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Guest commentary: Colorado Mountain College gives gratitude, promise for future

In the recent midterm election, history was made. Aside from all the attention on national and statewide matters, Colorado Mountain College became the largest special district in the history of the state to successfully "de-Gallagherize" its revenue. By a margin of more than 2-to-1 (71 percent to 29 percent), every single community in CMC's six-county taxing district voted to support measure 7D. In a noteworthy parallel to CMC's founding, 53 years ago the citizens of our mountain communities voted to create Colorado Mountain College, also by a margin of 2-to-1.

To all of our residents and loyal supporters of Colorado Mountain College: Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to understand the very serious but unintended impacts of the Gallagher Amendment on rural Colorado. Thank you for supporting the financial health and viability of a college that, for more than 50 years, has been the only provider of first responders, firefighters, teachers, nurses and other professionals in our mountain communities. Most important, thank you for your confidence and faith in the college's board of trustees, leadership team, employees, faculty and students. Together, we are truly humbled and honored by your overwhelming support of initiative 7D.

To all of the fire districts and other special districts that successfully passed similar measures: Congratulations. Regardless of 7D and other locally driven initiatives, the Gallagher Amendment continues to threaten rural Colorado. By constantly and arbitrarily lowering revenue levels to local services, the Gallagher Amendment is weakening the very services that enable rural residents to enjoy a high quality of life no different than any other Coloradan.

If left unchecked, the Gallagher Amendment will continue to disproportionately tax commercial properties while diluting revenue from residential properties. Small and locally owned businesses are the lifeblood of mountain communities, and yet the Gallagher Amendment saddles them with a tax burden four times the level assessed for residential properties. This increases costs for our businesses while threatening essential services like fire, health care, infrastructure and education.

Our local legislators are aware of these issues and are prepared to address them. In 2018, Representatives Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) and Dylan Roberts (D-Eagle) advanced several ideas to the Legislature. None got traction, but a legislative interim committee was formed — Rep. Rankin served on it — that studied the issues related to Gallagher and proposed a number of solutions. The future success of the ideas that came from that study committee is unknown, but one thing is certain: Until the Legislature acts on meaningful and comprehensive solutions to the Gallagher Amendment, our communities should expect to see more and more "de-Gallagherizing" initiatives like 7D, resulting in wide disparities in services throughout rural Colorado.

And, remember, de-Gallagherizing is a local fix; it is not a long-term or equitable solution for our state. Unless the new administration and general assembly get serious about the effects of Gallagher and work on a permanent fix, residential assessment rates will continue to slide toward zero. With all that is at stake in rural communities, inaction would be irresponsible, not to mention ignorant of voter intent where special districts were created with local support to fund essential services. We are one Colorado, not one where historic population and housing growth in one region of the state should bring harm to another.

Along with CMC's elected trustees, the hundreds of residents employed by CMC and the nearly 20,000 students who enroll in one of the college's 11 campuses every year, we cannot begin to express our gratitude to the cities and towns we all call home. 7D is not a blank check or an invitation to spend. It's the opposite, in fact, as it simply ensures that the college's future revenues will not be cut. 7D allows the college to fulfill the education and training needs of dozens of mountain resort communities and to meaningfully plan for the future without constantly worrying that the financial floor will fall out from under us.

Your overwhelming support of 7D made charting the college's next 50 years much more promising and purposeful. Thank you again. We will not let you down.

Carrie Besnette Hauser is president and CEO of Colorado Mountain College. She can be reached at cbhauser@coloradomtn.edu or @CMCPresident.

She Said, He Said: Where is line between porn and cheating in a marriage?

Dear Lori and Jeff,

I recently discovered that my husband has been spending a lot of time viewing online porn. I've looked through some of the sites he's been on, but because some have different levels of interaction, I can't tell exactly what he's been up to. I've asked him what he's been doing and why, but he shuts down. There are some things I'm willing to accept, but I don't know where the line gets crossed into cheating. I'm worried because I thought our sex life was pretty good, but neither of us have had much time or energy to connect lately. I want to understand what's going on with him, and where it's reasonable for me to draw the line?

Signed,

Where's My Line?

Dear Line Seeker,

Lori and Jeff: The concepts of monogamy and infidelity have become vastly more complex with the evolution of technology. The porn of our parents' generation was primarily impersonal images in magazines and VHS tapes. Now there's blurred continuum available at any adult's fingertips: pictures, videos, livestream, live chat. Even though the options are more vast, many of the underlying drivers to engage in porn have remained the same: empowerment and gratification without risk of rejection.

