A cozy feeling at Aspen City Hall
Paul Menter’s Tuesday column in the Aspen Daily News discusses, in part, the limited responsibilities of the city attorney under Section 7.1 of the city charter. The column explains why it was beyond the city attorney’s role to write and issue an opinion on whether the mayor lawfully could serve on the Aspen City Council immediately after being term-limited out of office as mayor.
Let’s understand the situation. No election has occurred. No candidates have even filed to run. There is no issue for any arm of city government to consider about the qualifications of any individual to serve in any office. There is only speculation. There is no conceivable public need for the city attorney even to consider, let alone opine on, anyone’s qualifications. And yet he has.
If a city councilman were involved in a dispute over his mortgage, would it be within the city attorney’s duties under the city charter to represent the councilman in that dispute just because he is a councilman? Clearly not. Similarly, let’s say it’s weeks or months before an election, a resident – other than this particular “gas giant” (Menter’s words) – is considering running for City Council, and there is some question about his qualifications.
Let’s say that potential candidate wanted legal advice on his qualifications. Does the city charter make it the city attorney’s business to represent him? Only if in the charter, an ordinance or resolution. Might the candidate hire a lawyer to get an opinion? Yes, but he would have to pay for it.
Here, the mayor (as potential City Council candidate) enlisted the services of the city attorney (and staff, perhaps) to write an opinion defending his qualifications to run for City Council. It is like using the city attorney to represent him in a dispute over a mortgage. In fact, it is worse because the potential candidate has appropriated the prestige of the office of city attorney to support his potential candidacy for public office. In doing so, he has undermined that prestige. That prestige is the people’s property, not the property of any potential candidate. Are all potential candidates now free to use the city attorney’s services to add prestige to their political ambitions? Or is it only one very special potential candidate who is entitled to do so?
Where were the gas giant’s four moons (again, Menter’s words) while this was going on? Have they no duty to confine the use of public resources to public purposes? But even if the City Council acquiesced in this inappropriate behavior, that does not change the fact that this has the putrid aroma of using the city attorney for personal ends not approved by the city charter.
Has the mayor reimbursed the city for this service? If not, why not? How much should the mayor reimburse the city? When the city has been involved in litigation and has sought to recover its costs from an adverse party, the city has valued the time of its city attorney and staff at several hundred dollars per hour. Why shouldn’t the city bill the mayor at such hourly rates for the time the city attorney and staff spent on that opinion?
Menter’s column mostly is about the effect of the mayor’s “gravity” on those around him in City Hall. What better example than this tawdry episode? What other public official is permitted to do these things? How can anyone in City Hall discharge his or her duties faithfully to the law under the sway of an official who is considered entitled to more than he is entitled to? And where is the people’s watchdog, the press, while our public officials use public resources for personal purposes right under its nose? Stuck in orbit.
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Traveling, sharing the passion and excitement of skiing and the coming winter is a ritual Warren Miller started and one Miller Ford is proud to carry on.