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The revolving door

Former Steamboat Springs City Manager Deb Hinsvark says farewell to city staff members on her final day at the city’s helm.
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Search continues Tuesday

City Council on Tuesday will interview two candidates for the interim city manager job. The candidates include Gary Suiter and John Schneiger. Interviews of the interim city manager candidates are open to the public. They will start at noon Tuesday in Citizens Hall.

■ Suiter served as town manager of Snowmass Village from 1990 to 2001. Since leaving Snowmass, he has operated a local government management consulting business.

He recently worked with former city Manger Deb Hinsvark and the Steamboat Springs City Council as an executive coach. Suiter was most-recently hired to serve as interim city manager for Snowmass Village.

■ Schneiger has more than 25 years of experience as a senior manager in local government.

He was city manager in Fruita from 1992 to 2000 and went on to serve as city manager in Montrose from 2000 to 2005.

Schneiger was most-recently city manager of New Port Richey, Florida for two years.

City Managers

■ Joe Barrows

November 1973 to April 1974

■ Robert S. Sanders

April 1974 to January 1975

■ Roger McCoy

April 1975 to August 1976

■ Michael T. Uberuaga, City Manager

November 1976 to March 1983

■ Philip S. Mahoney, Jr., City Manager

June 1983 to October 1985

■ Harvey M. Rose, City Manager

June 1986 to December 1994

■ Van R. James, City Manager

July 1995 to November 1997

■ Paul W. Hughes, City Manager

May 1998 to May 2006

■ Alan D. Lanning, City Manager

July 2006 to July 2008

■ Jon Roberts, City Manager

February 2009 to October 16, 2012

■ Deb Hinsvark, City Manager

March 20, 2013 to September 2, 2015





Former Steamboat Springs City Manager Deb Hinsvark says farewell to city staff members on her final day at the city’s helm.

Former Steamboat Springs City Manager Paul Hughes is sad to see what is happening to his successors in City Hall.

Hughes, the longest-serving city manager in the city’s recent history, doesn’t want Steamboat to become a place accustomed to seeing its top employee depart unceremoniously after a short tenure marked by rocky relationships with his or her seven bosses.

Hughes served almost eight years, and he doesn’t buy the “city managers are hired to someday be fired” mentality.



“It’s not what is supposed to happen,” he said Wednesday of the quick turnover of the last three city managers who have succeeded him since 2007. “I’m very sad about what’s gone on, and I think the profession and the council-manager form of government here has taken a hit, and I’m sad about that.

“I don’t pretend to know why it’s happened,” Hughes continued. “It’s just not good to see this kind of turnover.”



The average tenure of a city manager in Steamboat is now two years and 10 months.

Hughes is a rarity in Steamboat history in that he is one of only three city managers who served four years or more.

While Steamboat found stability in City Hall in the late ’80s and late ’90s, the city manager’s office has again become a revolving door.

Hughes’ immediate successor, Alan Lanning, served two years and departed unceremoniously in 2008 after friction with his council.

Jon Roberts resigned in a similar fashion in 2012 after running the city for three years.

Deb Hinsvark stepped down as city manager Tuesday after tension with the council.

In one of her final interviews as city manager, Hinsvark said she would love for the community to find a way to “not replace its city manager every two and a half years.”

Soon, the Steamboat Springs City Council will talk about how to try and stop that revolving door.

Search continues Tuesday

City Council on Tuesday will interview two candidates for the interim city manager job. The candidates include Gary Suiter and John Schneiger. Interviews of the interim city manager candidates are open to the public. They will start at noon Tuesday in Citizens Hall.

■ Suiter served as town manager of Snowmass Village from 1990 to 2001. Since leaving Snowmass, he has operated a local government management consulting business.

He recently worked with former city Manger Deb Hinsvark and the Steamboat Springs City Council as an executive coach. Suiter was most-recently hired to serve as interim city manager for Snowmass Village.

■ Schneiger has more than 25 years of experience as a senior manager in local government.

He was city manager in Fruita from 1992 to 2000 and went on to serve as city manager in Montrose from 2000 to 2005.

Schneiger was most-recently city manager of New Port Richey, Florida for two years.

City Managers

■ Joe Barrows

November 1973 to April 1974

■ Robert S. Sanders

April 1974 to January 1975

■ Roger McCoy

April 1975 to August 1976

■ Michael T. Uberuaga, City Manager

November 1976 to March 1983

■ Philip S. Mahoney, Jr., City Manager

June 1983 to October 1985

■ Harvey M. Rose, City Manager

June 1986 to December 1994

■ Van R. James, City Manager

July 1995 to November 1997

■ Paul W. Hughes, City Manager

May 1998 to May 2006

■ Alan D. Lanning, City Manager

July 2006 to July 2008

■ Jon Roberts, City Manager

February 2009 to October 16, 2012

■ Deb Hinsvark, City Manager

March 20, 2013 to September 2, 2015

Doing better

In the past three city administrations, the relationship between the city manager and the council deteriorated quickly.

“It makes me sad, and it also, to me, points out sort of a misconception of how the council-manager dynamic should work and doesn’t work sometimes,” former city councilwoman Paula Cooper Black said Thursday of the turnover.

Hughes said turnover at the top job at City Hall isn’t healthy for the organization and forces city staff and the council to always be starting over.