Jeff: While your concern about your husband's behavior is absolutely valid, it's also important to understand what may be at the root of his transgressions. Men have a tendency to masturbate — even within the healthiest of intimate relationships. There is really nothing wrong with this dynamic, unless it's impacting the erotic connection of the couple. The lines can start to get murky, however, when you add in accoutrements — such as porn.

Why porn? Here's a bombshell: Men can be extremely vulnerable when it comes to intimate sex. According to shame researcher, Brené Brown: "From the time boys are 8 to 10 years old, they learn that initiating sex is their responsibility and that sexual rejection soon becomes the hallmark of masculine shame." Shame? Yes. The risk of rejection — even in the most ideal of intimate scenarios — can be on men's minds but add stress, fatigue and indifference into the bedroom, and the fear of rejection multiplies. Esther Perel, the leading expert on infidelity, says that men use porn as a way to avoid their sexual vulnerabilities: It's much easier (and there's no chance of rejection) for men to open up a porn site and think they're taking care of their needs.

Lori: Partners often make the unfortunate mistake of assuming they have the same definition infidelity. Then lines get crossed unknowingly, and feelings and trust are hurt. If you haven't, as a couple, already established lines in the sand, you can't hold his recent actions against him. You can, however, take this discovery as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and what boundaries feel most appropriate. For many of us American women, the idea of our man lusting over another is a little hard to swallow. It can bring out our insecurities of not being enough: "I'm not as (vibrant, sensual, sexy, skinny, voluptuous) as (I used to be, I could be, wish I was, she is)". But having insecurity triggered is not the same as infidelity. You have to explore for yourself what choices and behaviors constitute a break in your commitment to each other. For some couples, looking at images and videos is unacceptable. For others, it's when personal interactions take place, still others set the line even further to only exclude continuous emotional or physical relationships. The truth is you can draw the line wherever is necessary to maintain safety and respect in your marriage. The challenge is if your partner's needs for connection are not being met, that line can either be crossed or met with resentment.

Lori and Jeff: So what do you do? Talk. Let him know you understand his vulnerabilities and figure out ways to create intimate connections with less risk of shame and rejection. And come to an agreement about what boundaries are right for your marriage.

Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.

Guest commentary: Keep fighting for Bears Ears National Monument

For over 80 years, indigenous people, connected for untold generations to a most unusual and enchanting portion of southwest Utah's landscape, urged the United States government to protect their homeland. None of those people who started that effort walk upon the Earth with us today, but hopefully, their labor of love wasn't in vain.

That homeland, Bears Ears National Monument, was established by President Barack Obama in December 2016 at the request of five Native American tribes, who spent six of those 80 years in public meetings developing their plan for management and protection of the land and cultural resources. Those sovereign nations are the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah Ouray, Hopi Nation, and Zuni Tribe.

With the stroke of a pen, President Donald Trump betrayed their efforts Dec. 4 by reducing Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent and splitting the monument into two separate units, which don't even include the iconic and sacred twin buttes for which Bears Ears was named after. Both presidents drew upon the Antiquities Act of 1906 to justify their authority in establishing the national monument, in Obama's case, and vastly reducing its size in Trump's case (though the legality of this reduction is unclear).

The Antiquities Act gives presidents broad discretion to protect "historic landmarks … and other objects of historic or scientific interest… (by designating the area/object as a national monument) the limits of which shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected."

In July 2015, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition was formed by the five tribes above. The mission of this historic alliance was to protect and conserve the Bears Ears cultural landscape, including more than 100,000 known indigenous sites dating back to 11,000 B.C. Their recommendation for protection was a 1.9 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument. The Obama administration settled on 1.35 million acres for protection.

Having hiked that landscape, fought fires there and visited as many archaeological sites as possible, I can say that anything less than 1.35 million acres would imperil significant sites and traditional cultural objects left out of that original monument.

This is important when you consider the words of the Antiquities Act, coupled with Trump's supposed reason for significantly reducing the monument in his 2016 proclamation "(to make it) the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected."

The Bureau of Land Management released the draft monument management plan for Bears Ears without any meaningful participation by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. And a tribal commission still does not exist. Instead of having representation from an elected member of each of the five tribes on the required Monument Advisory Committee, the BLM wants to seat only two "Native American stakeholders who must be from Utah."

