City walks fine line with Burlingame
ASPEN Aspen city government is working overtime in its attempt to set the record straight on allegations swirling over the cost escalation of the Burlingame affordable-housing development.The city of Aspen is running advertisements in both local newspapers trying to debunk the over-exaggeration and myths by government critics concerning how the cost of Burlingame became $73 million more than what a brochure disseminated to voters in 2005 indicated.The ad campaign, which is costing the city about $2,000, began earlier this month and will run until July 29, when city officials will host a public open house on Burlingame.The first of a series of six ads got the attention of many residents because it suggests that Burlingame was a half-billion-dollar mistake. City officials claim that figure has been used by Michael Conniff on his radio show and blog.There is no credence to that number, said Sally Spaulding, City Halls community relations officer, adding rumors start and then run rampant through town. Were responding to the conversations on the street corner.Spaulding said the ads are designed to state the myths and address them with answers provided by city officials.The other ads say no money is missing from the project; it isnt over budget and it was a good price for the product.In addition to the ad campaign, City Manager Steve Barwick has spent the past month speaking to groups and individuals in the community about how the mistake on the brochure happened. Just last week, Barwick went in front of the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission and the staff at Morris & Fyrwald Aspen Real Estate to explain the Burlingame boondoggle.The campaign is critical to setting the record straight, especially considering that voters likely will be asked this fall to approve a bond that would borrow $50 million against sales tax revenue to build phases two and three at Burlingame.City officials recognize they walk a fine line when it comes to speaking on behalf of a ballot initiative but since one hasnt been officially proposed, they will continue to beat the Burlingame drum. The question is whether it comes in the form of information or advocacy.There is a line there that cant be crossed and we are well aware of that line, said city attorney John Worcester. But the city has to respond to these allegations; otherwise its like having our hands tied in a boxing ring.Worcester added that its fair to recognize that theres been some talk about a ballot question but it hasnt been decided. When and if a bond question is put on the November ballot, the city government cannot advocate for it, according to state law.Before every campaign season Worcester sends an e-mail to all city staff members reminding them of their obligations under the law when it comes to election-related issues.But that doesnt mean city staffers and City Councilmembers cannot individually promote or advocate for a ballot issue.Staff members dont lose their constitutional rights when they are off the clocks, Barwick said, adding on the job they are barred from promoting a campaign issue. They have to be politically astute but apolitical.He added that he has been careful to just talk about the facts rather than advocate for Burlingame as he makes his presentation to business and community groups. Weve lost a lot of credibility, which is why we have started this information campaign, Barwick said. City communication with the public on Burlingame in the future will go through the city attorneys office. But in no way will that mean information wont be disseminated throughout the campaign season.It doesnt mean the city comes to a halt, Worcester said. We have a $100 million dollar budget and the city has an obligation to tell people what its doing. firstname.lastname@example.org
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