Public will be allowed to comment at emergency meeting
Steamboat Springs — During Wednesday’s emergency Steamboat Springs City Council meeting, members of the public will have the opportunity to comment on the city’s upcoming investigation into alleged police misconduct.
The purpose of the meeting is for the council to discuss the investigation that is being initiated in response to damaging accusations made against Steamboat Springs Police Chief Joel Rae and Deputy Police Chief Bob DelValle.
The meeting will begin at 5 p.m., and the bulk of the conversation is expected to take place behind closed doors. The council is allowed to meet in executive session for the purpose of receiving legal advice.
According to the city, members of the public will be allowed to comment “as close to 7 p.m. as possible” or at the end of the meeting, whichever comes first.
Last week an email began circulating in the Steamboat community from former police department detective Dave Kleiber.
Kleiber alleges that Rae and DelValle have created “an atmosphere of fear and intimidation” and “a hostile work environment” with “heavy-handed policing.” Kleiber, who left the department in 2013, also accuses Rae of “rampant sexism” and “bigotry.”
Seven former City Council presidents and president pro-tems, a Routt County commissioner and the Routt County sheriff are calling on the city to place Rae and DelValle on paid administrative leave while the investigation is underway. They want an independent and full investigation conducted by an outside party with no affiliations with any community leaders, the City Council or the police department.
Steamboat Springs City Manager Deb Hinsvark said Tuesday that she believes the woman she wants to hire to investigate claims against the police department will be able to conduct an independent investigation.
Kleiber is concerned it will not truly be an independent investigation.
“That’s what the citizens of this community should be demanding,” Kleiber said Tuesday.
Kleiber questioned whether the U.S. Department of Justice or the Colorado Attorney General’s Office could be involved.
Hinsvark on Monday described the investigator she intends to hire as a woman with a “strong legal background” from the Front Range.
The city is not providing the name of the investigator at this time, saying city staff has not had a chance to formally discuss the investigation with her and finalize the schedule.
The investigator was recommended by the Colorado Intergovernmental Risk Sharing Agency, or CIRSA, which provides the city with insurance and legal and human resources advice.
Hinsvark said the cost of the investigation will not be covered by insurance. She said she does not yet know how much the 60- to 90-day investigation will cost.
“It could be expensive,” Hinsvark said.
Kleiber is concerned that Hinsvark wants to use an investigator recommended by the city’s insurance carrier.
“If you and I got into a car accident, and I was injured, would I want your insurance agency investigating this to determine who was at fault?” Kleiber asked.
Hinsvark said CIRSA is not conducting the investigation, and this investigator was recommended because she has done similar investigations before for CIRSA and municipalities. Hinsvark said CIRSA is aware of the allegations in Steamboat.
“They want us to avoid risk in any way — and this is how to do it — to hire an independent investigator,” Hinsvark said.
When Hinsvark was asked if she considered having another law enforcement agency handle the investigation, she said she thought a person disassociated with law enforcement would be more independent.
Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins said he questioned Hinsvark’s plan to use an investigator recommended by CIRSA because the city pays CIRSA for its services.
Poor relationships between the police department and other agencies was another complaint lodged by Kleiber in his letter.
When asked about the relationship between the police department and the Sheriff’s Office, Wiggins said, “there has always been a difference in the philosophy and leadership styles between the two departments. Sometimes that leads to a little bit of tension between the two.”
Wiggins said “ground-level troops” such as patrol officers and patrol deputies work well together.
Kleiber was asked again Tuesday about the timing of the distribution of his letter. He chose not to participate in an “exit interview” with the city, and he waited more than a year before distributing the letter. He said he worked on the letter over a period of time.
“The issue has been kind of a festering boil in my life,” Kleiber said. “From time to time, I would put things onto paper. The letter that I distributed morphed over time.”
Kleiber said it took him a long time to finally “open this Pandora’s box.”
“I’m putting my honor, my integrity, my reputation on the line,” he said.
Kleiber said he is concerned for the community and for friends who still work at the department.
Council member Walter Magill said Monday the allegations in the letter were “disturbing,” but he noted that “it seems (the allegations) might be coming from a disgruntled employee.”
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This past Friday, members of the city’s housing steering committee met with consultants to discuss findings from the commissioned housing assessment to potentially move forward with an action plan.