Aspen City Council at impasse over appointment
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – Voting by secret ballot in a special meeting, the Aspen City Council on Tuesday failed to come up with the necessary three votes to appoint a local resident to serve the remaining months of former Councilman Dwayne Romero’s vacated term.
Eight applicants are seeking the interim council seat. Three applicants received votes, with the count recorded as 2-1-1. But city officials would not release the names of those who received votes, saying the information was not a public record under state law. Applicants Ruth Kruger, Cathy Markle and Adam Frisch were among those in the crowd who awaited the council’s decision.
Kruger and Markle have said that if selected for the interim spot, they won’t run for the seat in the upcoming May election. Frisch has said he probably would run.
When asked why the individual council ballots were deemed not to be a public record, Assistant City Attorney Jim True said there is an “internal dispute” among city officials about whether the votes are open or closed under state law.
The meeting was continued until Friday at 3 p.m., when the council will presumably make another attempt to find three votes for an interim council member. The city’s home rule charter states that the selection of an interim councilmember requires three votes, not a simple majority of those voting, Mayor Mick Ireland said.
An awkward atmosphere marked the proceedings, with the three councilmen and Ireland declining to discuss their choices before or after the secret vote. Instead of talking about specific candidates and their qualifications during the open forum, they opted to discuss the process and certain traits they were seeking in a candidate.
For instance, councilmen Torre and Derek Johnson said they would not vote for someone who wants to run for council in the May 3 city election, while Ireland and Councilman Steve Skadron said they were more open to the idea of selecting a political candidate to fill the interim seat.
That prompted Elizabeth Milias – a frequent critic of Ireland who also runs the political website The Red Ant – to direct a few comments toward the council and Ireland just before the ballots were cast.
“This looks to me like a really messed-up process,” Milias said. “Since you don’t have Torre’s and Derek’s support for those who are going to run in May, why don’t you look at the names of the people who aren’t going to run in May, and discuss that amongst yourselves because those are the only viable candidates.”
“We have,” Torre said.
“I figured,” Milias said. “The executive session wasn’t for nothing.”
Ireland and Torre replied that the executive session held just prior to the special meeting had nothing to do with the interim council selection. Ireland then suggested to Milias that she could listen to the tape of the executive session if she wanted proof that there was no mention of council applicants.
“I don’t really care, just get on with it please,” she shot back.
There was another brief exchange between Milias and Ireland, then the council returned to the business of voting.
In a phone interview later in the evening, Milias said the council and Ireland wasted a lot of people’s time by fumbling around with a process that city officials, during the regular council meeting on Monday, said would be open.
“They all gave their overview – like they always do – but they said nothing,” she said. “And then they voted via secret ballot, with no discussion. I was under the impression that we would have a discussion. We were there to witness a discussion and perhaps take part in one.”
Milias said she was trying to advocate a process that would lead to a decision, given that Torre and Johnson firmly indicated that they would not support someone for the interim seat who plans to run for office.
“To me it was indicative of yet another flawed process by the city that once again wasted the time of citizens, other professionals, the candidates,” she said. “I felt it was just wasteful and disrespectful … a very strange and convoluted process to say the least.”
Torre said it would not have been fair to name the applicants who received votes because the conversation is still open. All eight candidates are still under consideration, he said.
“There is a deadlock for now,” he said. “It would be unfair to say ‘these three are the ones under consideration,’ for two reasons. To give those who weren’t mentioned false despair, and to give those who were mentioned false hope. It’s open still.”
The council has most of the remainder of March to make its decision. The seat was officially vacated on Monday. Romero left his elected position to take a job in Denver as Gov. John Hickenlooper’s director of economic development. His last council meeting was Feb. 14.
Commotion was evident in the council’s City Hall chambers after the special meeting was adjourned.
“I think something should be done in public, but I think this is a little screwy,” said Frisch, one of the applicants.
“It’s strange,” Ireland replied.