This fast-tracked effort is flawed. Shrinking of the monument by 85 percent is excessive, and it unconscionably disrespects the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition.

It doesn't take much reading of the draft environmental impact statement to know that preferred alternative D does not protect the cultural resources of this hollowed-out version of the original monument.

Comments on the BLM's draft management plan for the reduced Bears Ears Monument are due Thursday. As you write comments, let your conscience guide you while thinking on both the betrayal of indigenous people and of ourselves in yet another example of this administration's failure to adequately protect our public land.

Please submit comments at eplanning.blm.gov.

Bill Kight retired from the White River as the public affairs officer in 2016 after 38 years of government public service. For 30 years, Kight worked as an archaeologist and heritage resource manager among the Navajo, Zuni, Acoma and Ute Indians of New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. He is the executive director of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society and Frontier Museum.

Giving Thought: When work can be literally life-changing

Employment is vitally important for most of us, at least as a source of money and often as a catalyst for social relationships and self-worth. Imagine, then, what a game-changer a job could be for an individual with physical or cognitive disabilities.

Finding jobs for the developmentally disabled is one of many services provided by Mountain Valley Developmental Services (MVDS) in Glenwood Springs. Since October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, we spoke with Executive Director Sara Sims and John Klausz, director of day and employment services, about job training and placement for people with special needs.

Aspen Community Foundation: Please explain why employment services are important to you and the people you serve.

John Klausz: If you have a disability, then you're three times more likely to be unemployed than someone without a disability. If people are unemployed and isolated at home, with limited social networks, then there's limited room for personal growth over time. Getting people out to work builds self-confidence and self-esteem.

When we get people in the right workplace and they're successful, then the need for staff support, and the cost of that staff time, dramatically decreases. Because we are funded mostly through state and federal sources, that's a benefit to all taxpayers.

ACF: What does it take to match employers and people with disabilities? Can you provide any examples?

JK: First, we have a job coach, who helps individuals to recognize their interests, strengths and weaknesses. Picking a career path based on those qualities, and figuring out how that applies to our job market, is a very customized, one-on-one process.

Some of our people have a car, have a driver's license and can get around on their own. If they can handle things alone, then we're mostly in the background. But some prospective employees need support literally every step of the way. They might not be able to fill out a job application. Sometimes they need coaching during the actual job interview. It really runs the gamut.

One gentleman works at Habitat for Humanity's ReStore near Glenwood. He's socially engaging, physically active and interacts with customers, moving heavy items and working in a team environment. It really fits him; last year he won their "most enthusiastic employee" award.

Another gentleman with a very different personality works at Glenwood Medical Associates. He is easily overwhelmed if there's too much going on nearby, so he works in a quiet office with a super-supportive employer who helps him keep the focus he needs to be productive. He's been working there for more than 15 years.

ACF: How many people overall are involved in your employment programs?

Sara Sims: We operate in four counties — Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield and Lake — and we currently support 44 successfully employed individuals. We work with about 47 employers, all of whom deserve a huge thank-you. We also employ six individuals ourselves in the greenhouse behind our offices and the Art on 8th store in Glenwood.

There's a common perception that people with disabilities work only in fast food, but we're able to place people in businesses like Clark's Market, the Rifle Library, Defiance Thrift Store, Lowe's and many others.

ACF: Please give an overview of the other services you provide.

SS: We help individuals with developmental delays or disabilities in our four-county area to live a meaningful, connected life. We get involved whenever that person or their family first comes to us, and often we can be involved throughout their life.

Our largest program is early intervention, which provides specialized therapy to about 400 children under the age of 3. It's important to note that 60 percent of these children function developmentally equivalent to their peers by the time they reach school age. In other words, had they not received that intervention, they may have qualified for special education.

Through our family support program, we provide funding and service coordination for more than 60 children and young adults. For other individuals, we provide daily living needs in various settings — private homes, family homes and group homes. We help people to access various services — financial, medical, educational — in their communities, and we provide case management to all people we serve.

ACF: What's new or coming soon?

SS: I just took over leadership from Bruce Christensen, who was here for 39 years, so we're figuring out who we are again. Over the years we've done a good job of being pretty invisible in the community, because we wanted to promote the independence of individuals, not Mountain Valley. The community has been very supportive and I think they'd be even more supportive if they knew more about us. We're working to enhance our presence within our communities.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of Aspen Community Foundation.

