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Editorial: The Aspen Times’ picks for Tuesday’s special district elections

Voters in the next few days have an opportunity to shape the future of the Aspen Fire Protection District, which is at a critical crossroads as it continues to move from an all-volunteer organization to a roster of paid, career firefighters.

Ballots are due Tuesday, May 3, and we suggest that the thousands of eligible voters vote in this special district election for candidates Emily Taylor, Ritchie Zah and David “Wabs” Walbert.

The three seats up for election are held by incumbents Steve Wertheimer, Denis Murray and Walbert.

With significant changes occurring within the organization, along with some growing pains as unpaid volunteers work next to paid firefighters and an impending change in leadership in the coming years, we believe a fresh set of eyes and way of thinking is needed on the board of directors.

That is why we endorse Taylor, Zah and Walbert, the latter of whom has been on the board since 2017 and has been a volunteer firefighter for 30 years.

Electing two new board members and one long-tenured firefighter, we believe, brings a good balance to the five-member board that includes John Ward and Michael Buglione, who are not up for re-election.

Not only would a female thinker be a good gender diversity addition to an all-male board, but Taylor’s background in environmental protection brings a perspective the fire protection district needs as climate change and the threat of wildfires becomes real here in the upper Roaring Fork Valley.

Taylor works at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, and her skills in environmental communication would be a great asset to the community in the education of wildfire prevention and preparedness.

Zah, an Aspen police officer and a volunteer firefighter for five years, would bring a real-world and on-the-ground perspective to the transition to a combination department of paid and unpaid firefighters.

We agree with him that the biggest issue facing the department is fine-tuning the combination approach, so every firefighter feels valued and safe doing their jobs.

Walbert is a solid board member, who in recent years listened and responded accordingly to those in the rank and file who were frustrated with leadership.

Last year, Walbert voted with his fellow board members to hold Fire Chief Rick Balentine accountable by creating specific employment milestones that he needed to meet that were partly based on feedback from firefighters and staff.

There are four other candidates vying for the three seats. While they have experience and skills to do the job, we think the trio of Taylor, Zah and Walbert is a well-rounded cadre of community members who will lead the Aspen Fire Protection District through some pivotal years for the organization and community, as well as responsibly manage the roughly $6 million in annual property taxes the special district collects.

On the undercard of the local election season is the contest for three seats on Aspen Valley Hospital’s board of directors as well as three seats on the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District board.

For the hospital board, we’re endorsing incumbent board members Chuck Frias, B. Lee Schumancher and David Eisenstat; the fourth candidate is Michael J. Buysee.

The incumbents helped Aspen Valley Hospital weather the storm of the pandemic and have overseen a budget that remains in healthy shape. We support giving them each three more years on the AVH board of directors.

The Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District board has its first contested election since 2006, with four candidates vying for three seats on the board.

We put our support to the incumbents Bill Boineau and Ellie Striegler, as well as election newcomer Scott Arthur.

The incumbents have been part of the board as the district has evolved with the merger of the Snowmass Village and Basalt, and they have an experienced perspective on the finances and direction of this district.

Now retired, Arthur brings to the table the insight of a 28-year veteran of the Snowmass fire department.

If you haven’t mailed your ballot yet, here’s how to vote:

For Aspen Fire board, it’s advised that you drop it off at the fire department’s downtown station on Hopkins Avenue. For the hospital board, ballots can be dropped inside the administration office at AVH.

For Snowmass fire, voters can cast their ballot in person on May 3 at the Snowmass VIllage fire station.

All ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Tuesday. For more information on the elections, go to aspentimes.com/election.

