Aspen mayoral candidates see same priorities for next term
Squirm Night for Aspen mayoral candidates this week
The Aspen Times and The Aspen Daily News are hosting Squirm Night II for the two candidates vying for mayor in the April 2 runoff.
The one-hour probe of candidates Ann Mullins and Torre will occur from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday in council chambers in the basement of City Hall.
Journalists from both newspapers will ask the candidates questions about their positions on particular issues, their past voting records and what qualities make them a good leader, among other topics.
GrassRoots TV will air the forum live on channels 12 and 880 on Comcast, as well as via Facebook and You Tube via grassrootstv.org
If you have questions for the candidates, send them via email to email@example.com
When it comes to getting things done for the people of Aspen in the next couple of years, the two mayoral candidates vying for the city’s highest elected office don’t differ too much on what their priorities are.
When asked for the top three issues they want to address during the mayor’s two-year term, candidates Torre and Ann Mullins both said they have five.
They said they want to fix internal issues within City Hall and hire a new city manager; build and better manage affordable housing; focus on environmental issues; prioritize child care needs for young families and support small businesses.
Torre also cited transit solutions as something he thinks council could get done in the next two years.
How Mullins and Torre can accomplish their goals is where the details come in.
They are in a contest for the April 2 runoff, having not received in the March 5 election 50 percent of the vote plus one, which is required by the city’s home rule charter.
Torre, 49, has served two terms on council, from 2003 to 2007 and 2009 to 2013. This is his sixth run at mayor, and he lost his last council bid in 2017 in a runoff election to Councilman Ward Hauenstein.
Mullins, 70, is in the middle of serving her second term on council after first being elected in 2013.
If she is not elected mayor, Mullins still has two years on council. If she is elected mayor, council can appoint someone to fill the vacancy, or it can hold another election.
Ballots were mailed Friday and voters should expect to see them in their mailboxes sometime this week.
Here is a breakdown of where the candidates land on their top priorities after interviews with The Aspen Times last Friday:
For Mullins, hiring a new city manager to replace Steve Barwick, who was asked to resign earlier this year, is a step toward bigger change within municipal government.
“It’s the next council that will be directing that person,” she said. “I feel strongly that we should be managing with an emphasis on public service versus running the city like a business.”
That means taking a deep look into the city’s services, staffing levels and budget, she added.
“Let’s be able to defend all of our decisions,” she said. “We need to get City Hall working for the community.”
She also would like to have department heads become a management team in a horizontal structure, versus a top-down one.
Torre said fixing the city’s broken communication and accountability with the public will be dependent on the next city manager.
“It’s about who we hire,” he said. “We need someone that can facilitate that and a changed system that’s more effective and efficient.”
He said he is skeptical of the current council’s decision to add 11 new employees into this year’s budget while the economy is showing signs of instability.
Taking a deep look at all of the city’s departments to determine which ones are flush and which ones need more funding is necessary, Torre said.
Torre said he’s committed to helping residents in the Centennial housing complex find a solution to their capital reserve deficit and aging infrastructure.
He said he also wants to create a program so people can downsize into smaller units and are incentivized to do so to “maximize the occupancy” of current inventory.
Torre said he supports the city’s plans to build phase three of Burlingame Ranch housing and wants to look at future development on other government-owned parcels.
Mullins said Burlingame III, which is estimated to cost $30 million, is a priority, as are many other facets within the affordable-housing program.
“This is kind of low-hanging fruit but also the biggest challenge in the world,” she said.
Her approach to affordable housing comes as a six-year plan of her serving three two-year terms as mayor.
During that time, Mullins said she wants to set a goal of building a certain amount of units each year based on what’s feasible and what the community needs are.
That can happen at parcels the city owns, including the BMC West land near the airport.
She also said she would look at redeveloping existing inventory, like the first phase of Truscott, which is an old motel and consists of studio apartments. Mullins said she wonders if a second story could be added to maximize that property’s potential.
Mullins said the city also should look at buying free-market properties to be converted into workforce housing.
Torre and Mullins both agree that maintaining funding for the Rio Grande Recycling Center is a priority for the city.
Torre said the commercial core needs more focus on recycling, and he wants to devise a comprehensive policy on citywide composting.
Torre, who was instrumental in getting the two grocery stores in town to stop providing plastic bags, wants to focus on legislation reducing single-use plastics.
“But first get the environmental departments to help with outreach,” he said.
Mullins said as mayor, she would lead the city into developing a resiliency plan that addresses what effects climate change has on Aspen, along with developing greener building codes so that projects coming online are as environmentally friendly as possible, and even 100 percent renewable, or “net zero.”
She said she also wants to increase the city’s 26 percent recycling rate and pass a deconstruction ordinance that requires developers to recycle or reuse materials that they tear down.
Finally, Mullins said she wants to resurrect the storm water management plan, and the rivers and streams management reports.
Small business support
Torre said the city needs to support the middle in the business community.
“We need to refocus on local business,” he said, adding that council can create policy around incentivizing second-tier space for lower rent spots.
He also would like to explore live-work space in the city, Torre said.
Mullins said the city can help locally owned business, based on the city’s successful small lodge incentive program, where owners are incentivized to keep their properties lodges through expedited permits for redevelopment and energy upgrades.
She said city officials need to meet with businesses, define the common problems and come up with solutions to support them.
“I think that this has been where council has erred,” Mullins said.
Torre said the city needs to act now on creating a larger child care program than what’s currently available by the municipal government.
He suggested mobile classrooms while the city comes up with a capital plan for a new facility.
Mullins said the childhood assessment that’s planned for 2020 needs to be moved up to this year.
“The study can be done in a year; the recommendation may take longer but it’s important to get it started,” Mullins said.
She noted that working families will continue to leave the valley if they don’t have all of the infrastructure in place that’s required for a thriving, successful community.
“It’s not just housing,” Mullins said.
Torre said he’d like to resurrect some of the more measurable alternative transit options in the city’s failed mobility lab that got iced earlier this year due to concerns from local transportation companies.
“I want to pick up where the council failed,” he said. “The ride hailing and ride sharing … take the best and create specific initiatives.”
Torre also said he would support focusing more funding to mental health programs and senior citizen assistance, including a senior center expansion in collaboration with Pitkin County.
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Candidates for the March 2 Aspen City Council election answered questions about business-related matters in a forum hosted by the Aspen Resort Chamber Association.