Basalt candidates carve out positions in first debate of campaign |

Basalt candidates carve out positions in first debate of campaign

Basalt candidates for mayor and three council seats take center stage Wednesday night in the first forum of the campaign, organized by the Basalt Area Chamber of Commerce.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times |

The candidates for Basalt mayor and Town Council carved out their niches in their first public debate Wednesday night even though the organizers pussyfooted around two major issues.

The Basalt Area Chamber of Commerce, which crafted the questions, didn’t ask the candidates how they would solve the Pan and Fork dispute, which has embroiled the town for more than 18 months. The chamber also failed to ask the candidates how the town would help solve a looming parking shortage.

The election is April 5. There are two candidates for mayor and six for three council seats.

Council candidate Auden Schendler raised the Pan and Fork issue in his concluding statement in the two-hour forum. He said he will support “compact, sensible density” in the town core and oppose sprawl.

“The Pan and Fork is being pitted as growth versus conservation. It’s not,” he said.

Nearly everybody tends to agree that about 55,000 square feet of development is appropriate for the site, adjacent to the Rocky Mountain Institute on Two Rivers Road, according to Schendler.

In a different part of the forum, he said the town is close to achieving its potential. “Basalt can become, by far, the coolest town in the West,” he said, stressing the need for creating housing in the core.

“We have a kick-ass town,” Schendler said. “We can make it more kick ass.”

Incumbent Herschel Ross stressed his experience, with four years as a councilman in Snowmass Village, four years as a Pitkin County commissioner and now four years on the Basalt Town Council. He said all members of the elected board take a role. His role, he said, is the logical one, who think of repercussions of council actions.

If the town of Basalt was a “Star Trek” episode, he said, he would be Spock. “Starship Basalt needs a Spock for four more years,” Ross said.

Council candidate Leroy Duroux, a former councilman and mayor, emphasized fiscal conservatism. His priority would be balancing revenue and expenditures and building a healthier reserve, he said. The town needs to prioritize projects on its wish list and only pursue one when another is completed, Duroux said.

Duroux also stressed the need to bring more tourists and residents to Basalt to boost its vitality.

Incumbent Rob Leavitt said he ran four years ago on a platform to improve the town’s relationship with the schools. He has two daughters in the public school system. He said he feels he helped accomplish that goal.

Continued work on healthy schools in Basalt will attract people to the town and build a strong community, he said.

Jenn Riffle, the youngest of the candidates, said she will represent the 30-somethings in Basalt. “Our small-town character is what’s drawn me to this town,” she said.

She conceded that speaking in front of a crowd of about 50 people unnerved her and thanked the audience for its “compassion” in sticking with her. She used her closing statement to self-critique herself and vowed she is better at listening and interpersonal communication than speaking in front of a group.

Council candidate Katie Schwoerer is also an elected member of the Crown Mountain Recreation District’s board of directors. That board had a meeting at the same time as the forum. Schwoerer said she had an obligation to fulfill her duties as an elected official.

The mayoral candidates are seasoned veterans — both serving as council members and mayors — with lengthy records and willingness to cut the chase. Incumbent Jacque Whitsitt said she has always opposed rampant growth throughout her tenure and supports “Basalt-style growth” that is slow and carefully considered. Her priorities, she said, are slow growth, preserving small-town character, creating parks and affordable housing.

Whitsitt said she’s gone door to door during the campaign and learned that people aren’t all that fractured. To ensure that happens, she vowed to create a neighborhood caucus system if she is re-elected. Residents would be asked to weigh in early in the process on issues like the Pan and Fork, she said.

Rick Stevens stressed that Basalt has accomplished a lot of great things during its evolution over the past 25 years and that it is poised to continue that progress with the right leadership. He said he wants to reach out a hand to Basalt resident to work together on solutions and help the town achieve its goals.

In his concluding remarks, he said the person sitting in the mayor’s seat isn’t as important as who they are surrounding by, suggesting that engaging residents and relying on effective staff is key to making progress on issues.

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