Council writes its headlines for next year |

Council writes its headlines for next year

Carolyn SackariasonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN City staff on Tuesday got marching orders for the next year after the City Council spent a day of priority and goal setting.Operating with a major focus of environmental stewardship for the next year, the council hammered out the top 10 goals it hopes to achieve in the next 12 months. The gathering, which included the managers of nearly every department in City Hall, was part of a two-day retreat at Aspen Meadows for the new City Council.With environmental stewardship as the foundation for all decisions, the council said it is committed to protecting the environment, building more affordable housing, coming up with short-term wins for traffic problems, and establishing more credibility and trust in the community, among other goals. In no particular order, the council – with the help of staff – will establish Aspen as an environmental leader and the costs associated with it; make the distinction that Aspen is a community first and a resort second; strengthen the relationship between staff and elected officials; better manage growth and construction; help locally serving businesses remain successful; and be accountable in spending the public’s money.City staff will solely take on the remaining two goals, which are to develop a long-term housing plan for city employees and create a facilities master plan to improve what Mayor Mick Ireland described as “abusive” working conditions in City Hall.”I don’t think we have told the public about the miserable conditions the staff works in,” he said. “These are people worth $150,000 a year working in closets.”City Manager Steve Barwick said he and the other department heads, referred throughout the day as the “leadership team,” will spend the next month figuring out who will be responsible for carrying out specific goals and how to handle the workload.The goals are based on key results council members established earlier in the day and want to see happen by next July. The council listed 12 different results they would like to achieve and from that discussion, about 40 goals were established. They were whittled down to the top 10 major areas of concern that the council will focus on.For city staff, their own major focus for the year is affordable housing. Without more of it in the near future, the government will not be able to recruit and maintain a qualified workforce, or offer acceptable level of services to the community, officials said.Council members agree that the affordable housing focus meshes well with environmental stewardship because just about every issue falls under it.”It has become an economic constraint in town,” Ireland said, adding that the lack of housing significantly contributes to traffic and sprawl because people are forced to commute from downvalley. “I think affordable housing is a critical and overlooked component of environmental stewardship.”As a result, city officials must start thinking about the impacts and pressures the resort is having on the town.”It’s a goal for me to make the resort second to the community,” Ireland said, adding that the tension between what the community needs and what the resort wants continues to grow. Requiring development projects to house at least 80 percent of the employees generated is a good start, he added.City Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss cautioned that pushing aside the resort send a negative message.”I don’t want to sow the notion that there is hostility,” he said. “The community comes first, but we support the resort.”The council is committed to building the second phase of housing at Burlingame Ranch, as well as research and pursue buying down property for workers, and borrow as much money as possible to purchase land with the assumption that real estate prices will continue to rise.To create more transparency in local government, elected officials suggested that the council avoid closed-door meetings as much as it can and do the public’s business more openly.”I don’t think the community has confidence in the process and in government” DeVilbiss said. “Executive meetings, the co-op process, emergency ordinances … put that behind us and do everything in a regular business manner.”An important goal for City Councilman Jack Johnson was to “stop the hemorrhaging” in town. He championed codifying the relationship between the rate of construction to the rate of growth by defining what the city’s buildout capacity is. He also took on establishing goals for keeping and attracting locally-serving businesses.And those goals will help strengthen Aspen in the community-resort equation, said City Councilman Steve Skadron.”Our general feeling is we are losing our community and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.Tim Ditzler, co-owner of a management consulting firm called “Your Best Year Yet,” facilitated the retreat. He asked council members to think about what “headlines” they want to create in the next year.”Is Aspen going to kill itself?” was one that came to mind for Johnson.It wasn’t until the end of the nine-hour brainstorming session that transportation, also referred to as the 900-pound gorilla in the room, came up. Ireland pointed out and council members agreed that a solution to the Entrance to Aspen isn’t something they think can be tackled anytime soon and shouldn’t be introduced again until the community is ready to do address it on its own.”We don’t have a real grasp on where the problem is coming from,” Ireland said. “We’re not making progress because we haven’t made progress in the other areas.”The council decided that incremental improvements like the recently approved exclusive bus lanes from Buttermilk to the roundabout are the most effective ways to alleviate traffic in the short term.City staff will continue to work on transportation issues, including identifying the sources of traffic, analyzing the costs of various options, forming a ballot question that asks voters to fund in-town transit services and presenting the council with pedestrian improvements on Main Street.Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is