Johnson and Ittner tangle over experience and ballot issues | AspenTimes.com

Johnson and Ittner tangle over experience and ballot issues

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Rob Ittner and Jack Johnson seem to agree on a range of things.

They both describe Aspen’s robust affordable housing program as a “windfall” and say maintenance issues like the Centennial mold problem should be, at least partially, the responsibility of the property owner and not solely that of government housing agencies.

Both men support the county’s proposed airport expansion.

“The airport is the welcoming point to our community,” Ittner said.

And they both put the health of Pitkin County’s tourism-based economy high on their lists of priorities.

But in their first informal debate Wednesday in the race for the county commissioner seat, the two established themselves as differing on at least two levels.

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The first: level of experience as a public official.

Ittner, who owns the Rustique Bistro, has not held public office and touts himself as a fresh new voice for local government.

Johnson, who served on the Aspen City Council for four years, said he has an established history in local government, and likes to advertise the fact that “I don’t need on-the-job training,” a sentiment displayed prominently on his campaign website.

The second aspect was caution in policy making. Ittner told the sparse crowd at a weekly Aspen business luncheon that he would bring an open mind to the county, not taking decisive views on issues until they come full circle.

Asked about two initiatives on the November ballot that would increase fees on special districts, one for the school district and the other for the Aspen Valley Hospital, Ittner said he didn’t know yet how he will vote. And the down economy will make it a difficult choice, he said.

“Right now, it’s really tough trying to take money issues to the voters,” said Ittner, a Republican.

Johnson said he has his mind made up on both items.

“I’m a Democrat; I vote for schools; I’ll be voting for the school tax issue,” Johnson said. He will also vote in favor of the hospital increase.

The two found another split when asked if they would favor reducing the state-set salary of Pitkin County commissioners, which is about $70,000 a year for the four-year term.

Johnson said the pay is high, but appropriately so.

“I tend to agree the salary is high,” Johnson said. “I also tend to think the workload is pretty steep too.” He added that he would earn the paycheck.

Ittner said he would be open to a discussion on reducing the position’s wage in light of the economic downturn’s effect on government budgets.

“We have to look at it in the bigger picture,” he said.

ahedge@aspentimes.com