Ittner, Clapper gear up for commissioner’s race | AspenTimes.com

Ittner, Clapper gear up for commissioner’s race

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times

In the upcoming Nov. 4 election, incumbent Rob Ittner and challenger Patti Clapper are vying for the one open seat on the Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners. Ittner defeated Jack Johnson in 2010 to win his seat on the board.

"Rob is just keeping my seat warm until I get back," said Clapper, who had previously held the seat but couldn't seek re-election of term limits.

"It's not her seat," Ittner said. "It's the people's seat."

The Aspen Times will publish a Q&A with both candidates each day this week.

Here's an introduction to their political histories and each of their top-of-mind issues for Pitkin County:

Patti Clapper

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Age: 61

Family: Tommy Clapper, husband of 29 years, son Trevor, 29, and daughter Traci, 25.

Current employment: The Emporium and Flying Circus in Aspen and Basalt; seasonal employee at the Mountain Greenery in Basalt; has been a registered nurse in Colorado for 35 years.

Years living in Pitkin County: 34

Political party: Democrat

Political experience: Currently sits on the Pitkin County Noxious Weed advisory board; Pitkin County commissioner (1999 to 2010); Pitkin County Planning and Zoning commission (1995 to 1998); served as an election judge for both city and county elections for the past four years.

Rob Ittner

Age: 44

Family: Engaged. Mother lives in Mexico and father lives in New York. Has six brothers and sisters.

Current employment: Pitkin County commissioner and owner of Rustique Bistro in Aspen. Also does restaurant consulting on a limited basis.

Years living in Pitkin County: 16 years

Political party: Running as an unaffiliated candidate.

Political experience: Was president of the Colorado Restaurant Association for this region; active participant in the Aspen Chamber Resort Association; founder of Aspen's Young Professionals Association.

The Aspen Times: Why are you running?

Patti Clapper: I feel like I can bring back to the board the essence of human health services since I'm a registered nurse. Two major issues that rose to the top of the county survey were senior-service issues because of our growing demographics in the senior population and the need for more accommodating space for senior service, both their lunches and all the activities they have now. The other issue was the suicide rate. Hopefully my abilities will help with mental-health issues in the valley. The hospital currently does not have a safe room or room where you can hold a mentally ill patient. You have to transport your patients to Grand Junction. That's a concern, because how do you get them there? I think it's better that we work on that sooner than later so we don't have to turn the mentally ill out into the general population, where they could be at risk to themselves or others. I also believe my 12 years of experience on the board will reflect my ability to listen and to bring in public comment. I think the board does a pretty good job of that. Under the current chair, there's been some issues that matter that have been lacking and I hope to bring that back. I'm ready to come back to public service. A lot of people think it's just for a job. Yes, it's a job with a good salary and benefits, but it's a job where you need to work hard, you need to do it 24/7, and I'm ready to do that again.

AT: Politically, what was your biggest learning experience?

PC: Probably the difficult positions you get put into on land-use applications. There are so many legal issues involved and you have to be very careful in making your decisions that you're following the letter of the law. That took a lot of time to come up to speed. Thank God I had been on Planning and Zoning those years before because you learn a lot about the county code. While I was in office, I think we revised the entire Pitkin County land-use code twice. The first time we weren't very successful; the second time we did have good success. That was a huge learning process because it comes back to the letter of the law. You have to be very careful in making those decisions so you're following the code and not breaking any laws. If there's one thing I've learned to detest, it's land use by lawsuit. You come out with really crappy-land use applications at the end of the day.

AT: What do you see as the most pressing issues facing Pitkin County?

PC: Obviously the issues at the airport. Pitkin County was already in the process when I was on the board. We extended the runway. It did have something to do with safety, but the thing that it was really addressing was the ability to keep, what I call, "butts in seats." In other words, during the summer when the temperatures would go up, you would have to take people off planes because it affected the lift of the airplanes. Now we have more deployments because people are able to take off in the airplanes and we don't have to deplane them because of weight issues. We were successful in finishing the extended runway and then we were looking at expanding the airport terminal. The airport terminal is really constricted by space, especially with the new TSA and security issues. So if you go in the morning and there's six or seven flights coming and going at the same time, the airport is not servicing the customers as it should. There are security issues, there's bag and holding area issues. I think that's going to be a huge issue that's coming forward, how we're going to expand, how big, what type, what the parking is going to be, the design … all that is coming forward. The new generation of regional jets are just going to be a tad bit too wide for our wingspan restrictions. How do we expand the runway? How do we do that with federal monies? Because the FAA is more than likely going to come in and require that we go to a Level III airport, which means a lot more than just expanding the runway. It's going to a huge decision and we need to get on it because it's not going to be easy to do all the planning, funding and actual construction at the airport.

The Aspen Times: Why are you running?

Rob Ittner: I ran this last time because I'm someone who gets involved and likes to help out. I was thrilled with the idea of being a policymaker. The question that gets most commonly asked to me is, "What does a county commissioner do?" A county commissioner is one person on a board of a decision-making body. Because we can't hire someone and give them the authority to make decisions for the taxpayer dollars, we have to have a body that's elected that makes these policy decisions. Being someone who's been active in the community, it was kind of a neat thing to be that person that people would trust in to make good, balanced, educated decisions. Why I'm running now is because it's been rewarding to be part of the community in that way, to shape things and add to the discussion, to give input to things like what its like to be a business owner in downtown Aspen, our largest economic hub in the county. I'm one voice on a board of five, so it's really about bringing honest, hard-work discussions to a higher level.

AT: Politically, what was your biggest learning experience?

RI: There are a lot of things you learn as political experience when you're sitting on a board with five people. What I've really learned is not to predetermine anything before you get to a discussion process. Politics is a balance between passion and information. Someone can come to the table and say. "I'm really passionate about this; I want X." Another person can come to the table and say, "I'm passionate about this; I want Y." That's great, one wants X and one wants Y. The informational side wants to know what's good about X and what's good about Y, and what's bad about X and what's bad about Y. The learning experience is you have to balance those two things together. You have to balance having a passion with information. You can't just say, "Growth is bad." What does that mean? It's a passion statement and you might be passionate about that, which is great, but you have to balance that with the fact that builders have property rights. There's a code to set up to protect and have controlled growth and the code works very well. To come in and say, "Growth is bad," OK, if you really believe that statement at its three-word surface, that means nobody is going to build a house here in Pitkin County. Well, you've just devalued this county by probably a trillion dollars. So controlled growth is what we want, we want a balanced look at what's going on. That said, my biggest learning experience is there are very few black-and-white decisions in government, it's important to bring an open mind to the table and there's almost always a balancing act.

AT: What do you see as the most pressing issues facing Pitkin County?

RI: I'll name a few here because there are a couple pressing issues which are in different directions. I think what's always going to be a pressing issue of the people across the board in Pitkin County is that we protect our natural resources and maintain a policy of controlled, reasonable growth. That's always going to a paramount, overlying issue. Everything from the tourist economy to the quality of life to the bigger issue of the environment that we live in are dependent on those things. So it's an issue I think we're all on board for. There are some specific issues that are coming up that have been in the paper that are a little bit more complex to just say it's a simple issue, but we do have some aspects with our airport that need to be worked out. We just completed a master plan to our airport. That master plan is potentially going to be revised because of some air service studies we've done. As an organization, the county is also working on a facilities master plan. We've found that there's a deficit in the working space environment for our 140-plus employees. We're trying to find a reasonable way to find a balance in growing the county facilities to meet those needs. There are so many departments within the county that are crucial. It's important to understand that naming a few pressing issues doesn't mean we're ignoring other areas and other issues.

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