Five of the eight candidates running for Aspen City Council in next week’s election gave their perspectives on business issues Wednesday in a virtual forum hosted by the chamber of commerce.
All but one candidate, ski instructor Jimbo Stockton, said they would do away with Pitkin County’s traveler affidavit program, which the Aspen Chamber Resort Association is asking to be suspended arguing that it is deterring guests from coming here.
The county and its board of public health are considering changes to the program, which requires guests to submit an online affidavit acknowledging they haven’t had symptoms for 10 days and have either been fully vaccinated or have received a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of arriving here. The program also requires visitors to quarantine for 10 days if they are not tested before arrival.
Candidate John Doyle said he has had friends not visit this winter because of the affidavit program, while Stockton said some of his clients said it has made them feel safer.
Candidate Kimbo Brown-Schirato said it’s more detrimental than effective since it’s a voluntary, honor-system program.
“The bottom line is we as a community are not willing to enforce any of the rules that we set forth and ‘let’s trust people to do the right thing’ might be naive,” she said.
Candidate Sam Rose, who is the lead contact tracer for Pitkin County, agreed.
“We live in a capitalistic society and viable businesses are not supposed to be failing and things like the travel affidavit just put like a crutch in our businesses and hotels and our whole economic ecosystem,” he said. “It was an idealistic approach that proved not be effective.”
Incumbent Ward Hauenstein also said because the program is not enforced it should be revoked.
Candidates Erin Smiddy, Casey Endsley and Mark Reece did not participate in the forum because they had other obligations.
Of the five who did participate, there was a significant portion of time dedicated to questions surrounding the management of short-term rentals.
Doyle said addressing these rental properties is a big part of his campaign platform because they present an unfair advantage over small lodges.
“They don’t have to pay as much taxes, they provide no parking, they provide no housing for their workers to clean their rooms,” he said.
Others agreed that they need to be tracked and regulated, and that the city is making strides to do that.
Brown-Schirato, whose campaign platform focuses on providing more workforce housing, had a new idea related to the issue.
“Instead of taxing and sort of sticking it to people, let’s incentivize our free-market homeowners and rental units so it’s for the highest and best use and have employees in there,” she said, referring to similar programs in other Colorado mountain towns. “They are incentivizing by actually buying deed restrictions.”
ACRA President and CEO Debbie Braun, who moderated the forum, asked the candidates who they would most align with.
Stockton picked Aspen Mayor Torre for his authentic concern for the community and its guests.
Doyle said most of the existing council members, but said even though he just got to know him, he would most closely align with Hauenstein.
Brown-Schirato said the most important aspect is that there is a majority on council to move policy forward. She noted Torre, council member Skippy Mesirow and candidate Reece are people she would consider in alignment with.
Rose said he would most align with Brown-Schirato, Mesirow and council member Ann Mullins, who is leaving office after two, four-year terms and is term limited.
Hauenstein wasn’t asked that question but answered how he resolves conflict.
“Patient, listening, perhaps empathy,” he said. “The realization that the other point of view has validity and acknowledging that sometimes conflict cannot be resolved, but if it exists it can at least be done while all people can be friends to each other, with each other.”
When asked whether candidates would go outside of their platform to represent all constituents, or stick with their campaign promises, Brown-Schirato said everyone runs on housing but nothing gets done, so she is committed to bringing solutions that don’t include building.
She also will move affordable child care forward and re-engage with the Aspen Area Community Plan, the resort community’s guiding document.
“Every single decision up to this point is wrought with infighting and people and development versus not,” she said. “We don’t know as a community where we want to go in the next five, 10, 25 years. … I’ll listen to everyone but we need to figure out where we are going.”
Doyle countered that the community plan maps out where Aspen is headed and is updated every 10 years, with 2022 being the next year that it is scheduled for an update.
“It’s a very important document that spells out very clearly what we should be doing as a community and what our goals are as a community,” he said. “We really do need to follow the Aspen Area Community Plan closer than we have been.”
Rose said he will fight for the issues he has focused his platform on, which is affordable housing and child care.
“I’m a type of person that sets tangible goals, but I won’t put up with stagnation,” he said. “If we said we’re all going to agree on something, we will find something to get it done but definitely not in an obtrusive way.”
Candidates also were asked several other questions, from whether public parks should be closed for special events to the importance of arts and culture to the resort community, as well as other business and COVID-19 related questions.
The election is March 2. Voters are being asked to bring their ballot to the ballot box on Galena Street in front of City Hall, since there is not enough time to mail them and have them receive it in time. In-person voting is currently available at Aspen City Hall.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the clerk’s office had received roughly 900 ballots. There are about 6,000 registered voters in the city of Aspen.
To view the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s City Council candidate forum, log onto:
To view last week’s Squirm Night debate, log onto:
To view a series of interviews with candidates on Grassroots TV, log onto: