City officials pat themselves on the back
ASPEN Often finding themselves dealing with the minutiae of running the city, elected officials have been thinking “big picture” in the past several days.At a two-day retreat last week, the Aspen City Council spent more than 15 hours together, contemplating the past, present and future. The aim of the annual gathering is to analyze the accomplishments and disappointments of the past year, and to commit to the goals they established for the upcoming year.”If you let the little stuff distract you, you won’t get to the big things,” said City Manager Steve Barwick. “Good ideas walk in on a daily basis, and it’s hard to stay focused.”While three new council members have been on the job for only six weeks, the full council was asked to weigh in on what staff believes were major accomplishments of 2006 and the first half of this year.
“I have a feeling that city staff has spent more time accomplishing City Council’s goals than their own,” said City Councilman Jack Johnson, who was elected in 2005. “On seven of the 10 [goals] we’ve made remarkable progress.”Whether the public agrees is debatable. But officials all agreed that while there has been some progress, there is plenty of work to be done.The highlight of 2006 in Mayor Mick Ireland’s mind was the previous council’s move to halt development in town so it could get a grip on the pace of growth.”The moratorium itself was an outstanding accomplishment because it took incredible courage on the part of the council,” said Ireland, who was elected in June and is a veteran in Pitkin County politics. He was an author of legislation outlawing development in rural and remote areas that is as controversial today as it was more than a decade ago.Finding the right balance of development is still a challenge – city officials met the 2006 goal 60 percent. However, controlling construction impacts in 2006 was apparently 100 percent completed. City officials successfully adopted a construction mitigation plan, which was tweaked earlier this month.City Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss, a retired judge, thinks City Council meetings are still inefficient. In fact, city staff rated the 2006 goal at 50 percent met, and 55 percent thus far in 2007.Officials rated themselves 90 percent in the goal of advancing community excellence and nurturing Aspen as the world’s premier resort in 2006. They accomplished that by finding transportation solutions, establishing a plan for storm water, slowing the pace of growth and development, and getting a handle on construction.The only goal 100 percent met in 2006 was gathering enough information to get city officials to move forward on a storm-water program. This year, a comprehensive program that includes a timeline and funding has been met 90 percent.Coming in at 70 percent completed was the re-evaluation of the Entrance to Aspen environmental impact statement, with substantive community discussion. Alternatives were to undergo review in an effort to get community support around a solution. While that might not have happened, city officials rank themselves as 90 percent complete in the 2007 goal of finding a solution from the roundabout to Buttermilk. Voters in May approved building a bus-only lane, which will be complete by next year.Revamping the incentives for lodge owners to remain competitive was 60 percent complete in 2006, but a significant accomplishment nonetheless, said City Councilman Dwayne Romero.There was some success last year in identifying possible land purchases for affordable housing. This year, the city already has bought three pieces of land totaling more than $13 million.Officials ranked themselves high – 80 percent – in engaging the public through better communication in 2006.So far this year, six of the 10 goals laid out 12 months ago have been met by 90 percent or higher. Those include the bus-only lanes; a storm-water plan; finalizing design standards on downtown development and preserving interiors of historic buildings; adopting the city’s environmental plans, the Canary Initiative; and developing specific ways to engage the Aspen community in an effort to build consensus on contentious issues.What the city hasn’t done well this year is improve upon the City Council’s productivity, which has been 55 percent accomplished, according to staff.”We need to work together and be prepared,” DeVilbiss said.