Our View: City needs to hire deputy city manager | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: City needs to hire deputy city manager

The city of Steamboat Springs' search for a deputy city manager abruptly changed course last week, and the about-face has left us with a case of whiplash.

After narrowing the field of deputy city manager candidates to just one and then flying the sole candidate to Steamboat Springs from Florida for an in-person interview and a meet-and-greet with community leaders, City Manager Deb Hinsvark announced the candidate didn't have the community outreach skills the city needed. Hinsvark said she is now considering beginning a new search for a public information officer rather than a deputy city manager.

The way the search was conducted and the change in recruiting focus are baffling. And we strongly disagree with Hinsvark's assessment that the city would benefit more from a PIO than a deputy city manager — a position Hinsvark herself filled under former city manager Jon Roberts.

In announcing her plans to recruit for this new position, Hinsvark stated, "We get so busy running the city sometimes, we are not good communicators," and while that may be a fact, it should not be the impetus to hire a public information officer. In recent performance evaluations, City Council has directed Hinsvark to improve her own communication with the council and the public, and we don't think hiring a PIO fulfills that objective.

Public information officers also have a way of standing in the way of openness and transparency. Rather than communicating directly with the community, city leaders can quickly fall into the habit of using a PIO as a shield, which can hamper the open exchange of information between government and the press and between city officials and their electorate.

In our opinion, the city needs to restart its search for a deputy city manager. History has taught us having a No. 2 person in place is essential to making sure city operations run smoothly if something happens to the city manager for a variety of reasons.

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In the past 17 years, the city of Steamboat Springs has been served by four different city managers. And in light of this history, it's even more important to have a second-in-command to serve during times of transition. Wendy DuBord is a shining example of how a capable deputy city manager can effectively step in to fill the interim leadership role until the city council can hire a new city manager.

Back in March 2011, in the wake of then City Manager Jon Roberts' ski accident, the Steamboat Today editorial board praised DuBord's leadership and willingness to fill the interim manager's role time and time again. During her tenure as deputy city manager from 1998 to 2012, DuBord was called upon to serve as interim city manager four different times, and each time, the city didn't seem to skip a beat under her direction.

DuBord's example supports our position that the city council needs to direct the current city manager to resume the search for a deputy city manager.

The city needs to reassess what it's looking for in a candidate, widen the search and then hire someone who has the skills, ability and experience to temporarily fill the top leadership role should circumstances require it. The city hasn't had a deputy city manager since October 2012 when Hinsvark held the position, and we think it's time for that to change.

At Issue

The city manager is proposing to hire a public information officer rather than a deputy city manager

Our View

City council needs to direct their one employee to restart the search for a second-in-command