Basalt candidates cool to midvalley succession |

Basalt candidates cool to midvalley succession

If the views of Basalt Town Council candidates are indicative of their neighbors’ sentiments, a proposal to move the midvalley from Eagle County to Pitkin County will fall flat.

Six of the 10 candidates for mayor and trustee positions in the April 4 election are opposed to the proposed midvalley secession. Only two candidates favor the move. One has a split opinion and one is uncertain.

The candidates were asked for their position on the secession at a recent candidates forum.

Even a primary proponent of the idea, Basalt Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt, seemed to distance herself from the proposal.

Whitsitt is a founder and key member of the Mid-Valley Caucus, a group that intends to start circulating a petition next month to force an election on the secession issue.

When an audience member asked the candidates about their position on the secession, it put Whitsitt in the hot seat.

“Well, I’m not going to pretend I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Whitsitt.

She explained that she became concerned about Eagle County’s land-use posture four years ago when she was a weekly commuter between the Roaring Fork Valley and a Front Range college. She feared this valley would end up like the Vail Valley, where Eagle and Garfield counties’ policies have guided development.

Whitsitt made an unsuccessful bid for Eagle County commissioner in 1998. Shortly after that, she helped launch the Mid-Valley Caucus. The goal of the group, she claimed, is self-determination.

“The citizens of the midvalley should be given the opportunity to make a choice of whether they want to be franchised into their government or whether they’re OK being disenfranchised with their government,” Whitsitt said. “It’s a free will kind of thing. This will live or die depending on what citizens want.”

Whitsitt acknowledged after the forum that she avoided stating her personal opinion. She said she supports secession from Eagle County and entry into Pitkin County. But she insisted her opinion shouldn’t be the issue.

“I didn’t feel it’s a town of Basalt issue or something that should become a campaign issue,” she said.

But it did become a campaign issue.

The move was also supported by current Councilwoman Anne Freedman. She said she supported exchanging counties primarily for land-use reasons.

Council candidate Jonathan Fox-Rubin said he supported half of the idea.

“I’m all excited about leaving Eagle County,” Fox-Rubin said. “I’m not sure about joining Pitkin County. Personally, I’d like to start our own county.”

That’s as far as the support went. Mayoral candidate and current Councilman Steve Solomon said he was uncertain if he supported secession. The midvalley isn’t well-represented in either Eagle County or Pitkin County government, he noted.

Some of the other candidates left no doubt they not only opposed the idea, but vehemently opposed it.

“A secession into Pitkin County isn’t what I want as a citizen, let alone as a leader, if I was elected,” said council candidate Cathy Kulzer.

Council candidate Tiffany Gildred said she would not want to be part of Pitkin County, noting its reputation for being “heavy handed.”

Council candidate P.D. Ash said the people he’s talked to don’t like the idea.

“You’d be surprised how many people said we just don’t want to be part of Aspen,” he said.

Mayoral candidate Glenn Rappaport said he didn’t want to strain relations with Eagle County officials by supporting secession. As mayor, he said, he would strive to get along with other governments as best he could.

Incumbents Leroy Duroux and Rick Stevens provided diplomatic answers to the secession question. Duroux said he wouldn’t support changing because midvalley residents would have to pay off their share of debt accrued in Eagle County as part of the deal.

Mayor Stevens said he thought the midvalley ought to promote the regional approach to government rather than trying to get out of one county and joining another.

“I’m a big fan of seamless government,” said Stevens.

The Mid-Valley Caucus members must collect about 550 signatures from citizens who own property and are registered to vote in the Roaring Fork Valley portion of Eagle County to force an election.

If they get the signatures, the question will go on the ballot for all Eagle and Pitkin County voters to decide. That election could be held as early as November.

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