We get it that Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland can be a polarizing figure. He’s been ruffling feathers in Aspen for more than two decades, and his recent announcement that he is considering a run for City Council this spring, as term limits will force him to step aside as mayor, has rubbed some people the wrong way.
The outrage machine has been kicked into gear by Ireland’s foes, who in the last week have written letters to the editor comparing him to Richard Nixon and accusing him of putting the screws to Aspen’s city attorney, who authored a legal opinion stating that the state’s term limits statue has no issues with Ireland seeking the lower office of City Council.
The recent attacks against Ireland are pretty tough language for a guy who is considering taking a pay cut — from about $28,000 a year as mayor to $20,400 for council — to remain in public service, but Ireland has a tendency to inspire a certain amount of derangement in his critics.
Ireland may occasionally look disheveled, and while he is usually civil and pleasant, he can come off as rude when engaged in a dispute at the council table. But there is no denying that he has dedicated his adult life to public policy in Aspen and Pitkin County, with a passion for the area’s scenic values, affordable housing supply and small-town character. This newspaper has typically supported his electoral bids, because even when we’ve had issues with Ireland’s style, we believe that substantively, he has the community’s best interests at heart.
But we are not here today to weigh in on his potential candidacy. As always, we are excited to see who will take the plunge and run for city office. We will consider each candidate with an open mind, evaluating their pros and cons as a potential elected official. Maybe there will be candidates we favor for the two up-for-grabs council seats above Ireland, should he choose to run. We agree there is something to be said for getting some new blood on council. For example, we would love to see more young people or women run, since the board is currently made up entirely of middle-aged white men.
But we also think that fresh faces, in and of themselves, are not the goal. New blood for the sake of new blood dilutes what we really want out of City Council, namely protecting the long-term sustainability and quality of life in Aspen, which is no easy task with the deep pockets and endless development pressures that exist here.
We agree with Aspen City Attorney Jim True that the city charter is clear in its differentiation between the mayoral and council offices. While the mayor has all the “powers, rights, privileges and obligations” of a council member, he or she also sets council’s agenda, runs the meetings, and is the “head of government for all ceremonial and legal purposes.” The mayor has an office in City Hall, whereas council members get only a mail box. The positions also were set up with different term lengths, which further establishes the charter’s intention in giving them separate roles.
Ward Hauenstein, one of Ireland’s detractors, asked council this week to support a charter amendment that would cap consecutive years of service as either a council member or mayor at eight. We find that such a move is unwarranted. Not only would it require a vote of city residents, but only in dire circumstances should our charter be altered — not just because a few vocal residents disagree with Ireland’s political and philosophical views, or don’t like his style.
So let Mick run if he wants to. Ultimately, it’s up to the voters, and no amount of crowing by Ireland’s critics will change the fact that in a democracy, the voters get what they want.