Two minutes before the beginning of Torre’s debut open office hours, the first citizen was present in Aspen City Hall, waiting to speak his mind.
About 20 minutes later the mayor arrived, still on a teleconference with the Pitkin County Board of Health, one of four committees he will be serving on during his tenure leading city council.
He made plans for a future meeting over the phone and then took the waiting citizen into his office and closed the door. He joined his guest in one of two chairs facing his desk and listened intently; several times laughter rang out loud enough to be heard in the waiting area. After about 20 minutes, the door opened again. Torre had scheduled a follow up meeting with the citizen, who wanted to talk big picture issues about Aspen values.
“The intention of this time and having open business hours is really to allow people to connect, come in and know I am available,” said Torre. “It’s not necessarily for one person to come in and dominate two hours but it’s to set up those other appointments.”
In his bid for mayor, Torre centered his campaign around open and transparent communication with the public and office hours are one step toward following through on that promise. As one of his first acts as mayor when sworn in last week, he announced the Monday, 12 p.m. - 2 p.m. time slot. The term office hours is a little misleading, Torre said.
“‘Office hours’ meaning I’m available, it’s set-aside time. Will I actually be here? Not necessarily,” Torre said.
He said he intends to publicly notice where the open hours will be. Sometimes it could mean meeting in the core of town, sometimes on a patio for lunch, other times he might be walking from business to business, checking in.
“But it will always be available so that if someone said I would like 15 minutes, yeah, I will sit down with anyone during that time,” he said.
He said the three-minute public comment period at the beginning of council meetings isn’t long enough to be substantial. But, if citizens can get their concerns in writing or in person ahead of time, some of their questions can be answered on the spot or by the time a meeting comes around.
“It’s definitely best to get your information to us prior and that’s one of the things I'm looking forward to having these office hours,” said Torre. “A lot of time it feels like the public has these issues that build up and then they are regulated to three minutes at the beginning of a meeting and that’s difficult, so really, this is the opportunity to give the preface for that.”
Along with communication, Torre campaigned on a strong environmental platform. Last week he announced his ambition to get rid of single-use plastics in Aspen. City staff is looking at the legal challenges that similar bans have faced in the state.
“There are some preemptions that we have to be mindful of,” Torre said.
He also said the initiatives that council tackles first are going to come out of discussions among all five of them, not unilaterally from his to-do list.
“I work with a council, this is not the Torre show,” he said. “I’m a representative and this is how it works — it’s not about what I want necessarily, it’s about what’s best for my community.”
The newly sworn in council has a retreat scheduled for July 1 and 2. Torre is in the process of laying out his expectations for those days. He said the meeting will vary slightly from previous years, where council has set top-10 goals.
“I want to drill down a little bit harder on the issues during the retreat, and just make sure everybody is sharing the energy, ideas and information that they have individually,” he said.
He also said this council has done a good job of communicating amongst themselves and he doesn’t see a need to focus on their dynamics too much during the retreat.
“This council has already done a great job of communicating with each other,” he said. “We are already taking care of that on our own time.”
One week in, Torre has yet to personalize his office space. He envisions getting the city logo painted on one wall, and wants to rearrange the furniture so that the desk is no longer the centerpiece. He hopes to set up chairs in a way that his office can become a comfortable meeting place.
He is also getting the knack for time management during council meetings. A special meeting had to be called for tonight to continue work the council did not get to last week.
“I’m still getting a grasp on running an efficient meeting,” he said, offering that he may have pushed the envelope on involving public comment last week.
“I always want public input, (but) the public comment process and what that means for meeting times and efficient meetings, that’s something that I’m gonna have to be working on,” Torre said.
Overall, week one is off to a great start — even if the work means running a little bit behind for now.
“Everybody has been sharing with me their excitement,” said Torre. “Everyone thinks I’m going to bring an energy and an openness and a communication style that is going to be helpful to our community.”