Basalt voters warned, hold your nose on trailer park issue | AspenTimes.com
YOUR AD HERE »

Basalt voters warned, hold your nose on trailer park issue

John ColsonThe Aspen TimesAspen CO, Colorado

BASALT Some Basalt voters are upset that a private bonding company, which stands to profit if the town buys a local trailer park, is financing the publicity campaign urging voters to approve the purchase.Better circle your wagons and hold your nose, wrote Basalt resident Randolph Colman in a letter to the editor this week (see Letters). Colman has been a vocal opponent of the proposal to issue $4.5 million in bonds to buy the Pan & Fork Trailer Park, a proposal that will be put to town voters next week.Colman and others have criticized the fact that the towns bonding company, St. Louis-based Stifel Nicolaus and Co., is bankrolling production of direct-mail pieces being sent to active local voters.Does the term, conflict of interest come to mind? Colman asked in his letter.Its just not right, said Brian Dillard, who is running for Town Council, about the bonding companys involvement. Both the Town Council and Pan & Fork Trailer Park elections will be held April 1. But Anne Freedman, a former Town Council member who is part of the Citizens for the Entrance to Basalt that supports the bond question, says there is no conflict of interest. She maintains that bond companies often work for passage of such questions.Its done a great deal, said Freedman on Wednesday, noting that the reality is, its very difficult to raise money for a local campaign.She said that the bond company got involved with an earlier bond election, back in 2001, when the town won voter approval to sell bonds to fund open space purchases.We did spend about $10,000 in that campaign, recalled Freedman. It was a much more extensive campaign. And the funding, she said, came from the bond company.As for accusations that using Stifel Nicolaus money gives the pro-purchase forces an unfair advantage in the campaign, she said of the opposition, Id say if they felt strongly enough … they could do something. Its really very inexpensive to [photocopy] a single sheet and take it around to peoples doors.She said she did just that, several years ago, when a lodging tax proposal that she supported seemed to be losing ground in voters minds, and the question ultimately was approved.These things are always up to whoever feels strongly enough to do something, she said.In addition to questions about the companys involvement, some have said that council candidate Jacque Whitsitt, who has endorsed the ballot question, is inappropriately attaching herself to the work of the Citizens for the Entrance to Basalt.Dillard, for example, has maintained that Whitsitt should not be involved in both the pro-purchase campaign and her own run for office, at least not without making that dual involvement very public.If shes going to go that way and push that question … while running to be elected, she should make it more public, he said, accusing Whitsitt of using the pro-bond campaign as a way of advancing her own name and her own cause.I just want everyone to be able to play on a level playing field, he concluded.Candidate Rick Stevens said Whitsitts involvement probably isnt illegal.But, he said, if Whitsitt is benefiting from exposure due to the pro-bond campaign, it could be something she should report on her campaign finance disclosure forms.I think its just a question of clarity, he said. You have to wonder.Another candidate, and an opponent of the bonding question as it is posed on the ballot, is Garret Brandt. He said he is not worried about the companys funds being used to promote the bond question, or Whitsitts involvement. Nor is Katie Schwoerer, who is a supporter of the bond question.Thats the way business is done, said Brandt, referring to the companys participation in the campaign. Somebody has to fund it. Theyre a company, theyre trying to make money … I have no problem with it.As for Whitsitts role, he said, Shes a private citizen and she can participate in any issue she wants to.Whitsitt, asked if she feels her role in the Citizens committee has given her extra exposure in the race, responded: If Im the one saying Im in favor of this, whos exposed?She maintained that advocating a tax increase is not exactly a politically safe thing to do, and quipped, I was thinking more like the exposure that a cliff offers.In response to Stevens suggestion, Whitsitt said, You cant put a dollar figure on articles in the newspaper (where her backing of the ballot question has made the news), so how would you report that?Bill Efting, Basalts town manager, confirmed that Stifel Nicolaus and Co. is paying for the mailings, although Efting has yet to see one because he does not live in Basalt.They actually participate normally, he said of bond companies. If it doesnt pass, they dont get paid.And, he said emphatically about the race and any questions arising from local politics, [Town] staff has nothing to do with it.jcolson@aspentimes.com