‘Mr. Basalt’ stepping down after more than 17 years at Town Hall
BASALT – Wednesday, for the first time since August 1994, Leroy Duroux isn’t part of Basalt town government.
Duroux served almost 9 1/2 years as a councilman and the past eight years as mayor. He couldn’t run again in the April 3 election because of term limits. He hung up his gavel Tuesday night.
“It’s been my life for 17 1/2 years. It’s going to be hard,” Duroux said of his retirement.
Duroux, 63, is Mr. Basalt. He attends all the high school athletic events and other school activities. He supports every cause from Basalt Regional Heritage Society fundraisers to church events. He attended all the festivals, Christmas-tree lightings and farmers markets.
Town Manager Bill Kane said Duroux was always the first to arrive to help set up infrastructure for events and was the last to leave after tear-down.
“This man really led by example,” Kane said.
“Leroy’s been the heart and soul of Basalt forever, supporting the nonprofits, the schools and the community with total commitment,” said Jacque Whitsitt, his successor as mayor. “I’m sure he will continue his legacy for many years to come.”
Duroux, a semiretired finish carpenter and woodworker, got involved in politics in the early 1990s when El Jebel-area residents explored an incorporation effort that stretched over to his River Oaks neighborhood, which then was in unincorporated Eagle County. There were too many unknowns with the incorporation, so he worked on getting his area annexed into Basalt instead. Basalt voters approved the annexation.
There was an opening on the council at the time because Councilman Rick Stevens was appointed mayor by the other council members to fill a vacancy in that post. Duroux was appointed to council in August 1994. He won his first election in April 1996 and was re-elected to a four-year council term in 2000.
Duroux said the town was struggling financially when he first joined the board. City Market relocated out of downtown to a new store at Orchard Plaza.
“The sales tax revenues were minuscule,” he said.
The Public Works Department was operating with an inadequate amount of old, worn-out equipment. The Police Department wasn’t much better off.
The council members rolled up their sleeves to figure out how to improve the town’s standing. City Market was annexed. Land-use approvals were granted to Sopris Meadows, now known as Willits Town Center. Those moves were vital for improving the town’s fiscal position, Duroux said.
As time marched on, he carved his niche on the council. Duroux had lived in Basalt since 1963, when he was 14, so he brought a lot of history and knowledge of the area with him. He said he never served with an agenda other than to make Basalt the best place it could be to raise a family.
“I tried to incorporate common sense into my decisions – what was good for the whole,” Duroux said.
In 2004 he couldn’t run again for council. Town officials believed at the time that a council member could run for mayor, or vice versa, without running into a term-limit issue. Duroux ran for mayor when his friend and board colleague Rick Stevens couldn’t seek another term as mayor. He defeated Councilwoman Anne Freedman in a race that some observers labeled as one between a pro-growther (Duroux) and a no-growther (Freedman).
Duroux said elections were the worst part of his time in elected office.
“I hated each and every one of them,” he said.
He didn’t like touting himself. He didn’t like responding to how some other people portrayed him.
“Somebody once said I never met a developer I didn’t fall in love with. That’s not true. Developers give the community what it wants,” Duroux said.
He believes that Basalt officials have occasionally “squelched” good developments because they strictly applied the town’s rules. He is concerned that Basalt has created too many rigid regulations. Town Hall needs flexibility to get the community what it needs in some cases, he said.
Duroux was unopposed in a re-election bid in 2008. During much of his second term, the town government grappled with how to cope with the effects of the Great Recession. He credited the staff for helping keep the town government in such solid shape. All accounts have positive balances, and while there’s been some maintenance of town assets deferred, the councils have avoided digging the government into a hole, he said.
Among the town’s greatest accomplishments during his time in office, he said, is the approval of the Roaring Fork Club. Old Town Basalt wouldn’t look like it does today without the business boost provided by second-home owners and guests visiting the golf and fishing club, he said.
The town’s beautiful gardens and public spaces, overseen by Lisa DiNardo, have spurred the most comments he has received as mayor.
Other top accomplishments he listed were participating in replacing five bridges in and around town, acquiring the land that became Old Pond Park and earning voter approval for a 1 percent sales tax dedicated to creation and maintenance of trails and purchases of open space.
Hiring Kane as town manager also was a huge step, he said.
“Bill has brought Basalt to the forefront as a place to be,” Duroux said, noting that Kane has used his contacts to assist organizations from the Rocky Mountain Institute to the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation in exploring options for facilities in Basalt. “He made my job easy, and he’s done a phenomenal amount of work.”
As his tenure as mayor neared an end, Duroux decided to run again for council. But his further research on term limits and an opinion by Town Attorney Tom Smith determined that he was ineligible to run. Duroux said Smith’s opinion was the limit of two terms applied to council and mayor positions. In other words, they can’t be considered independently. Under that interpretation, Duroux wouldn’t have been eligible to run for mayor in 2004.
Duroux had wanted to stay involved with the board to help oversee the redevelopment of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park. A proposal before the town is to replace the 38 mobile homes with a hotel, retail center and nonprofit center.
He said it remains to be seen how he will stay involved in Basalt civics after adjusting to life out of office, but at least he will have more time to spend with his family. In addition to his wife, Janice, his daughter Amy French and her husband, Rob, live in the midvalley along with their 5-month-old son, Harper. The Durouxs’ son Darren lives in Fort Collins.
“It’s been a pleasure serving my community, where I’ve lived since 1963,” Duroux said.
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