Hosts of Clinton affair chosen despite pool past
When President Bill Clinton’s handlers selected the Red Mountain home of Mel and Bren Simon for a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser last weekend, they did it with the full knowledge that the Simons had been at the heart of a local land-use controversy two years ago.
But those in charge of Clinton’s visit concluded the controversy had “been resolved amicably,” and was no longer a bone of contention in the community, according to Pitkin County Democratic Party Chairwoman Camilla Auger.
In 1995, the Simons built a swimming pool partially on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, as well as a basketball court that was outside the “building envelope” approved by local officials and thus illegal, although it was not on public land.
When the encroachment was discovered and reported by a local newspaper in mid-1997, it also was revealed that the Simons had twice tried to get title to the public land where they wanted to build their pool but failed, and then went ahead and built the pool anyway.
The story prompted considerable local outrage when the BLM offered to let the Simons keep their pool if they would consent to a “land exchange” in which the Simons would buy a piece of privately owned land and place it in public ownership. Such a deal, local citizens and officials felt, would be an indication that wealthy people can buy their way out of any legal difficulty, while the less affluent would likely face criminal prosecution or other sanctions.
In the end, the BLM ordered the pool torn out, and a BLM official confirmed this week that the pool is gone.
“The pool has been removed,” said BLM realty specialist Vaughn Hackett in Glenwood Springs. “They’ve done everything that we asked them to do, they restored the land, and we’ve closed the case file.”
Pitkin County officials, who took the Simons to court over the violations of land-use regulations, said the basketball court also is now gone.
Auger, who was away from Aspen at the time the controversy heated up in 1997, but recalls hearing all about it, said this week that she did not make the connection between the pool controversy and the presidential party until a reporter called her to ask about it.
And while she initially assumed the national DNC had not known about the controversy, a few phone calls indicated otherwise.
“Everyone thought it had been resolved amicably,” she said of the party officials she spoke to, although she conceded some locals may still harbor some resentments about it. She said she was not consulted about the location of the fund-raising luncheon, but added, “I’m not sure I would have caught it.”
Acknowledging that the Simons’ house may not have been the best choice, from a local public relations standpoint, she said, “It’s always preferable to choose a location that is not controversial at any level.”
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