Basalt town councilman gives refund
BASALT – Basalt Councilman Pete McBride is giving town taxpayers a partial refund for his performance in 2010 and 2011.
McBride said he is putting “110 percent” into the job as an elected official, but his career as a photographer has forced him to miss more meetings than he would prefer.
“When I ran, I knew I was going to have this issue,” McBride said. “I’ve been tormented over this, frankly.”
He was absent for seven of the council’s 24 regular meetings in 2011, according to the official minutes. McBride said he has already made arrangements with the town Finance Office to decline pay for one month of 2011. He also surrendered a half month’s pay in 2010.
Basalt council members earn $800 per month, or $9,600 per year. (The mayor makes $14,400 annually.) McBride declined pay of $400 in 2010, and now he will decline pay of $800 for 2011. He missed the only meeting of 2012 but said he intends to attend the remaining five meetings before his term expires in April. McBride said he will not seek re-election.
No other elected official in Basalt has declined pay for missing meetings in modern times, according to Finance Director Judi Tippetts.
McBride said he consulted with Basalt Town Manager Bill Kane last year about resigning because of his time away and then raised the issue again this year. McBride’s work as a photographer for National Geographic magazine has taken him to India on two assignments this year.
He also has been busy on a lecture circuit after completing a prize-winning documentary and accompanying book about the Colorado River that explore how the natural ecosystem is imperiled by so much irrigation for a variety of human uses.
McBride said he concluded, after consulting with Kane, that he would resign from the council if a member of the council or public made an issue of his absences. That didn’t happen.
McBride said he puts in a lot of time on the job that isn’t reflected by meeting attendance. He worked with a “diversity committee” that launched the Basalsa festival, designed to encourage mingling and understanding between Anglos and Latinos. He helped organize three Basalsa celebrations.
McBride also noted he served on a committee that debated how to resolve conflicts created by the shooting range on the outskirts of town. He attended at least 12 meetings, he said.
Absences are expected in small-town and county politics because the elected officials are average people fitting in public service with professions and family life. Most elected officials typically miss a few meetings per year.
In Basalt, in addition to McBride’s seven absences, Councilwoman Karin Teague missed six of 24 meetings in 2011, according to the minutes. Anne Freedman missed three of 24 meetings; Katie Schwoerer and Jacque Whitsitt missed two meeting each; Glenn Rappaport missed a meeting and a half; and Mayor Leroy Duroux missed one regular meeting.
Teague said she puts a lot of time into town work that isn’t reflecting in meeting attendance. This week, for example, she was meeting with groups on child care and energy efficiency.
Sometimes life happens and prevents her from attending a meeting, she said, citing illnesses, travel or activities with her kids. “I don’t have any apologies or funny feelings” about missing some of the meetings, she said.
“It’s my top priority,” Teague said of council work. “That being said, I’m not going to not take a vacation in the summer with my kids.”
McBride’s absence was most glaring Dec. 13 and Tuesday when the council debated how to handle a challenge to its plan to start charging a 20-cent fee on plastic and paper grocery bags. McBride championed the issue and the council voted 6-1 last fall to implement the fee this spring. After Basalt approved the fee, Aspen and Carbondale voted to ban plastic grocery bags and charge a fee for paper.
On Dec. 13, the council debated whether it should stick with the plan to implement the fee or go with a ban instead. No decision was reached by the board, in part because McBride and Teague were absent.
On Tuesday, the board briefly debated whether to rescind the bag fee ordinance, then propose a plastic bag ban in a new ordinance that would go to voters for a decision. No decision was reached but the council will take up the issue Jan. 24. McBride said he intends to be at the meeting.
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