Roses & Thorns: Good and bad from governor’s visit; cheers to bus drivers getting a reprieve

Gov. Jared Polis leads a group of skiers down Silver Bell run on Aspen Mountain after visiting for the 75th anniversary of lift access skiing in Aspen and to address climate change on Friday, April 1, 2022. The gondola and Ajax Express lift ran until 6 pm for late night skiing. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
  • Roses and thorns to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis for his recent ski adventure on Aspen Mountain. Roses for the governor for making the trip to Aspen to discuss climate issues at the top of Ajax. Thorns to the gov for wearing his ski pants above his boots! C’mon, gov, we know you learned to ski while on family outing to Vail, but that’s not how we represent Colorado. Slop those pant legs over the boots and if they’re too tight, buy some new ones post-haste.
  • Roses to Joannie, who works at the base of the gondola and is a beacon of cheer at every sighting. Whether it’s just a friendly hello or making sure you score a solo car for a quick call, we’ll miss seeing her on a regular basis once the gondola stops running.
  • We said it once and we will say it again. Roses to all the various departments that comprise Aspen Skiing Co.’s mountain operations for their great work this season. (We gave them accolades after the holidaze as well.) Skico’s frontline workers checked all the boxes — grooming, snowmaking, patrol, lift loading, food and beverage. As usual, job well done this season.
  • Roses also go to Skico’s creative minds who cranked out some witty April Fools Day material under such headlines as “Audi Presents the Power of Four-Ever,” “Fort Frog Rebrands to Cloud Three,” and “Snowboarding Now Prohibited on Aspen Mountain.” Good chuckles were had by all.
  • Thorns to our CD3 rep in the U.S. House, Lauren Boebert. While the majority of this part of her district goes against pretty much everything she stands for, perhaps her latest announcement Thursday to fight what she mockingly calls the “woke transgender policy” about decreasing patdowns at airports for those who identify as trans is a new low. Her biggest talking point is that giving people a bit of privacy is “practically inviting terrorists to take advantage” of our security screening. This is just playing a card pulled straight out of the crazy deck.
  • Roses to Erin Smiddy for running for a seat on the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners. This is by no means an endorsement for Smiddy, who will be challenging incumbent Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury for the seat. Yet McNicholas Kury ran unopposed in the last election, and it would be a shame to see her win two straight terms with no opposition. Smiddy’s entrance will open the dialogue about the direction of Pitkin County under the five commissioners, who have some big tasks ahead, from the airport expansion to the housing crisis, traffic woes, climate change and other pressing matters.
  • Roses to all the bus drivers in the valley who have had to deal with the anti-maskers during the past few months. Surely no one rejoiced more than the drivers after this week’s announcement that masks no longer are required on public transit. We heard about the confrontations from our bus-driving friends, and we’re glad that babysitting non-mask wearers is no longer a part of your job.

Aspen Times editorial: City officials need to pick up pace on restaurant space near new City Hall

The previous space for Taster’s in Aspen will remain vacant for potentially another three years across from Rio Grande Park. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

It’s difficult to justify attempts to place regulations on Aspen’s free market when the city could ease the sting of high prices by filling its own restaurant property.

We’re talking about the Rio Grande building next to the shiny new Aspen City Hall and below the Pitkin County jail and courthouse. The city owns the property and has leased it at a discounted rate to various affordable restaurant operators over the years. The most recent tenant, Taster’s Pizza, closed in 2019 in advance of the city’s remodel of the Rio Grande building and construction of the new City Hall.

Ah, Taster’s. Conveniently located across the street from the skateboard park, basketball courts and public field, it was an affordable, community restaurant where you could actually feed a family of four for less than $100, if not even less than $40 or $50 (that includes tips and drinks, thank you). Government workers frequented Taster’s, courtroom jurors ate from Taster’s, as did construction workers, youth and teens, dentists, lawyers and the straggler looking for a bite to eat.

Yet as reported Tuesday, finding a restaurant tenant for the empty space is on the backburner for city officials, as they are busy enough working on how to renovate the old City Hall space at the Armory Building, the third phase of development calling for 79 worker-housing units at Burlingame Ranch, and preserving the Old Power House. Additionally, the restaurant space isn’t tenant ready, and the city didn’t budget for the expense in 2022, it was reported.

In fact, it could be another three years before the city leases the space — which rivals the quaint New York Pizza in size — to a restaurant.

