Letter to editor draws Aspen city manager’s ire
ASPEN – City Manager Steve Barwick has registered a complaint with the Aspen Rotary Club against an individual who criticized him as a public official in a letter to the editor.
Barwick sent an e-mail to Peter Johnson, who handles membership for Rotary, on Feb. 19 – the day a letter to the editor appeared in The Aspen Times written by local resident Andy Modell.
Both Barwick and Modell are longtime Rotarians, and have worked side by side on various community service projects and events.
Modell is a vocal critic of Mayor Mick Ireland, frequently writing letters to the editor questioning his statements, leadership and decision making.
The letter mostly focuses on Modell’s opinion of Ireland, and suggests that Barwick’s support for his boss is misguided. The letter questions what Ireland has done since taking office and asks citizens to demand accountability from their mayor.
“This was just another rant by me about Mick,” Modell said. “The focus of this letter was Mick, not Steve.”
There are three paragraphs that reference Barwick in the letter. The first two paragraphs recap an earlier newspaper article regarding Barwick and Ireland being the only individuals who remember having a closed-door meeting with Pitkin County commissioners in 2007 concerning the purchase of the BMC Lumberyard.
Barwick wrote in the e-mail that Modell’s criticism of him has gone too far.
“Andy’s assertion that there was some ‘secret meeting’ … is just a blind repeat of another ridiculous newspaper ‘report,'” the e-mail reads. “Andy also implies some grand conspiracy between Mayor Ireland and myself over this ‘secret meeting’ – an utterly ridiculous allegation which he seems to have invented himself. He then concludes by attributing an insulting, fictional motivation to me for the alleged behavior which he has invented.”
The other reference to Barwick in the letter says Modell is “saddened by Steve’s support of Mick. Our city manager should endeavor to manage the city, not Mick’s misstatements. Is this because he hopes for a lifetime housing arrangement (like he gave to Phil Overeyender, public works director)? …”
Barwick’s e-mail complains about Modell’s behavior and suggests that he violated the club’s standards of conduct, known as the four-way test. Barwick writes that he won’t be a member of Rotary if the club tolerates attacks on fellow members.
“City managers are trained to avoid public battles with their detractors; it is simply not productive and leads to an overall decrease in civility,” Barwick wrote. “Better to let the insults simply go unanswered except by one’s continued efforts at providing excellent public services. However, Rotary has different standards. Andy’s attempts to publicly tie me into his on-going beef with Mayor Ireland represent repeated public violations of Rotary’s 4 way test.”
Barwick ends the e-mail by writing, “Sorry for the drama, but I didn’t start this and enough is enough. I would be happy to discuss the matter with the board in the near future.”
Rotary president Justin Barrow said the board of directors have discussed the e-mail and has decided to take no action against Modell. Instead, the board plans to act as an unbiased mediator in the dispute and attempt to mend the relationship between the two men.
“It’s the Rotary way,” Barrow said, adding it’s not the place of a service organization to get involved any further than that. “Because it’s a political thing, it falls outside the responsibility of the Rotary.”
Barwick said via e-mail that his complaint to Rotary is not a public matter.
“This is a private matter between private individuals in a private organization,” he said.
Barwick’s e-mail to Rotary was sent from his city of Aspen account.
Ireland said he didn’t know the letter was sent to Rotary but it’s Barwick’s right to seek assistance. As a government entity, the city cannot control the actions of employees acting as private citizens, he added.
“It’s not an official action of the city … we’re not endorsing it,” Ireland said. “We don’t tell our employees what to do or not to do.”
Ireland added that it’s Modell’s right to be critical of the city.
“Andy Modell has written 11 or 12 letters saying what a bad person I am,” he said, adding that he doesn’t see Barwick’s complaint as trying to quiet a critic.
“He’s not using the government to inflict punishment,” he said. “As a city employee, Steve Barwick didn’t give up his right to go to Rotary.”
Modell said he’s disappointed that the matter has become public and Rotary, which has a mission to help people around the world, has been brought into the fray.
He added that he believes Barwick attempted to keep the issue private and was seeking mediation through a third party.
“My take was that Steve intentionally went to Rotary as a private citizen and not as a public official,” Modell said. “He was not trying to silence me or bully me.”
When the Rotary received the e-mail, Barrow contacted Modell and made a copy available. The Aspen Times did not obtain the now widely circulated e-mail through Modell but rather from another source.
“From that point on, it was a dead issue,” Modell said. “I didn’t think it was a place for Rotary. It’s not a political organization and it’s not a place for political disagreements.”
Modell said he would meet with Barwick if he wants; the two have previously talked through their disagreements.
Jim DeFrancia, a Rotarian and an ex-officio board member, said the service organization is not the venue for political spats.
“This is a dispute between two individuals,” he said. “When you are in public office you have to have a thick skin and people say all kinds of things to you … I don’t think it’s a Rotary affair.”
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