City lends its support to embattled commissioners
Aspen’s contentious City Council on Monday unanimously agreed to lend its support to embattled members of the Pitkin County Board of Commissioners, who are fighting against a recall campaign.
Solidarity on that issue came after debate over Aspen’s attitude about trains and buses flared up unexpectedly, derailing a letter that Mayor Rachel Richards had hoped to send to the Colorado Department of Transportation and rekindling factional antagonisms among the council members.
The two issues were tagged onto the end of a long agenda by Richards, apparently with little or no warning to the other members. Lending support The council adopted a resolution in support of county commissioners Mick Ireland, Dorothea Farris, Leslie Lamont and Shellie Roy Harper, who are facing a recall campaign begun by anti-rail activist Jeffrey Evans and his organization, the Common Sense Alliance.
Evans has demanded the removal of the four commissioners, arguing that they ignored the will of the electorate by not putting a rail funding ballot question before the voters this fall. Evans has maintained that a voter initiative approved by the county electorate a year ago required that such an election question be place on the November 1999 ballot, but the county commissioners countered that there was no such mandate.
The City Council’s resolution declares that one reason the commissioners are being targeted is that they have been “taking positions contrary to the Common Sense Alliance’s in the transportation area.”
Citing the commissioners’ election by “the democratic process,” the resolution argues that the county’s recall regulations “were written to protect citizens from serious malfeasance in office … not to punish elected representatives” for taking political positions.
One clause of the resolution, which referred to the recall as “acrimonious, divisive and expensive” and an impediment to the conduct of the county’s regular business, was stricken after council member Tom McCabe objected.
His goal, he said, was to “try not to paint too vivid a picture of our opinions of recall,” maintaining that he supports the citizens’ right to recall elected officials generally, though not in this case.
The revision was opposed by council member Jim Markalunas, who declared that “this particular recall effort has been divisive and created acrimony,” but he ultimately conceded the point.
Council member Tony Hershey, who also said he opposes this recall campaign but not the recall process in general, questioned whether it is overly “cynical” for one body of elected officials to support another in this way. But, after agreeing with McCabe’s revision, he voted in favor of the resolution. Letter to CDOT Just before the debate on the resolution, Richards introduced a letter she wanted to send to CDOT, to explain the recent election and reassure the agency that Aspen remains committed to mass transportation for the Entrance to Aspen project.
She proposed the letter, which outlined the election results and some analysis of the cause of those results, in the hope that the council members would all sign it. City voters recently rejected ballot questions to fund either a light-rail system or a dedicated bus system between the Aspen airport and the center of town.
“The only thing clear from the … election is that the results are mixed,” Richards wrote.
Hershey and McCabe, however, attacked Richards’ letters as, in Hershey’s words, “sort of damage control and spin.”
After reading it, Hershey told Richards that, as a citizen, “You can write to the governor, or the president of the United States … but I’m not going to sign it.”
Among their objections were Richards’ mention of an “advisory question,” passed by a margin of 1,081 to 612, that calls for another train vs. bus question in November 2000; an advisory question in which voters endorsed mass transit by about the same margin; and her belief that a “lack of information” contributed to voter uncertainty about whether to choose rail or buses.
“Then you’re going to disregard the advisory questions?” Richards asked McCabe during a lull in the debate.
“Absolutely,” responded McCabe, maintaining that the questions were “a joke” and that voters “threw away that vote.”
In the end, McCabe and Hershey agreed to work on their own draft of a letter to send to the state, in case CDOT truly is worried about the election’s outcome and its meaning.
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