There’s a lot wrong with this picture showing a brand-new Aspen City Hall next to an empty, city-owned space that has housed affordable restaurants for more than a quarter-century.

First, city leaders often lament about the loss of mom-and-pop and affordable restaurants, yet nothing was done, as far as we can tell, to fill the Rio Grande building space when the new City Hall opened.

Second, the city whiffed by not putting bathrooms in the Rio Grande building when it was being renovated. Shaw Construction was already there doing the improvements. The city knew construction costs were going through the roof, and it was irresponsible to not have done that when construction was taking place. As the property owner and the landlord, the city should provide bathrooms for its own facilities.

We were encouraged by actions taken during Tuesday’s City Council regular meeting, however, when Councilwoman Rachel Richards called for a future work session to specifically address the empty restaurant space rather than waiting years while it sits void.

While she said she understands that the city has a lot of ongoing capital projects and needs with a limited capital budget, Richards expressed her concern with the capacity and the timeline for reopening the Taster’s space as an affordable restaurant.

Richards wants to have a future discussion about whether the city’s general fund can augment or supplement the costs to finish the space and thereby accelerate the process through issuing a request for proposals to find an operator to finish the space out. She also recognizes that it’s not an easy or quick thing to go down the request-for-proposals rabbit hole, but moving now gets the city back on track sooner than it’s currently anticipating.

Councilman Skippy Mesirow said he supports a work session and said a local restaurateur reached out to him Tuesday morning asking to partner with the city in the space. As well, Councilman Ward Hauenstein said he understood the necessity of getting that space back online, but he doesn’t want to take staff away from the current moratorium work.

We implore the city to move faster on this issue. This doesn’t need to be analysis paralysis. Agree to a work session in the next few weeks, form a committee, put one staff member on it and send out a request for proposals. All it takes is political will, which would also build some goodwill between Aspen residents and their government.

The Aspen Times editorial board’s members are Publisher Allison Pattillo and Editor David Krause, along with Rick Carroll, who is managing editor, and reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.

Aspen Times editorial: Kaplan’s time running Skico show has seen more progress than missteps

We were as surprised as everyone when Mike Kaplan announced last week at a long-timers party for Aspen Skiing Co. employees that he was stepping down as president and CEO at the end of next season.

Kaplan and Skico have been on a roll lately, bouncing back nicely from the COVID-plagued 2020-21 ski season, expanding their hotel brand to the first non-ski area market with a deal to open a Limelight Hotel in Boulder and securing approval to add the Pandora’s terrain to Aspen Mountain.

Alas, Kaplan said his upcoming milestones of 30 years with Skico and 17 years as its leader have taken a toll. He’s been the face of the company 24/7 for 365 days a year. Friday evening atop Aspen Mountain, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis is set to talk about his climate initiatives and Kaplan and others will be there.

In an interview with The Aspen Times, Kaplan acknowledged he’s a bit of an introvert and leading the company has sometimes required him to step out of his comfort zone. At age 57, he looks forward to enjoying the fruits of his labor.

Kaplan was the right leader at the right time for Skico. He was able to relate to the vast majority of employees, customers and community members. Kaplan raised his children in Aspen and benefited from the inevitable development of ties that cultivates.

He also worked his way through the ranks of various on-mountain departments at Taos Ski Valley during and immediately after college, and then came to Aspen after earning his MBA.

Kaplan could relate to lifties overwhelmed by hordes of novices at the Village Express chairlift at Snowmass. He understood the tough conditions snowmakers faced while toiling in cold, dark, pre-dawn conditions. He had a special rapport with the ski instructors who are critical breadwinners for the company.

Throughout the years, Skico executives have worked on the front lines, and Kaplan has been no exception. He’s loaded gondolas at Ajax and wiped down tables at Two Creeks along with entry-level workers.

Kaplan convinced the Crown family, 100% owners of Skico, to provide a $3 raise for all employees in February after boosting starting pay for newcomers at the beginning of the season.

