Ill will remains in Farris’ territory | AspenTimes.com
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Ill will remains in Farris’ territory

Allyn Harvey

Some of the hardest feelings left over from the election earlier this month belong to the former candidates for the District 5 county commissioner seat.

Dorothea Farris, the incumbent, won with support from more than 60 percent of the electorate, but the alienation that continues between her, her opponent Martin Fiala and some of his supporters is palpable.

“I think there are other commissioners who have done a lot more to represent Redstone than Dorothea Farris,” Fiala said Tuesday. “Mick Ireland, for instance, went the extra mile to get the community a new bridge.”

Fiala’s remark contrasts sharply with the post-election rhetoric in District 3, which includes Snowmass Village and Old Snowmass. The outcome there was much closer, with Jack Hatfield defeating John Young by less than 2 percent, but that contest has turned out to be much tamer – both before and after the election.

Except for a flap over Hatfield’s post-election vow to remain on the Snowmass Village Town Council until the Aspen Skiing Company submits plans to build retail, residential and tourist accommodations at the bottom of Fanny Hill, there’s been little public comment on the outcome of the District 3 race.

Farris, on the other hand, has been the subject of several angry letters to the editor in local newspapers.

“Dorothea Farris’ statement last week in The Aspen Times regarding her feelings about the platform of her opponent in the election, Martin Fiala, only serves to reconfirm the arrogance she brings to the BOCC,” wrote Redstone resident Eric Yoder in a letter published on Nov. 16.

The statement Yoder is referring to is Farris’ election-night comment on Fiala’s platform. “I heard nothing that struck me as something we need to address, because he didn’t bring anything up worth addressing,” she said of Fiala’s campaign.

Yoder’s letter continues by noting that the people who voted for Fiala thought change was needed, and if she holds his views in such light regard, “then the views of the majority of people in Redstone must really be at the bottom of her agenda.”

On a variety of issues, the race in District 5 highlighted some of the stark differences between the 60 percent who supported Farris and Ireland and the 40 percent who voted against them. Fiala’s most vocal backers don’t buy into Farris’ vision on transportation, an issue near and dear to her, nor do they agree with her support for onerous backcountry zoning.

But, as is clear from her election-night quote, it’s not differences over the issues that get under Farris’ skin, it’s statements like those made by Yoder.

“I don’t think its fair to say I don’t represent the people of Redstone or the Fryingpan,” she said. “I have consistently and with passion, derived from living for 25 years in Woody Creek and 11 years in the Crystal Valley, brought forward the concerns of those areas as they relate to the entire county.”

Farris maintains that even though the county charter requires her to live in District 5, which includes the Crystal River and Fryingpan River valleys, she’s elected by a countywide vote and must act as everyone’s representative.

Nevertheless, she points out, the outlying districts that she represents have gotten more than their fair share of attention and services from the county in recent years.

Her list of that attention includes funding and staff support to help Crystal River residents draw up an area master plan that will govern land use and development throughout their valley. She also points out efforts to put teeth into a plan worked out by local ranchers that would preserve ranch land, and an increase in the number of commissioner meetings and work sessions in Redstone during her tenure.

The results of such attention are clear, Farris says. Residents of the upper Fryingpan, with the help of county planning staff, have taken control of development there by writing their own master plan. Redstone has a new bridge. And the commissioners have been willing to adjust the zoning regulations around the Redstone Castle and Redstone Inn.

“The BOCC has tried to remain open to changes in Redstone Inn and Castle proposals for development, knowing that the success of Redstone to a large degree depends on the financial success of those two businesses,” she said.

Fiala is willing to concede a number of those points. For him, the issue isn’t whether Redstone gets the attention it’s due: He reckons it does. He thinks the race was partly about the issues and partly about Farris’ behavior as a commissioner.

“I’m still convinced we’re going to see a train now that we have an RTA, and we’re going to be paying for it for a long time to come,” he said in reference to the impending formation of a valleywide transportation district.

And if he had been elected, Fiala says he would have urged the county to revise the rural and remote zoning to make it more fair to backcountry landowners.

But the real source of contention between the two can perhaps be found in the fight over the Redstone Historical Preservation Committee. The county commissioners voted earlier this year to remove four people from the HPC. Fiala is one of the deposed committee members, as is Yoder, the letter writer. The other two are Lisa Wagner and Billy Amicon.

Fiala says they were removed for reasons that have yet to be explained by the commissioners. It’s a move he says still smarts with some Redstone residents. “I still hear from people about how the commissioners booted four Redstone merchants off the HPC for no reason,” Fiala said.

“Dorothea was proven to be a liar. She said in writing we weren’t being fired, but Shellie Harper admitted out loud that we were being fired at a hearing in Redstone,” he continued.

Farris concedes that she was mistaken early on about whether Fiala and company were being removed or simply replaced as their terms expired. But she defends the changes nonetheless. The whole schedule of appointments was a mess, with some board members unable to remember when they’d been appointed. And, she says, the four who were removed had taken an expansive view of the HPC’s mission.

“We had reports that the committee was not acting in a professional manner. Members were sitting in on meetings when their own property was up for review, there were no minutes to some meetings, and they were addressing issues that didn’t have anything to do with historic preservation,” she said.

Even so, for some residents of Redstone and other sections of District 5, the hard feelings may never go away. What that means for Farris in a recall-happy county like this one remains to be seen.


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