Mayor guilty of `ambush,’ says Hershey
When Aspen Mayor Rachel Richards conferred with two members of the City Council in private recently about several “advisory questions” for the upcoming ballot, she apparently did not violate the state’s “Sunshine Law.”
That’s because she met with council members Jim Markalunas and Terry Paulson separately, by telephone, to discuss the language and goals behind the proposed ballot questions, according to City Attorney John Worcester.
He said such telephone talks were “perfectly legal, as long as there weren’t three of them on a conference call at once.”
Richards on Monday proposed, and won council endorsement of, three advisory questions for the Nov. 2 municipal ballot. The questions, she said Thursday, are intended to give voters a chance to “express their sentiments about major issues” regarding transportation policy in the valley.
Still, when Richards offered the questions for discussion at Monday’s City Council meeting, it was to resounding accusations of “ambush” from Councilman Tony Hershey.
“I think there may have been a violation of the open meetings law,” Hershey said Thursday.
At the least, he claimed, “There was no opportunity for fair and open comment. Forget the legal part of it, it’s the perception of it.”
However, Hershey’s closest ally on the council, Tom McCabe, did not indicate he thought Richard’s actions constituted a violation of either the letter or the spirit of the state’s “Sunshine Law.” The law mandates that meetings of a quorum of certain elected or appointed bodies must be held in public, and with adequate public notice. In Aspen’s case, any meeting of more than two City Council members falls under the “sunshine” provisions.
“I wasn’t too surprised,” McCabe said. “Rachel warned me a while ago that the gloves were off and anything could happen.”
Asked if he thought there was any impropriety involved, he said immediately, “Yeah.” He said usually the council gets advance information on topics for discussion, whereas the questions appeared without any warning in the middle of Monday night’s meeting.
“I think it was a last-minute gambit,” he said. The questions were passed for inclusion on the ballot by what has become a familiar three-vote margin, with McCabe and Hershey voting against the questions.
Both McCabe and Hershey were critical of the wording of the questions, arguing that they are “biased” toward a mass-transit viewpoint. The questions ask voters how they feel about several transportation-related issues, including traffic growth in the future, whether to build large underground parking garages downtown, and whether voters want to choose between buses and trains in November 2000.
Richards said she is fully aware of the provisions of the open meetings laws and did not intend to violate either the letter of those laws or their spirit.
She noted that Hershey and McCabe, when they talked earlier this year about working together on a controversial petition drive to put their own question on the ballot about rail, “didn’t talk to us.
“I know Tony and Tom have been meeting over the past several months to discuss how to achieve their goal … and the goal of the Common Sense Alliance … to kill rail,” Richards said.
She also said the proposed ballot measures are “just some advisory questions about what the community may want to do in the future.” She said her discussions with Paulson and Markalunas were no different than having Worcester advise individual members of the council about lawsuits.
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