The Steamboat Springs City Council will soon turn to people like Hughes, Cooper Black and others when it sits down for an October workshop to figure out how it can better work with managers in the future.

A crop of 13 city council candidates vying for four open seats will be invited to join.

“How could we have done better?” Councilman Kenny Reisman asked his fellow council members Tuesday night before they approved a separation agreement with Hinsvark. “How do we put safeguards in so when it starts to go bad, because it’s going to, we’re there to lend support and progress. If you ran a business, you wouldn’t be hanging someone out to dry. You’d be trying to figure out a solution.”

Interviews with former council members, a former city manager and the head of the Colorado Municipal League offer the council some insight ahead of next month’s workshop.

Turnover not usual

Turnover among city managers and administrators isn’t uncommon in Colorado or the nation.

The most recent data available from the International City/County Management Association shows the average tenure for a city, town or county manager in the United States in 2012 was just more than seven years.

Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, said he has seen statistics that put a city manager’s average tenure between three and five years.

City managers are in a unique position in that they serve at the pleasure of their councils and can be fired at a moment’s notice, with or without cause.

The managers understand this.

“I’m not the first city manager to run afoul of local politics, and I certainly won’t be the last,” Hughes told the Steamboat Today in 2007 after he was fired.

Since 1973, only three of Steamboat’s 11 city managers have served more than four years. Four of the managers served two years or less.

Mamet does not see Steamboat’s recent turnover rate in City Hall as all that unusual.

He said changing attitudes on council and the way the job is set up inevitably lead to some turnover, and managers are changing all around the state.

“It happens,” Mamet said. “It’s probably not something the communities want to go through. But attitudes change. Councils change. This type of turnover happens.”

Mamet pointed to Grand Junction, saying that community has gone through four city managers in the past seven years.

“It’s not fun,” Mamet said of hiring a new city manager. “But it gives the council and the community a chance to step back and say ‘what should the profile of our next candidate be, and what are we looking for in a city manager?’”

Read the charter

Hughes, Mamet and former city council members say a small, 33-page book is one of the most important tools that can keep the council-manager relationship healthy.

“Read the damn thing,” Mamet advises council members about the city charter.

Hughes said council members should read the charter every month.

He said he was “shocked” a few weeks ago when he led a talk about the city’s history at the Tread of Pioneers Museum and discovered many citizens had not seen or read the document that outlines the local government’s powers and responsibilities.

Mamet likes to call a city charter the prenuptial agreement in the marriage between a city manager and the council.

Steamboat’s city charter clearly outlines the roles and responsibilities of the council and the city manager.

For example, the charter states: “Except for the purpose of inquiry, the council and its members shall deal with the administrative service solely through the city manager, and neither the council nor its members shall give orders to any of the subordinates of the city manager.”

Hughes said issues between councils and managers start when they overstep the boundaries established in the charter.

“The trouble always happens when council members want to do some of the running of the city, or if city managers decide they want to make policy,” Hughes said. “For me, I had, by and large, council members who understood their job and weren’t afraid to tackle policies and vision. And I had a very competent group of city employees who would carry out those policies.”

“It’s not complicated,” Hughes continued. “But it is something that some council members are not quite ready to accept when they take office. They would rather tell the street superintendent that they want potholes fixed on X street.”

Hughes said keeping a low profile and staying under the radar helped him manage the city and earn the favor of his bosses on Council. He said he had to ensure he was always acting on the direction of at least four members.

Cooper Black, one of Hughes’ former bosses, served on City Council for 12 years, from 1988 to 2000, and learned a lot about fostering a relationship with the city manager.

She said the relationship is stronger when council members respect each other and resolve to listen to one another and keep their personal agendas at bay.

They all need to be wearing their community hats, she said.

“I learned the value of working through problems as a council and the differences,” she said. “I also learned that, because council acts through their president, often times with their city manager, to have an open relationship with the council president is critical.

“The council president needs to be willing to hear and listen to every council member, as well as council members need to be listening to each other, and I think that’s really important.”

Former councilwoman Kathy Connell, who served from 1997 to 2005, said the current council needs to take some of the responsibility for the departure of its most recent city manager.

“I think and I strongly believe this turnover is because city council members and the leadership are not properly trained,” Connell said. “Just because somebody is elected does not mean they understand our government process, our charter, and how to run a good effective meeting and get good consensus.”

She suggested successful city managers are always making efforts to educate the council members.

Who’s next?

The hiring of a new city manager will arguably be the new city council’s biggest decision.

Many councils in previous years have formed citizens committees to narrow down and help pick the final candidate.

City Council on Tuesday will interview two candidates who could serve in the interim until a new city manager is chosen.

Despite the recent turnover in the city manager’s office, council members are confident they can find good candidates.

“From the outside looking in, I would think it has the potential, for the right person, to be a great job,” Cooper Black said. “I think this community is a great community. I think we have a fabulous staff.”

Hughes said despite the recent turnover here, he believes the council-manager form of government is the best form of government in the country.

“Almost 55 percent of towns and cities use the form, and it worked for me for almost eight years, because both the city councils I worked for and I understood the system and agreed we would carry it out,” he said. “If it works the way that it is described in this (charter), there is no reason a city manager can’t be here for a long time.”


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