Council issued parking passes
Aspen’s City Council members were issued free parking passes this week for the area behind City Hall – but they’re only to be used when members are on “official city business” in the building.
The passes are not good anywhere else in town “unless you are on official city business,” said City Manager Amy Margerum in a memo to the council.
The passes, the first ever issued to the city’s elected officials, were handed out at the request of newly elected Councilman Tom McCabe, Margerum said Monday.
McCabe, who lives on Aspen’s east side and works at his own business near the intersection of Mill and Puppy Smith streets in town, said he asked for the pass because of the number and irregularity of the meetings he must attend.
McCabe said he recently received the only parking ticket he has ever gotten when he “did some improvisational parking” in order to get to a council meeting when there were no spaces open behind City Hall and none in sight on the street.
For the crime of parking too close to the bicycle rack behind the building, he said, he was ticketed, and he wasn’t happy. So he went to Margerum to see if there was something that could be done.
“She said, `Well, you’re city officials, you’re supposed to walk, or bike . you’re not supposed to drive your cars. It’s politically incorrect.’ So I said, City Council people have virtually no benefits … no health care, nothing,” he recalled. And then he asked about the parking permit idea, which Margerum said she could arrange.
“We got a perk, and I like it, and I’m not going to give it up,” McCabe said with a chuckle. “It might be politically incorrect, but I don’t want to pay parking tickets because I’m doing my civic duty.”
He explained that, as a business owner, he finds it difficult to leave his shop in advance of meetings that often are held at inopportune times of the day, or to pick up official documents or other information generated by the city’s staff.
“Our regularly scheduled meetings, it’s not a problem,” he said, adding, “I don’t think it’s a big abuse of anything, because it’s one of those things where City Council people never get any breaks.”
McCabe added he tries “to be good” and uses his car as little as possible. “But I’ll take whatever heat comes down over being politically incorrect in this.”
It could not be determined if the other council members are likely to use their passes. Mayor Rachel Richards is in Japan on city business, and council members Jim Markalunas and Terry Paulson could not be reached for comment.
Council member Tony Hershey, however, indicated he probably will not use his pass.
“I really don’t want it and I have no intention of using it,” he said, adding that he believes Markalunas and Paulson also will not use theirs much, if at all.
But Hershey agreed that some may need it, “particularly Tom. He has a business to run. And Rachel runs between a lot of different meetings.”
In general, though, he concluded, “I don’t see why, for a community that’s trying to encourage mass transit, there’s a need for this.”
Parking director Tim Ware said that although there never has been a request for such a parking pass in his tenure as the city’s parking czar, there was once an “official car” sticker handed out to city officials “back in the days of the 90-minute limit.” But he ended that practice when paid parking was inaugurated, he said.
He said it is unlikely the council members’ passes will lead to abuse, because it’s only good for the City Hall parking lot and only for when the council is in a meeting of some sort.
“It doesn’t mean they can park there and go skiing, or shopping or have lunch. No meeting, no pass.”
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City of Aspen officials are trying to figure out what the downtown core looks like this winter as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in the state and in some parts of the country.