No special prosecutor for Burlingame, council says
ASPEN ” Elected officials have rejected a request from a resident to hire a special counsel to investigate who’s to blame for the $73 million mistake printed on a brochure that explained to voters the cost of the Burlingame affordable housing development.
Aspen City Council members on Monday said they are not interested in pursuing a request made by resident James Perry last month to launch an independent investigation and possible prosecution of who might have known the brochure’s figures were wrong. The brochure was an informational piece disseminated by city officials to voters shortly before a 2005 ballot measure seeking approval for the government to build 236 units on the property, located across from Buttermilk.
In two letters written to City Attorney John Worcester, Perry said city officials may have violated Aspen Municipal Code, which says “No person shall knowingly make, publish, circulate or cause to be made, published or circulated in any letter, circular, advertisement, poster or in any other writing … any false statement designed to influence the vote on any issue …”
Worcester said he has no evidence that suggests anyone who was responsible for producing the brochure knowingly published or circulated false information. As a result, Worcester said he has no plans of pursuing an outside attorney or an independent investigation.
Perry told The Aspen Times last month that if the City Council is not going to pursue the request, he will go to the District Attorney’s Office or the Attorney General.
Once it was learned in May that the brochure’s figures were wrong, city officials immediately recognized the mistake. The project’s total cost listed in the brochure ” $73.4 million ” only included the costs of construction, and not below-ground improvements. The brochure said the overall taxpayer subsidy would be $14.7 million, which included all three phases of building 236 units. Only phase one has been completed.
But in reality, city officials have that taxpayer subsidy is $85.5 million ” nearly a six-fold increase.
The response by the council on Monday was spurred by public comment made by Marilyn Marks, a former member of the Citizen Budget Task Force and the one who discovered the brochure error. She told the council she supported Perry’s request for an independent investigation.
She said she thinks voter confidence has deteriorated because of the misinformation and said asking citizens to pass a bond this fall that could be as much as $70 million to pay for phases two and three at Burlingame is premature.
“We are not ready for a Burlingame plan,” she said, adding it’s unknown how many additional units will be built, how much it will cost, who will build it, among other questions.
“We are not going to have a professional plan by November” to present to voters, Marks said.
There are currently two separate outside audits being conducted on Burlingame’s finances and development, specifically on how the costs grew and how the next two phases can be built more efficiently. The results of those audits are expected by the end of the month, along with recommendations to the council from a group of construction experts who are examining the best way to finish the project ” in terms of density, development models and costs.
Council members said they are ready to move on from the brochure boondoggle and proceed with finishing Burlingame, where 84 units already have been built.
“I’m not so much interested in pinning a name or names [on erroneous information related to Burlingame],” said City Councilman Dwayne Romero, adding lessons can be learned on how city government disseminates information to voters but not through prosecution of people. “It’s a Monday morning quarter backing perspective.”
Mayor Mick Ireland wrote a three-page response to Perry and Marks’ request, which he distributed at the council meeting on Monday. The response also included Perry’s two letters to Worcester, his response to Perry and an e-mail from Marks on June 17 inquiring about the need for a special prosecutor.
“The request for a special prosecutor to investigate possible criminal and or civil misconduct by my predecessors in office does not merit a great deal of council time for it is rooted in the notion that public officials and citizens are guilty until they prove their innocence,” Ireland wrote.
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A straw poll by the Pitkin County commissioners Wednesday indicated they would grant approval to Aspen Skiing Co.’s long-sought expansion into the Pandora’s terrain. The board did not take a formal vote, and instead, county commissioners and staff will meet to hammer out details on formal approval documents and it will be back on the Nov. 17 agenda for the vote.