Judson Haims: Time is now to help prepare your aging loved ones for the winter

As we say goodbye to fall and prepare for winter, take a little time to consider how freezing temperatures, snow, the early onset and darkness of night, and holiday travel may pose formidable challenges for your aging loved ones.

With temperature drops, older adults frequently run a higher risk of health and injury concerns. If you believe that winter and inclement weather may pose challenges for an aging loved one, please be proactive and take precautions to avoid hazards.

As we age, not only does our physiology change, but many of the mechanisms we rely on to manage and adjust our internal temperature become less effective.

When our body is exposed to the cold, mechanisms within our body decrease blood flow to the skin to reduce heat loss. However, as we age, frequently our body becomes less effective at this. The thinning and loss of the fat layer under our skin similarly impedes our ability to regulate and maintain body temperature as we age.

Unfortunately, many medications used by our elderly exacerbate the ability to regulate body temperature. While cardiovascular and high blood pressure medications help save lives, they often slow the heart rate which reduces circulation and impedes the body's ability to generate internal heat. Because of these changes, it is often more difficult for aging adults to maintain internal body temperature in cold conditions.

Here are some tips to assist our aging loved ones this winter:

• Make sure their house isn't losing heat through windows. Keep blinds and curtains closed. If there are gaps around the windows, try using weather stripping or caulk to keep the cold air out.

• Make sure they eat enough food to keep up their weight. If they don't eat well, they might have less fat under their skin – impeding their ability to regulated body temperature.

• With poor road conditions that come with winter, running errands and getting around can be difficult. Too often many seniors socialize less and choose to go out less frequently.

• If a loved one seems a little down this winter, it's a good idea to make an extra effort to spend some additional time with him or her. When possible, assisting with orchestrating a routine of regular visitors or assisting with transportation will greatly promote mental well-being and safety.

• Help prepare the home for possible power outages by stocking up with blankets, flashlights/batteries, a portable radio, and non-perishable foods that can be eaten cold should a power outage occur.

Slippery conditions presented with the occurrence of snow and ice can lead to falls – a leading cause of death amongst the elderly. Make sure that areas outside and around your loved one's home are shoveled as needed and that de-icing salt is available. Also, make sure that your loved one's wear shoes with good traction and non-skid soles.

Falls inside the house can be mitigated by taking some simple precautions. Remind your loved ones to remove their shoes once they return indoors. Snow and ice that may be attached to the soles of shoes, once melted, can lead to slippery conditions. Consider area or runner rugs that will keep floors from becoming slippery. Additionally, having a bench or stool near the entrance of the house where shoes can be removed while seated will help in avoid falls.

The idea of traveling can seem especially scary to seniors coping with memory concerns. Diseases, such as Alzheimer's and dementia, can often trigger frustration and anxiety when daily routines are changed. Fortunately, there are some effective ways you can minimize the stress your elder family member experiences during holiday travel.

Have a plan: It's important to always have a game plan before traveling with elderly family members. Consider writing up a schedule to discuss with your loved one. Sharing these plans with your elderly family member will help them feel included and prepared, helping to minimize travel anxiety.

Get organized: Take the time to organize any medicine needed and store them a place that is easy to access. Make copies of important documents, such as medical records and prescription doses and schedules. These will help you care for your loved one should an emergency arise. If needed, you can use these documents to formulate an emergency plan of action. You'll rest easier knowing your elderly family member will receive proper care if any difficulties should arise.

Ask for help: Ask about special accommodations for elderly family members traveling under your care. Most airlines offer special rows for passengers with disabilities, which makes traveling easier for seniors who use wheelchairs, walkers and other mobility equipment. You'll also want to ask hotels and restaurants if they have any special accommodations for relatives coping with dietary or other restrictions.

Take your time: Never forget to take your time. If travel plans are rushed in any way, your senior family member's discomfort levels will inevitably rise. Always plan extra time for travel delays and other unforeseen holdups.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. He can be reached at http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.

Interior is undoing a legacy of national park stewardship in Alaska

Allowing unethical and unscientific predator control practices on National Park Service lands in Alaska, as Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke is currently proposing to do, is contrary to federal law and the interest of all Americans.

For 44 years, the state of Alaska and the National Park Service had a mutually agreed upon arrangement for managing wildlife on federal conservation lands. The agreement was enshrined in the federal laws of the Alaska Statehood Act, the National Park Service Organic Act and the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act, and, in practice and in law, it spanned many state and federal administrations. Its specific purpose was to protect and conserve the "natural diversity" of the treasured wildlife of Alaska's national parks.

