flint was named Colorado’s transportation professional of the year.

“I view this award as a reflection of a great staff and a great transit system,” Flint told Steamboat Today.

The city also made an investment in passenger safety when it decided to put seatbelts on regional buses following a crash where several unrestrained passengers were injured.

Steamboat Digs Dogs

Sometimes it takes a former city councilwoman to herd together a passionate user group and achieve change.

Dog advocates went from sporadically yelling at city officials at a spring meeting to becoming an organized action group at the end of this year.

Under the guidance of Kathy Connell, the group has already achieved some significant milestones, including likely changes to the city’s animal code to make the city more dog friendly.

So when Fido goes for an off-leash swim in the river this summer without getting his owner into legal trouble, he can thank Connell and Steamboat Digs Dogs for the work.

Public outcries

Citizens made their voices heard on a number of important issues this year.

And the city’s elected officials sometimes responded by reversing previous decisions that had upset the community.

As a result, the public got a more detailed summary of an internal police investigation that found evidence of gender-based harassment and a hostile work environment at the department under previous leadership.

The council also responded to public criticism by relinquishing perks that included free concert tickets and VIP lanyards.

Downtown improvements

New sidewalks and a promenade have been talked about for decades on Yampa Street.

In 2016, those plans finally started to become a reality.

It wasn’t a completely smooth ride, as businesses complained about an initial lack of signage telling shoppers they were still open in the cone zone.

City Engineer Ben Beall told the council the city learned a lot during the first phase of the project, and he was proud of the work that has been accomplished.

Work also included the creation of a new park where the Workman house used to stand on the banks of the Yampa River.

The overall downtown improvement project will continue in the spring.

The city also made an investment to get the holiday lights turned back on along Lincoln Avenue.

Police department staffing

After a challenging 2015, the Steamboat Springs Police Department was fully staffed this year.

It also welcomed the first female commander in the force’s history.

In another highlight, an internal employee survey showed members of the city’s police department thought their work climate, communication, work-life balance and leadership had improved significantly in the last year.

The trend was the same overall for city employees.

Lowlights

Dibs

The City Council hired a new city manager, advanced police station plans and spent many hours discussing the future of Howelsen Hill this year.

But it was the council’s decision to call dibs on free Strings concert tickets and summer concert VIP lanyards that appeared to draw the strongest reaction from the community.

Councilman Scott Ford even labeled the decision as “boneheaded.”

After being strongly criticized for the decision, the council did one of its two revotes of the year and voted instead to adopt a new council policy that the city not accept free tickets to events it sponsors with taxpayer money.

The initial story about the council’s dibs decision was Steamboat Today’s eighth most-read story of the year and the top-read story about the city government.

Potential conflicts of interest

Council members had to revisit a few decisions this year because of potential conflicts of interest that were not publicly disclosed prior to votes.

In some cases, council members were forced by their peers to step down from the revotes on such decisions as whether or not to release a more detailed police report summary and whether to allow a pot shop to move to a more visible location.

By the end of the year, it became apparent some council members had been affected by the previous tangles over conflicts of interest.

Many are now bringing up more potential conflicts prior to votes and discussing them with council.

Transparency concerns

The current council, which campaigned heavily on building public trust in the wake of the internal police investigation that rocked the community, is on track to meet behind closed doors more than any other council in a decade.

Council President Walter Magill recently told Steamboat Today he thinks the high executive session tally will be eye opening for the council, and that the council has room to improve.

He added he thinks the council specifically can do a better job of having more public discussions outside of executive sessions and explaining more of what occurred behind closed doors.

The council has also conducted business in ways that concern transparency advocates.

It was discovered several council members have regularly been using their personal email accounts to discuss public business.

In one situation, several council members held what amounted to a private discussion via email about whether to continue a controversial ski pass perk that had created friction between city staff and council members.

The friction stemmed from the fact that elected officials could bump city employees from the ski pass sign up sheet at any time.

That arrangement was eliminated by the current council.

The personal email issue led the council to direct city staff to look into some possible changes in email policy.

One option the city is looking into would mirror a policy in Fort Collins, where council member emails are regularly and proactively posted online for public review.

Late-night meetings

Some City Council meetings are running so long, the Comcast television guide is incorrectly listing them as “The Muppets Tonight” if they run after 10 p.m.

Council members have acknowledged they think they don’t make the best decisions in the sixth, seventh or eighth hour of a meeting.

And they’ve spent some time talking about how to ensure meetings don’t run too late.

Winter Sports Club tension

The council’s desire to seek potential changes to a longstanding Howelsen Hill joint use agreement with the Steamboat Spring Winter Sports Club has spurred some tension in Citizens Hall.

On a few occasions, Winter Sports Club Executive Director Jim Boyne has found himself in a few back-and-forths with council members on the subject of Howelsen Hill maintenance.

The council was able to get the Howelsen negotiations back on track after a rocky start that prompted dozens of community members to pack Citizens Hall in support of the club and the hill’s future.

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


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