Foes take aim at Aspen mayor, council
October 25, 2011
ASPEN – Monday night’s Aspen City Council meeting offered proof that Mayor Mick Ireland and council members won’t be joining hands with their critics around a campfire and singing “Kumbaya” anytime soon.
The mayor, and at times, the council at large, was hammered from the meeting’s onset. The issues ranged from the recent vote to ban grocery stores from giving away plastic bags to customers at checkout, to the city’s decision to appeal a lawsuit ruling that favored a political activist’s request to view ballots that were cast in past city elections.
Respectively, Ireland foes Elizabeth Milias and Marilyn Marks brought those complaints early during the “citizen comments” portion of the meeting. Some council members and the mayor appeared to reply bitterly and with sarcasm over the perceived anger.
Later, several opponents of the city’s proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric project spoke against resolutions and an ordinance that seek to move the plans forward, also raising the mayor’s ire. The council will hold a full public hearing on those proposals at its Nov. 28 meeting.
Milias, who said she was out of town during the Oct. 10 public hearing and vote on the plastic-bag ban, criticized the council for passing an ordinance that she said will have little effect on the overall use and production of plastic bags for Aspen’s residents and visitors.
The ban goes into effect on May 1. It applies only to Aspen’s two grocery stores, City Market and Clark’s Market, not other retailers. Milias brought several large plastic bags to the meeting, ones she said were distributed by local retailers not affected by the ban. She compared them with the size of the grocery bags, which unlike some of the other bags, are recyclable.
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Councilman Torre, a strong supporter of the bag ban, took up for the city with regard to Milias’ remarks.
“I guess because Elizabeth has opened the bag, so to speak, Elizabeth, I want to kind of thank you, because truly the initiative that was started at this table was to get rid of most of the bags that were in your hands,” he said. “I appreciate that you just listed several places that are still utilizing plastic bags. And I hope they are going to start, on their own initiative, to decrease the usage of those.”
Torre said the bag ban was a small step in the right direction toward getting rid of the environmentally unfriendly bags. He said he would rather not pass legislation on the issue, but that studies show that neither the bag manufacturers and retail industries, nor most of the public, has shown a willingness to change.
“I don’t think we need to legislate choices like this; this is something I think most people should kind of wake up to,” Torre said. “There are biodegradable alternatives out there, and they are suppressed in this country. Hopefully other [communities] and businesses will fall in line, and hopefully [legislative actions] won’t need to come from the table like this.
“Unfortunately those choices are slow to come, and I’m just trying to help that process along,” Torre added.
Marks – who is suing the city over the right to view ballot images from the 2009 election in which she was defeated by Ireland – asked if the council had acted to authorize lawyers to file an appeal to the state Supreme Court. An appellate court ruled in her favor on Sept. 29. In an executive session a week later, the council decided to appeal the ruling.
“I [have been] unable to get a clear answer on whether you have acted to make that authorization,” Marks said.
“Given that you are in litigation with us, and given what appears to me … an attempt to get something on the record from the council that could be used against us later, I have to defer to counsel,” Ireland responded.
“I received the direction I needed at that meeting,” City Attorney John Worcester said of the executive session.
Ireland told Marks that there was no individual vote to appeal. It was a collective council decision.
“I trust that there will be [a vote] before you appeal the case,” Marks said, adding that her primary goal is to have a “public policy debate” on the issue.
She said the city’s Election Committee will meet Nov. 1 to discuss her request to view “anonymous ballots” from the city’s May 2011 election.
Councilman Steve Skadron expressed displeasure with the Monday meeting’s atmosphere of negativity, saying he felt “beaten up.”
“I feel like it’s the Nixon administration, 1972, here,” Skadron said. “We’re just a bunch of local guys, we’re sitting here at these meetings, and trying to make really good decisions. And the rest of the time we’re out there, we’re just one of you, Marilyn. … Not necessarily you, Marilyn.”
Ireland said the council’s decisions might be right or wrong, but they aren’t “evil” like the opponents make them out to be.
“We’re trying to do some good for the community and I look out into the room and I see stern faces and crossed arms as if I were contemplating doing something really evil,” he said. “They don’t warrant the kind of anger I see and hear and feel and get in my emails. It’s just not appropriate. It’s not productive. It doesn’t persuade me, it doesn’t influence me. It’s divisive.”
Ireland said a healthy discourse over the issues would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that the city is getting sued over the hydro project and also the question of allowing the public to view ballot images. He said it doesn’t make sense to file lawsuits against the city and then expect the city to engage in meaningful public discourse over possible compromises.
“We should be having a discussion about how the Legislature regulates ballots. We should have public meetings about how we do hydro. But what do we have? We have litigation. ‘We’re gonna make you do something. We’re gonna punish you if you don’t do our bidding.’
“Frankly, I’m tired of it. But that’s just me. Maybe other people enjoy litigation and enjoy writing angry emails to me at 2 in the morning,” Ireland said.
In official business, the city approved a resolution to seek a license for a “minor water power project,” a designation that would require more stringent environmental review of the Castle Creek hydropower facility. The resolution makes official a decision that the council reached last spring.
A Snowmass Village mediator, along with some opponents of the project who support a lawsuit against the city, said he wanted the council to table the hydropower issue entirely so that more debate and research on the controversial matter could take place.
Ireland called the request a delay tactic meant to ensure that more time passes so that critics can bolster the argument that time has expired on the city’s water rights for Castle and Maroon creeks.
The hydro project will be open to further scrutiny at the council’s Nov. 28 public hearing.