ASPEN - Jack Hatfield is leaving his post as a Pitkin County commissioner Jan. 8 with his reputation solidified as an unflinching caretaker of the environment and as an elected official who, in the eyes of some, was maddeningly stubborn.Hatfield has played a central part in the politics of Snowmass Village and Pitkin County since the late 1980s, when he helped lead citizen-driven efforts to get a land-use master plan for Snowmass Village and, a short time later, to oppose the Aspen Skiing Co.'s full-blown development plan for Burnt Mountain.Hatfield said he's stepping down from public service of all types. "Not just commissioners," he said. "I'm wrapping it all up."He has nearly 25 years of accomplishments to reflect on. In addition to the issue-oriented efforts, he was elected twice to the Snowmass Village Town Council, served three terms on the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District, was appointed to the Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission for 21⁄2 years and won election three times to four-year terms on the board of Pitkin Board of County Commissioners.At one point, he said, he was "the most controversially loved and hated person in Snowmass Village." He was loved because he took positions that many people agreed with but few wanted to stick their necks out to promote. He was a thorn in the side of Bob Maynard, a former Skico president and CEO who revived the plan to expand the Snowmass ski area onto Burnt Mountain. (Hatfield is quick to note that even though he and Maynard were opponents on the issue, they always got along well.)"No one was going to challenge anything in Snowmass Village unless someone stood up," Hatfield said.But positions against Burnt Mountain and Base Village put him at odds with movers and shakers in the real estate industry and with Skico. He was serving as a town councilman in 2000 when he ran for Pitkin County commissioner. While he was able to win election in Snowmass Village twice, he had his share of foes."I know some people voted for me as commissioner to get rid of me," Hatfield said with a hint of a chuckle. By winning a commissioner's seat, he had to give up his council seat.
Hatfield is nothing if not tenacious. He lost an election as a commissioner in 1992 in a tough three-way race with Bob Child and Herschel Ross. Child, a legendary commissioner who had stepped down in 1988, came out of political retirement to make another bid. Ross was a skilled incumbent who was going to be tough to beat.In a raw and rare bit of candor in politics, Hatfield acknowledged in an interview Thursday that he agreed to run in the primary race to hamper Ross' chances of re-election. Child and Hatfield both earned the Democratic designation in a vote at the party's county assembly. Ross didn't get the designation. Although Child and Ross advanced from the primary, and Hatfield did not, the lack of the Democratic party designation in the general election likely hurt Ross in the general election. Child won.Hatfield ran again in 1996 against Leslie Lamont, who was appointed to fill out Child's term after he got ill. Hatfield lost to Lamont.In 2000, Hatfield ran again and beat John Young for the commissioner seat for the district that includes Snowmass Village. He easily won re-election in 2004 and 2008 against different challengers.Hatfield said he had three guiding principles during his years in office. He had a strong environmental ethic. He was a fiscal conservative. He had strong personal convictions and never compromised his values."I'm a protector," Hatfield said, "protector of our community, protector of our environment, protector or our character and quality of life."He said there are virtually no votes or positions he held over the years that he would change."I was a public servant, not a politician," Hatfield said. The difference is, politicians tend to be dodgy and careful to tailor their votes to the public will, he said."I'm not a fence sitter," Hatfield said.
His view of himself in office tracks closely with that of some other observers. Former Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris served with Hatfield for eight years. She's also known for calling a spade a spade."He's a man of honesty and integrity," Farris said, noting that Hatfield worked hard for what he believed in."He did it with a stubbornness of conviction, which sometimes made it difficult to work with him," Farris said. When asked what area she believes Hatfield made his mark, Farris said, "He has a very high regard for the environment."As anyone who has attended county commissioners meetings can attest, Hatfield made sure his fellow board members, applicants and audience members knew where he stood. He stated his positions and the reasons behind them, not exactly in a dramatic way but passionately. He has a strong sense of respect and propriety, but sometimes in the course of stating his positions in a passionate and confident way, he appeared to rub some people the wrong way.Nevertheless, Hatfield seems to have avoided one major pitfall of politics: "I don't think he made any enemies, really," Farris said. Since Hatfield is very orderly and structured, he frustrates some people who don't share those traits, she said, but he is too respectful to make enemies.His orderliness carried over to his personal habits. Farris said Hatfield's desk in the county commissioners' office was always the most clean and organized."If you moved a pen and it was crooked on his desk, he would straighten it out," she said. Sometimes former Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper would move an item or two on Hatfield's desk just to mess with him in a fun way, according to Farris.
Allyn Harvey, a Carbondale trustee and a former Aspen Times reporter who covered the county commissioners, was known in the newsroom for getting frustrated with Hatfield. Harvey said he admired Hatfield for his environmental policies and his support on acquiring open spaces. His presence on the board helped raises its environmental conscience, he said.But Harvey also felt that Hatfield sometimes stuck to a principle when all it accomplished was alienating other commissioners. For example, Hatfield sometimes will find a relatively minor issue to quibble with in the budget and then vote "no" on the entire package. It's obvious that it alienated other board members and staff, Harvey said.He believes Hatfield will be remembered as a "good" commissioner but not necessarily a leader. That's somewhat a product of the boards he served with, according to Harvey. The boards weren't always cohesive. They were often working as five individuals.Hatfield said he feels "I've grown considerably since walking in the door" of the commissioners' room. His understanding of issues soared, and he feels he learned how to be an effective elected official and board member. "I asked a lot of questions and hopefully not too many dopey ones," he said.He explored "gray" areas and learned to seek solutions without compromising his values.When asked about his major accomplishments, Hatfield said helping create Rural and Remote Zoning as a member of the county planning commission is a big one. It helps protect backcountry areas from development.He also cited helping create and support the Healthy Community Fund, which established a voter-approved tax as a revenue source for nonprofit organizations.He lobbied for strong county support for the Droste, Grange and Smuggler Mountain open space purchases. He also worked to get the Sutey land exchange approved. He was in the minority for years on the controversial issues, but the board as a whole changed its position Friday.
Hatfield, 66, isn't going anywhere despite leaving public office. He has lived in the upper Roaring Fork Valley since 1972 and has been married to his wife, Ruth, for almost all that time. He will continue to operate his property management company, but he also will spend more time pursuing his passions of hiking the deserts and climbing mountains. He said he looks forward to spending more time with Ruth and traveling.Chances are people will continue to see Hatfield in baseball hats and Hawaiian shirts, which are his signature clothing.And count on the Hatfields attending the free summer concerts at Snowmass' Fanny Hill, the Chili Pepper & Brew Festival at the village and the Jazz Aspen-Snowmass Labor Day concerts. They are always at the shows."That's part of my soul," Hatfield firstname.lastname@example.org