Burlingame Ranch issues need sunlight
Aspen, CO Colorado
Elizabeth Milias, blogger for the local anti-government website The Red Ant, occasionally speaks out at Aspen City Council meetings about her perception of the frailties of municipal government. As most people who follow City Hall already know, she seems to have a particular bent against Mayor Mick Ireland and City Manager Steve Barwick, but others in the building have felt her wrath, as well.
When Ireland ran for re-election in the spring of 2011, it was Milias who flooded the town with “Sick of Mick” placards. Her zeal and motives are often called into question, especially by those who believe that they have been affronted. Her style is interesting; some call it abrasive. She can be quiet for several weeks or months, and then she strikes suddenly, with the ferocity of a tornado.
All of that aside, she raised a few valid points at the beginning of Monday’s council session when she brought up the lawsuit filed last year on behalf of the Burlingame Ranch homeowners’ association against the city, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority, Shaw Construction LLC and a siding manufacturer called Certainteed Corp. The lawsuit alleges that all of the parties were responsible, in one way or another, for a problem with exterior siding that is deteriorating among some of the units at Burlingame. Either the Certainteed-made siding itself was subpar or it was installed by Shaw Construction, the builder, improperly.
The city is a party to the suit because it financed the project to build the 91 units at Burlingame more than five years ago; the Housing Authority is a defendant, as well, because it also was “engaged in the business of development, improvement, construction, marketing, sale and/or repair of the units and common elements comprising the project,” according to the suit.
Milias wanted to know why the Burlingame issue hadn’t been brought up in a public meeting. She was curious as to why some council members she queried seemed not to know much about the issue of cracked siding outside many units or the lawsuit itself. In the big picture, she has philosophical problems with the city’s affordable-housing program, but one of the chief concerns she expressed on Monday night was that a potential buyer of a Burlingame unit might be having trouble obtaining mortgage approval because banks are finding out about the siding problem and fear that potential structural damages could result.
As Ireland suggested, Milias might be playing politics: Mayoral and council elections are less than three months away, and she tends to get involved during campaign season. But the questions are certainly valid. With the city holding myriad meetings over the last two years on building costs and development plans for the upcoming Burlingame Phase II construction, why hasn’t the issue of cracked siding at nearby Burlingame I popped up? One would think that someone would raise the matter simply as a precaution against a similar problem arising at Burlingame II.
We don’t believe that anything sinister is going on at City Hall with regard to secrecy surrounding the lawsuit. What likely occurred is that the City Attorney’s and City Manager’s offices decided to handle the matter themselves, believing it to be something that could be ironed out between the construction and siding companies or their insurance companies. They probably briefed the council about the litigation at some point many months ago and said they would keep council members apprised of future developments.
But in the larger sense, the so-called controversy – we’re not really sure that it is one – points to a need for more openness among the major players at 130 S. Galena St. The excuse local governments use to keep matters to themselves, the privilege of executive (closed) session to discuss litigation or personnel matters, has completely worn thin. If the city officials were truly committed to open and transparent government, they would hold a publicl work session, or a small part of a work session, to discuss litigation pending against the city.
They wouldn’t have to discuss legal strategy and give away their secrets to their opponents. They could merely list the number of legal battles in which they are involved, provide background on each matter, give council members an opportunity to ask general questions about each case without providing input on strategy and allow any interested members of the public a chance to comment or ask a question concerning the issue.
Such an event would speak volumes about the city’s willingness to shine a light on its own problems for the benefit of the Aspen taxpayers, who, after all, are the city’s employers. It might also eliminate the need for Milias to drop a few “bombshells” at council meetings from time to time.
As the old pop song suggests, “Let the sunshine in.”
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Produced by Colorado State University’s J-school, the documentary examines the economic potential of the plant.