Steamboat won’t act on ethics complaint against city council members |

Steamboat won’t act on ethics complaint against city council members

City Attorney Dan Foote determined complaint would be impossible for council to review

John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Steamboat Springs city officials will take no further action in response to an ethics complaint filed against four city council members after City Attorney Dan Foote refuted the allegations and determined the complaint would be impossible for council to adjudicate.

On March 17, James Vermillion, a part-time resident in Steamboat, filed the complaint against Council President Robin Crossan and council members Heather Sloop, Joella West and Dakotah McGinlay.

Vermillion’s complaint alleges ethical violations related to the ongoing discussion about regulating short-term rentals and the forced recusal of Council Member Michael Buccino from those talks.

In a letter to Vermillion dated March 28, Foote said the city would take no action on the complaint because the city’s code of ethics disqualifies the subject of a complaint from participating in a discussion about it. That would leave just three council members, which is not enough for a quorum.

“Accordingly, it is impossible for the council to act on the complaint,” Foote wrote.

Foote’s letter also refuted the allegations, saying there was not sufficient evidence to support them and that they do not constitute an ethics violation — though Foote does specify the lack of evidence was not the reason for dismissing the complaint.

“Your disagreement with the policy positions taken (by) one or more council members does not constitute a (code of ethics) violation,” Foote wrote. “It is purely a political matter.”

Council briefly reviewed the complaint Tuesday, April 5, with Foote saying Vermillion thanked him for his response and that, from the city’s perspective, the matter is closed.

Vermillion did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Thursday, April 7.

Filed two days after Vermillion penned a Letter to Steamboat Pilot & Today calling for the recall of “anti-tourism bums” on council, the complaint alleged the four council members met improperly and abused their office to promote what Vermillion said is a minority view to limit short-term rentals in Steamboat.

Vermillion alleged “the most egregious actions” occurred at a March 8 work session where council discussed the recusal of Buccino. Vermillion alleged the four council members came to the meeting prepared to discuss the topic and conspired to exclude the voices of second-home owners like him.

Because members were prepared to discuss the issue, Vermillion claimed in the complaint that they must have discussed it behind closed doors, either one-on-one or in groups and potentially in violation of Colorado’s open meeting’s law — a charge that Foote said there is no evidence to support.

The complaint pointed to meetings on Jan. 5, Jan. 18, March 2, March 8 and March 9. However, Foote pointed out it does not cite a Feb. 1 council meeting in which Buccino made a statement asking to further discuss his recusal at the March 8 work session.

“Your inference that (the March 8 meeting topic) was the product of an illegal meeting is inconsistent with the Feb. 1 statement,” Foote wrote. “You have presented no evidence of an illegal meeting, other than this questionable inference.”

Foote noted the city doesn’t have the jurisdiction to make a decision on alleged open meeting’s law violations, as that would need to be reviewed in District Court. He also said the complaint contradicts itself, as complaints cannot be about collective action of council members.

“Collective action is the essence of conspiracy,” Foote wrote. “Your argument that ‘co-conspirators’ did not act ‘collectively’ is a contradiction in terms.”

Much of the complaint centers on the ongoing short-term rental discussion, raising the issue that some second-home owners feel left out of the conversation, as they don’t get to vote for council members in elections.

Vermillion argued council should be increasing the local short-term rental stock as visitors’ desires evolve.

“Steamboat’s stock of market-appropriate short-term housing is less than demand and that demand is growing rapidly,” he wrote. “If this problem is solved, then the overflow of short-term visitors seeking neighborhood houses will drop significantly.”

Foote said these competing policy interests do not amount to an ethical violation and that council members have absolute discretion when considering them.

“If you believe council members have disregarded or given insufficient weight to your concerns, your sole recourse is to political processes,” Foote said.

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