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  • Dylan Anderson

Steamboat Council member’s role with Stagecoach Mountain Ranch developer spurs conflict of interest talk

Michael Buccino is making a “couple thousand” a month working in a community relations position for Discovery Land Company, the developer behind the planned private ski community.

Steamboat Springs City Council Member Michael Buccino is working for Stagecoach Mountain Ranch developer Discovery Land Company in a “community relations manager” role — a potential conflict of interest that Council members plan to discuss publicly on Tuesday evening.

Buccino describes his role as being a “conduit between the community and the developer,” and says he is employed on a contract that pays him a “couple thousand” dollars a month. After he spent six weeks researching the company in April and May, Buccino said he started in the role around the start of June.

Emails obtained by The Yampa Valley Bugle show Buccino used his City Council email address in the first week of June in an unsuccessful attempt to set up individual meetings with Routt County Commissioners on behalf of Discovery Land Company. Buccino says he mistakenly used his City Council email when sending those messages, and says he has made sure to use a private account since.

But Buccino does not deny that his role on Steamboat Springs City Council could have contributed to him being considered for the role with Discovery and that they were likely drawn to him because of his history in the Yampa Valley.

“Am I using city council influence to get these appointments, to get these relationships, to get these meetings and I think the answer to that is yes,” Buccino said. “I’ve been a networking guy in this town for 28 years. They’re buying my reputation.”

Arizona-based Discovery Land Company is starting to roll out the details of the plan for the 700-unit, private ski and golf community called Stagecoach Mountain Ranch this week. Developers have a meeting with the Stagecoach Property Owners Association planned for 6 p.m. on Monday at Oak Creek Fire and Rescue’s Stagecoach Firehouse. The actual development application is expected to be submitted later this summer.

Buccino’s relationship with Discovery, which he disclosed to all of his fellow council members at their retreat at the end of June, led to a schedule change for Tuesday’s work session to discuss how to address any potential conflict of interest. Buccino says he welcomes the conversation and would be willing to recuse himself from certain council discussions if his fellow council members believe there is a conflict or perceived conflict.

“I want to have this conversation because if there [are] parts of this legislative role that I have to step down on, just out of the appearance of a conflict, I’m willing to do that for this group,” Buccino said. “I’ve done my due diligence on [Discovery], and I know that this is going to be healthy [for] the Stagecoach community and the Oak Creek community.”

City Attorney Dan Foote said council members are largely allowed to do whatever they want in their private lives, even if it has the potential to cause a conflict of interest. Still, Foote said Buccino should not be using his city council email account for Discovery-related business, noting that council members should keep their city council persona and their private persona separate.

“It’s not appropriate for any of us to do that,” Council President Gail Garey said of Buccino’s email usage. “We do make mistakes, but I think saying that you made the mistake and moving on and not doing it again is what needs to happen.”

The emails Buccino sent during the first week of June went to two Routt County Commissioners attempting to set up meetings on behalf of Discovery, emails obtained by The Bugle in an open records request show. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the new Unified Development Code, which commissioners were getting ready to adopt in the middle of June.

Both commissioners, Tim Corrigan and Sonja Macys would deny Buccino’s request for a private meeting, instead pointing to an upcoming public hearing on the topic. Additionally, Buccino reached out to the third commissioner, Tim Redmond, via text message to set up a similar meeting. Redmond said he initially was open to the request, but later said such a discussion should take place during a public meeting after learning of Buccino’s connection to the developer.

“It was inappropriate in my opinion,” Redmond said. “At that point, I didn’t realize he had a relationship with these people and I would really assume that a fellow elected official would have had the courtesy to disclose that to me.”

Buccino says it was a mistake to not use a private account.

“I could have just cut and pasted [the email address], but I wasn’t thinking,” Buccino said. “I also wasn’t trying to influence them with my email account. It was negligent on that part.”

Rather than a conflict, Buccino says his role in this project is to tell the developer what public benefit the community is looking for from them and hold them accountable so that they deliver. He mentioned potential public benefits like a park-and-ride stop near Stagecoach, improvements to the Morrison Creek Water and Sanitation District’s infrastructure and maybe even a cell phone tower in the area.

“The public benefit is part of the reasons why I’m joining and being part of the Discovery team,” Buccino said. “The public benefit that the community is going to get will never happen without a developer like this coming in.”

If Discovery does not deliver on public benefit, Buccino said he is willing to leave the role.

“When a problem comes up, how are they going to handle it?” Buccino asked rhetorically. “Based upon what I’ve read, they handle it pretty damn well.”

Top Photo Caption: Steamboat Springs City Council member Michael Buccino. (City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy)


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