Now, the Trump administration's Interior secretary is attempting to dismiss the fundamental rules of stewardship established by the National Park Service. The National Park Service regulations currently prohibit predator control — selective killing of bears, wolves, and other predators — and unscientific and inhumane killing methods. Zinke is attempting to rescind these regulations. This is being done with no legal and scientific basis, minimal stakeholder involvement, and a hasty public process. One hundred and eight scientists, current and retired wildlife and resource managers, and many of the nation's large carnivore experts, most with extensive experience in Alaska, have joined in sending a letter to Zinke adamantly opposing his action.

A brief historical perspective can help shed some light on why this purely political and shortsighted maneuver is problematic.

Passage of the Alaska Statehood Act in 1959 gave Alaska control over fish and wildlife resources within the state, with the exception of those on federal lands "withdrawn or otherwise set apart as refuges or reservations for the protection of wildlife." For 21 years, Alaska managed wildlife in its national parks and wildlife refuges according to federal wildlife and habitat regulations.

In 1980, the Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act added 43 million acres to the national park system in Alaska. Over 20 million acres of this addition were designated national preserves, places where subsistence and sport hunting are permitted. Still, that same law specifically mandates that fish and wildlife in those areas be managed "to conserve fish and wildlife populations and habitats in their natural diversity" — in other words, to sustain all species, and no predator control.

Then-Gov. Jay Hammond negotiated the state's interest in fish and wildlife management on the new lands with an agreement in 1980 stating that, "The (Alaska) Department of Fish and Game agrees to manage fish and resident wildlife populations in their natural species diversity on Service lands, recognizing that nonconsumptive use and appreciation by the visiting public is a primary consideration."

Then, in 2003, after 23 years of cooperation, a new state administration, led by then-Gov. Frank Murkowski, unfortunately attempted to apply predator control policies to the national preserves. After numerous unsuccessful consultations with the state, National Park Service managers began a multiyear public process to permanently resolve the issue. In that process, the agency received more that 70,000 comments and held over 25 public hearings in Alaska, the sentiment at each of which was overwhelmingly against predator control.

In 2015, the Park Service adopted regulations prohibiting any predator control program on its lands based on the legal requirements of federal law regarding these lands. Additionally, the regulations prohibited the harvesting practices used by the state historically considered unethical and unscientific, including taking any bear, cubs, and sows with cubs using artificial light at den sites; taking cub bears or female bears with cubs; taking brown bears and black bears over bait; taking wolves and coyotes during the denning season; and using dogs to hunt black bears.

Dropping those regulations would be a matter of national significance: Today, more than 85 percent of the nation's national preserves are found in Alaska. Furthermore, the state is home to 98 percent of America's brown bears, more than 90 percent of its wolverines and lynx, and about two-thirds of its wolves. More than 2.5 million people come to Alaska's national parks each year to see the wild animals that live there. To many millions more, the natural ecosystems and wildlife in Alaska — unmatched in size and abundance — are a national treasure for this and all future generations.

To dramatically lower the natural diversity of bears and wolves and to allow unethical methods of hunting them, including bear baiting, spotlighting bears in dens, killing sows and cubs, killing packs of wolves from airplanes and killing denning wolves and pups will — and should — outrage the American public. There is no legitimate purpose that justifies this nonsensical decimation of our national park wildlife.

It will be a sad day for America if the Department of Interior — ignoring the best interest of the public — is allowed to rescind responsible National Park Service wildlife regulations.

The public has until Nov. 5 to comment on the proposed deletion of the current wildlife regulations on our national park lands. In the brief time period that is left, please speak up to help protect our unique wildlife and the lands on which they live.

Tony Knowles served as the governor of Alaska from 1994 to 2002 and as the chair of the National Parks Advisory Board from 2010 to 2018.

She Said, He Said: My wife retired to enjoy the good life and now I don’t see her

Dear Jeff and Lori,

My wife retired three months ago. She had a fulfilling career, but felt it had run its course and was ready to begin enjoying life more. Financially, we're in good shape, but I can't stop working for a few more years. I've noticed myself becoming more frustrated and irritated with my wife recently. It seems like all she does is hang out with friends, play tennis and shop, and she doesn't even seem all that happy. I thought after she retired she would want to spend more time with me, and would take up more responsibilities around the house. Now, I'm supporting both of us and she's not really showing up in the marriage. Am I expecting too much?

