Mick Ireland to run for Aspen City Council
The Aspen Times
Mick Ireland will stage a bid for one of two open Aspen City Council seats in May, the three-term mayor announced Friday.
A proponent for resident Bert Myrin’s “Keep Aspen, Aspen” campaign, Ireland said a major platform item will be the push for a sustainable economy that doesn’t let second-home ownership stifle locals. He also shared his thoughts on Ordinance 19, Aspen’s parking scam and police-force tactics.
Ireland served as Aspen mayor for three consecutive terms between 2007 and 2011, when he became term-limited. Before that, he served three terms as Pitkin County commissioner between 1993 and 2002. His background includes a law degree and a stint as an Aspen Times reporter.
“To me, it’s always about sustainable economy,” Ireland, a 36-year Aspen resident, said. “That’s always about not letting the real estate, second home, residential industry basically snuff the local economy and the tourist economy.”
Councilman Adam Frisch has announced he will seek to defend his seat in the May 5 election, while Councilman Dwayne Romero remains undecided. Other potential candidates include Planning and Zoning Commissioner Keith Goode, Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority board member Marcia Goshorn, former housing authority director Tom McCabe and local blogger Andy Israel. Former Councilman Derek Johnson also has expressed interest in running.
Prospective candidates have until 5 p.m. Monday to deliver signatures from 25 registered voters to City Hall.
On lodging, Ireland said the focus should be existing hotels — what incentives it takes to induce owners to remain in business rather than sell out for residential uses. He said that’s a better approach than offering development breaks on massing, affordable housing and parking, all items that were written into Ordinance 19 when it was approved in August. Since the council repealed the controversial package, planners have returned with a series of code amendments focused on cash incentives for Aspen’s smaller, existing lodges.
“When you give away too much to encourage development, the community ends up paying,” Ireland said.
In discussing Aspen’s parking scandal, which cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in parking revenue between 2010 and 2014, Ireland called the scammers “thieves,” but at the same time, said city officials should have detected the problem much sooner.
“There should have been better oversight from (the finance and parking departments and the City Manager’s office),” Ireland said.
He said that to be fair, parking revenue was increasing during the scam. This gives credence to the argument that the scammers would not have parked downtown in the first place without knowledge of the scam (see related story on page A1). Therefore, the real victims and the real monetary loss came when legitimate parkers couldn’t find spaces, Ireland said.
“Still, it’s incumbent on the city to keep a close eye on management, on those books,” Ireland said.
All in all, he added that the parking scandal is a black mark on an organization that has an otherwise clean record.
Ireland also was asked about the use of police force, given the recent controversy concerning an Aspen Police Department officer’s takedown arrest of an Aspen High School student. The former mayor said he’s a believer in community policing, which means intimate contact with residents and avoiding using force as much as possible.
“That doesn’t mean we’re going to get it right every time,” Ireland said. “But like with the parking, you don’t say, ‘Well, we’re usually OK, so I’m not going to look at this.’ You need to look at every instant when force is used.”
Ireland regarded Myrin’s Home Rule Charter amendment ballot question, which if approved, would strip the council of its ability to grant development variances without a public vote, as the first step in land-use reform.
Protection of view plans and careful decision-making on development are among Ireland’s concerns.
“Right now, every (application) that comes in gets approved,” Ireland said. “Not everything is worthy of approval.”
Ireland also touched on the Aspen Art Museum settlement, which he led as mayor, and the subsequent downzoning of infill, a controversial set of land-use changes that allowed larger downtown buildings in the 2000s.
“That’s a good model to look at,” Ireland said of the downzoning. “You need to revise the code. You say, ‘What do we want to obtain, and how do we get there?’”
Ireland’s council was regarded by some as less than diplomatic, and when he left office, Mayor Steve Skadron, Councilwoman Ann Mullins, Councilman Art Daily, Frisch and Romero vowed to “change the tone and tenor” at City Hall. Ireland said Friday that the council succeeded if success means “not bringing up difficult questions.”
“If it’s always comfortable, if it’s always smooth and it goes down in 30 minutes, you’re not doing your job,” Ireland said. “Because there are always questions to be asked, and some of them are difficult.”
Ireland, a columnist for the Aspen Daily News, will suspend his work with the publication now that he has thrown his hat in the ring.
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Aspen Skiing Co. officials made a tag-team appeal to the Pitkin County Commissioners Wednesday urging approval for the proposed expansion of the Pandora’s terrain and other projects on Aspen Mountain. The commissioners continued the hearing until Aug. 28, when a vote is possible.