The exit interview: Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch steps down after serving eight years

As Adam Frisch walks away from Aspen politics after serving two terms on Aspen City Council, he said it was eight years of time well spent while acknowledging that a good portion of it was frustrating.

“Council is made up individuals who come to the table with different ideas and you try to make them stick,” he said. “I’m walking around feeling proud for getting things done.”

Frisch, along with fellow councilman Bert Myrin, will step down from elected office Monday evening when a new council is sworn in.

Frisch lost his bid for mayor and Myrin, who has served for four years, ran unsuccessfully for a second term on council in the March election.

Myrin, who was in the minority on many votes and considered himself a City Hall outsider, didn’t return calls requesting an interview about his time in office.

He has been vocal over the past couple of months that he was happy to leave Aspen politics, noting that voters sent a clear message to incumbents on council when they lost their bids for office.

Current councilwoman Ann Mullins, who is in the middle of her four-year term, also sought the mayor’s seat but lost to Torre, who will be sworn in today along with council members-elect Rachel Richards and Skippy Mesirow.

Myrin walked out of an April work session that had council making changes to the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority guidelines.

He did not attend any more meetings that month but showed up again in May after a long vacation.

Frisch said he plans on taking an extended vacation after he steps down.

“The community needs to get rid of me for the summer,” he quipped.

Frisch began his community service in the mid-2000s when he served on a citizen committee called the Housing Frontiers Group that addressed issues plaguing the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority program.

The big one, which remains unresolved, is deficient capital reserves within homeowner associations that will eventually come to a head when aging buildings need serious repairs and renovations.

The capital reserve issue is just one that Frisch found himself swirling in the political winds and momentum was lost.

But he does not dwell on that and said plenty has gotten done on the affordable housing front, including changing the makeup of the citizen-only APCHA board to include elected officials from Pitkin County and Aspen in an effort to expedite policy decisions.

“When I look back on it, a lot of housing stuff got done,” Frisch said, adding that the complexities of the local housing program is like tackling the national health care system.

He said he hopes the county and city can agree on how to fund capital reserves in the future because the roughly 1,600 ownership units are key to maintaining a workforce here.

“It’s important to save the current stock,” Frisch said, adding he plans to stay involved in housing issue. “I will try to work on it in some fashion.”

He said he’s proud of championing the increased tobacco tax and changing the legal age to buy nicotine products to 21 years old.

Frisch also is responsible for the Lift One development at the base of Aspen Mountain’s west side as he was the swing vote in sending the issue to voters with a $4.36 million public contribution.

Made late at night and under pressure from the developers saying they might walk away from the plan, which includes bringing a new chairlift to Dean Street, Frisch did what he thought was in the best interest of the community.

“I am very, very proud that the lift is a lot lower and that wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t sitting at the table,” he said of the initial ask of developers and the Aspen Skiing Co. in 2017 to work together in bringing the lift 500 feet farther down the hill.

Frisch said his support for the public funding toward the project likely cost him the mayor’s seat; Aspen voters approved the Lift One development by 26 votes.

His thinking out loud approach at the council table may have hurt him, too, as some constituents thought he oscillated, or that he voted whatever way the political winds were blowing.

Not true, though, he said.

“I was being pragmatic and people appreciated that,” Frisch said. “But people saw me making the sausage in my head and thought I was being wishy-washy. … I would’ve been more effective if I talked less.”

He also was the swing vote in keeping the armory building City Hall and not turning it over for community uses, like a dance hall.

He’s proud of introducing a building moratorium while council and staff rewrote the land-use code so the bulk and mass of future developments could be addressed.

However, Frisch noted that many initiatives died on the vine after months and in some cases, years, of work by staff and fellow council members.

The city “is over-goaled and under-executed,” he said, adding time spent on the proposed mobility lab, a failed lodging ordinance aimed at helping small lodges redevelop, and controversy on what community group should occupy the city’s old power plant all were boondoggles where he couldn’t affect a better outcome either because he was in the minority, politics got in the way or there was community pushback.

“I wasn’t more effective on saying, ‘Hey this is going pear-shaped,’” he said. “I was sick and tired of watching my fears come to fruition.”

Frisch, the only council member to have children in the local school system, tried to convince his fellow electeds to redirect some of the Wheeler Opera House funds toward other community uses rather than let $30 million sit in perpetuity in an escrow account.

He was unable to do that and said he hopes the new council takes up the issue again.

Overall, Frisch has a feeling of accomplishment with his community service, even though not everything got done that he wanted.

“There are expectations on what you can get done and everyone walks away with some frustration but I think I was a successful councilman, representing broad groups,” Frisch said. “I looked at my email and there’s 16,891 sent emails.”


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