Four councilmen consider bid for mayor in 2013
As Aspen City Council members reflect on the past year, four of them are considering a run for the mayor’s seat in 2013, which will be vacated by Mick Ireland due to term limits.
Councilmen Derek Johnson, Steve Skadron, Adam Frisch and Torre have all said they are considering the two-year post. The four-year posts that Johnson and Torre have held since 2009 will be up; Skadron and Frisch will still have two years left on their terms.
Skadron said he will decide in mid-January. Johnson said he is giving himself until a day after the Superbowl to make a decision. Torre said he will make an announcement sometime early next year. Frisch also will make the call in early 2013.
Election issues that they predict will be part of the campaign include leadership styles; restoring civility between City Hall and the community; the size of local government and its budget; strengthening relationships with the business community; building more affordable housing; downtown development and building heights; growth; fostering new lodging; historic preservation; whether to pursue the now-tabled hydroelectric project and the Entrance to Aspen, among other topics.
When asked for all five elected officials to reflect on their accomplishments and disappointments in the past year, there were some common themes, and some that were unique to each councilman.
Frisch said he’s proud that council was able to sort out issues related to the city and county’s affordable housing program in a two-day summit, which hadn’t been held since 2007, and the fact that the municipal government was able to finish an analysis on the current lodging inventory, which is aging and disappearing.
“The goals are based on outcomes that are measurable,” Frisch said of the housing summit, and that the second phase of the city’s Burlingame housing complex is on track.
The work done by a citizen board related to affordable housing issues, specifically capital reserves in the inventory’s homeowners’ associations, was deemed a success by Frisch in terms of educating homeowners on the challenges they face and providing them with more financial expertise.
Frisch, Torre and Ireland cited the plastic bag ban as an accomplishment. Johnson said he considered that a disappointment, and voted against the ban. He said the effort should have been focused on educating the public on recycling and minimizing waste.
Johnson, Torre and Ireland said the city serving as a host for the USA Pro Cycling bike race in August and securing a spot for next year was an accomplishment. Johnson noted that the municipal government’s financial contributions to secure American Airlines to fly here and a two-year contract to keep the Winter X Games at Buttermilk also were highlights of 2012.
For Ireland, he believes that the biggest accomplishment of council this year was that it helped turn the economic orientation of town from a real estate boom-and-bust model to a sustainable, tourism-based economy, through things like funding special events.
Torre looked at the saving of Little Annie’s Eating House and Benton Building on Hyman Avenue from being torn down as a major accomplishment, but noted that there were some trade-offs in doing that, namely allowing a large building to be developed in the parking lot next door.
Skadron and Ireland said instituting a 28-foot height limit on new downtown buildings was needed, although regulating development is an ongoing process.
Others, like Frisch, said the height limit is problematic, and forced building owners to put in applications before the law went into effect, resulting in 11 new development proposals.
“With all due respect, bringing this forward was not the best thing for this community,” he said. “I think we have a lot of buyer’s remorse.”
Ireland said the new law did prove that the market is still pushing for development, as indicated by the new applications.
“In retrospect, one of the outcomes is that the market told [us] what would happen, over time, given the opportunity,” he said.
Skadron said limiting heights of downtown buildings is important to him because it’s reflective of what the collective community wants, which is driven by preserving small-town character.
“Development issues should be in the hands of the community,” he said, adding that protecting that value is why he was elected and why he serves. “The long-term interest of the community is not served by tall buildings.”
Johnson said while the council will take up building heights and restrictions on future development early next year, he characterized the 28-foot limit as a disappointment.
“We had a little bit of a knee-jerk reaction to building heights,” he said. “We didn’t completely think that through.”
Johnson said he was pleased with securing funding to offer free bus service to and from Snowmass; moving forward with developing phase two of Burlingame; city voters approving a .3 percent sales tax to fund schools; capturing additional revenue from a lodging tax to market the resort; approving plans for an overhaul of Galena Street Plaza; placing synthetic turf at Iselin Field; building stormwater systems and upgrading John Denver Sanctuary; and the city contributing to the purchase of the former Droste land for open space.
All council members said approaching the city budget conservatively was a major accomplishment for 2012.
“I don’t spend your money differently than mine,” Skadron said of his fiscal conservatism on a personal level, as well as an elected official in the city of Aspen. “The reality is that you are dealing with people’s lives.”
Torre said while the council has done quite a bit of work in the areas mentioned, there’s plenty more to do, including dealing with downtown development restrictions and creating downtown vitality.
“We moved the needle a little,” he said. “I know 2013 will be better than 2012. ... We need to take a deep breath and put our best foot forward.”
Most of the city’s elected officials say they are disappointed with the November “no” advisory vote on the government’s hydro plant proposal on the banks of Castle Creek, and the division in the community leading up to the election.
“I think all sides of the community lost out on hydro,” said Frisch, who vocalized his opposition to the project partly because of its cost overruns. “When you are multi-millions of dollars over, you are going to lose support.”
Frisch added that the city was “tone deaf” to the opposition’s concerns, and some within the administration spent too much energy bashing rich people who were unhappy with how the government advanced the project.
“Process matters, especially in the eyes of the moderates in town,” he said.
Ireland’s take on it is that anonymous financiers of the opposition’s campaign, representing some landowners along the banks of the creek, was what fueled the community division.
“Scare tactics were used, the law was violated and people were lied to,” he said.
Skadron said the process was so overly complicated that perhaps council members didn’t have enough oversight of the project and signed off on aspects of it without enough vetting.
“That’s the frustration I have, that I can’t fulfill that community expectation,” he said. “There were legitimate issues on both sides.”
“We got knotted up in this issue and it shouldn’t be that hard,” he said. “We need to go through all of the facts and take a collective breath as a community and take another stab at it.”
Torre said he doesn’t view the hydro vote as a total disappointment since the public had a chance to weigh in on the proposal.
“We gave the public a chance to speak on the issue and I like that,” he said, adding he is comfortable with the majority of the electorate directing the city to refine the proposal and pursue other renewable energy sources.
Both Frisch and Johnson said the fact that council didn’t give proper scrutiny, because of time constraints, to the Aspen Area Community Plan after years of it being developed was a disappointment.
Torre said he wishes that council would have solved the years-old problem of pedestrian safety on Main Street, and vowed to make it a priority next year.
He also said he thinks the city could have a better relationship with the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and the lodging community.
“I feel we still have a way to go in our communication with the community,” Torre said.
For Ireland, he sees some disturbing trends in the community that haven’t been fully addressed: the displacement of local-serving businesses, the erosion of a vibrant commercial district, and a declining population of local workers and an aging demographic.
“We’re not going to have a workforce base to sustain a tourist economy,” he said.
Ireland said he also is disappointed that there isn’t an adequate funding source for health and human services, and the city is still being relied on to fund some of the need, despite that there is a dedicated property tax in the county for it.
The four council members said they are looking forward to creating an elevated and civilized tone from government toward the community; unity through respect, said Torre.
Frisch and Johnson said they believe council members have gotten along well in the last year, even during disagreements and spirited debates on policies, but it hasn’t always translated down to the community.
“I think the town is ready for a less divisive tone,” Frisch said.
Skadron said whether he runs for mayor or not, an opportunity exists for council to approach issues differently in 2013.
“I’m excited about a new generation of political leadership carrying on the good work this and previous councils have done,” he said.