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Elected or appointed?

Jeanne McGovern

The term “mayor” is derived from the Latin word maior, meaning “larger” or “greater,” according to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. In modern America, it is the title given to the highest-ranking municipal officer.But how the mayor gets to be the mayor, and the power (or lack thereof) vested in the position, is another matter.In many Colorado resort towns, voters elect a city council, whose members then appoint a mayor from within their ranks. For example, Bruce Christensen is mayor of Glenwood Springs. He’s a councilman who was selected by fellow council members to be mayor for a two-year term that ends in November. After this fall’s election, the new council will decide who should be mayor until the next council election in 2009. Vail and Avon operate under a similar system, although mayoral terms in those towns are for four years.In other towns, including Breckenridge, Frisco, Basalt and Aspen, the mayor is elected by the town’s citizens. Yet the mayor has no significant power beyond that of his or her fellow council members.For example, Aspen’s mayor is one of five elected members of the City Council. He or she has only one vote on issues before council. And while the city charter does assign additional duties to the mayor, they are limited to nuts-and-bolts work like setting meeting agendas, running meetings and interacting with the city manager; it is the same work an appointed mayor or chairman of a board would tackle.So does it benefit the citizens to elect a mayor, rather than having the city council choose their own leader? We asked Aspen’s mayoral candidates for their opinions.Tim Semrau: “The mayor is the coach of City Council, the one who keeps council on track and focused on the long-term goals of the community. Citizens vote for mayor knowing who is accountable for council management and agenda setting. Rotating an appointed mayor, with the required adjustment period for each new individual, would certainly distract from the important tasks at hand.”The mayor is also the symbolic representative of the city, and as such it is appropriate for the voters to have a clear choice on who represents them. An appointed rotating mayor would take away from citizens this important choice.”Mick Ireland: “People perceive — rightly or wrongly — that the mayor’s post is more important. They think the mayor can block the rest of the council, that if the mayor doesn’t want it to happen, then it’s not going to happen. But it’s just a perception; the mayor doesn’t have more than one vote. They do have more responsibility, to direct things, craft agendas, talk to people like the city manager. But I did the same thing as chairman [of the Board of Pitkin County Commissioners], and I think it can be done that way.”Also, because of this perception, council members and others seek the mayor’s job, which can create rivalry and a contentious board. For example, Helen Klanderud and Rachel Richard are both strong, capable mayors. But they were put in a position, every two years, to have to run against each other. Is that the best outcome?”Torre: “While it doesn’t matter to me, because as a councilman or mayor you still have to listen to the people and make the best decisions you can, I feel like it is easier for an elected mayor to be a real leader.”To be elected to office, as opposed to be appointed, is an incredible opportunity and vote of confidence. I believe it allows the mayor to be a true leader, because the position has been legitimized by the voters.”Bonnie Behrend: “I am not a fan of appointing a mayor in Aspen now or at any time. We like having a voice and a vote and we like the small town impact of both. If you appoint a mayor, you’ll get political cronies with insider job security agendas choosing your mayor. That may be what political cronies want but not what voters want.”I can’t tell you how many people encouraged me to run, telling me they didn’t like the choices, the history of decision-makers or decisions. Many are terribly unhappy with what is going on in Aspen. While they didn’t like the choices, not one said they wanted to lose the chance to choose.”


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