Aspen mayor backs off hard line regarding free passes for council members |

Aspen mayor backs off hard line regarding free passes for council members

John ColsonThe Aspen TimesAspen CO, Colorado

ASPEN Aspens elected leaders agreed this week that, with some limitations, they should not shy away from accepting free admission to certain kinds of events, big and small.That includes free passes to the annual Food & Wine Magazine Classic in early June, which were in the spotlight last year when Mayor Mick Ireland quite publicly declined to accept or use complimentary passes to that event, or to the Jazz Aspen Snowmass concerts.But this week, Ireland seemed to back away from what he called his hard line feelings. He stated specifically that he is not worried about passes for others on the council to attend Food & Wine, which City Attorney John Worcester termed probably the most important economic event … the city has.The topic came up at an April 29 work session, at which Worcester presented the council members with a memo outlining city policies regarding ethics, conflicts of interest and other related issues. The council quickly agreed that the policies seemed acceptable and effective as they are, but then got diverted into a discussion about freebies.Worcester noted that free tickets can make it possible for a city official to attend something that otherwise might be too expensive, and that it is important for members of council to understand what that event is to the city. Does that mean you have to go every day? I dont know.City Clerk Kathryn Koch pointed out that city employees routinely make use of free passes provided in bulk to City Hall and distributed by department heads on a first-come, first-served basis. No one on the council seemed to have any objections to that policy.Council member Jack Johnson, who said he has never used free passes to Food & Wine offered to council members, wondered aloud what citizens think about the free passes. He also asked whether citizens might be concerned that the city makes concessions to big events in order to keep the free passes coming.Worcester said he feels citizens have no qualms about city officials getting free passes, declaring, I think they accept it and I dont think they think youre on the take.Ireland said he is no longer troubled by the thought of council members getting free passes to events, specifically mentioning Food & Wine, although in June of 2007 he told a reporter, “When it comes to free tickets, I don’t think public officials should partake.”At the work session, Ireland cited an amendment to the Colorado Constitution as an example of public sentiment on the matter.In 2006, voters passed Amendment 41, a citizen initiative restricting public officials, government employees and their immediate family members from accepting gifts in excess of $50 and banning gifts from lobbyists outright.The voters spoke pretty clearly that they wanted us to be pretty careful, Ireland said of the law.Aspen is not subject to Amendment 41 because of the city’s home-rule charter, and council member Steve Skadron declared that he has no problem accepting a free pass to a major event, particularly one that typically is beyond his budget. A pass to the Food & Wine Classic costs roughly $1,000.This gives me an opportunity to experience it first-hand, he said, to gain some familiarity in order to make a balanced decision on issues concerning events.Ireland had the last word in the discussion, saying, Ive got a pretty hard line about this sort of thing, but noting that he has accepted free passes to some events, such as local football and basketball games.Additionally, Ireland has acknowledged that he recently accepted free accommodations and meals during a goodwill visit to Aspens sister city, Chamonix, France, although he paid his own airfare, which he said was $1,

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