Well before a torrent of bad publicity hit the national ski industry this winter about lack of effort to provide housing for employees, Kaplan guided Skico’s efforts to boost its bed base by building the $18.4 million, 43-unit apartment complex called The Hub at Willits prior to this season. (Skico still needs to refine its policies so that new employees don’t spend every last dime to get established in company housing at the start of the season, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Kaplan also maintained Skico’s longtime reputation for running a great operation on the slopes. Skico and partners transformed Snowmass Base Village. Big plans are in the works for completing the overhaul of the Buttermilk base. Critical snowmaking in a warming climate has been extended to the top of Aspen Mountain. The high-elevation Pandora’s terrain will provide extra insurance that skiing will survive as snow becomes more scarce on lower slopes.

Is Kaplan perfect? No, as he would be the first to admit. Skico continues to overreact at times when criticized by segments of the community. Opposition to the Hub at Willits by neighbors and to the Pandora’s expansion by backcountry enthusiasts and environmentalists was taken as too much of an affront by some members of Skico’s team, who then engaged in thinly veiled campaigns to discredit anyone who dared challenge them.

Skico’s eagerness to milk extra revenues from the ultra-wealthy through its ASPENX brand of products and experiences seems a bit over the top.

But despite a few missteps, Skico has been in very capable hands with Kaplan. Most of Aspen will be sorry to see him go, but it is reassuring that he will help search for his successor and be in place throughout next ski season to help with the transition.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Allison Pattillo, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll and reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.

Roses & Thorns: Cheers to AHS and free concerts; jeers to crosswalk blowers

  • Roses to the Aspen High sports teams and the celebration this month as the townfolk came out to cheer them on. And especially to the boys basketball team: winning a state title is a big thing, but putting together an undefeated season on the way to that hardware was an incredible feat. Enjoy that spring break, kids, and keep on making us proud.
  • Thorns to drivers, local and out out-of-town, who aren’t stopping at pedestrian crosswalks. Yes, the streets are spring-time dingy and crosswalks may be harder to see. But, they are in the same places they’ve always been, and if you can’t see, it’s all the more reason to slow your roll. Be extra aware at corners, when scooting around buses, well, basically anywhere. When in doubt, yield to pedestrians. And remember, relax, it’s Aspen (and going faster isn’t going to help you find a parking spot or beat traffic).
  • Roses to Mike Kaplan as he starts writing the final chapter of his story at the Aspen Skiing Co. Kaplan announced Wednesday night he will step down in April 2023 as president and CEO after helping locate and transition his successor. Yes, Skico had occasional hiccups during Kaplan’s tenure, but he inspired his troops, he eased strains between the big company and the town and, as always, Skico always runs top-notch ski areas.
  • Thorns to Eagle County officials and the developers of the Tree Farm development in the midvalley for negotiating an approval that will likely add to the affordable housing crisis rather than ease it. It’s a long and complex story but the short version is this: Only 50 of the 340 approved rental and ownership residences in the midvalley project are guaranteed of being affordable housing. That’s 14%. That stinks.
  • Roses to the Skico marketing and planning teams who put together a solid lineup for the Hi-Fi concert series, which kicks off Friday night at the base of Aspen Mountain. The California Honeydrops play gondola plaza Friday, then the Sea Billies on Saturday. The following Saturday, April 2, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats play downtown Aspen, and then the Johnny Cash cover band Cash’d Out will play Snowmass Base Village on April 8. Did we mention it’s all free? Oh, and the weather should be great this weekend for some live music outdoors.

Have a rose or a thorn? Send them to letters@aspentimes.com with the subject line as: Roses & Thorns.

Aspen Times editorial: Lessons learned from the Gorsuch flip

Editor’s Note: This article has been edited to remove/amend statements that do not meet The Aspen Times’ standards for accuracy, fairness and objectivity in its news reporting. The Aspen Times regrets such mistakes and works to correct them promptly.

There’s a reason residents are suspicious of developers who shamelessly gush about how their latest endeavor will lift Aspen to new heights. Just look at the recent $76.25 million flip of the nearly 1 acre of Aspen Mountain land previously slated for the future Gorsuch Haus.

