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Council to give trust a try

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen City Councilman Terry Paulson stopped short Monday of calling for a ban on discussions among council members outside the public forum, but said he wants to be kept in the loop.

Council members, convened at The Aspen Institute for the first day of a two-day retreat, agreed to open the lines of communication, but told Paulson he’d have to be more forthcoming, as well.

Paulson, during his unsuccessful mayoral bid last spring, accused his colleagues of engaging in back-room politics and deciding issues in advance of public discussions.

“If someone’s trying to build a coalition, I want to know about it,” he said yesterday.

“There obviously is a level of distrust on this council currently,” said Mayor Helen Klanderud. “That has to be dealt with. Without [trust], things get strained and uncomfortable.”

With the election of two new members in May, the council agreed Monday to start afresh, but Paulson called for a mechanism to keep each other abreast of conversations that take place outside council chambers.

“I don’t think there is one,” said Councilman Torre. “It’s trust.”

“If you don’t know where I stand, and you want to know, you can ask me,” Klanderud added.

What Paulson has perceived as “precooked” council votes were simply votes that didn’t go his way when the debate was done, said Councilman Tim Semrau.

Semrau pressed Paulson for a commitment to divulge his ties with factions of the community on various issues, hinting that Paulson has sided with a group of citizens that may take the city’s proposed infill legislation to a referendum if the council adopts the zoning amendments.

“You need to share with us your plotting with citizen groups,” Semrau said.

“You need to tell us what you’ve got going on as an equal part of trust,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards agreed.

“I have no problem with that,” Paulson said.

While council members generally indicated they’d keep their colleagues informed about “significant” conversations they have with each other on issues, Klanderud balked when Paulson said he wants to know what’s said when something’s whispered during a council meeting.

“If I ask Helen if she wants a cup of coffee, you want to know about that?” Semrau asked.

“I am not willing to make this commitment,” Klanderud said. “I think we have to find another way to develop trust among one another.”

The council did agree to set aside occasional time at its work sessions when individuals can bring up ideas and seek input.

Members will reconvene today at 4 p.m. in the Stranahan Room at the institute. Discussion topics are expected to include the council’s vision for accomplishments over the next two years and such specific issues as youth activities, the housing program, arts funding, employee recruitment and retention, and environmental issues.

Klanderud said she’d also like the council to address what it would like to do with the infill proposals, which have been under discussion by various bodies for more than two years, including a number of council debates.

“We need to make a decision on this, folks,” she said. “This whole infill process, at this point, is totally dysfunctional. We need to find a better way to approach that.”

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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