Commissioner candidates more aligned than not
ASPEN – Five candidates for Pitkin County commissioner differed on the issue of airline subsidies, but were in agreement more often than not during Thursday’s Squirm Night forum at Aspen City Hall.Still, there was some squirming as candidates were grilled on everything from their personal finances to knowledge of county government in the packed room. The forum, broadcast live on GrassRoots TV, was sponsored by The Aspen Times and Aspen Daily News.David Weiss, Rob Ittner, Tom Clapper, Brian Speck and Jack Johnson will face off in Tuesday’s primary for the District 1 seat, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the November general election.All five candidates said they support the proposed $18 million purchase of 742 acres near Snowmass Village as open space. The purchase of the Droste property, spearheaded by the county, was unveiled this week.”I think it’s a very special property,” Ittner said.All five also said they intend to vote for Joe DiSalvo in the sheriff’s race, and all five supported county funding for the criminal defense of a county building inspector facing misdemeanor charges in the connection with the carbon monoxide deaths of a family of four in 2008. The family was staying at a home near Aspen in unincorporated Pitkin County.”I think it’s important to defend the people who work for the government,” Speck said.Clapper specifically advocated supporting Erik Peltonen’s defense. Peltonen is a retired city building inspector who helped with the inspection of the home, but it is a county building inspector, Brian Pawl, whose defense costs will be picked up by the county. The county has said it is in discussions with the city about Peltonen’s defense. He faces felony charges.All of the candidates said they would be running for office even if it didn’t pay $72,500 annually – an amount set by the state Legislature, Clapper pointed out.”I’m not doing this for the money,” Weiss said.”I think the county commissioners are probably paid too much for the work they do,” Ittner said. “I think it’s a tough job. I think it’s a big salary, though.””It would be nice to make this income,” Speck said, adding that he’d be open to cutting the pay if voters want to and that he currently makes a comfortable income.Most said the pay is more than they earned last year.Asked if they’d support a project comprised entirely of worker housing outside the Urban Growth Boundary – outside areas deemed suitable for dense development – all five said no.Weiss, asked if he could name the county manager, said he could not, but would recognize him if he saw him. The county manager is a woman, Hilary Fletcher.Clapper was asked to differentiate himself from his wife, Patti Kay-Clapper, who currently holds the District 1 seat. “I am not Patti. I’m Tom. Trust me,” he said. They disagree on the Entrance to Aspen and initially had opposing views on a train as the mass transit component serving Aspen, he said. Clapper also said he initially thought the Droste open space purchase required more investigation.Clapper, still impaired after suffering a nearly fatal heart arrhythmia in April, reiterated his ability to serve in elected office.”I have more work to do. I will be 100 percent,” he said at the outset of the forum. “Most important, I’m mentally and physically able to do this job.”Speck, asked if his past work as president of Stewart Title in Aspen tied him too closely to the real estate/development industry, said he would not be a pushover when it comes to land-use approvals.”I have a history of respecting the land-use code,” said the longtime resident and member of the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission.Asked to differentiate himself from Ittner, a local restaurant owner, Speck said he is accustomed to working with large budgets in his present work as a title consultant. He also cited his tenure in the community and his work on the city P&Z.”It’s not a job you learn on the job, in my opinion,” he said of the commissioner post.Representative government means new faces, Ittner countered, pointing to his work as a small-business owner who is personally responsible for a payroll, and to the connections he makes with his employees and the public, as attributes that set him apart.”I will learn what I need to learn and do the work that needs to be done,” he said.Pressed on how he would improve the economy, Ittner pointed to the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, operated by the county, as a place where county government can help stimulate business.Airline subsidies – revenue guarantees offered by some resorts to secure airline service – is something “definitely worth exploring,” Ittner said after he was asked about the approach. The issue comes to the forefront with two of the three airlines that have served Aspen pulling out of the market.”If it made sense financially, and the voters approved it and wanted it, yes,” said Speck regarding the subsidies.Clapper said he’d support subsidies if the voters do; Johnson and Weiss said they don’t support subsidizing airline service.Johnson was asked to defend himself on Ordinance 30, a controversial measure he pushed forward as a city councilman, and was asked if he cares that some citizens take issue with his civility.Johnson said he feels no compunction about introducing Ordinance 30, aimed at protecting Aspen’s more modern buildings from demolition, but doesn’t believe it has any application in the unincorporated county.Some individuals misinterpret opposition as incivility, he added, and said he made a public apology to the one individual he did not treat with civility as a councilman.None of the candidates voiced opposition to the medical marijuana industry operating in the county.Asked to identify their “agenda” in a first term as commissioner, Clapper named being “as green as can be,” the budget, Highway 82 and the life of the county landfill as his priorities.Ittner pegged economic growth, fiscal responsibility and collaborative government.For Weiss, it was more jobs, including “green” jobs and senior housing.Johnson called for ending the boom-and-bust cycle based on real estate development and returning to a sustainable economy based in tourism, and arts and culture. He also said he supports wilderness and the Hidden Gems campaign, and he mentioned refocusing on worker housing and supporting health and human services.Speck said budget issues, particularly money for roads, plus health and human services, transportation, and a green economy, top his firstname.lastname@example.org
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Pitkin County administrators are proposing a more than $142 million budget for 2020, which is about $6 million less than this year because of fewer construction projects and capital improvements.