In a deal most of us didn’t see coming — at least regarding the price tag — Norway Island LLC, which bought the same property in July 2021 for $10 million from Aspen Skiing Co., walked away with a handsome profit when it sold the parcel to a limited liability company controlled by Miami-based OKO Group, which is run by billionaire Vladislav Doronin.

The deal made the Norway Island team look like business-savvy geniuses in some regards. For even in Aspen’s real estate market, this was a head-spinning transaction where the seller flipped the property for more than seven times what it paid for it just seven-and-a-half months earlier.

Give them credit for striking such a lucrative deal. And that’s where the credit begins and ends.

The Norway Island team of Jim DeFrancia, Jeff Gorsuch and Bryan Peterson campaigned in the March 2019 election with such zeal and conviction that the community would be proud of their hotel project because this wasn’t some know-it-all outside developer coming in to conquer Aspen. The community would be proud because this trio had strong Aspen ties and understood the town’s affinity for skiing and its desire to reinvigorate the western portal of Aspen Mountain. Bearing the surname that belongs to a family with a rich Colorado history in ski racing and ski apparel, the Gorsuch Haus had a nice ring to it.

Let’s also remember that enough Aspen voters were won over by those campaign promises in a contest decided by just 26 votes regarding the Lift One Corridor improvement proposal. The election was tight, but there is no question the Aspen voters who favored the project believed it would be built by people who respect and understand Aspen’s fascinating history because they have lived and skied here themselves.

The victors were elated. The Lift One Corridor proposal and win at the polls came after more than a decade in the making, and it was the result of negotiations among the Gorsuch Haus team, the Lift One Lodge team, Aspen Skiing Co. and city representatives.

One of the proposal’s strong selling points was the replacement for the aging Lift 1A down the mountain another 500 feet from its current lower terminal to Dean Street. All told, the development would include about 320,000 square feet of lodge and commercial space and a ski museum the Aspen Historical Society would operate. The 64,000-square-foot Gorsuch Haus would have 81 rooms, the 107,000-square foot Lift One Lodge would include hotel rooms, fractional units and whole-ownership residences.

Yet the Lift One and Gorsuch groups didn’t always see eye to eye. That became evident in July 2019 when the Lift One group said it planned to withdraw its commitment due to concerns that the Gorsuch Haus developers weren’t in it for the long haul.

Fronted by Jason Grosfeld of Los Angeles and hoteliers Aaron and Michael Brown, the Lift One team said because the Gorsuch Haus project “is being marketed for sale, we have no way of knowing who the buyer will be, when or whether a sale will close, or whether the new owner will share Lift One Lodge’s level of commitment to the project,” according to a letter from Lift One’s attorney to city officials at the time. Instead, using previous entitlements they would build their own hotel, separate from the Lift One Corridor project.

The Gorsuch team met the announcement with dismay and in a prepared statement said, “Aspen’s voters approved a great plan with so many community benefits — a Ski History Museum, a great park, a new lift in town, and dining and lodging where it belongs. We urge the Browns to recommit to this fantastic vision for the community’s future.”

Jeff Gorsuch also expressed his displeasure with the decision: “I think it’s a shame for the voters, and it’s a shame for the community.”

By the end of the year, both sides had patched things up and the Lift One group decided to stay on board with the partnership.

Now it turns out the Lift One team was right all along. Only they know what they are doing next with the Lift One Corridor improvement project, and they also own a piece of Aspen Mountain property that has likely escalated in value since January. The Gorsuch team will tell you they saw the project through with all of their gritty land-use work and campaigning and public outreach, and the public will appreciate the outcome under the new ownership.

But that’s only half of the truth, and unfortunately Aspen voters had to learn the hard way. By selling their community-approved project to the highest bidder with no ties to Aspen, the Gorsuch team’s actions demonstrated why the public can be wary of developers and skeptical of their promises. But there’s a teachable moment from all of this for the Aspen electorate: The next time a proposal of this magnitude goes to the ballot box, don’t forget the Gorsuch team’s vanishing act, and let it inform your vote.

