Myrin’s goals for 2016 get mixed reception

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times
Bert Myrin, the city's newest councilman, is pushing for council support on several initiatives in 2016.
Aspen Times file photo |

Bert Myrin, Aspen’s freshman councilman, has a number of initiatives he’d like to see take fruition in 2016. The question is whether his four colleagues on City Council will take him up on his offer.

Speaking at Aspen City Council’s first formal meeting of the year Monday, Myrin called on elected officials to address myriad topics in the coming months.

Among them:

• Increase the reporting frequency for campaign contributions and expenditures in municipal elections.

“I’d like to not see a $35,000 donation made after the election,” Myrin said, referring to developer Mark Hunt’s $35,000 contribution to his Base2 Lodge campaign. The contribution, which came on top of a previous $50,000 donation from Hunt, wasn’t revealed until after the November election — Base2 lost — because of the way the city’s campaign finance reporting schedule is set up.

• Get in front of Hunt’s plans, whatever they may be, for parking at the Base1 Lodge, which has yet to be built.

Hunt, who has approval to build the 42-room lodge in the place of the Buckhorn Arms Building on East Cooper Avenue, once had told the city he had secured 15 off-site parking spaces at the St. Regis Aspen Resort that would serve Base1 guests. That arrangement has yet to materialize.

Myrin said when the city administration learns of any plans for Base1 parking, it should notify council. He also said if Base1 hatches a deal for parking at the St. Regis, it could further congest traffic on Durant Avenue during the peak seasons.

• Resurrect “Second Tuesdays,” an informal gathering among the city’s elected officials.

The monthly meeting would help get council members on common ground in the lead-up to work sessions and meetings where decisions are made, he said.

“So much of our council time is spent reacting to the applicants in front of us,” he said. “We owe it to the community to try and figure out what’s going on …”

• Bring a Home Rule Charter amendment to voters this November. The amendment, as Myrin sees it, would allow council to have the final say on who runs the Community Development Department. Under existing charter rules, the council wields that authority when it comes to hiring a finance director and city clerk.

Myrin’s underlying message was “to get the conversation out in the open on what’s going on so we don’t end up with another year” like 2015, he said.

Myrin’s advice put off Mayor Steve Skadron, who, as reported in Tuesday’s Aspen Times, said the councilman’s unexpected suggestions weren’t warranted in a public venue. Skadron, visibly upset, urged Myrin to offer “professional courtesy to your fellow council members and make them more aware of it … and move the community in a healthy direction. That’s the way it works in the real world.”

Councilman Art Daily appeared more receptive to Myrin’s ideas, especially Second Tuesdays, which would give the council “an opportunity to talk about things in an informal context. We’re not voting on anything; we’re just buoying ideas around.”

Daily, however, wasn’t keen on amending the Home Rule Charter for council to figure into the process of hiring a director of Community Development, a position that was vacated by Chris Bendon at the end of 2015. Bendon, whether fair or not, had earned a reputation among City Hall critics as a development-friendly bureaucrat who routinely rubber-stamped land-use applications. The city plans to accept employment applications for the director of Community Development for the next three weeks. An informal petition asks for the formation of a citizens committee to interview the applicants, but the city manager has stood firm that Planning and Zoning and Historic Preservation boards will handle the public interviews.

Councilman Adam Frisch noted the Community Development head and other city staff members don’t vote on land-use applications. That duty rests with the council, he said.

“Staff has never cast a single vote for a single application. … That happens at this table, for better or worse.”

Even so, Frisch said the recent spate of citizen petitions should compel the council to listen to their constituents. One petition drive last year led to the passage of Referendum 1, which lessened City Council’s authority over land-use applications. Another petition overturned council’s approval of Base2 Lodge by taking it to a public vote.

“Whether I like it or not, that’s how decisions are being made in the city,” Frisch said. “We kind of need to roll with that.”

Myrin defeated Mick Ireland in the June runoff for a council seat. He ran on a campaign that was critical of the city’s process in approving development applications. Myrin’s candor has touched off similar criticism from his adversaries and colleagues, but he appears to be used to it.

At the conclusion of Myrin’s comments at Monday’s meeting, Skadron asked him if he had anything else to say. Myrin’s response: “I’ll wait for the next attack.”