City Council reacts to police department reforms | CraigDailyPress.com

City Council reacts to police department reforms

Scott Franz

The quest to build a new police station in Steamboat Springs is entering its fourth year.

— Some Steamboat Springs City Council members still are not satisfied with the amount of information they and the public have been given from an internal investigation that focused on serious accusations against the city’s top two police officials.

The limited amount of information released so far was a factor Tuesday night for some council members when they were briefed on several proposed reforms to the police department in the wake of the probe that was conducted by independent investigator Katherine Nuanes.

In other council business:

• The council took no action and made no public comments following a short executive session focused on City Manager Deb Hinsvark. Some council members reached on Wednesday declined to comment on the meeting or its purpose. Council President Pro-Tem Scott Myller said a special council meeting could be called soon in the wake of the executive session. Hinsvark did not take part in Tuesday’s closed door meeting and said she did not know its purpose.

• The council voted to extend the suspension of the city’s affordable housing rules another year. The move means developers will continue not having to create affordable housing units in their projects or pay a fee in lieu of their creation. The council wants the city to outline some goals for the creation of affordable housing units in the coming years. It will then consider other courses of action.

• The council reconfirmed the city’s preference for development to the immediate west of the city limits to be contingent on annexation. The council ultimately gave a signal to potential developers that they should abide by the West Steamboat Springs Area Plan. Routt County Commissioners recently asked the council to consider revisiting the plan to allow for more lower density subdivisions, such as Silver Spur and Steamboat II, to be created within the city’s urban growth boundary.

• The council met in executive session to discuss the possible sale of the city’s Iron Horse Inn. The city received eight proposals for the property and had asked for more information regarding two proposals that would involve a sale. Hinsvark said the council will discuss the proposals more Sept. 1. The sale of the Iron Horse would require a public hearing prior to approval.

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Councilman Scott Ford said he still needs to see three of Nuanes’ reports the city is withholding before he can decide whether proposed reforms are sufficient.

The council and the public have seen reports about alleged mismanagement of the police pension fund and City Manager Deb Hinsvark’s response to complaints within the police department.

But they have not been able to see the investigator’s reports that are expected to reveal whether serious accusations against Police Chief Joel Rae and Deputy Police Chief Bob DelValle were founded or unfounded.

Rae and DelValle resigned before findings of the investigation started to be released.

Interim Police Chief Jerry DeLong is considering whether the additional reports from the investigation can be released.

“Unless as members of city council we are given the opportunity to read in detail reports 3 through 5 in their unabridged edition, in their entirety, can we really say we agree or disagree with the policy recommendations that are presented to us this evening?,” Councilman Scott Ford asked Tuesday. “I just think we simply cannot. We have no context, and that’s not OK with me.”

Ford said he felt city staff was not asking for council’s input on the proposed changes to the department, and he found that “odd.”

He said the council has a community oversight role that includes directing policy, procedures and practices within the city.

Police Captain Jerry Stabile briefed the council on several changes that are planned at the department in the wake of the investigation, which was launched after a former police detective accused Rae and DelValle of creating a hostile work environment.

Notable reforms include creating a new five-year strategic plan with the input of community members, creating a new administrative officer position to oversee policy review and training, ending attempts to filter employee comments on annual evaluations and creating a mechanism for employees to make suggestions for improvements.

The changes are city staff’s response to the reports prepared by Nuanes.

Councilman Walter Magill continued to call for more information from the police investigation be released.

“We’re looking at a lot of policies without the backup,” Magill said. “It looks like if we’re going to make all these changes, then how much of the Kleiber letter did we make all these changes (in response) to? Not knowing that, I would still like to see whether these things were founded or unfounded … and give the community the information they’ve been asking for.”

Magill added “we’re making a lot of changes, and they didn’t come out of the blue.”

Restoring trust

Council members started offering their own advice to city staff for how the department could start to rebuild some public trust in the wake of the police investigation.

Councilman Tony Connell had several suggestions, including tracking complaints and grievances against the department and seeing how many are sustained.

He also suggested tracking lawsuits and victim satisfaction rates, and increasing transparency.

“If we want to increase the public trust, we have to increase transparency … and improve the officer working environment,” he said.

Council members Kenny Reisman and Sonja Macys said the appropriate avenue for the council to impact positive change in the department would be through the council’s oversight of the budget.

Macys suggested additional funding for the city’s human resources department could improve the police department.

Council members heard from Stabile that it has been a struggle for the police department in the past to take on some time-consuming human resource responsibilities.

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

In other council business:

• The council took no action and made no public comments following a short executive session focused on City Manager Deb Hinsvark. Some council members reached on Wednesday declined to comment on the meeting or its purpose. Council President Pro-Tem Scott Myller said a special council meeting could be called soon in the wake of the executive session. Hinsvark did not take part in Tuesday’s closed door meeting and said she did not know its purpose.

• The council voted to extend the suspension of the city’s affordable housing rules another year. The move means developers will continue not having to create affordable housing units in their projects or pay a fee in lieu of their creation. The council wants the city to outline some goals for the creation of affordable housing units in the coming years. It will then consider other courses of action.

• The council reconfirmed the city’s preference for development to the immediate west of the city limits to be contingent on annexation. The council ultimately gave a signal to potential developers that they should abide by the West Steamboat Springs Area Plan. Routt County Commissioners recently asked the council to consider revisiting the plan to allow for more lower density subdivisions, such as Silver Spur and Steamboat II, to be created within the city’s urban growth boundary.

• The council met in executive session to discuss the possible sale of the city’s Iron Horse Inn. The city received eight proposals for the property and had asked for more information regarding two proposals that would involve a sale. Hinsvark said the council will discuss the proposals more Sept. 1. The sale of the Iron Horse would require a public hearing prior to approval.

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