O’Neal’s misguided venom
October 1, 2010
Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.” – Sir Edmund Burke
Ms. Susan O’Neal is, according to her, confused (letter to the editor, Aspen Daily News, Sept. 29). Apparently the Aspen City Council, of which I have not been a member for almost eight years, isn’t listening to her about a new museum.
She then attributes a quote to me where I allegedly said “I did not care if there were 10,000 signatures on a petition, I would vote the way I wanted …” I am not clear why Ms. O’Neal would mention me, since I neither live in Aspen, vote in Aspen, nor, obviously, am I an elected official in Aspen. The comment Ms. O’Neal attributes to me was, I believe, almost a decade ago when the City Council was debating the fate of some trolleys (a cause Ms. O’Neal supported). If I recall, and it has been a long time, there were not “10,000” signatures on the pro-trolley petition, there weren’t even 1,000; however, despite that lack of support I voted (and was the decisive vote in a 3-2 decision) to place the trolley issue on the ballot anyway so the people of Aspen could vote on it. The trolley proposal was defeated.
Ms. O’Neal’s revisionist history aside, Aspen (like the state and federal governments) is a representative democracy. That means we elect people to make decisions for us. This is not a direct (or pure) democracy where everyone votes on every issue; it is a republican form of government. Pure democracy rarely works because not everyone wants to decide every issue; people have jobs, families and personal lives, and they don’t have the time to invest in each land-use approval. This is why we elect a city council, to make decisions. When the voters don’t like those decisions they vote us out; thus we do elect a city council to represent us, Ms. O’Neal: “represent” – not to take a poll every time they make a decision.
The other reason a direct democracy does not work, and why I stand by my statement from 10 years ago, is that any small minority group can hijack the process. That happens in Aspen (and the trolley issue was typical of this), where Ms. O’Neal and others oppose almost every decision, and good projects get blocked and nobody seems to accept a final choice. It is ballot box zoning and it does not work.
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Projects like the Aspen Art Museum, Rio Grande Recycling Center, a new visitors center on Main Street, the Entrance to Aspen (perpetually), and a hydroelectric plant (actually approved by the voters) are questioned, debated, blocked, forced on the ballot via initiative/petition grid-locking government. Of course, it is always easy to oppose everything; the tough part is making an unpopular decision, a decision that often results in elected officials losing their jobs.
Finally, Ms. O’Neal, again, I am no longer a resident in Aspen and I have been off the council for many years. I have a new home and a new career, and while I love Aspen, I am no longer a participant in the public process there. So the next letter you write, to quote the great film producer Samuel Goldwyn: “Include me out.”