Aspen City Council candidates talk about local COVID-19 public health order |

Aspen City Council candidates talk about local COVID-19 public health order

Those seeking to win one of two open seats on Aspen City Council weigh in on government’s role in containing the virus

Staff reports
Collage of the Aspen City Council candidates 2021. Top row from left: Sam Rose, Erin Smiddy, Casey Endsley, John Doyle; second row from left: Ward Hauenstein, Jimbo Stockton, Mark Reece, Kimbo Brown-Schirato.

Editor’s note: The Aspen Times has posed five questions to each of the eight Aspen City Council candidates running for two open seats in the March 2 election. We will run answers (200-word limit) to one question each day this week. To read their previous responses and to get their background, go to Coming Wednesday: What do you think should be the city’s role in financially assisting local businesses during the pandemic?

Day 2 question: Is there something you would change to the local COVID-19 public health order?


Erin Smiddy

I think the current council has done a nice job with COVID and the health orders they’ve been tasked with creating. I am not one to judge how it could’ve been done better as it was a challenge no one could have predicted and a struggle no one wanted.

It’s been very hard for me to watch restaurants take the hardest hit while hoards of visitors have still been able to flock to Aspen with no accountability to be held to.

I am fully aware that we need tourist revenue to operate this town, but I am also aware that the local workforce is what creates our charm and vitality.

I wish we could have protected our small business and restaurants by limiting the amount of visitors who were here this past summer and holiday season, instead it was a free-for-all that negatively punished our working class.

Jimbo Stockton

These orders are having a massive and negative impact on our community. They are impacting our mental health and our financial health. The orders are destroying long-standing relationships.

The health board deserves our respect. Their job isn’t easy. They’re not taking the situation lightly. However, I’m not certain they fully understand the collateral damage of their measures.

Many of the members are elected but that doesn’t mean we have to agree with their decisions. If I had been on the board, I would have pushed for a higher incidence rate threshold, increasing it from 700 per 100,000 to 1,200 per 100,000.

I also would have addressed the problems associated with 10 to 15 people gathering indoors, away from typical gathering spots, like restaurants. I would have more readily deferred to experts at the state and federal levels.

Kimbo Brown-Schirato

City Council is not the public health board. There is a misconception that City Council makes all the decisions about everything that occurs in the city and county.

The City Council has one vote on the public health board and their No. 1 priority is public health. Regardless if we agree with their decisions, we should honor their service, and respect those who are experts in their fields to be trusted to make the best-informed decisions.

We must have empathy for each human who has had to make decisions to preserve human life, sometimes at the expense of the economic health of our businesses.

This has divided and pitted our town against each other, which is understandable but saddening. These tensions have highlighted the importance of making sure all voices and industries are heard and represented at the city and county level.

More advocacy groups should be formed as individuals are called to serve a higher purpose in our community in response. We cannot change the past. We can be better prepared for the future. This is not over yet, and we must be prepared for all eventualities. We should do better in facilitating cross-communication between those serving on this board and small business owners, health experts, parents and elected bodies. I will champion this. I will advocate for the creation of a council health subcommittee so that council direction can be made more quickly during the fast paced changes.

Sam Rose

This topic is why I believe I stand out as the best person to elect to City Council at this time as this will be the most pressing issue for some time still.

I would change the local COVID-19 public health order first by weighting hospitalizations higher than case numbers. I think we have lost sight of the real problem, which is to avoid becoming severely sick from COVID and to avoid it from spreading to our most vulnerable populations.

It is this logic where I would like to see our businesses be able to remain open with more mitigation techniques. I have worked with some restaurant owners to implement carbon dioxide meters into their restaurants to allow us to better understand if an indoor space has proper ventilation to dine safely.

I would like to focus more on communication where everyone in Aspen knew what contact tracing was and what it was trying to accomplish.

Many people do not want to talk to contact tracers but don’t know quarantine protocols. I want the public health order to include more about public outreach so we can educate ourselves on what it takes to slow the spread of the virus and keep Aspen open safely.

John Doyle

I would encourage everyone to wear masks and social distance until the vaccination program reduces the risk to a much lower level.

Decisions on reopening must be science-based, not political. I hope we can make the communication of data on infection rates clearer and more transparent with less reliance on hearsay and rumors.

I do not favor immediate full reopening and trust that the current partial reopening can be maintained until we fully reopen. The city should continue to support local businesses with the shared rent program and another round of gift cards.

Mark Reece

I would like to see the criteria for determining the case levels more clear. Then the orders, whatever they may be, can be better understood by those being directly affected by the regulations.

I also think local health orders should not take precedence over state orders, nor do I think state orders should take precedence over local orders. See what I did there?

Ward Hauenstein

The Board of Health has done an admirable job. The decisions of the BOH are the most difficult members have ever had to make. Nobody thought they would be making decisions in a global pandemic. The ramifications of their decisions determine the economic survival of Aspen and human lives. Nobody anywhere in the world has arrived at the perfect solution. Aspen has one vote on the BOH. Torre is our voting member and he has involved the entire council in consideration of the decisions he supports. I support Torre on these most difficult matters. I cannot in good conscience take issue with the public health orders.

I do, however, feel enforcement could be more strict. The rules governing private gatherings are not effectively enforced. I understand the reluctance of and empathize with the position the Aspen Police Department is in. From the beginning of the pandemic, I have struggled with the balancing act between public health and personal liberties. I have always viewed this as a public health issue, not a political issue. Enforcement infringes on personal liberties, it may also save lives. Liberties forfeited are difficult to regain.

Following the state guidelines would decrease confusion.

Casey Endsley

In a small community like ours, it seems that we could have done more and worked together to keep the restaurants open. I don’t see how the science warranted the shut down.

I do believe the business owners have the health and well-being of the community as a top priority. With all the resources available in this community, I believe a lot of the decisions being made are knee jerk and not based on science. As a council member, I would leave no stone unturned to find a solution that works best for everyone and does not overreach our intended function.

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