Roses & Thorns: Cheers to those going out in style; jeers to the maskless officials

Roses go to Tiziano and Enrica Gortan for their gracious finale to an epic 25-year run in the Aspen restaurant scene, an effort in which their poured their hearts and souls. The positive energy and love felt in the final week of L’Hostaria Ristorante will be remembered as much as all the laughter, camaraderie and excellent (and affordable) food we’ve enjoyed for so many years. Best wishes and good luck to you and your family, Tiziano.

* * * *

A thorn goes to every government and elected official who wears their face mask on their chin while in a public meeting, or in a municipal or county building. More times than can be counted, public officials remove their mask to speak, which is exactly when they are supposed to be protecting others around them from — because their droplets spew from their mouths and spread the COVID-19 virus.

Elected officials are the ones who made this mandatory rule so we expect them to lead by example and cover their pie holes. They also look ridiculous wearing chin diapers.

* * * *

A rose and a fond farewell to Pitkin County Judge Erin Ely, who celebrated her retirement in the district courtroom on Oct. 29 with a costume party, a live band in the jury box, libations and Chinese food.

Ely was known as the people’s judge and cared about every single person who came before her on the bench, no matter how troubled they were or how many times they’d been there. She embodied the Aspen way of acceptance and tolerance. Enjoy traveling and family, Erin.

* * * *

Thorns to the state for the confusion and delays at the mobile vaccine bus that has been touring the area. Those who had scheduled appointments had to wait for an hour or longer in some instances and the walk-up scene was maddening. Understaffed and underorganized seemed to be the theme. Let’s hope they get the kinks worked out as every now is open to a booster or those first rounds of shots.

* * * *

Roses to the developers of a worker-housing project pegged for 1020 E. Cooper Ave., the neighbors who came out in opposition. and the Historic Preservation Commission for carefully examining the proposal.

The outcome of this disagreement could have been much worse. But instead the development team’s modifications to the application resulted in Tuesday’s unanimous 3-0 approval by the HPC board. As well, an attorney for the next door condominium association said they too were satisfied with the latest proposal — the development of four deed-restricted employee units — and would not contest it.

The outcome of this is what the town needed: more housing to house our workers. And it shows that parties can work out compromises for the overall good of Aspen. We’ll take it.

* * * *

A rose to the Pitkin County Clerk & Record’s office. The Election Night went smooth and results were updated in a timely fashion for the electorate to find. So, cheers to keeping us updated and doing the job as should be done around the country.

* * * *

A mix of roses and thorns to Aspen Skiing Co. Roses for the company’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. In their annual preseason meetings with local elected officials, Skico officials are stressing the company’s dedication to tolerance and diversity, social justice and engagement.

But let’s be real: The four Aspen Snowmass ski areas as well as the entire Aspen ski vacation experience are for those of wealth and privilege. Yes, Skico helps make skiing somewhat affordable for youth in the valley through cooperation with the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club and there is no doubt that it provides some lift tickets to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it. But the company still earns thorns for pricing policies that not only make it difficult for people on the lower socioeconomic rungs of our society to hit the slopes, but also the middle class.

* * * *

Roses to all the military veterans who have served our country and for the young men and women from the Roaring Fork Valley who have enlisted to serve. And special recognition to Dick Merritt, Dan Glidden and the other organizers of events over the years to honor the veterans.

Have a rose or a thorn? Send them to letters@aspentimes.com with the subject line as: Roses & Thorns.

Aspen Times editorial: Sentencing in Lesh case should hit him where it counts … in the forest

David Lesh had the day in court that he so desperately wanted but it didn’t work out as he hoped. Lesh was found guilty by a federal judge Oct. 22 of two petty offenses, but there won’t be true justice unless his sentence is more than a slap on the wrist.

Lesh is owner of Virtika Outerwear who embraces a bad-boy image in his marketing and attention-grabbing antics. Lesh treats national forests in Colorado as his personal playground, where the only rules that matter are getting a provocative photograph. Lesh’s posts of himself snowmobiling on Independence Pass in July 2019 and at Keystone Resort in April 2020 helped get him busted for illegally snowmobiling in closed areas of the White River National Forest.

