Stone: Time for a heaping helping of Municipal Hash
January 14, 2016
I thought this column was going to be entirely focused on Basalt and the incredible hash they seem to be making of their future.
Hmmm … maybe a good new Marvel Comics series, "The Incredible Hash": Bitten by an infected developer, a small town loses control and goes on a rampage, destroying all those it loves best and threatening the American way of life! Or better yet: Bitten by an infected short-order cook, a developer turns a serving of corned-beef hash into a poisonous platter of Municipal Hash!
I figured I would write about the people of Basalt rising up against what they consider wrong-headed actions by the Town Council regarding the future of a large chunk of riverfront land. Those protests have taken the form of petitions that would put some of the most vital questions about the future of that property on a ballot to let the people decide what their hometown should become.
And then I would consider the council's determined efforts to block those petitions and find a way to keep the people from having a say.
Democracy? We don't need no stinking democracy!
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I was tempted to wonder whether somehow newspaper deliveries to Basalt had been sabotaged (by developers who had consumed large servings of poisoned Municipal Hash) so that the council members were unable to read about the "people's uprising" in Aspen after the council there showed similar determination to ignore the voters.
Wake up, Basalt! I would shout. Don't force your residents to go through all the trouble that came down in Aspen. Let the people be heard.
And then I planned to look at the Basalt council vote scheduled for Tuesday night, in which the council seemed likely to approve a bizarre giveaway to the developers of Willits, handing over $5 million in sales tax money to the out-of-town developers — even as some claim the town can't afford a downtown riverside park. Not to mention the council approving an additional 100,000 square feet of development, which is "necessary" because the developers can't fill the space they already have. And all this while many are arguing that old Basalt is "dying on the vine" because Willits has lured away all its businesses and customers.
Hey, let's have another heaping platter of tasty Basalt-brand Municipal Hash!
That's what I was planning.
But now I have read how this week the Aspen council told the people of Aspen to sit down, shut up and mind their own business — or, maybe better said: sit down, shut up and stop minding their own business.
What the hell? Have the Aspen newspapers stopped delivering to Aspen? Has a truckload of infected Muni Hash been shipped upvalley, marked "local free-range produce"? Maybe stamped, "Now with extra GMOs (government-mandated outrages)!"
Whatever the source of infection and/or ignorance, the council delivered this rude message to the people by telling one of its own — one of the council members — that he was a devious weasel for daring to speak up on behalf of the people during a council meeting.
The nerve of the man!
The devious weasel in question (and let's be clear, in this context, I consider "devious weasel" to be a compliment of the highest order) is Bert Myrin.
Myrin, of course, was elected to the council as a representative of the Aspen people's rebellion, a leader in the petition drives that overturned some bad council decisions, forced the council to back down on others and took away the council's ability to continue making certain kinds of bad decisions in the future.
He got crosswise with the council this week by suggesting a measure to give the council itself final say on hiring a new city planning director — a process that is now totally under the control of the city manager.
There are some ironies here to be sure.
Myrin (whose name, I have just discovered, is one fat-fingered typo and autocorrect away from "My Ruin") was elected as a champion of taking excess power away from the council, and now he wants to give more power to the council. Meanwhile the council members who fought him bitterly when, as a private citizen, he worked to take power away from the council, are now fighting him even more bitterly when, as an elected council member, he is trying to get more power for the council — although he is arguably bringing that power closer to the people by taking it away from a bureaucrat and giving it to elected representatives.
Now I'm not going to get into the details of the argument over who should hire the planning director. What I am concerned with this week are the anti-democratic blinders — I want to say "blinders, deafers and dumbers" — that some elected officials seem to clap over their eyes (ears and brains) once they get elected.
Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron, whom I have generally considered a solid, honest fellow (despite his too-frequent failures to stand up for what the people want and what is best for the town), blasted Myrin for spouting "nonsense" and declared that Myrin should have met with other council members to let them know what he was considering before bringing it up in a meeting.
I am immediately offended by the idea that it is "nonsense" to suggest that the people have a direct interest in hiring a city planning director.
And then there's the idea that Myrin should have a "secret meeting" (as we reporters love to call it) with council members to discuss what he's going to say at the public meeting before he says it.
Actually, I believe that a meeting like that is not just "secret"; it's also illegal under the state sunshine law.
So there we are, upvalley and down: elected officials being led around by planners, lawyers, bureaucrats and developers and telling the people who elected them to sit down, shut up and let "those of us who know best" make the decisions.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.