Aspen City Council urged to ask hard questions |

Aspen City Council urged to ask hard questions

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

The new configuration of the Aspen City Council held its first regular meeting on its own Monday, two weeks after being sworn in June 10 during a meeting that started with the former council wrapping up its old business.

Monday’s public meeting clocked in at an atypical 1 hour, 15 minutes and was followed by a closed-door session with City Attorney Jim True to discuss unspecified litigation against the city.

Longtime area resident Dick Butera — one of five plaintiffs in a lawsuit that is challenging the city’s water rights to take water from Castle and Maroon creeks for a proposed hydroelectric plant — commented that the meeting-room atmosphere seemed markedly different. Butera has clashed with former Mayor Mick Ireland over hydro and other issues over the years.

“I want to tell you, a lot of people feel good,” said Butera, who owns property along Castle Creek.

“Thank you, Dick,” said new Mayor Steve Skadron, who many years ago worked at the Aspen Club when Butera still owned it. “Of course, this is only our second meeting.”

Butera, who said he’s been attending Aspen and Pitkin County government meetings for 32 years, then took up several minutes of the “citizens’ comments” portion of the twice-monthly regular meeting.

He said the council has a “new beginning” to ask the right questions about city-government initiatives.

“What I’ve seen in the past was the questions were not asked,” Butera said. “And when you don’t ask the questions, we have to ask. And we have to do it through lawyers, lawsuits, vast expenditures, lots of public fighting and unnecessary clashing of our citizens.”

Butera pointed to a few examples of how elected leaders, in his view, failed to ask the right questions over the years. He mentioned the $18 million purchase of the BMC West lumberyard near the Aspen Business Center, property the city has set aside for future affordable-housing needs. The value of the property is considered much lower.

He also brought up the costs and debt associated with the hydro project — narrowly defeated in a nonbinding referendum eight months ago — a controversial initiative that Skadron and some council members could seek to resurrect if they determine that the city cannot, through other means, achieve a stated goal of 100 percent renewable energy sources for Aspen’s electricity utility.

“What I want to say to you (is) it’s not free, for the city, to make us sue you,” Butera said, “because nobody wins. When I file a lawsuit against the city, I am the city. I can’t win. I’m suing myself.”

He added that his excess money, and that of his friends, normally would go toward charity, not the cost of litigation.

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