Lame-duck session or a sprint to the finish for Aspen’s electeds?
One of the fallouts of moving the city of Aspen election from May to March is that the transition period between current and future elected officials is three months instead of one.
Since March 5, Aspen City Council has been in what has been referred to as a “lame-duck session” when very few policies are set in anticipation of a new administration carrying a different agenda forward.
It is typically quiet time in City Hall between the lead up to Election Day and the swearing in of a new council, said Steve Skadron, Aspen’s outgoing mayor.
Council meetings are less frequent and no new policies are brought forward while politicking commences.
“Staff is prepared for some silly stuff” during election season, Skadron said recently.
But this year is different, and historic. Because the municipal election was moved from the first Tuesday in May to the first Tuesday in March, the transition time between current council members leaving and new ones being sworn in is 14 weeks.
Before the election date change, it was five or six weeks for council members and even less for those who were forced into a runoff in June.
The new council members, Skippy Mesirow and Rachel Richards, as well Torre, who was elected mayor in a runoff against current Councilwoman Ann Mullins earlier this month, will be sworn in June 10.
Bert Myrin will step down from council as he did not win his seat back, and Adam Frisch and Skadron, both of whom are term-limited, also will leave council.
Skadron said the extended transition period allows more time for council members-elect to insert themselves into the current administration’s agenda, which he said isn’t always a good thing.
“Council members-elect are injecting themselves, which is what I was afraid of,” he said.
Interim City Manager Sara Ott said this extended transition gives council members-elect more orientation time to prepare themselves for office.
She said she’s met with all of the newly elected council members.
She also acknowledged that because they, along with current council members, will be hiring a new city manager to replace Steve Barwick who was asked to resign earlier this year, it’s an interesting time in City Hall.
“It is a bit unusual to have these 14 weeks to wait for a new council and have an interim city manager,” she said.
The current council this month is expected to sign off on a recruitment firm to help in the search of a new city manager.
That headhunting effort will be ongoing for a few months before candidates are whittled down to finalists. But figuring out the public process and community involvement likely will fall in the lap of the current council.
Finding the right person is a priority for this council, as well as the future one, Skadron noted, adding that protecting the current workload of city staff is goal No. 1.
“The political dynamic is new for Sara,” Skadron said, “and my first responsibility is to support Sara and upper management.”
A lot of the work that the current council has in front of it is finishing out some of the policies that it set in the past year or two.
One of those is changing the board make-up of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority so it is comprised of two elected officials, two elected alternates and three at-large citizens.
Currently, it’s comprised of seven citizens, with one alternate. As it is structured now, council and county commissioners must approve the volunteer board’s policy decisions.
Some housing board members wrote to council in advance of last week’s meeting when elected officials were set to make changes in the intergovernmental agreement between the city and county overseeing APCHA.
They asked that council pause and not rush any decision before the new elected board takes over.
“First and foremost, I believe it is doing a disservice to the voters of Aspen for any changes to be voted upon/implemented prior to the new council being seated in June,” wrote APCHA board member Chris Council. “Affordable housing was one of the primary issues in the recent election and the newly elected mayor and council members should have the right to weigh in on this process as the future representatives.”
Frisch took issue with that stance, arguing that the APCHA governance issue has been a city goal for years and it is appropriate to continue with changes.
“This is part of the process. … We are not trying to ram anything through during this transition time,” he said at the April 9 meeting. “I was elected for four years, not three and a half.”
Myrin, who was in the minority of continuing with changes, did not see it that way, saying that him losing the election, as well as Frisch and Mullins losing their bids for the mayor’s seat, was a “vote of no confidence.”
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for council under that circumstance to move this forward,” Myrin said. “I think this process needs to pause until a new council is seated.”
What also is in the works from the current council’s direction is as many as 260 new affordable-housing units at six locations, all of which are projects in various stages of planning, according to Chris Everson, the city’s affordable-housing project manager.
Ott said from her vantage point, there is no lame-duck session for this council, which still has several initiatives in front of it.
That includes analyzing and approving supplemental budget requests, particularly the $4.36 million that has to be set aside for the redevelopment of the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side.
There also are discussions occurring around small cell infrastructure to accommodate 5G networks, the city’s involvement with improvements to the Brush Creek Park and Ride, shared facilities between the school district and the municipal government, a new reclaimed water system at the golf course and financing the city’s new 37,500-square-foot office building.
“Council already has set the policy,” Ott said. “There’s a ton going on.”
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