Interviews for city’s next head planner start this week
Public interviews and meetings with the four finalists for director of the city of Aspen’s Community Development Department will be held this week. Here’s the schedule:
Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Aspen Fire Department conference room — Public meet-and greet with two finalists
Wednesday, 3 to 7 p.m. — Planning and Zoning Commission to interview all candidates
Thursday, noon to 1:30 p.m. — Meet-and-greet with other two finalists
Thursday, 3 to 7 p.m. — Historic Preservation Commission to interview all candidates
While the four finalists for director of the city of Aspen’s Community Development Department will be publicly interviewed this week, the group aiming to wield a say in the hiring process has abandoned its mission.
The head of Community Development, Aspen’s top planning official, will be tasked with supervising the Building, Planning and Zoning, and Historic Preservation departments. The position, which has an advertised monthly salary range of $9,191 to $12,405, has been rife with scrutiny from critics of City Hall, who have claimed the department merely rubberstamps development proposals before they go before the City Council. The department and some council members have maintained that just isn’t the case, with many development applications left on the cutting-room floor.
Wednesday’s and Thursday’s public interviews with the candidates will be held before the Planning and Zoning and Historic Preservation commissions (see factbox above). Members of the City Council can attend the meetings but are not permitted to participate, City Attorney Jim True said. There had been rumblings that council members were not allowed to attend the interviews.
“I will advise council that they are welcome to attend,” True said. “I never intended to suggest that they couldn’t attend the meetings. They’re public meetings that the council can attend. But I do believe there’s a line to be drawn to participate, such as asking questions.”
Aspen’s Home Rule Charter notes that council members cannot “interfere with the city manager or other city officers to prevent him from exercising his judgment in the appointment or employment of officers and employees in the administrative service.”
True said a public notice would need to be set if three or more council members attend the meeting, because that would constitute a quorum.
This week’s interviews come after Chris Bendon resigned from the department’s top post at the end of the year to start a private firm with senior planner Sarah Adams, who also left at the same time. Deputy Director Jennifer Phelan has served as the interim director.
Bendon’s resignation prompted activists Maurice Emmer, Ward Hauenstein and others to launch an email petition aimed at changing the hiring process for the community development director as well as creating a search committee of five who would work with City Manager Steve Barwick in the hiring process. The city manager has the final say on who is hired to the position.
The petition collected more than 100 signatures, Emmer said last week. But after Barwick said he believed a search committee would politicize the hiring process, Emmer and others dropped their efforts.
“The people expressed their opinions and desires, and they were rejected,” Emmer said.
Emmer also questioned how a search committee would politicize the hiring process, given that Planning and Zoning and the Historic Preservation Commission are interviewing the candidates.
“How does that not politicize the process even more than a separate, special citizens’ committee?” Emmer said. “(Planning and Zoning) and (Historic Preservation), especially the latter, are mainly people involved in real estate development. It’s obvious the citizens on (Historic Preservation) have a political agenda that is pro-development. As I see it, the city just doesn’t want involvement and input from the citizens at large.”
Councilman Bert Myrin, who said he will not attend the public interviews, hopes to get a question on the November ballot that addresses the concerns of Emmer and others. The question would amend the Home Rule Charter so that the City Council delivers the final hiring approval for the next director of the Community Development Department.
The council already assumes that responsibility for the city clerk and finance director. Myrin said he also would support changing the charter so that the council also selects the police chief, who, like the community development director, is hired by the city manager.
Myrin said Aspen’s building environment is “the most divisive issue in town,” which is why the City Council should be involved in the selection of Community Development’s next leader.
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