For Mayor Skadron, 2018 was a year of accomplishments among doses of criticism
For Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron, 2018 was a tumultuous year as his proudest accomplishments were also the ones that put a target on his back with his biggest critics.
Skadron makes no apologies for the projects and initiatives that he championed this past year, regardless of the blowback he’s received as a result.
Construction on the Castle Creek Bridge is arguably the single biggest project that drew the ire of the masses. But Skadron shrugged that off, saying the work was necessary no matter how inconvenient the four-month project was.
“I don’t know if I’ve had more rage delivered to me to for bringing safety to this aging infrastructure,” Skadron said last week in an annual end-of-the-year interview with The Aspen Times.
The mayor explained that improvements to the deck bridge were long overdue.
“We fixed the drainage underneath so now it doesn’t need to be closed every spring and fall to be repaired,” he said. “It was 40 years overdue.”
Even when he tried to explain that over the course of the project, which snarled traffic coming into and going out of town in April, May, September and October, it didn’t matter.
“The most furious people were commuters,” Skadron said, adding people threatened to recall him and used terms like “emperor” in referring to his rule over Aspen.
“You have to laugh it off,” he said of people’s anger. “I’m tuned in to people’s expressions but then you have to filter it out.”
Skadron had to heavily rely on those filtering skills this past year during the city’s pursuit to roll out this summer’s mobility lab, which is a $3 million experiment to see if monetary incentives and alternative transit options will get people out of their cars.
The three-month experiment, called SHIFT, aspires to get 800 cars off the road each day from June to September.
Council was poised to sign an $800,000 contract with Lyft last month but a majority of the board acquiesced to angry limo and taxi drivers, as well as bike shop owners, who said it would cut into their business.
Skadron was in the minority on that vote, remaining firm in his belief that the overall community wants alternative transit options and solutions to the traffic problem at the entrance to Aspen.
“It’s incumbent on all council members to listen to all of their constituents,” he said. “I’ve learned that council responds to the loudest voices in the room.”
He noted the community’s values center around having a pedestrian- and bike-friendly town, as outlined in the Aspen Area Community Plan.
“I ran on a platform and the community elected me for it,” Skadron said, adding he could’ve done nothing in his last year in office but feels he would be doing a disservice to his constituents. “I’m a third-term mayor and won with 83 percent of the vote.”
He said some version of SHIFT will roll out this summer; it’s just a matter of political will among his colleagues, two of whom are running for mayor and an incumbent looking to save his council seat in the March election.
SHIFT was supposed to happen in the summer of 2018 but the planning and funding for it hit several snags.
“Unfortunately it got into the election cycle,” Skadron said.
Council makes around 200 decisions a year, Skadron noted, and while many of them fly under the radar some end up under a microscope.
One of those that sucked council’s energy in 2018 was the legal battle over the city’s plan to build a new office building between Rio Grande Park and Galena Plaza.
Council worked out a settlement deal with the plaintiffs who sued the city in 2017 because they wanted citizens to vote on the 37,500-square-foot project.
As part of the settlement, the project went to a public vote this past November in which voters affirmed their desire for the city to construct the building.
Skadron said he feels vindication but the entire process cost taxpayers roughly $5 million in escalated construction prices and legal fees.
Another accomplishment of 2018 was inking a public-private partnership to build 45 rental apartments at three city-owned properties.
And even though he caught a lot of grief for it, Skadron said the city’s new logo that cost $60,000 was on the list of accomplishments for 2018.
“Are you kidding me?” he said. “The logo, while it is expensive, it’s an integral part of our communication plan for a $200 million organization with 300 employees.”
Skadron said having the city work with Holy Cross Energy to get renewable energy into its portfolio and addressing governance issues with the local affordable housing program also are notable achievements in 2018.
He said his biggest disappointment of the year is the city’s failure to communicate with the public on various initiatives, plans and projects.
To address the communication breakdown, the city has created a new position of communications director, which is expected to be filled early this year.
“We have a constant battle with public outreach,” Skadron said. “What I’ve realized is it doesn’t matter what you do.”
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A proposed workforce housing project at the Snowmass Water and Sanitation District could turn a decommissioned facility into several apartments for employee use.