Rob Douglas: Police report is deficient
July 24, 2015
Further eroding the public's trust in the investigation of Steamboat Springs Police Department Chief Joel Rae, Deputy Chief Bob DelValle and City Manager Deb Hinsvark, on Tuesday, Hinsvark released a "Community Summary" of the investigation reports to the public before discussing the reports or the summary with the Steamboat Springs City Council in an executive session scheduled for that evening.
Once again, Hinsvark emasculated the council by preempting the council's oversight jurisdiction and responsibility. Equally egregious, Steamboat Springs City Attorney Tony Lettunich is blocking meaningful public disclosure of the reports.
"Frustration and not meeting expectations characterize Tuesday night for me," Councilman Scott Ford told the Steamboat Today. "The seven of us were a little thunderstruck."
That frustration intensified when the council saw the lack of substance in the public summary.
"It was too general," Councilman Walter Magill told the newspaper. "I think you can put out a much more thorough summary than the report that was released."
Magill further illuminated the problem.
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"We asked the community to be patient with us while we got answers," Magill said. "I don't think we've provided the answers. I think we have to voice our opinion back to the city manager that we need more details on this. We need to get back in the room as a city council and talk to the city manager and the attorneys and get a report we can release."
It's apparent the council is also dissatisfied with the information they received behind closed doors. Suggesting the council only saw the same summary released to the public, Magill told the newspaper the council needs to review more than a "paragraph."
Ford articulated how the council is hobbled.
"You cannot do process improvement with what we've got right now, and that's council's role," Ford said. "I'm very interested in protecting some of the confidentiality that was implied or guaranteed (during the investigation), but we need more of a summary than what we saw. There has to be an element that goes beyond what we've seen."
On July 10, with the investigation concluded, the Steamboat Pilot & Today filed a Colorado Open Records Act request for "all reports prepared by investigator Katherine Nuanes." On July 15, Lettunich denied the newspaper's request. On Thursday, the newspaper asked Lettunich to reconsider. If Lettunich refuses again, the paper should initiate litigation against the city in order to obtain the reports on behalf of the public.
However, the council could exercise its authority over Hinsvark and Lettunich and pursue a more constructive course of action that will provide the transparency the public is entitled to, while also ensuring that the council fulfills its oversight responsibility.
First, the council should instruct Hinsvark to allow any member of the council to review the investigator's reports. Clearly, the members are legally entitled to the reports.
Second, the council should appoint several members to conduct an examination of the reports to identify public policy issues that need to be addressed by the council in accordance with the city charter.
Third, the council should instruct Lettunich to make the reports available to the Steamboat Pilot & Today. In this matter and others, the newspaper has demonstrated the judgment to balance its constitutional right to publish information that belongs in the public realm against any potential harm from publication.
Finally, the attorneys involved can determine if any names or other sensitive information needs to be redacted prior to review.
If Hinsvark and Lettunich will not agree to a process similar to the above, the Steamboat Pilot & Today should initiate litigation and the council should fire Hinsvark and Lettunich.