City manager to post development emails on new ‘transparency’ website

Winters City Manager will begin posting some development specific emails on a new transparency website.

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Hoping to make his intentions with future developers beyond reproach, and to assuage public outcries of skulduggery, Winters City Manager John W. Donlevy, Jr. will begin posting some development specific emails online.

Emails associated with the developer Jeff Roberts, Bellevue North and Greg Hostetler will be posted on the new site, as well as emails associated with subsequent development in what has become known as Winters annexation north, Donlevey said.

He also intends to post all emails from the public regarding the annexation development.

“The new site will give the public access and allow transparency on what is happening [with the proposed development],” Donlevy said.

“The best I can do is put the information out there and let people see for themselves….maybe people will access what is posted and gain clarification that way,” he added.

The site will go live this week, will be updated weekly, and will exist as long as it needs to, Donlevy said.

Donlevy made the “transparency” announcement at the end of the Feb.18 regular city council meeting following his presentation to the council on the findings, and actions to be taken, from the January Community Engagement workshop.

Donlevy’s remarkable, and unprecedented, measure comes after about 10 months of public acrimony over released emails between the city manager and a developer regarding development and possible annexation of several hundred acres north of town.

The emails were released as part of a public records request from the Winters Express.

At an April 2 , 2019 city council meeting, the relationship between developer Roberts and the City of Winters came to the attention of the public.

A subsequent public records request from the Express uncovered Donlevy’s email correspondence with Roberts. The emails also indicate each board member met with Roberts in February 2019 to discuss the proposed development.

Roberts wrote in a January 28, 2019 letter to Donlevy, that he was contacting Donlevy on behalf of property owners on the northern boundary of the City of Winters.

The letter goes on to explain, Roberts was hoping to move forward with a proposal to develop 793 acres of land—182.9 within city limits, 340.55 in the city’s sphere of influence and about 270 acres that will need to be included in the city’s sphere of influence and eventually annexed.

The letter included several maps outlining the proposed area to be developed.

The revelation of the emails, and the size of the proposed development, caused many in the community to accuse Donlevy of circumventing the will of the people.

“We strongly object to the way the planning has been conducted in secrecy, behind closed doors, with no opportunity for public input,” Keith and Diane Cary wrote in a letter, indicative of public sentiment, published in the Express. “We need transparency, inclusion, and a thorough and thoughtful planning process to envision the future of our wonderful town.”

With the hope of including the public in future development considerations, a group of citizens formed Keep Winters Winters (KWW). The group currently has a membership of more than 220 members.

KWW, which includes many venerable Winters families and area neophytes, has been relentless in it is criticism of Donlevy and the process of developing the 793 acres mentioned in the emails.

About the new site, members of Keep Winters Winters are optimistic.

“I support transparency at all levels of government,” Keep Winters Winters Chairman Bob Polkinghorn said.  “After all, secrecy is antithetical to the operation of a public entity in a democratic society.”

However, KWW intends to keep the pressure on city hall. KWW lawyers are preparing an initiative for the November ballot that would require a city-wide vote for any development outside a determined growth boundary.


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