Conflict to affect review of major Basalt project
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
BASALT – A Basalt councilman and mayoral candidate won’t participate this spring in reviewing the biggest development proposal to come through the town in several years because of a conflict of interest.
Councilman Glenn Rappaport said he worked as a consultant to help prepare the redevelopment plan for the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park. The nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. wants to replace the trailer park with a hotel, retail shops, restaurants, housing and a campus for nonprofit organizations. The proposal must include a plan to provide replacement housing for the 38 mobile home that will be removed from the site. The property is in the heart of Basalt between Midland Avenue and Taqueria el Nopal.
Michael McVoy, president of the development group, said Rappaport and architect Harry Teague were hired to work with a land-use planning consultant on the master plan for the property.
Councilwoman Karin Teague is married to Harry Teague. She has disqualified herself in the past from council deliberations and votes when her husband worked on the application. She couldn’t be reached for comment on whether she will disqualify herself from voting on the current application.
“We went into it fully aware it puts Glenn in conflict and potentially puts Karin Teague in conflict,” McVoy said. “Our eyes were wide open.”
Rappaport said his path was clear from the moment the developer hired him as a consultant.
“If there are issues that I am directly involved in, I won’t vote on them,” he said. He also will refrain from presenting information to the council or deliberating with the board, he said.
Rappaport said he will still be able to fulfill his role as an elected official even though he cannot review the Pan and Fork redevelopment. Disqualifying himself from review of the application means missing a few agenda items “every now and then,” he said.
McVoy said CDC put out a request for proposals last fall for planners and architects. Rappaport and Teague were among those who responded and were interviewed. His team weighed the “benefits and consequences” of hiring Rappaport and Teague as consultants. They concluded it was valuable to get their input during creation of the master plan for the property, even if it meant Rappaport and Karin Teague cannot vote on the project.
While it might sound arrogant, McVoy said, his team expects to earn unanimous approval for their proposal. It won’t hinge on one swing vote, he predicted.
Rappaport probably worked for eight to 10 hours a week on the CDC property master plan for “a month or two” in late fall, according to McVoy. Neither Rappaport nor Teague are on retainer by CDC. Their work as consultants is finished. “They’re not making any decisions,” McVoy said.
CDC’s proposal for a zoning change and land-use plan will likely be submitted to the town of Basalt next week, according to McVoy. The review won’t start until after the April 3 election.
Rappaport is two years into a four-year council term. He intends to run for mayor. Current Mayor Leroy Duroux will be forced out by term limits. So far, the only other candidate for mayor is Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt.
Rappaport said he relishes opportunities to work on vital community projects such as the Pan and Fork redevelopment. He said it is important to him to be able to sit on either side of the table – as part of the planning team or while reviewing a project as an elected official – and follow the same principles. In this case, he felt he could play a more vital role helping form the master plan and disqualifying himself as a council member.
“That’s my contribution,” he said of working on the Pan and Fork master plan, “not being on the council.”
When asked if voters would care that he choose to work on the application rather than participate in reviewing it, he replied, “Well, that’s up to them.”
Basalt doesn’t have any ethics provision in its Home Rule Charter that addresses an elected official accepting a job for a project in advance of that project coming before the council. Sam Mamet, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, an association for the state’s cities and towns, said he was unaware of any such regulations in Colorado. The city of Aspen’s Home Rule Charter doesn’t address elected officials taking a job on a project that will come before the council.
“Welcome to the world of small towns,” Mamet said. “There are going to be times when this arises, innocently or otherwise.”
Towns want professionals such as architects, lawyers and doctors to serve on their councils, he said. On the other hand, accepting work on a project that will come before the board falls into an area “where there are many shades of gray,” Mamet said.
“It’s not clear cut, but because it’s not clear cut, it’s not necessarily wrong,” he said.
The elected official and the town residents will decide if it passes their stink test, according to Mamet. That’s what he expects in Basalt.
“At the end of the day, it will be the court of public opinion that will decide this and that will be on April 3,” Mamet said.
The town of Basalt doesn’t have its own regulations on conflict of interest by elected officials. It relies on state statute for guidance. Section 24-18-109 of the Colorado Revised Statutes says an elected official cannot “perform an official act directly and substantially affecting to its economic benefit a business or other undertaking in which he either has a substantial financial interest or is engaged as counsel, consultant, representative, or agent.”
Rappaport will comply with that provision by recusing himself from the vote. McVoy said he believes the concept of a conflict should be challenged on the Pan and Fork redevelopment. In a way, all of Town Hall has a conflict, he said.
CDC acquired the mobile home park and 5.3 acres of land in August for $3.25 million. It immediately sold 2.9 acres to the town of Basalt for $1.2 million. The town will turn that land into a park along the banks of the Roaring Fork River.
The town government needs CDC to fulfill its vision with the park, McVoy noted, and CDC’s project will depend heavily on the town creating that riverside park.
Therefore, McVoy said, the project is a public-private partnership. He insisted Rappaport’s participation with the council on the application would be invaluable despite his work on the application.
“Ironically enough, what may be best for the community may be illegal,” McVoy said.
This isn’t the first time Rappaport has been at the center of a conflict issue while serving Basalt. He was elected to the council in 1994 and served a four-year term. He won re-election in April 1998 but resigned in June, in part over a controversy over an alleged conflict of interest. Rappaport represented the then-owners of the Rebekah Lodge on Homestead Avenue. He asked to represent his clients on one specific topic of their application. There were no objections from other council members, so he addressed his point, then left the room. Some observers later criticized Rappaport, contending it was improper for him to address the council.
Rappaport ran for Basalt mayor in 2000, but came in third in a three-man field. He made a successful bid for council in 2004. In that campaign, he addressed the conflict controversy of 1998.
“As a citizen and a board member, I did my best to understand what the rules were and acted in a way that I believe respected those rules. It is not easy to define the limits of what someone will perceive. I have learned a valuable lesson,” Rappaport read from a statement in a March 2004 candidates’ debate.