Former councilman drops suit

— A former city councilman has dropped a lawsuit that alleged the City Council president and city manager violated the Fair Campaign Practices Act.

John Ross hand delivered a letter to City Attorney Tony Lettunich saying that he no longer wants to proceed with the case. Ross would not comment on the issue Wednesday.

In October, Ross filed the complaint with the Colorado Secretary of State Office stating the city violated the act when City Council President Kathy Connell handed out a letter at a local supermarket, which was co-written by the City Manager Paul Hughes supporting the Steamboat Springs Water Authority.

On Nov. 5, the water authority was voted down in the general election. Three days later, the Division of Administrative Law set Feb. 4 as a hearing date for the case.

Lettunich said the city has spent a few thousand dollars to fight the complaint and the case is still not closed. A Denver-based attorney must file a motion with the Division of Administrative Law asking that the case be dismissed based on Ross's desire to not proceed.

"It is not over until (the Division of Administrative Law) says it is over," Lettunich said.

Before Ross dropped the case, the city had filed a motion of summary judgment, which could have prevented the case from going to court. In a summary judgment, the city would agree that the facts given in the complaint are not in dispute, but it would argue what occurred did not constitute a violation.

Lettunich said Ross had 20 days to file a response to the motion of summary judgment and had not done so.

The city was also going through the discovery process and Lettunich said that, at this point, getting affidavits from Connell and Hughes was the only thing left to do.

Because Ross had filed the complaint, he had the burden of proof and had to gather the witnesses and evidence.

"He had no facts at all to support his allegations. It was just a shot in the dark," Lettunich said.

In the complaint, Ross said Connell was passing out a two-page letter in front of Safeway on Oct. 20. The letter, he said, was written by Mount Werner Water District Manager Bob Stoddard and Hughes and had been published in the Steamboat Today. It explained the history of the two entities, the power of the proposed water authority board, and why rates were different.

Ross had said the letter had been prepared by city staff on city hours and used city resources, which he believed was in violation of the Fair Campaign Practices Act. He also said that Hughes had signed the letter as the Manager of the City of Steamboat Springs and was directed to write the letter by the City Council.

But Lettunich had said the letter was written on Hughes' personal time and he did not use city resources to write the letter. He also pointed to a provision in the Fair Campaign Act that allows up to $50 in public funds to be spent on ballot issues. It is also legal, Lettunich said, for council members to campaign on their time and money.

Hughes said it is a relief to have the case dropped.

"Obviously, both Kathy Connell and I are pleased that this has happened," Hughes said. "We both believe it was unwarranted and unnecessary in the first place. It put the two of us to an awful lot of trouble and the city to an awful lot of expense. Now that it is dropped, I think it is time to move on."

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