Three candidates in Tuesday’s Basalt Town Council election outlined different strategies this week for dealing with possible conflicts of interest.
Mark Kittle said he could not vote as a councilman if a possible proposal for expansion by the Roaring Fork Club comes before the board.
“I have a monetary interest. I would recuse myself,” Kittle said.
Kittle’s family owns land that the private golf and fishing club has under contract for purchase. The Roaring Fork Club has discussed the addition of 13 luxury cabins in the past, but there is no current application before the town government.
Kittle said the club has new owners. David Wilhelm and Jim Light “are no longer there,” he said. The new partners are having trouble making the finances work on the expansion, so it is uncertain if an application would come before the board, Kittle said.
Candidate Jeff Orsulak said he would want to participate as a councilman on decisions on Willits Town Center. Orsulak is an architect and planner with Lipkin Warner Planning and Design, a firm that regularly represents Willits Town Center owner Mariner Real Estate Management before the council. The firm also has designed all the building in the core thus far. The mixed-use development was conceived by Michael Lipkin, a partner in the firm.
Orsulak said he doesn’t necessarily see a conflict. People who live in a small town often run into situations where they are involved with different hats, he said.
“That’s how a small town works,” Orsulak said. “We’re all involved in all these things. I happen to be involved in that project, just like if the Roaring Fork Club comes back in, Mark Kittle is involved.”
The Basalt Town Code includes a section titled, “Disclosure of personal interest in a legislative action.” That section says, “Any member of the Town Council who has a personal or private interest in any matter proposed or pending before the Town Council shall disclose such interest to the Town Council and, except as provided in Section 2-280, shall not vote thereon and shall refrain from attempting to influence the decisions of the other members of the governing body in voting on the matter. The Council member shall leave the room during the Council’s discussion and action on the subject, and shall return only when the Council has taken up the next agenda item.”
Section 2-280 allows a council member to vote despite a private interest when a quorum is necessary.
Orsulak said his knowledge of the Willits Town Center land-use approvals, known as a planned unit development, would make his input invaluable as a member of the council.
“When you talk about that PUD, there are maybe three or four people that know that PUD, and I’m one of those three or four people,” he said.
Orsulak said there would be no pressure from his bosses to vote any particular way on Willits Town Center issues.
Ultimately, he said, he would rely on the advice of the town attorney. “That’s what you have to do because you want to make sure there’s not that conflict,” Orsulak said. “But I do live and work in Willits and Basalt. I think it’s important to have people on the council that live and work there.”
Candidate Richard Duddy works as a real estate agent for Shane Aspen Real Estate. He is a co-listing broker for the new Park Modern Condominiums, which are being developed by Lipkin in the residential neighborhood adjacent to Willits Town Center. Part of the marketing campaign for Park Modern claims that the best dining and shopping in Basalt “is clearly in Willits.”
Duddy said he would recuse himself on issues involving Park Modern since he has a business contract with Lipkin, if that were the direction from the town manager and town attorney. However, he said that he doesn’t feel recusal would be necessary.
“I don’t see how it influences me enough to recuse myself,” he said.
Duddy said he lives downtown and has just as much interest seeing the core thrive as he wants to see Willits be successful. He said he doesn’t feel he would have any bias on Willits Town Center issues. He had the co-listing of the lofts in the upper floors of the town center buildings, but the firm no longer has those listings.
Candidate Bernie Grauer is retired and doesn’t face potential conflicts between the council and his profession. Candidate Gary Tennenbaum works for the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails department. The county and town occasionally team for open space issues, but it’s unclear if that would raise conflict issues for Tennenbaum.