Councilman’s professional work with STRs still doesn’t pose conflict, Aspen city attorney says
Aspen City Councilman Skippy Mesirow was able to vote on regulating the very vacation-rental industry he works in because he, his relatives, and his employer would not directly benefit from the legislation, according to the city attorney.
Verbal claims of conflict of interest over his voting on STR legislation surfaced this week against Mesirow, a first-term city councilman who also is general manager of the Aspen operation of SkyRun Vacation Rental, which is based in Broomfield.
In an interview Wednesday, hours before he joined his other four council members in voting favorably for Ordinance 27, Mesirow said SkyRun manages two rental properties within Aspen city limits and he personally owns a short-term vacation rental outside of Aspen. Mesirow’s personal and professional endeavors in the STR business did not preclude him from voting on legislation related to his line of work, he said.
“My direct compensation is not affected by the outcome of this,” Mesirow said, noting he was fully intent on voting for the ordinance, which upon its passage immediately halted the filing of applications for short-term rental licenses while making existing permits effective through Sept. 30.
Mesirow said STR legislation is “not something I shy away from and the reality is, I feel lucky to have intimate knowledge of this space, and I don’t feel conflicted.”
His role as both an elected policymaker and the operator of a vacation-rental management company previously was addressed in October 2020, which is when the City Council held two hearings about requiring owners of individual units to obtain both a business license and STR permit if they rent the units out for fewer than 30 days. Mesirow was part of the council that Oct. 13, 2020, adopted the legislation to better track the overall inventory of SRT units and also to capture a previously untapped source of sales and lodging tax revenue.
At that time, True concluded Mesirow was not conflicted by voting on the matter. That position had not changed this week, True said.
Aspen City Council chambers was overflowing with people Wednesday when the council cast their final vote passing the ordinance. Speaker after speaker blasted the legislation that also placed a moratorium on residential and commercial development. Aspen real estate broker Joshua Landis was among them, and he raised the issue of Mesirow, saying “this process is flawed.”
“And I want to bring up the one thing that I think needs to be brought up that hasn’t been brought up yet,” Landis said. “And it’s a council member who I respect and like very much. But the one who more than any other councilman pushed this through to the forefront and considered this an emergency is also someone who works in the vacation rental industry and has 15 properties under management in our valley currently and works for a national company that manages short-term rentals for absentee owners largely.”
Landis’ remarks prompted a cry of “recuse yourself!” from an audience member directed toward Mesirow. People responded with applause.
Mesirow countered that the issue has been replayed and “we are all aware and have talked about that dynamic, and it’s top of mind as we work through this.” At Wednesday’s meeting Mesirow also said he disclosed his professional and personal work with STRs during the City Council’s Tuesday meeting.
He was referring to his statement: “I mean, thank you, guys, all so much for coming in and this is (STR business) space that I understand pretty intimately. I work in the space. I’ve worked on affordable housing issues for years. I own an STR in another space. I understand that when this is your job, it can feel very rushed and very abutting. So I just want to add a little bit of context, which is to say, if you haven’t had time to sit through all these meetings, I think the council understands the complexity of this issue.”
During an interview with The Aspen Times, Mesirow echoed True’s point that he was not conflicted because the general applicability of Ordinance 27.
“It’s the same way that council members own their houses and are eligible for STR permits,” he said.
In an email to The Aspen Times this week, True said: “Although his employer may or may not benefit from the action, just as any councilor who is a homeowner may or may not benefit in the paving of the streets of the city even in front of their house, and in this case, it is unclear as to whether or not his employer would benefit from the legislation, it is a matter of general applicability. Consequently, I could find no basis to require him to recuse himself.”
Landis said companies like SkyRun, which also has six units it manages in Snowmass Village, according to its website, have an advantage over real estate companies and private homeowners who use services like Airbnb. SkyRun also partners with Airbnb, Vrbo and HomeAway, among other companies.
“If you want to be honest about this situation, there is no better example than Skippy’s company,” Landis wrote in an email to members of City Council, claiming that “they have a whole team of software engineers and marketing staff working to optimize their performance. They have an amazing business model. Local home owners can’t compete, real estate offices can’t compete.”
According to the company’s website, “Currently, SkyRun is a rapidly growing multi-location organization with over 950 properties in over 35 locations. We have created the sweet spot in vacation rental management by combining the advantages of local ownership and management with the efficiencies, power, and support of a national brand.”
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
The Winter X Games return to Aspen and this year the fans are back, as well. After going without spectators in 2021, fans are welcome for the compressed three-day event, which starts Friday morning.