Bariloche debate goes behind closed doors |

Bariloche debate goes behind closed doors

Eben Harrell

Aspen’s mayor and a select group of Jewish leaders took the controversy regarding Aspen’s sister-city relationship with Bariloche, Argentina, behind closed doors last week.

An invitation-only discussion about how to respond to news that the Andean resort was a Nazi stronghold for years following World War II was held April 1 at The Aspen Institute.

The participants, including Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, sister-city officials Griff Smith and Don Sheeley, and approximately eight members of Aspen’s Jewish community, agreed to an informal gag rule that prevents them from discussing the meeting.

Last month Klanderud publicly promised to meet with Jewish leaders to address the controversy that followed several articles in The Aspen Times about Bariloche’s history of sheltering Nazis.

Klanderud took the issue to the executive committee of The Aspen Institute’s Community Forum and then decided to hold a closed-door meeting on the campus, according to Aspen Institute spokeswoman Cristal Logan.

Klanderud contacted leaders from two local Jewish organizations – the Jewish Resource Center and the Aspen Jewish Congregation – who in turn chose representatives to attend the meeting, according to Logan.

John Sarpa, hospital board president and developer, moderated the discussion.

Although the details of what was discussed may never be aired, an anonymous source told The Aspen Times that the group recommended Aspen avoid reconsidering its relationship with Bariloche until more information is gathered. They also reportedly decided against organizing a more open, public meeting. Another closed-door meeting is currently being organized, the source said.

Aspen city attorney John Worcester, who attended the meeting, said the mayor and sister-city officials were within their rights to make the meeting confidential. Because the sister-cities organization has only informal ties with the city of Aspen, its meetings need not conform with state “Sunshine Laws” that require disclosure of and public access to government meetings, according to Worcester.

“This was a preliminary meeting to decide what should be done about this issue,” Worcester said. “Sunshine laws only apply to governmental agencies.”

Klanderud was unavailable for comment yesterday. The Institute’s Logan said the decision to keep the meeting confidential was made to protect the privacy of its participants.

“We wanted to make sure people could speak freely about a very emotional issue,” Logan said.

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