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Local government needs new blood

The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado

Elections are slated this spring for Aspen mayor and two of four seats on the City Council. For months, it has been widely known that the city’s four councilmen are weighing the mayor’s race. And now Mayor Mick Ireland, who is barred from running for re-election because of term limits, says he’s considering a run for a council seat, primarily because he doesn’t want pro-development forces to gain a majority on city government’s decision-making body.

This is all well and good. Each councilman appears to care about the best interests of the community and brings their own unique traits to the table. All of them seem to have political skills that would result in a thoughtful, balanced and productive two-year mayoral term. Councilmen Torre, Steve Skadron, Derek Johnson and Adam Frisch all strike us as independent voices, to varying degrees, who deserve to be heard on a variety of pertinent community topics. We doubt all of them will run at the same time, but it’s each one’s right to do so.

As for Ireland, one would think that he’s ready for a break from local government, having served three terms as a Pitkin County commissioner before being elected Aspen’s mayor in 2007. It’s been a contentious ride for the polarizing Ireland, who survived a bitter election in 2009 that led to changes in the system for deciding runoff winners as well as tweaks to other election rules. He narrowly won the 2011 general election outright (without having to meet his challenger in a runoff) despite an intense and public “Sick of Mick” campaign. The last two mayoral elections have not been fun exercises for the electorate.

But Ireland has his own brand of political talent that would serve him well as a council member, and if he wants to continue to play in the local-government game instead of aspiring to higher office or focusing on private-sector work, so be it. He’s got a strong voice and almost always offers insightful opinions that essentially demand to be heard.

All of that said, we would like to put out a call for qualified Aspenites to consider throwing their hats into the various rings up for grabs this year. This is not a knock on present leadership – far from it. With new blood in the mix, what we really hope would be accomplished is a trend away from the “musical chairs” aspect of local government. Fresh faces may disrupt the system of continuity and like-thinking in City Hall, but they also can bring about innovative solutions to time-worn problems.

For many years, Aspen residents have witnessed what might be called an elected-official “shell game.” You know: Candidate X gets elected to City Council for the first time. Two years later, candidate Y, also a council member, gets elected mayor after defeating councilmen X and Z. Councilmen X and Z remain on the council for two more years. Mayor Y then runs for re-election and wins, defeating councilmen A and B, while councilmen X and Z get re-elected to their council seats. Councilmen X and Z didn’t run for mayor, preferring to wait until Mayor Y is term-limited before busting a move for the mayor’s office again. And then one of them wins the mayor’s chair.

The last paragraph, of course, is scenario rooted in gross exaggeration and generality. There has been council turnover in recent years. Jack Johnson failed in his bid for re-election in 2009, which opened the door for Derek Johnson. Dwayne Romero resigned from his seat in early 2011 to join Gov. John Hickenlooper’s cabinet, then decided state government wasn’t for him and resigned that post too. That opened the door for Frisch, who might today be considered the biggest “outsider” on the council (although a few local political observers who count themselves in the “outsider” pool don’t seem to think he goes far enough). Indeed, in local and state politics as well as the national scene (study the Congressional rolls for proof), the halls are filled with outsiders turned insiders.

In summary, what are we saying here?

We’re suggesting that people with little or no experience in local government, but with the necessary brains and a feel for what’s best for the community, consider a stint in local government by running for council or mayor. We’re saying that women and minorities are needed on the all-white, all-male council. We’re saying that the business community, or the nonprofit organizations, or even the ski-bum crowd and service-industry work force include many bright minds who would be an asset to public service. There’s no law that says a candidate has to do time on a local board or commission or some other minor or major elected office before gaining a council seat or the mayor’s job.

Aspen city government is a fairly smooth-running machine, but with some diversity and new talent, it can be even better. Petitions (to log 25 voter signatures) to qualify for council or mayor can be picked up in the City Clerk’s Office on March 18. The deadline to turn them in is 5 p.m. April 5. The general election is May 7; runoffs, if necessary, will be held June 4.

The more the merrier. Good luck to each and all candidates.


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