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Steamboat City Clerk dismisses new aspects of campaigning complaint against YVHA

Parts of the complaint that city was already reviewing regarding a “factsheet” and community presentations about Brown Ranch will continue to be reviewed by the clerk.


Steamboat Springs City Clerk Julie Franklin dismissed the new aspects of a fair campaigning complaint against the Yampa Valley Housing Authority on Friday, in a decision that continues to review two parts of the complaint that had already been raised.


In her initial decision on the complaint, Franklin said that while postings on the news and media sections of YVHA controlled websites were not “entirely neutral” they also did not raise to the level of “urging electors” to support Brown Ranch annexation or city ballot measure 2I.


Franklin also dismissed aspects of the complaint related to YVHA’s newsletter, saying that YVHA is allowed to share updates about project planning. The only direct reference to supporting measure 2I in these newsletters was a campaign sign appearing in a photo shared on Oct. 26, but Franklin said she considered this an “incidental” expenditure under $50, which is allowed by the Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act. 


Two aspects of the complaint will require further review though, as Franklin noted she had “previously accepted a complaint relating” to these items. The decision consolidates the complaints together as they are reviewed.


That earlier complaint was filed by Steamboat resident Ken Mauldin, and took issue with a fact sheet YVHA had produced and disseminated related to Brown Ranch he says fails to show both sides. That complaint also alleged community presentations about Brown Ranch have crossed the line.


In her initial decision, Franklin also makes comment on part of the complaint that alleged there was a coordinated effort between YVHA and developer partner the Michaels Organization to advocate for Brown Ranch. Rather than showing wrongdoing, Franklin said several exhibits support the opposite conclusion.


“These exhibits consistently indicate that YVHA sought to avoid the involvement of its paid staff with public relations efforts undertaken by the Michaels Organization,” Franklin writes.


The initial decision from Franklin was telegraphed last week by City Attorney Dan Foote in his Tuesday report to City Council. While aspects of the complaint will move forward, this review has no impact on the upcoming March 26 vote on whether to annex Brown Ranch into the city of Steamboat Springs. If any wrongdoing is found, the remedy is a fine or an order to stop doing the activity in question.


Jason Peasley, YVHA’s executive director, says the organization has followed the law and that they “never ask anyone to vote yes or no on annexation.”

 

Fact sheet and community presentation

The two aspects of the complaint that Franklin will continue to review involve various iterations of a “Brown Ranch Fact Sheet” produced by YVHA and community presentations made by the organization about the project.


Both complaints being reviewed allege these facts sheets are one-sided and fail to explore potential negative impacts of the Brown Ranch. Each point to a provision in the Fair Campaign Practices Act that allows organizations to produce a factual summary of ballot measures, provided they present “arguments for and against the proposal.”


But whether these fact sheets constitute the “factual summary” referenced in the law is unclear, and neither of Franklin’s initial decisions have made a determination on that question.


Complainants allege YVHA’s community presentations cross the line in terms of advocacy for the project by saying “building more homes” is the “solution” to Steamboat’s housing problems, and that the project’s plan was “developed by the community, for the community.” The complaint acknowledges that none of these statements “explicitly say vote to support annexation.”


The latest initial decision says little about either of these complaints, other than that the clerk “determined further review will be necessary,” Franklin wrote.  


Elsewhere in Franklin’s initial decision, she reiterates that YVHA is allowed to communicate with the public about Brown Ranch planning, even if such communications could have an influence on voter’s view of an issue.


“This effect is permissible as it is incident to communications that have a purpose, such as ongoing project planning, other than urging voters to vote for or against referred measure 2I,” Franklin wrote, refencing communications YVHA made regarding Brown Ranch financing ahead of November’s vote to allocate STR tax revenues to Brown Ranch.

 

Website and Newsletter postings

Franklin’s decision dismisses aspects of the complaint that say YVHA used its websites and newsletter to lobby voters to support the city’s 2I ballot measure and Brown Ranch Annexation.


The complaint primarily surrounds news and opinion articles shared by YVHA thought existing communication channels, alleging that none of these postings showed any opposition to Brown Ranch.


Franklin found that while the news and media section is not “an entirely neutral assessment of the Brown Ranch annexation,” it also does “not constitute urging electors,” to support Brown Ranch annexation. Franklin also noted that none of these were posted during the election period for the annexation vote.


When concerning ballot measure 2I, Franklin said “most of these articles, guest columns and letters focus principally or exclusively on the overall Brown Ranch project.” The city clerk did note one exception to that statement though — a Nov. 4 column in the Steamboat Pilot & Today written by City Council member Dakotah McGinlay. McGinlay also serves as council’s representative on the YVHA board.


“Ms. McGinlay has policymaking responsibilities on both boards,” Franklin wrote. “(The Fair Campaign Practices Act) therefore permits her to express her opinion on Referred Measure 2i and permits the incidental expenditure of not more than $50 in YVHA funds for Ms. McGinlay to express her opinion.”


Because the complaint does not give any evidence that it cost YVHA more than $50 to share the column, Franklin dismissed that aspect of the complaint.


Franklin makes a similar determination as to YVHA’s newsletter. The only reference to ballot measure 2I in the newsletter came on Oct. 26 in the form of an image of the groundbreaking of YVHA’s Mid Valley project. A “Yes on 2I” sign appears behind YVHA and elected officials holding shovels. That newsletter appeared under the byline of Peasley and YVHA Board president Leah Wood.


“To the extent this photograph could be construed to be urging electors to vote in favor of referred measure 2i, I find that it falls within the exception in (Fair Campaign Practices Act) for expenditures incidental to a board member or employee with policymaking responsibilities expressing their opinion,” Franklin wrote.

 

‘… do not support this conclusion.”

An extensive part of the initial complaint filed by Steamboat residents Dave Barnes and Kelly Phillips included internal emails between YVHA personnel and executives with the Michaels Organization, who is slated to be the primary development partner for Brown Ranch.


“Although purporting to needing to comply with the requirements of [the Colorado Fair Campaign Practices Act] in word and action, the YVHA and its staff showed little concern for complying with it,” the complaint alleges.


But Franklin says the documents show the opposite in her initial decision, noting that the exhibits show YVHA staff working to avoid crossing the line into electioneering. In the case of Exhibit Q — an email exchange and presentation about Brown Ranch with the Michaels Organization branding — Franklin determined these to be related to communications from the developer, not YVHA.


“The complaint offers a number of exhibits in support of a claim that YVHA and its staff intended to advocate in favor of Brown Ranch,” Franklin wrote. “Exhibits ‘L’, ‘M’, ‘N’, ‘O’ do not support this conclusion. These exhibits consistently indicate that YVHA sought to avoid the involvement of its paid staff with public relations efforts undertaken by the Michaels Organization.”


Read City Clerk Julie Franklin's Initial Decision to the Complaint:

BarnesPhillipsInitialDeterminationFinalMarch12023
.pdf
Download PDF • 216KB

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