Council battle results in full ballot this fall
Accusations of deliberate manipulation and ambush have led to five transportation questions that will be presented to Aspen voters this fall.
One ballot question will ask city voters if they would fund a rail system from Aspen to the airport for $20 million. A second ballot question will ask voters if they would support a permanent, dedicated busway from Buttermilk to Aspen for $16 million.
In addition, three advisory questions regarding transportation will be posed to voters. The advisory questions would not commit city funds and would only serve “to give direction” to the City Council on issues such as limiting traffic and possibly adding another parking garage.
There was no overwhelming support from the council for any of the questions that will be appearing in November. Aside from the rail initiative, which was driven by a citizens petition, the other four transit questions passed by a 3-2 margin.
What particularly distinguished this series of approvals was the comments of mistrust and the rancor council members threw at one another. The alliances of the new guard vs. the old were clearly visible, and each side was not shy about questioning the other’s motives.
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Both camps frequently contended that the other was advancing personal agendas to “intentionally mislead the public” and was “doing a great disservice to the community.” The discourse even degenerated into accusations of “guerrilla tactics” and veiled threats.
At one point Councilman Tom McCabe suggested that some council members should open a deli to sell the “baloney” they were dishing out. And Jim Markalunas and Terry Paulson advised “two people on council” to ask themselves whose interests they were looking out for.
But the strongest words were directed at Mayor Rachel Richards for bringing the advisory questions to a vote on the same night the questions were introduced, saying she “ambushed” certain members of the council.
“I’ve never seen such biased language in my life” said Councilman Tony Hershey. “I think this is the most unfair thing I’ve seen in Aspen politics in my 24 years here.”
All the transportation questions were approved by Richards, Markalunas, and Paulson. Hershey and McCabe voted to deny each question, except the petition-driven rail initiative.
Members of the public were divided evenly between the two camps on council. In addition, a third contingency suggested the council put aside all the transit ballot questions until more was learned about potential state funding.
County Commissioner Mick Ireland implored the council to call a truce until the state and the downvalley constituents had a say in the matter.
“I’m here to really plead that you have a cease-fire so there can be an opportunity to bring forward a fully developed rail question – with operating costs, cooperation of the downvalley, and support of CDOT,” Ireland said. “Let’s allow time to deliberate and say definitively, `Yes, I want rail,’ or `Yes, I want a four-lane highway.'”
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After 14 years, a lengthy lawsuit by area residents and nearly $4 million in construction costs, a half-mile trail to two school campuses in the Castle Creek Valley was finally completed this week.