Steamboat City Council calls another special meeting to discuss police misconduct investigation | CraigDailyPress.com

Steamboat City Council calls another special meeting to discuss police misconduct investigation

Scott Franz

Steamboat Springs Police Chief Joel Rae, left, Deputy Chief Bob DelValle

— The Steamboat Springs City Council has called another special meeting to discuss the investigation into allegations of misconduct against Police Chief Joel Rae and Deputy Chief Bob DelValle.

Council member Tony Connell also told City Manager Deb Hinsvark Tuesday night that she should have a succession plan for herself ready in case the investigation turns up any evidence of wrongdoing on her part.

The special council meeting, which will occur either Monday or Tuesday evening, is expected to include an executive session to give the council an opportunity to seek legal advice and discuss personnel matters related to the investigation behind closed doors.

Council members Scott Ford, Sonja Macys and Connell have not been satisfied with some aspects of Hinsvark’s response to the allegations against the top cops.

In emails the Steamboat Today obtained through an open records request, council members criticized Hinsvark for her initial decision to use the city’s insurance company to select an investigator and for comments she made to the council that questioned the credibility of the former police detective who has accused Rae and DelValle of several kinds of misconduct.

Some of the council members also have expressed a desire to oversee more of the police inquiry.

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Connell recently wrote in a council report that the council is currently an “observer” of the investigation and not the “primary navigator.”

The council was told that only the city manager can direct the investigation because of the rules set forth in the city charter. But Connell contests that interpretation and believes the council could have directed the investigation because the charter allows the council to interact with the administrative service “for the purpose of inquiry.”

Macys and Ford requested the upcoming special meeting to discuss the investigation.

Asked by a fellow council member what she wanted to discuss, Macys said she wanted to talk about the council’s involvement in the probe.

“This council has been awfully quiet about its involvement with the investigation, and there might be some issues we want to discuss,” Macys said.

She added the council could discuss the possibility of issuing a press release.

Council President Bart Kounovsky said he too was interested in discussing the investigation, but he wondered if the discussion could wait until the council’s regular meeting on April 28.

Macys said it could not.

Since some members of the council started expressing their concerns about the initial plans for the investigation, Hinsvark has suspended Rae and DelValle with pay pending the results of the inquiry, hired former Yampa Valley Medical Center CEO Karl Gills as a public information officer and replaced the initial investigator with Katherine Foos Nuanes, who was recommended by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation instead of the city’s insurance carrier.

Connell thinks the city is now on a better path because of these actions.

“I appreciate that as of April 2, 2015, at 5 p.m. (when a new investigator was named), we seem to be headed towards an investigation which may actually have a chance of rebuilding the communities trust and provide the transparency the public demands and those involved deserve,” Connell wrote in his council report. “It took much too long to come to the three primary actions of 1) suspension 2) selection of an investigator who hopefully can provide truly independent evaluation and 3) someone trusted who can provide the public timely and accurate information.”

Call for succession plan

The investigation could have consequences for Hinsvark.

The city manager and City Attorney Tony Lettunich were named in the letter from former Police Detective Dave Kleiber that accused the city’s top cops of creating a “hostile work environment.”

Hinsvark said she will be interviewed during the investigation.

Connell said if the inquiry turns up wrongdoing on the part of the city manager, he believes the council should suspend her until a final determination is made.

At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Connell told Hinsvark that she should have a succession plan in place in part because of the upcoming investigation.

Connell also cited the upcoming departure of Casey Earp, an assistant to the city manager, as another reason to have a succession plan. Earp has accepted a position with the city of Boulder.

“I know the investigator is in the middle of the thing, and I’m not saying any wrongdoing has been made, but you’ve been named,” Connell said. “If the investigator finds that you’ve done something improperly, we as a council don’t want to be scrambling. We want to not only know what you think is the best succession plan, we want to have input into that as well.”

Hinsvark said she appreciated the suggestion.

“With this challenge, it’s also an opportunity,” Hinsvark said. “We will be looking at our organization. We were writing a succession plan prior to this (investigation), but I’ve been rethinking it.”

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

Suggestions from council

City Council Member Tony Connell has offered up some suggestions for the council that he believes could help the city avoid another situation like the police misconduct investigation in the future.

His suggestions include having the council reguarly monitor things like employee turnover and satisfaction and public grievances.

He also is recommending that the city attorney give the council confidential briefings every month on the number of active lawsuits against the city, the number of potential lawsuits and updates on active cases.

The city is currently facing three excessive force lawsuits, and a fourth appears imminent.

In addition, Connell forwarded recommendations from an officer in the police department that included a call for all officers and supervisors to have de-escalation training.

Council member Kenny Reisman praised Connell for offering solutions instead of just criticisms.

Reisman said he was on board with nearly all of the recommendations.

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