Basalt council gets good grades from incumbents, challengers in debate
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Six candidates are running for three at-large Basalt Town Council seats in the April 3 election. For profiles on the candidates, visit https://www.aspentimes.com/news/local/six-basalt-council-candidates-define-their-priorities/
Two incumbents seeking re-election to Basalt Town Council gave their board a B-plus grade for its performance and didn’t get much opposition from two of three challengers at a debate Monday.
Bernie Grauer and Gary Tennenbaum are trying to keep their council seats for another four years. They downplayed controversy and inaction on the Pan and Fork property, which has been at the center of Basalt politics for about five years. Instead they focused on accomplishments such as the pedestrian underpass of Highway 82 at Basalt Avenue, construction of affordable housing and altering the approvals for Willits Town Center to allow an increase of residential development and a decrease of commercial.
“What we’ve been able to accomplish over the last four years has been pretty amazing,” Tennenbaum said. “The town overall is doing really well. I was going to say A-minus but B-plus gives you room to grow.”
Candidate Carol Hawk gave the council lower marks with a B-minus but was still largely complimentary of the board’s performance during the debate hosted by the Basalt Chamber of Commerce. She said the board’s performance has been better in the past six months than it had been the prior year.
“My whole reason for getting involved in this race for Town Council is that I felt like the other end of town, known as Willits, wasn’t getting its shake,” Hawk said. “I started paying attention 18 months ago, really paying attention and educating myself. I’ve seen a change, so I’ll give it a B-minus and I have hope for the future.”
Candidate Bill Infante said he would split the difference between Hawk and the incumbents and give the council a “solid B” for a grade.
“I think the town and the Town Council have done a really good job in the things that matter to me and the things they said they would do,” Infante said. “They built affordable housing. They’re in the process of building day care. We’ve supported arts and culture, and we’re beginning to address sustainability in the form of the bike share and other environmental initiatives.
“What I’d love to see us do a little bit more of is identify Basalt as something other than a whistle stop en route to Aspen,” he added.
The town has a strong identity with heritage, environmental assets and “charm,” Infante continued. It just needs to “trumpet and celebrate” what it has to offer.
“I would like to see Town Council embrace business a little bit more actively and aggressively than we do,” Infante said.
Candidate Ryan Slack, a member of the town’s planning and zoning commission, gave the toughest grade with a C. He said the town government is dragging its feet on finding a solution to the uses of the former Pan and Fork property.
“To see that parcel and the millions we’ve invested for development just sit empty — I know there’s a lot of different things involved, but it’s part of our downtown and very important to help create the vitality downtown that people desire,” he said.
All five candidates said resolving the Pan and Fork situation is the top priority.
Grauer said he believes the council deserves a B-plus for the number of projects and community activities it completed. “That takes functionality, it takes respecting citizen input, it takes consensus-building on the council to come up with agreements that allow these projects to go forward,” Grauer said. “And also, we’ve achieved fiscal stability in the face of all these achievements.”
The council resumed the practice of building a reserve fund equal to 33 percent of the general fund.
“After a year of austerity, we’re now in the best shape we’ve ever been in,” Grauer said.
Candidate Todd Hartley wasn’t able to attend the forum because he was coaching his son’s basketball game.
While none of the challengers went for the jugular over the council’s performance, each of them made it clear they felt they bring qualities that would make the council better.
Hawk said she could improve communication between “both sides of town.” She’s at a point in her life where she can devote the time necessary to serve on council, she said.
“I want to give a voice to everybody that doesn’t have the time,” Hawk said.
Infante said he wants to help chart a course that will make Basalt even better. He noted that Basalt has a reputation as being a place where “ideas go to die. That has to change.”
Slack, who is 35, said he is trying to engage a younger generation to get involved in civic issues.
“I don’t have all the answers but I’m a really good listener,” he said.
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