Death of DeVilbiss leaves emptiness
September 20, 2008
ASPEN ” When the Aspen City Council meets Monday night, there will be an empty chair where one of the most respected public servants had sat for the past 31⁄2 years.
According to the city charter, the council has 30 days to fill the seat of City Councilman J.E. DeVilbiss, who died of natural causes on Thursday night at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. He was 73 years old.
DeVilbiss, the presiding judge at the Pitkin County Courthouse from 1980 until his retirement in 2002, won by a landslide in the 2005 City Council election; his term was up next June.
In the next week, the City Council will begin the process to appoint someone to fill his position. That process involves advertising for the position and then the council interviewing applicants. The council’s remaining four members ” Dwayne Romero, Steve Skadron, Jack Johnson and Mayor Mick Ireland ” will have to reach a majority vote on the new councilperson.
Qualifications for a council member require that applicants “shall be an elector of the city and a citizen of the United States for at least one year and shall have resided in the city of Aspen for at least one year,” according to the city’s home rule charter.
Applicants also can’t be employed by the city or perform professional services for the city, according to the charter.
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Aspen City Council members are paid $1,700 a month, or $20,040 a year, plus health benefits.
The appointment will likely become political as a small but vocal group of government critics has been staging battle with the current council over its slow-growth policies and approach to developing affordable housing.
DeVilbiss represented the working class of Aspen, and felt downtown buildings should be as low as 28 feet, according to his colleagues. He voted similarly to Johnson and Ireland, which often led to majority votes on key land-use decisions.
“He voted his conscious,” said City Attorney John Worcester. “I never saw him advance any personal agenda.”
City Clerk Kathryn Koch said in her 39 years in the position, there has never been a vacancy on the council due to a death. However, there has been four vacancies due to resignations during Koch’s tenure ” Nina Johnson, Marty Hershey, Max Marolt and Rachel Richards. The latter three resigned in their pursuit to take other elected positions. Johnson resigned due to illness.
DeVilbiss, who was prompted to run for city office over the opposition to Burlingame Ranch affordable housing development located off Highway 82 near Buttermilk, was considered a mentor to many who knew him as a judge and a councilman.
DeVilbiss began his judicial career as a Garfield County Judge from 1972 to 1976. From 1976 through 2002, he was the District Judge for the 9th Judicial District for Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties.
“His commitment to this town lasted more than 40 years,” Johnson said. “J.E. worked so the town could exist for the ‘average working stiff’ and his decisions reflected that view. His candor, honesty, and straightforwardness will be sorely missed.”