2008 Newsmakers – Marilyn Marks: City Hall foe
December 26, 2008
ASPEN ” Marilyn Marks was a thorn in the side of City Hall in 2008, pointing out problems with its policies and procedures, and criticizing its ability to govern properly.
Self-described as a “Red Ant,” which is the title of her blog and show on GrassRoots TV, Marks is a retired CEO from Atlanta who moved to Aspen six years ago. She got involved in local politics in 2007, but it wasn’t until early in 2008 that people started to take notice of her criticisms.
She is responsible for finding the infamous error published in a city-produced brochure circulated to citizens shortly before a May 2005 vote on Burlingame, a planned 236-unit development across from Buttermilk.
City officials have apologized for the misleading brochure, which told voters that the total project would cost $74.3 million when in reality it’s nearly six times that. The taxpayer subsidy was supposed to be $14.7 million but now stands at $85.5 million. However, that figure continues to change.
The discovery set off a public relations nightmare for city officials, who scrambled to explain how such a mistake could occur and how it planned to better manage multimillion-dollar development projects.
As a result, the Burlingame gaffe effectively killed any chances for a multimillion-dollar bond to be approved by voters this past May. It would have paid for future affordable housing projects, but city officials decided not to take it to the electorate given the government’s credibility problems.
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In the minds of city officials, the government was exonerated with two independent audits that were conducted by outside firms (although hired by the city of Aspen). Those firms determined that no wrongdoing occurred but did conclude that there was plenty of room for improvement when it came to the city government being a developer.
Marks has had little success in building public outcry over those audits, which she questions the validity of, as well as the competence of city staff and the policies of the Aspen City Council.
Her in-your-face approach, constant requests for city documents and letters to the editor criticizing the government have raised the ire of City Council members, who have refused to engage in debate with her.
Marks said she had no desire to follow local politics, or be involved in them. As a property owner, she got involved last year by attending a few City Council meetings on legislation designed to prevent older homes from being demolished and replaced with bigger, more expensive ones.
Then one July day, Marks was reading the local newspapers, which reported the City Council had passed an emergency ordinance doing just that; she gathered some friends and went to City Hall that evening for a public meeting on the issue.
Marks has been involved ever since and shows no sign of letting up in her quest for what she calls “good governance.”