Aspen mayor and council hopefuls to talk city outreach
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What: ‘Casual Candidate Conversations’
When: Thursday, Jan. 10, 5:30-7:30
Where: APD community room
Aspen mayoral candidates will discuss the topic of “city outreach” from 5:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. Then all the candidates for mayor and council will discuss the topic from 6:15 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. The final time from 6:45 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. will be just the council candidates discussing the topic.
In an unusual turn of political events, the first forum for Aspen’s mayoral and City Council race is being produced and hosted by half of the candidates running for office.
Introduced by council candidate Skippy Mesirow as an alternative to the current group of campaign debates and forums that are “stale and impersonal,” the candidate-produced event series consists of three roundtable discussions.
“The whole goal is to get away from getting put on the spot and have an open, flowing discussion to hear candidates’ philosophies and where they came from and who they are,” Mesirow said Wednesday, adding the public is invited to attend. “It’s not Q&A.”
Mesirow was able to bring along fellow council candidate Linda Manning, as well as mayoral candidates Ann Mullins and Adam Frisch to create the series, which kicks off tonight around the topic of “city outreach.”
When the idea was put into motion, not all candidates had turned in their nominating petitions, and were invited once they did, Mesirow said.
“All eight have been invited and the intention is to have everyone there,” Mesirow said.
The other mayoral candidates are Torre and Cale Mitchell. Two others are running for council — incumbent Bert Myrin and former councilwoman Rachel Richards.
Because of objections by some candidates that the moderator selected for tonight’s discussion, John Sarpa, is on Mesirow’s campaign committee, a new one has been chosen.
“They had some pushback,” Mesirow said. “We heard that feedback and did a course correction.”
Former Aspen Mayor John Bennett has been tapped instead to facilitate the conversation.
Frisch was the one who had initially suggested Sarpa, along with other well-known moderators in the community.
He said he didn’t think Sarpa being on Mesirow’s campaign presented any inequities or an unfair playing field.
“I don’t think it really matters who is moderating,” Frisch said, while acknowledging that appearances could suggest otherwise. “Without a doubt, it’s optics.”
Optics also could be at issue because three current council members will be attending the event, creating a quorum.
But City Attorney Jim True said there is a provision in the home rule charter that allows elected officials to gather with exceptions, like chance meetings or political events.
“Every two years we have this conversation because we always have three members of council running for office,” he said. “There is no way we can avoid it.”
Candidates are asked to contribute toward the costs of soft drinks, pizzas and other snacks for tonight’s forum but are not required, according to an email from Sarpa to the candidates.
Mesirow had initially wanted to serve beer and wine to attendees but because tonight’s roundtable discussion is being held in the community room at the Aspen Police Department, that is not an option.
But if people want to imbibe at the next two discussions to be held later this month at Bootsy Bellows nightclub, they will be able to do, Mesirow noted.
The topic of city outreach is even more poignant today than it was when it was selected last month.
Both City Manager Steve Barwick and Assistant City Manager Barry Crook have resigned from their positions after public criticism and political repercussions as a result of botched initiatives coming out of City Hall in the past year.
A majority of council asked Barwick to resign Monday, and Crook’s last day was Tuesday after an investigation was launched amid complaints from employees and a tirade about a citizen board last month.
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Campaign finance reports were due recently for candidates in the April 7 races for mayor and three council seats in Basalt. Only three of nine total candidates collected donations, according to their reports.