Aspen mayoral candidates point to government’s failings
The six candidates for Aspen mayor are Maurice Emmer, L.J. Erspamer, Adam Frisch, Derek Johnson, Steve Skadron and Torre. Check The Aspen Times this week, Monday through Friday, to see where the candidates stand on a variety of issues.
Today’s question: In your estimation, what is the biggest problem with city of Aspen government? Where does it fail its citizens — or is it perfect the way it is? And are the City Council meetings too long?
City Council should be working with citizens and the business community to develop programs for improving Aspen’s economy and facilitating a fertile small-business environment. Job growth is flat; incomes have declined in the last 10 years. Citizens have suggested many creative ideas. Council should encourage citizens and ideas and assist in reviving economic growth. That will produce job growth and rising incomes.
Some express concern about preserving Aspen’s small-town character. A friend said the only place small-town character is lacking is City Hall. Council should work with the city manager to improve the relationship between citizens and city government. Council should remove obstacles that make government a barrier rather than a partner to small businesses. Some have given this lip service; we need to get focused, aggressive and implement.
Incredible wastes of money have been tolerated. There are many examples. This year the city will spend over $90 million, while other mountain-resort communities seem to be able to thrive while spending a lot less proportionate to their size.
With a long career in financial matters, drawing attention to waste and inefficiency is second nature for me. I will call for a thorough budget review, not just to make sure the books balance, but to redirect spending away from wasteful endeavors.
Finally, I believe meetings have been too long and focused on the wrong issues. Other candidates serve on City Council and made no obvious effort to shorten the meetings or refocus them. As mayor, with input from the council, I will take leadership over the agenda, the order, and the timing of meetings. I will focus on economic and job prosperity.
The biggest problem of city government is the lack of processing information from staff and giving them direction. Cohesive leadership is needed to make decisions in a timely manner.
Rather than giving staff several different opinions, the mayor needs to call a straw vote for a defined focus and direction in resolving issues.
There is great ambiguity and vagueness in the municipal code that gives City Council leverage in negotiating with developers. This creates the many problems we have today in the mass and scale controversies like the Aspen Valley Hospital, Aspen Club and Aspen Art Museum.
The Planning & Zoning Commission (which I am a member of) in the last year has worked hard in addressing these code problems. We need more clarity, predictability and certainty in the code. The council needs to be more engaged with the P&Z and Historic Preservation Commission to overcome these recurring problems.
The meetings are far too long as discussion often wanders off task. As chair of the P&Z, I have been able to keep everyone on task and our meetings have a time-line that we often have met.
The council meetings and work sessions should have a time limit so that discussions will be kept to the criteria at hand. These time limits can be extended by a majority vote of the council if necessary. Therefore the meetings would be much shorter.
Good execution. City Hall does a wonderful job of picking goals that the vast majority of us believe in: protecting our small-town character, creating a sustainable economy with a focus on vibrant local businesses, retaining and expanding our bed base, and honoring the environment. Where we continually stumble is at the execution level due to a lack of leadership from the council table. I have been working to fix this since my first days on council.
I will provide two examples. First, I have been spearheading the fight to retain and expand our lodging base. Many people support this idea in concept but our existing land-use codes, rules, regulations and fees make it virtually impossible for lodges to remain relevant or expand. Legislation has encouraged these lodges to be more economically viable as free-market residences, which is an unfortunate unintended consequence.
Second, council members continue to bring forth legislation, such as last year’s emergency ordinance on downtown height limits, which I did not support. The majority of council took the rash step of trying to pass an emergency ordinance dealing with height. As a result, the community now has 11 applications in the land-use approval process. If the others on council would have tackled the height changes in a more thoughtful and less reactive manner, as I tried to advocate, we would only have a small handful of applications in the pipeline now. It is one thing to talk about slow growth but another thing to pass ill-conceived laws in a rushed manner that accomplish the exact opposite of what was intended.
Of course the meetings are too long! We can have much shorter meetings, while still providing for a healthy discussion among the council, continuing to seek valuable input from the community and having appropriate staff presentations. As mayor, I can promise a much more focused meeting — sticking to the local issues at hand and not dragging in personal or national concerns and politics.
We have become a community divided on many issues. We need to take a breath and look for common ground on these issues. As mayor, I promise to be an approachable, thoughtful and unifying leader. All organizations need to continually examine the way they operate, looking for ways to improve efficiencies, new ways of doing business, new technologies and goals. Staying the course is no longer a viable option.
I will challenge City Council and staff to innovate and look for better ways of doing things. Department heads need to spend more time together sharing best practices and continually looking for ways to work together as effectively as possible. Council meetings are too long; at times this is a necessity, when decisions need to be made, and at other times there is opportunity to streamline things and get through the agendas more efficiently.
The enormous amount of time spent by staff and City Council on projects like Galena Plaza (it’s been under review for years now) and Castle Creek hydropower (it fostered a non-binding referendum) suggests that council can’t make decisions and that staff has inadequately prepared a proposal, hampering sufficient and timely debate.
Innovation can do a lot for city government. Data and technology make government faster, leaner and more responsive. We can be more cost-effective by bringing the spirit of innovation to every corner of the city, by challenging conventional wisdom and by having the courage to try new things. Central to this is finding ways to lower our technology costs, continuing to implement software innovations into the community development process, and pursuing the latest technological energy-efficiency improvements in the city’s buildings and offices.
Whoever supports nine-hour meetings, 600-page information packets and intense media scrutiny, elect them. They deserve it.
I would say that we have a communication breakdown from community to City Council to city government. It has cost us both monetarily and in trust. We can be more cost effective by reducing the misdirected energy, time and money spent on unclear direction on public projects and development expectations. I can bring more efficient management by better collaboration and coordination.
I point to the Aspen Area Community Plan and the Main Street, Galena Plaza and Castle Creek hydropower projects as examples of lack of clarity leading to waste. But it is not an endemic fault. I have a plan for better synergy, to make government more efficient and accessible.
I have run very concise, prepared, planned meetings. Please go online to view council meetings from March 18 and 19, to see the last meetings I chaired in Mayor Mick Ireland’s absence. I support the most efficient use of time, and will work to ensure that meetings and work sessions are run with respect to everyone’s time.
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Aspen’s dirty downtown alleys are enough of a blight that the city government is taking the initiative to clean them up this week.