Missing My Wife

Dear Missing,

Lori and Jeff: Many couples approach retirement with diligent financial planning, fully aware of how the change will affect their bottom line. But many miss the opportunity to explore how this immense transition will affect roles, identity, sense of purpose and connection within the relationship.

Lori: In the grand scheme of things, three months is not all that long for her to find her new groove. Retirement is a complete disruption to the structure and routine of one's life, layered with vast freedom. It's easy to get a little lost. While it may look like all fun and games on the outside, I'd imagine this journey is a little scary for her. She's having to rediscover how she fits into the world, how to have meaning and value, and how to balance that with enjoying rest after many years of work. Instead of focusing on what you're not getting from her (and allowing resentment to build), find ways to invite her to connect. Focus on enhancing your bond, and she'll likely be more invested in showing up in the marriage. Also, be aware of how your frustrations, and dare I say envy, could be seeping out. You have to check whether what you're putting out is pushing her out.

Jeff: You are now the sole breadwinner and seem to be expecting that your wife make up for her reduced contribution by being a better partner — spending more time with you and taking on more of the household duties. She's out having fun while you're stuck working and somehow that means she owes you something for that perceived imbalance. So, yes, you are expecting too much. You need to initiate the same kind of conversations about responsibilities, expectations and partnership that you hopefully had before getting married so you both can be clear about your needs and each of your abilities to meet them.

Lori and Jeff: These kinds of transitions involve both partners adjusting to new relationship dynamics together. Invite her to talk — she probably wants to share her experiences with you, and it sounds like it's time to let her know you're missing her.

Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.

Guest commentary: Aspen loses a great spiritual voice with passing of Father Thomas

With the passing of Father Thomas Keating last week, the Aspen valley lost a great spiritual leader and a loving teacher to many of our residents.

Father Thomas, or simply "Thomas" as he usually preferred, was many things. He became a Cistercian monk in 1944. In the 1950s, he was appointed superior of St. Benedict's Monastery in Snowmass, which he helped build and run.

Later, he moved back to St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, where he served as abbot for 20 years. In the 1980s, he returned to St. Benedict's Monastery, which became home for the rest of his life. He was the author of over two dozen books and a renowned speaker in great demand around the world — from Singapore to South Africa.

Father Thomas was best known for reconnecting Christianity to its contemplative roots. He co-founded the Centering Prayer movement and later the Contemplative Outreach organization as nondenominational opportunities for anyone to experience directly the divine presence that he recognized in all of us. Centering Prayer transcended individual religious doctrines to allow direct experiential access to what Father Thomas called the divine indwelling.

He taught that we will never find lasting happiness through striving after material objects and desires. Rather, authentic happiness arises in the contemplative dimension of life — its source lies in the personal experience of divine presence and love. Centering Prayer is a silent means of cultivating the divine intimacy that transforms hearts and minds.

Father Thomas became a major figure in interfaith relations, meeting frequently with leaders from other religions — including the Dalai Lama — and organizing multifaith dialogues with Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Native Americans. Over time, many of these leaders became his good friends.

In a discussion once about reconciling opposing religious beliefs, Father Thomas was asked whether different and apparently conflicting "absolute truths" could be simultaneously true. He responded with a gentle smile and two characteristically simple words: "Of course."

In a 1997 Harvard speech, Father Thomas told his audience: "In the coming millennium, religious leaders and spiritual teachers might consider as their primary responsibility not so much to convert new followers … but to create communion: harmony, understanding and respect for everyone in the human family, especially the members of other religions."

For Thomas, the path toward interreligious communion lay through silence and love.

Many in our valley — and countless more around the world — will miss his gentle voice and deep wisdom.

John Bennett is a former mayor of Aspen.

Guest commentary: Ittner cites past support as reason for Pitkin County Commissioner vote

Dear Pitkin County voters:

My Name is Rob Ittner and I served as a county commissioner here in Pitkin County from 2011 to 2015. I am asking for your support to return to office and serve again.

My skill set, as a longtime business owner, and values, as a lover of our environment and desire to strengthen the quality of life here in the valley, are what so many people have said are needed in our local government.

Don't take my word for it. Here is what three past Pitkin County commissioners have to say about me. All three served with my opponent, and two of them served with me. All three have been active Democrats in our community for a longtime.