In the Independence Pass case, resolved in June 2020, Lesh paid a fine and was required to perform 50 hours of community service.

On Oct. 22, he was convicted of two petty offenses for an unrelated incident. He entered Keystone Resort and was photographed snowmobiling over jumps in a terrain park last year. The ski area was closed by order of Gov. Jared Polis at the time because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lesh was also found guilty by U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher last week for unauthorized use of national forestlands to promote his business. Lesh posted pictures of himself at Keystone, as well as doctored photos of himself defecating in Maroon Lake and walking on a log in Hanging Lake, to promote Virtika, the judge ruled.

In the Independence Pass case, Lesh was allowed to pick where he served his 50 hours of useful public service. He chose to work for Only One Inc., a Boulder-based nonprofit that supposedly works on Native American issues.

GuideStar, a clearinghouse for information on nonprofit organizations, had raised a red flag about Only One, which it classified as a multipurpose arts and cultural organization.

“This organization’s exempt status was automatically revoked by the IRS for failure to file a Form 990, 990-EZ, 990-N, or 990-PF for 3 consecutive years,” said a notice on GuideStar. “Further investigation and due diligence are warranted.”

Given that, we are doubtful any of the work Lesh might have performed would have meaningful impact for the community.

Lesh potentially faces up to six months of imprisonment, a $5,000 fine or both on each of the Keystone petty offense convictions. Realistically, he won’t be imprisoned for a petty offense, which is essentially a misdemeanor. Instead, he should face the maximum fine of $5,000 on each count for a total of $10,000 and a useful public service sentence of 100 hours.

We have some creative ideas on how Lesh could be productive. The U.S. Forest Service could put Lesh to work in the Dillon and Aspen-Sopris Ranger Districts, where his past transgressions have occurred. The Forest Service installed a toilet this summer at the Upper Lost Man Trailhead on Independence Pass. We would like to see Lesh cleaning that facility on weekends next July to work off some of that sentence. We’re certain the Dillon Ranger District, where Keystone is located, could find some chores for Lesh to perform as well.

In addition, we would like to see Lesh banned from entering the White River National Forest throughout 2022. It would be difficult to enforce, but the price of violating the ban and getting caught would be an adequate deterrence. If Lesh were found on the forest land during the prohibition, he would risk a longer ban.

Lesh has proven time and again through his actions that he has no regard for Colorado’s public lands or legal ramifications for his actions. A stiff sentence might not mend his ways but it sure would make the rest of us feel better.

The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll, reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor Sean Beckwith.

Aspen Times endorsement: Zimet, Weiss, Gieszl will best serve Aspen’s school board going forward

When these three seats on Aspen’s Board of Education were up for re-election in 2017, the Aspen School District was facing turmoil within the administration and struggles in the classrooms. Less than a year after that election, there was a no-confidence vote in the superintendent whose contract was not renewed in October 2018, a heavy undertone of faculty distrust in the administration, and concerns over reading scores at the elementary level.

Four years later, the district has refocused and has had a dramatic change in leadership, from the top with a new superintendent, as well as new principals at all three schools on the campus. The district has turned a corner, but it still has challenges ahead with climate and culture issues, discussions of equity, pandemic-related learning loss and mental health struggles among students, and the recruitment and retention issues plaguing school districts across the country.

To help the Aspen School District continue on its current path addressing and improving these areas, we endorse incumbent Susan Zimet along with Christa Gieszl and Stacey Weiss for the open seats on the Board of Education.

Zimet has four solid years on the board and knows that if teachers are not happy, kids won’t learn as well; Weiss brings classroom perspective but has said she won’t be a rubber stamp just for the teachers; and Gieszl acknowledges she is the “new kid on the block” but her work as a doctor on the board of health and getting testing to the district shows she’ll jump right in to an issue.

