Clapper defends attendance record as Pitco commissioner |

Clapper defends attendance record as Pitco commissioner

About halfway into Patti Clapper’s second year on the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners, two of her colleagues pulled an Aspen Times reporter aside and asked for a story on her attendance.

They complained that Clapper wasn’t attending the politically charged meetings at the time with enough regularity, and therefore wasn’t engaged in the debate.

A check of the records at the county clerk and recorder’s office indicated Clapper was indeed absent more than her fellow commissioners during the six-month development moratorium, although not to the extent of which her disgruntled colleagues spoke.

Clapper said part of the perception over her attendance during the moratorium probably had to do with her choice to sit in the audience, with the contractors, developers and landowners, for a few of the meetings.

“I think it was important to sit with the people in the room who came to those meetings,” she said.

But her meeting attendance and overall participation in the debates, especially when community opinion is weighing heavily on the issue at hand, has continued to dog her reputation among her colleagues.

After voters in seven valley jurisdictions created a regional transportation authority, Clapper was denied a seat on the new transit agency’s board of directors. In denying her request for a position, commissioners Dorothea Farris and Leslie Lamont pointed out to Clapper that she had not participated at all while the agreement between the governments was being hammered out, even though she had been invited.

And as recently as yesterday, a longtime county staff member complained Clapper fails to show up for work more often than any of the other commissioners.

Clapper denied the allegation that she is less present than her colleagues. “The only thing I’ve used as an excuse not to go to a meeting was my family,” she explained. “Either when they’re sick or playing in a football game.”

Clapper, a parent of one of the players, has been a huge supporter of Aspen High School’s return to the high school gridiron.

“I think what adds to my being a good commissioner is my involvement with my family,” she said. “I’m the commissioner you run into at the grocery store.”

@ATD Sub heds:Less inclined to controversy

@ATD body copy: Clapper’s election in 1998 continued a trend away from the sometimes combative tone that county commissioners of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s were known to take.

Between 1976 and 1994, Pitkin County amended its land-use code a number of times ? always over the howl of developers and some landowners ? in order to avoid the sprawling development that was going on throughout the county and the state.

By 1998, however, the Board of County Commissioners, as an institution, had become much less inclined to controversy, and Clapper has been an integral part of that new outlook. Clapper is among a handful of local politicians who represent a break from the pro-transit, slow-growth, pro-housing consensus that dominated county and city government for the better part of three decades.

Clapper was the only elected official between Basalt and Aspen to publicly oppose forming a rural transportation authority to create regional funding for buses. She was also the only upper-valley elected official to oppose construction of a roundabout at the intersection of Highway 82 and Maroon Creek Road. Clapper is particularly skeptical of roundabouts as a means of traffic control.

On major land-use policy issues, Clapper has consistently come down on the side of developers and landowners.

At the end of the six-month moratorium on development applications in 2000, Clapper joined Shellie Roy in voting against reducing the maximum house size allowed on most lots in the county from 15,000 square feet to 5,750 square feet. The new rules, which were meant to reduce the economic impacts of residential development, were adopted by a 3-2 majority.

And last winter, when the commissioners debated whether or not to rewrite the zoning rules for residential development on the county’s last large ranches, Clapper remained skeptical throughout the process.

The initial proposal, supported primarily by commissioners Ireland and Farris, would have given ranchers incentives to limit development to one house per 100 acres and disincentives for smaller lot sizes.

At the end of the five-month debate, Clapper, Roy and Jack Hatfield blocked any changes from being implemented. At a work session yesterday, she reiterated her comfort with the status quo on ranches and development after Hatfield said he wanted to reconsider the issue.

Clapper has a mixed record on affordable housing that matches those of her colleagues. She was in favor of easing some of the affordable housing restrictions that apply to Aspen Village, but she also voted consistently in favor of the proposal to put 17 units in the Stillwater subdivision near Mountain Valley. Ireland, the most outspoken proponent of the affordable housing program (and initially an opponent to changes for Aspen Village), voted the same way on both issues.

@ATD Sub heds:Regional connections

@ATD body copy: Asked why she’s running for re-election, Clapper said she would like to utilize the skills she’s learned over the past four years.

In the past two especially, Clapper has developed regional connections as the county representative to the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, where she currently serves as board president.

And she promises to use those connections to lobby the state Legislature to amend the law that prohibits counties from imposing a real estate transfer tax on each sale. She believes such a tax is the long-term solution to the county’s ongoing budget crisis.

Clapper voted in favor of the temporary tax increase on this fall’s ballot.

Asked what she considers her top accomplishment as county commissioner, she replied, “I don’t think I’ve accomplished anything single-handedly.”

But she adds that she’s been a strong supporter of public safety over the past four years, including making Maroon Creek Road safer near the schools for pedestrians.

If Clapper is re-elected, voters can expect two more years of generally the same outcomes on most issues, because the other incumbent seeking re-election, Mick Ireland, is running virtually unopposed.

“I think this board functions well for the most part,” she said. “I think there are pluses to a board that has diverse opinions, and sometimes you have to agree to disagree. I think sometimes government itself is dysfunctional.”

[Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is]

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