Aspen mayor again campaigning for longer term in office
August 6, 2009
ASPEN – The question of whether the mayor of Aspen should serve four years has resurfaced after a two-year hiatus among elected officials.
Mayor Mick Ireland, who was elected in May to his second, two-year term, brought the idea forward to the Aspen City Council last month. It was part of a conversation about whether voters will decide in November if the Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) method used during the past municipal election should be continued.
Ireland brought the idea forward in 2007 but he couldn’t get a majority on council to agree to put the question to voters that November.
Now that there’s been a changing of the guard with new Councilmen Torre and Derek Johnson, who are seated for four-year terms, Ireland said he hopes he can get three people to move the concept forward. But first a citizen committee should study the issue, he added.
“Maybe somebody has a better idea than me,” Ireland said.
Ireland said politics in Aspen has changed and now requires a longer campaign season, with candidates having to start earlier and spend more money to get elected.
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“To me, you’re always in campaign season,” he said, referring in part to his political foe Marilyn Marks who ran against him unsuccessfully this past May and who is actively criticizing Aspen’s IRV method and results.
“Here’s the thing, we’re already in election season,” Ireland said.
Marks said her current criticisms don’t necessarily mean she is campaigning for a 2011 mayoral bid.
“In his rationale for extended terms, Mick routinely complains of ‘endless campaigns’ and ‘campaigns beginning too early’ if some citizens publicly dissent, implying that their comments should be discredited as ‘campaigning,'” she said. “He positions dissent as campaigning and campaigning as sinister. Isn’t public debate and running for office a long-standing, healthy part of our democratic process?”
Ireland said in the past that the feedback he has received is that during election season business grinds to a halt and issues are not voted on.
Johnson said he’s open to considering a four-year mayoral term but is unsure if he’ll ultimately back it.
“I do think the mayor’s term is light,” he said. “You’re running 30 seconds after you’re elected.
“I think we need to get an understanding of what the community thinks. Or do we just leave well enough alone?”
Councilmen Dwayne Romero and Steve Skadron said they are partial to the two-year term because the city’s home rule charter is set up to turn over the majority every two years, if the electorate chooses. Two of the four council members are up for re-election every two years.
“I like that the council turns over every two years,” Skadron said.
He said he’s not opposed to a citizen task force or commission investigating it further.
“We’ve got a commission for everything else,” he joked.
Romero added to the humor.
“We’ll COWOP it, task force it and commission it,” he said with a grin.
A committee also would consider Torre’s previous suggestion of moving the election from May to June, or another month when more people are in town. Torre said he would like as much voter participation as possible and May is a month when many people have left town for the offseason.
Ireland would support a timing change but said he wants to have more discussion about it.
“With a June election, people are back from vacation,” he said. “Personally, I could go either way.”
Johnson said he can see the benefits of changing the election month.
“Our goal is to get more people participating than less,” he said.
Changing the term of mayor and the timing of the election would require an amendment to the charter, and a public vote. That could occur this fall or next spring. Voters will likely be asked an advisory question this November if Aspen should continue with IRV or have city officials find an alternative.
Two-year mayoral terms have been an Aspen tradition for more than 100 years, according to City Clerk Kathryn Koch, adding records she found date back to 1905.
Aspen’s municipal elections had been held in November until Aspen became a home rule charter city, which occurred in 1971.
The thinking on the street was that changing the election to May would eliminate the hippies from voting because they left after ski season, Koch recalled. That particular segment of the population was a source of much controversy with certain groups in Aspen at the time.
And until 1980, Aspenites elected six council members and a mayor. At the time, a majority of voters, by a 2-1 margin, decided to reduce the number of council members to four and a mayor. One of the arguments in making the local government body a five-person council was that fewer people would mean shorter meetings. Whether that is the case now is debatable.
The other question attached to the five-person council ballot measure was whether elected officials should get a pay increase if there were fewer of them. It passed by one vote, Koch said.
Of the 92 home rule charter cities in the state, the majority of them have four-year mayoral terms, according to the Colorado Municipal League. In 48 cities, mayors serve four years; 38 towns have two-year mayors; four have one-year seats and two have three-year terms.
Along with Marks, another one of Ireland’s opponents in the May election doesn’t think a four-year term is beneficial and claims it’s self serving.
“Right now the balance on council changes every two years, and considering past performance as a barometer … need I say more,” said former mayoral candidate Andrew Kole. “Again, it seems Mick’s suggestions best serve Mick and his band of merry men and women, those of the long and powerful list.”