Aspen is fortunate to have a field of six candidates who all are vested in the district as parents of current or former students, and all have their strengths. During our one-on-one conversations with all of the candidates, as well as gauging how they performed at the Candidate Forum on Oct. 14, we feel the mix of retaining Zimet along with adding Gieszl and Weiss will help the district to keep moving forward in the next four years.

Zimet’s role the past four years has helped the district turn a corner. She comes to every meeting and conversation well prepared, has a great understanding of the policies of the district and has built a solid rapport with new Superintendent David Baugh.

She was the top vote-getter in the 2017 race when five candidates, including three incumbents, were on the ballot. She campaigned then saying the district was underperforming academically against the backdrop of high teacher turnover and low staff morale.

While Zimet did not get the endorsement of the Aspen Education Association that represents teachers this fall, she knows pay and affordable housing are big elements to teacher retention and she has continued to push on those fronts. The 2020 bond question, which earmarks millions of dollars for housing, was passed on her watch.

Adding that classroom perspective to the board is where voting for Weiss will be a good investment for the district. There’s no recollection of a former teacher serving on the board, and her insight after three decades of teaching and understanding our children would serve this board well as it navigates the work to improve teacher satisfaction.

Weiss brings incredible institutional knowledge, which will be good to not only look back on but to have content for making decisions going forward.

If your children attended the district even for one year before Weiss retired, you and your children likely had the opportunity to interact with her and know her passion for teaching music and fostering a “whole child” approach to education.

Considering candidates from a community perspective, the work Dr. Gieszl has given to the Pitkin County Board of Health and her work with local veterans shows she is committed to Aspen and the valley. While she and her family have lived here for less than five years after leaving Montrose, she has jumped right into the education system and immediately worked on the District Accountability Committee, and now serves as the DAC’s vice-chair.

Gieszl had a major role in getting COVID testing to the district in 2020 so students and teachers could get back into the classroom safely.

Aspen is extremely lucky to have a deep field of candidates in terms of backgrounds and qualities and strengths they all have. We have six candidates willing to put in the time and efforts without any financial backing. To learn more about each of the candidates, go to aspentimes.com/election.

The Aspen Times endorses Dr. Christa Gieszl, Stacey Weiss and Dr. Susan Zimet as the top candidates to join board members Katy Frisch and Jonathan Nickell (who are up for re-election in 2023) to continue Aspen School District’s push to get past the pandemic and develop a campus we’re all proud of.

The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll, reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor Sean Beckwith.

Aspen Times endorsement: Yes vote on 2B for land exchange is no-brainer


Saying yes on ballot question 2B in this fall’s city of Aspen election is a no-brainer. Also known as the Pride of Aspen land exchanges, a yes vote on 2B is a vote for permanent conservation of a special piece of land.

We support the passage of 2B — giving 19.3 acres on Shadow Mountain to the public in a conservation easement at no cost to taxpayers in exchange for 4,000 square feet to a homeowner — for several reasons, namely that acquiring the property protects it from future development.

The city parks and open space department has been attempting for decades to secure the parcel but previous owners were resistant.

That is until now.

Bob Anderson, a developer who owns a home at 501 W. Hopkins Ave. located next to the Midland Trail, originally proposed the land exchange, which gives him 4,000 square feet of public-right-of-way around his property.

In exchange, the city parks department and Pitkin County’s open space program receive the old mining claim in perpetuity.

Olson wants better access and more landscaping on his property to soften the interface of the heavily used Little Cloud and Midland trails, along with the opportunity for a nominal amount of expansion (360 to 780 square feet, depending on the proposal and land use code regulations) to his 3,450-square-foot house.

The deal also allows for the city and county parks and open space departments to improve and realign recreational trails like the Little Cloud Trail, and perhaps add new ones.

The easement, which has been described as a scarf draped over the flanks of Shadow Mountain, is equal to 14 full city blocks and more than 210 times that of the land Olson stands to acquire.

This is a rare opportunity to accept a landowner’s offer for the public good. Say yes to less development and more recreational trails. Vote yes on ballot question 2B.

The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll, reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor Sean Beckwith.