Two final Aspen City Council regular meetings remain before the departure of three of Aspen’s veteran civil servants. Council members Bert Myrin and Adam Frisch were defeated in their bids for council and mayoral seats respectively. Mayor Steve Skadron is term-limited in his position.
With the swearing-in ceremony for a new council occurring in June during election years, the month of May is typically a quiet time in city government.
“Staff knows from years of experience that it doesn’t benefit their work to be introducing things to the current council with the possibility of the next council repealing or redirecting their decisions,” Skadron said.
Regular council meetings are scheduled for May 13 and May 20. A work session today will help to determine what the current council configuration may consider in its final actions.
There are no pending ordinances that have passed on first reading. Anything to be passed before the new council takes control on June 10 would need to undergo first and second readings during May.
Skadron said that among the potential topics to be wrapped up are financial issues pertaining to the new civic building being constructed on Rio Grande Place, including the negotiation of a guaranteed maximum price for the construction of the building.
“It would be my preference that the new city council work on their own initiatives and not be dragged into the current discussions on city offices — that should be a done deal,” Skadron said.
The most contentious issue on the docket is an amended intergovernmental agreement, or IGA, with Pitkin County regarding the governance structure of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority. The updated agreement proposes a new board structure that would have final voting authority on APCHA policy issues, unlike the current board’s advisory role. The arrangement also adds representatives of the elected bodies to the board.
Councilman Adam Frisch has been working on area housing needs since before his eight years on council. Despite public requests from members of the APCHA board to put the vote on hold, he said it is appropriate to amend the IGA before new members come to the table.
“My view is this, all of us are there through June 10 [and we should take the vote] as long as we are not trying to cram something through that we know full and well the new group doesn’t want,” Frisch said.
In a letter sent to the council last month, APCHA board member Dallas Blaney specifically asked for this council to send the IGA discussion to the next council instead.
“I urge city council to reconsider its position and slow the pace of these changes to allow a more robust discussion of the issues involved,” Blaney wrote.
Frisch countered and said there has been ample inclusion of the APCHA board during open discussions at the city and county level.
“A good chunk of APCHA’s pushback is not about the amount of outreach, it’s just that they don’t agree with the direction that the elected officials are going,” Frisch said.
The APCHA board is encouraging the consideration of an entirely independent housing authority that does not have elected officials in its governance structure. Frisch said the proposed IGA reduces the number of elected officials involved, while also making their involvement more efficient.
As the system now stands, every decision made by the volunteer board can then be called up by the city or county governing bodies, so all 10 public officials could be involved in any discussion. The new board makeup would include only one representative and one alternate from each.
“Right now, [elected officials] are involved two years after the process, they don't know what’s going on and you almost start over,” Frisch said. Under the new model proposed in the IGA, “their hands are gonna be on it from day one.”
The amended IGA vote can be passed via resolution, which means it does not need two readings and a public comment opportunity the way an ordinance would. Council can choose to take comment on the matter if it wishes.
Pitkin County commissioners are scheduled to have a first hearing on the agreement this week. County Manager Jon Peacock wrote in a memo that Aspen City Council is scheduled to approve the IGA on May 13.
Before he departs, Frisch also would like to see an ordinance that bans the sale of flavored tobacco in e-cigarettes which, he believes, are targeted to underage smokers. That issue will be discussed in today’s work session, which starts at 4 p.m.
One issue that was killed on first reading last month is an increased stipend for elected officials. The current council decided to pass that question to the next group. Because sitting members of council cannot vote to give themselves a pay increase, that measure would not go into effect for a minimum of another two years.
Bert Myrin left for vacation at the end of April and will return just in time for the May 13 regular meeting. It’s a trip he takes annually around this time. Myrin penned a goodbye letter to Aspen politics after his defeat in March.
“I couldn’t be happier to entirely let go of local politics and spend more time with friends and family enjoying the resort side of Aspen and traveling,” he wrote.
Reached while on vacation, Myrin said he doesn’t have anything to address in his final meetings.
“I think this is all in someone else’s hands now,” he said.
Myrin has been involved in Aspen politics for nearly two decades. All but the last four were as an activist, most notably helping to pass a mandatory referendum on land-use variances. He said the results of this spring’s election, including the approval of the Lift One corridor redevelopment, show that he and the public are no longer aligned.
“Housing and traffic just became harder with the direction from the majority of voters and council-elects to waive the long-negotiated 100 percent housing requirement for Lift One Lodge,” Myrin said.
He said the departure of veterans from council seats and community involvement leads to a short-term memory problem in Aspen.
“People need to learn, and that’s the challenge is people don’t learn and there is always a turnover with elected officials and by the time they figure things out …,” he said. “You can’t fix crazy.”