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  • Dylan Anderson

Steamboat Clerk will likely continue reviewing part, dismiss part of campaigning complaint against Yampa Valley Housing Authority

City Attorney Dan Foote said parts of the complaint that overlap with another would likely require more review before making a final determination.

The city of Steamboat Springs will likely dismiss some aspects of a fair campaigning complaint made against the Yampa Valley Housing Authority last week while continuing to review others, City Attorney Dan Foote told city council on Tuesday.

The initial decision on the Fair Campaign Practices Act complaint filed by Steamboat residents Dave Barnes and Kelly Phillips is expected in the next day or so, Foote said. This is the third complaint filed against the housing authority of this nature in recent weeks.

The city dismissed the first complaint and is in the process of reviewing the second. That second complaint, filed by resident Ken Mauldin, makes similar allegations as the latest one.

“We will likely dismiss some of the allegations in the new complaint, but the ones that track with that initial complaint, that overlap with the initial complaint, we will be pursuing those,” Foote said.

The complaint filed by Mauldin that the city is still reviewing regards various iterations of a document billed as a “Brown Ranch Fact Sheet.” That complaint argues that YVHA “has expended public moneys to develop and publish one-sided advocacy statements” that relate to the March 26 annexation vote. The complaint filed last week makes similar allegations and references the same fact sheets.

YVHA has rebuked each of the complaints that have been filed with the city, asserting that their communications don’t tell anyone to vote a particular way on annexation.

“We will continue to respond to the complaints, and we believe that there have been no violations by YVHA of the Fair Campaign [Practices] Act or the city’s election code,” said YVHA Executive Director Jason Peasley last week, in response to the latest complaint.

City Clerk Julie Franklin will issue the initial decision on the complaint. If after further review the city does find a violation, the recourse would include asking YVHA to take materials down or repay funds that may have been expended improperly, Foote said.

“It’s basically an order to stop doing what you are doing or some kind of financial penalty or reimbursement,” Foote said. “This is not something that people go to jail over. This is not something that would affect the outcome of an election.”

Council member Joella West said in her view, some YVHA actions that have been subject to the campaigning complaints started long before any ballot measure was approved.

“If it turns out that there is a judgement made somewhere that some of these behaviors don’t comply with the (Fair Campaign Practices Act), somebody is telling the housing authority to stop doing their normal business,” West said. “That troubles me.”

Foote said he shared West’s concern. He said YVHA has previously asked for guidance about how to continue to communicate about Brown Ranch planning without crossing the line into campaigning.

“This is a difficult issue because the housing authority’s ongoing planning of Brown Ranch inevitably could have the effect of influencing the campaign because the housing authority when it discusses it’s project is going to be doing it in terms that place the project in a positive light,” Foote said. “There is a line and on one side of that line is project planning and on the other side of that line is campaigning.”

Foote said he didn’t think the city could interpret regulations to mean that there are no limits on what YVHA can say about Brown Ranch, but that he didn’t think requiring them to stop public outreach made sense either.

“We can’t say that they just have to stop all public outreach related to their project either because I don’t think that’s what the code says and I don’t think that’s a realistic approach and I don’t think that is in the public interest,” Foote said. “There is definitely a bit of a judgement call to decide what’s on the right side of the line and what’s not.”

Top Photo Caption: The Yampa Valley Housing Authority broke ground on its Mid-Valley Development in October 2023. (Dylan Anderson/The Yampa Valley Bugle.)


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