"The choice between Rob Ittner and Patti Clapper, for me, is an easy one, as I served with both of them. There is no question that Rob has done a much better job representing the diverse interests of Pitkin County than his opponent did when she served. … In conclusion, Rob Ittner has the vision, understanding, energy, focus, compassion."

­— Jack Hatfield, commissioner 2001-13

(Letter from 2014, Jack passed this year and is greatly missed.)

"Rob Ittner, is a candidate for the position of commissioner for Pitkin County District No. 1. As a successful business owner in Aspen with a background in finance and accounting, Rob Ittner brings an additional set of views and concepts and ideas to the BOCC for consideration.

Moreover, we get the best of both worlds with Rob Ittner. He served us well for four years, so he already has the experience and knows what the job is all about. Let's bring him back and respect that term limits are in place for a reason. Vote for Rob Ittner for Pitkin County commissioner."

— Dorothea Farris, commissioner 1997-2009

"As a former Pitkin County commissioner who worked with both Rob Ittner and Patti Clapper, I have to endorse Rob Ittner as the most qualified candidate for Pitkin County commissioner.

Pitkin County's challenges are best faced by Rob Ittner's forward-looking attitude, his clear analytical mind and his community building commitment."

­— Michael Owsley, commissioner 2005-17

In these heated political times we all have a responsibility to vote. Moreover, we should find the facts, learn about the issues, and talk to people that can help inform us. People who know and have been involved, just like the three county commissioners listed above. They served us well, each for 12 years. They upheld our values, and know what it takes to continue to do that. They all support Rob Ittner as our next county commissioner.

I ask you for your vote. Please vote Rob Ittner.

The Aspen Times has offered a guest commentary to each of the candidates running for local office.

Guest commentary: Aspen Fire chief makes case for Initiative 6A

Dear citizens of the Aspen Fire Protection District,

Your Aspen Fire Department is seeking your support by voting "yes" on Ballot Initiative 6A on Nov. 6. Aspen Fire Protection District is asking voters for a general fund (operational) mill levy increase for the first time since the district was established in 1953, the same year that Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn in as president.

Our Fire Department's history, however, actually began in 1881, when the first volunteer firefighters came together to form the Aspen Fire Department after several tragic fires threatened our thriving town's existence. This additional funding is now needed to enable our family of dedicated women and men of AFD to make improvements in several areas to better serve you and your family and to meet the ever-increasing public safety response needs of the entire 87-square-mile district.

Did you know that Aspen Fire's operational mill levy of only 0.874 is the lowest of any fire department in Colorado, and even with the requested increase would still be the lowest in the state?

Did you also know that Aspen Fire does more than just fight house fires? Some of the services Aspen Fire currently provides besides fighting structure fires of all kind include: wildfire suppression and assessments, swift water rescue, hazardous material mitigation, motor vehicle and aircraft accidents, technical rope and confined space rescue, fire education and prevention, as well as medical response and many other services as needed to deal with any and all threats to life and property.

The needs of our community have changed dramatically since the district was formed, including mandated training and equipment upgrades required to help ensure safe and reliable delivery of services to our community and to help keep our firefighters as safe as possible when delivering these services. Unfortunately, the cost of providing all of these things required has also risen dramatically since 1953.

Some of the identified needs for the essential funding measure of 6A include: 1) In district first-responder housing, 2) establish emergency reserve/disaster and capital replacement funds, 3) provide funding to ensure adequate dedicated career and volunteer firefighter and support staffing levels that will not just maintain our current response levels, but also to greatly improve and enhance all aspects of them whenever and wherever possible.

The recent Lake Christine Fire was yet another example that shows we can't afford to play politics with fire safety in our communities. Aspen Fire's 6A ballot initiative isn't about what is best just for the Fire Department; it's about what is best for our entire community. We all have to adapt and become more resilient and agile in response to the emerging climate challenges and other threats facing us in the future.

Our firefighters appreciate your thanks, but right now you have an opportunity to support them by voting "yes" on 6A, so they can better protect you and our entire community when an emergency strikes, no matter the type.

Please support the Aspen Fire Department by voting "yes" on 6A as well as the other fire district measures on the ballots from Aspen to Glenwood Springs.

Rick Balentine is the fire chief/CEO of the Aspen Fire Department. The Aspen Times is offering a guest commentary to candidates and sides on ballot measures.