Crown Mountain Park board in El Jebel wrestles with public relations issues |

Crown Mountain Park board in El Jebel wrestles with public relations issues

Crown Mountain Park is a popular destination in the El Jebel area. A property tax hike approved in 2018 is allowing more improvements.
Aspen Times file

Crown Mountain Park and Recreation District’s board of directors decided Wednesday night not to alter a media and public relations policy to designate the executive director as the official spokesperson.

The policy will remain as it has been since 2003, that the board chair will be the spokesperson.

The board voted 4-0 to keep the current policy with little discussion and after meeting with the park and rec district’s contract attorney in a closed session.

The policy change was proposed in December after some members of the staff and board became upset that board member Jennifer Riffle talked to the media about a district spending issue. They were concerned that Riffle expressed personal views that didn’t represent the official district position.

“We don’t need what happened in the articles,” Crown Mountain executive director Becky Wagner said at the Dec. 11 meeting. “Those articles could have been avoided with proper information. I think a PR policy will help with that.”

The proposed policy said, “Any media inquiries received will be referred to the (public information officer) for response.” It also stated that if any board members spoke to the media, they must note they were expressing their personal opinion, not the official district line.

Aspen Times Editor David Krause objected to the proposed change because he claimed it would prevent the public from learning how elected representatives stood on issues. The policy would have a chilling effect on board members speaking to the media, he said.

“Ensuring that the people who are elected to sit on a board represent those who put them there is best demonstrated through transparent conversation; attempting to censor board members who don’t speak the company line is disgraceful,” Krause said at the Dec. 11 meeting.

Wagner said the policy wasn’t meant to gag board members.

“This gives the media the person with all the information to provide district info and official positions to the media,” she wrote in an email to The Aspen Times. “It does not at all say that individual board members can’t talk to the media, just clarifies that in doing so they are speaking personally not as the district official.”

Riffle objected to the proposed policy change at the Dec. 11 meeting. She said she viewed it as a violation of her First Amendment rights to free speech. A vote was tabled in December until the January meeting, when the district’s attorney, Mary Elizabeth Geiger, attended. Riffle made the motion to keep the policy the same. Board members Robert Hubbell, Tim Power Smith and Kirk Schneider supported the motion. Board member Bonnie Scott couldn’t attend.

In another public relations matter, the district is considering hiring a public relations consultant to improve communications with park users, partners, local businesses and residents of the special taxing district. The board voted in December to earmark extra funds in the 2020 budget for public relation consulting.

In a special meeting Thursday, the board will consider hiring b2, inc., whose managing partner is midvalley resident Tim Braun.

Braun’s draft proposal said, “From a conversation with CMP staff, we believe integrating a formal, long-term communication plan is vital to achieving a broad and clear understanding of the organization’s mission, vision and value. This is not intended to conceal or ‘spin’ information, but establish a roadmap for communicating with the public and media — formally and informally — in a way that is accurate, timely and cohesive.”

The proposed contract for a comprehensive plan is for $1,850 per month, “contingent on specific objectives and a final scope of work,” b2, inc.’s proposal said. It can be pared down to project-specific work on an hourly basis, the proposal continued.

Riffle suggested the district solicit a bid from another firm in the interest of “good business practices” for the district. Other board members said b2, inc. was highly recommended and they wanted to get a consultant in place as soon as possible. Consideration of the issue is scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. at the El Jebel Community Building.