Johnson should look at himself for blame |

Johnson should look at himself for blame

Dear Editor:

At the Jan. 18 Aspen Business Luncheon, at which I served on a discussion panel regarding the city of Aspen’s Castle Creek hydroelectric project, former City Council member Jack Johnson sought to distract attendees from the serious matters at hand by asking me to “explain myself” for not bringing up any of my current concerns while I was city finance director, implying that I was somehow duplicitous in my criticisms of the city’s mishandling of this project. That meeting was not about me, so I treated Mr. Johnson’s question with the dismissiveness it deserved.

My last day with the city was Dec. 7, 2007, and it has now been longer since I left than it took the United States to defeat Germany and Japan after the first Pearl Harbor day. To raise concerns about the project at that time would have required a prescience that I must confess I do not possess.

Upon my departure the City Council had just adopted the 2008 budget, which on section IV, page 28 includes a passing reference to the project having been the hydroelectric fund’s largest individual appropriation for 2008. The limited financial details of this project in the form of the long-range financial plan underpinning that approved budget disclose that the original appropriation was $5.5 million (not $6.2 million) spread between 2008 ($2.5 million) and 2009 ($3 million).

As City Manager Steve Barwick disclosed at the luncheon, the city relied upon an out-of-town engineering firm’s conceptual cost estimate for that initial budget. As he admitted in his presentation, there was no detailed planning of this project until 2008. It was not until 2009, over a year after my departure, that the budget and project management began to spin out of control.

Consequently, in the fall of 2007 the very real and serious regulatory, environmental and water rights issues, had not been vetted either. The record discloses that virtually all of these issues were brought to the city by concerned residents and environmental organizations after 2008. Somehow Jack would have me warning council about these issues from my finance director chair in the fall of 2007.

So my question is: Who really is being duplicitous, me or the ex-council member who blames a former staffer who wasn’t even there? Jack Johnson voted for the project and failed in its oversight during his term in office which ended in June 2009. You decide.

I care very deeply about the city of Aspen, both the organization and the community. I spent five very difficult but rewarding years there. My decision to leave was no coincidence, and was driven by the exclusively political decision-making paradigm adopted by the 2007 council, on which Jack Johnson served, and that continues today.

I am profoundly troubled by the current state of affairs within the walls of City Hall, and speaking out constructively regarding issues such as the blatant malfeasance of the Castle Creek hydro project is my right. I will not be intimidated.

Paul Menter


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