County to cut cost of President’s visit |

County to cut cost of President’s visit

Is Pitkin County obligated to spend thousands of dollars on presidential security at a time when the county has been forced to cut funding to local charitable organizations?

That’s the question the Pitkin County Commissioners are facing as the July date of President Clinton’s fund-raising visit approaches. Clinton will be in Aspen from July 23-25; he is not expected to make any public appearances.

The commissioners agreed Tuesday with representatives of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department that the local expenditures for presidential security should be cut to the bone.

County Undersheriff Lorrie White told commissioners that her department “learned volumes” from its experience providing security for President Clinton’s visit last year. She said the department hopes to cut expenditures from the $22,000 spent last year to around $10,000, partly by cutting the number of officers brought in from out of town.

“We don’t have any legal obligation to do anything, as far as I’ve been able to determine,” White said. But the department does have a responsibility to its citizens to minimize disruption caused by the visit, she said.

For instance, if the president wants to go to McDonald’s, they would cordon off the restaurant, but forego blocking off Wagner Park across the street.

Investigator Joe DiSalvo, who will be in charge of the security detail provided by the Sheriff’s Department, told the commissioners there’s room for negotiation with the U.S. Secret Service, which provides security for the president.

During last summer’s visit, Secret Service officials requested local officials to empty all the streets within a three-block radius around the house where the president was staying, DiSalvo said. He eventually negotiated the closure down to a one-block radius.

However, DiSalvo said the presidential visit simply demands a lot of law enforcement attention, in crowd control and security. “The way I look at it is, it’s a nonstop parade for the full time he’s here.” The presidential party has a “rolling impact” as it moves from location to location, he said.

DiSalvo said he’s called for volunteers to man roadblocks and street closures, but the request has so far resulted in a grand total of one response.

Interim airport manager Dave Gordon told the commissioners the airport staff is also striving to reduce impacts on the airport.

Presidential security officials last year asked that the air space be free of other takeoffs and landings for one hour. But airport records show that only a 15-minute quiet period was maintained before and after the president’s flights. He said the intent is to repeat that plan.

Commission Chairwoman Leslie Lamont said the commissioners don’t want to spend any more for security than absolutely necessary. She said last year’s event didn’t net any complaints about inconvenience, but complaints were received about spending public funds to support the presidential fund-raising visit, which is a private affair.

Commissioner Shellie Roy Harper noted that the president would be collecting millions of dollars in campaign funds while he’s here, while at the same time the county is cutting money for nonprofit groups due to lack of revenue.

“It’s ludicrous,” Harper said, “when we’re telling the Basalt Eye Care Center we can’t give them any more money,”

County manager Suzanne Konchan said that while the county doesn’t have a great legal obligation to protect the president, it still has the duty to protect its citizens and maintain order in the face of the disruption the visit would bring.

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