An embarrassment to Aspen
Re: Janet Urquhart’s article in the Dec. 15 newspaper. Although much of it was factual, I was disappointed with the headline, the “spin” and the amount of investigative reporting that you put into the piece.
I raised two questions before council. One was which brand of water better represented Aspen, when considering environmental concerns, promotion of a Rocky Mountain town and the spirit of the city code which encourages Aspen to prioritize contracting with local businesses.
I also asked for an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the award of the contract, because I was suspicious from day one that this was going to be a sweetheart deal for Fiji and that the competitive bidding process was a sham. Imagine how I felt when I learned that Fiji was the high bidder, but, incredibly, was awarded the contract anyway by city employees because of their “personal preference.”
In fact, the title of your article would have more accurately reflected what happened here if it read, “Bovino’s concerns verified! The competitive bidding process at the Wheeler was a sham, to the detriment of all Aspenites.”
What is our average taxpayer to think if our contracts are awarded to the highest bidders? I don’t buy the line of logic that this was a “small contract.” We have hundreds of small contracts every year in this town. A few thousand dollars here, and a few thousand dollars there, multiplied by a few hundred times, adds up to big dollars.
Moreover, the Wheeler employees’ rationalization that “all the bids were about the same” is simply untrue. In fact, your own data indicates that Fiji Water was 50 percent higher in price than the lowest bidder. That isn’t “about the same” in my book.
Before the bids were released for public scrutiny, a recent letter to the editor suggested that Aspen Pure “stop whining” and learn how to compete in this town. I wonder how the writer of that letter would feel if he learned that the best bid didn’t get the contract. How would he like to “compete” under those circumstances?
Additionally, you made no comments about ridiculous assertions like “Some performers request Fiji.” First of all, who said this is true? Did you look for any independent verification? Secondly, what would we say if performers who came to town demanded that we chop down a tree for them? We would laugh.
You didn’t point out that Aspen Pure, like Fiji, has a high-quality plastic label that doesn’t crinkle. You didn’t assert that Aspen Pure has an ergonomic grip so the bottle is less likely to fall from the hands of our Wheeler patrons. I could go on and on, but you can see that my frustration here is that there never was an independent investigation.
I am disappointed in the city because, to my knowledge, there were no sworn depositions, inspections of passports, etc., to really get to the bottom of all this. I expected more from you as a journalist. Oh, did you even notice that the lady at the Wheeler who was integral in the decision is FROM the South Pacific?
This is a great “Man Bites Dog Story.” The national papers are going to love this. “Aspen snobs pretend to be environmentalists, thumb their noses at Colorado, waste energy to ship in water from the South Pacific.” This decision reinforces the very worst stereotypes about our town and its residents.
The perpetrators at the Wheeler simply made up some baloney reasons why they decided to ignore the environment, the bidding process and the best interests of the city of Aspen. They added insult to injury by paying a higher price for South Pacific water, when our local Colorado waters are among the best in the world.
On a more practical note, we all know that this is a relatively small contract, which, to be candid, is only important to both companies in a symbolic way. However, in Aspen, we fight for one tree, one elk, one square foot of F.A.R. In my mind, this should be no different.
I can tell you that, if our town managers, attorneys and representatives at City Council don’t call for a real investigation, and at least consider reversing this decision, I am going to get physically ill every time I hear the words “environmental town, green building code or hybrid vehicle.” You can’t walk both sides of the street. Either we are a green town or we aren’t!
I am sure you know how much I love Aspen, and I realize how fortunate I am to live in this city with great friends and neighbors. Even when I become frustrated with things that happen in local government, I always try to be thoughtful, understanding, logical and fair. In addition, I can usually see two sides to every story.
However, I don’t see them in this case, and I would feel the same way whether I had a personal interest or not. Although Fiji water, like Aspen Pure, is an excellent, high-quality product, this decision by the Wheeler Opera House is embarrassing for Aspen, an insult to our stated environmental goals and an affront to Colorado.
I always enjoy your columns. I just thought you might enjoy hearing another perspective.
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