Paulson lashes out over rail vote
If Aspen City Councilman and mayoral candidate Terry Paulson is going down, he’s going down swinging.At a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board of directors meeting Thursday, Paulson lashed out against people he felt were working against his goal of someday establishing a commuter train. It was one of Paulson’s last meetings if he fails to win election as mayor. He can no longer serve in his council seat because of term limits. Paulson accused RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship of a conflict of interest and tried to remove him from a critical debate about whether the agency should negotiate with the potential operator of a dinner and tourist train.Paulson also threatened to try to cancel funding for a nonprofit transportation foundation that he claimed is slanted in favor of trail development.And during a tirade against other RFTA directors, Paulson vowed to erect a plaque with their names to make sure the public remembered they voted to remove and sell the railroad tracks between Glenwood Springs and Woody Creek. Paulson claimed the decision would go down “as a day of infamy.”Paulson’s leadership skills have been a campaign issue. Incumbent Mayor Helen Klanderud has criticized him for refusing to work with other board members and withdrawing from discussions when he is on the losing end of votes.Tried to muzzle Blankenship
Paulson accused Blankenship at Thursday’s RFTA meeting of writing letters to local newspapers that supported tearing up the rail and speeding construction of a pedestrian trail. He also claimed Blankenship shouldn’t advise the board on issues tied to the “rail-trail debate” because “he’s in it too personally.””I don’t think Dan’s had any choice but to make it personal,” said RFTA board Chairman Dan Richardson. There have been attacks on his character and his abilities, Richardson noted.Blankenship denied that he’s written letters to the editor. His only correspondence has been in response to personal letters from rail proponents, he said.Paulson’s efforts to remove Blankenship from the debate died a quick death. No other board members supported discussing Blankenship’s conduct in a separate discussion.Paulson and Blankenship have been known to butt heads before, but Blankenship didn’t take the bait Thursday.”I wasn’t concerned about the allegations he was making because they were baseless,” Blankenship said a day after the meeting. There were no letters to the newspapers as Paulson alleged, he said.Blankenship said he has advised his board since January not to pursue dinner or tourist trains. His recommendation came after thorough study and debate with other RFTA staffers and consultants.”I don’t think that’s a conflict of interest. That’s what the board pays me to do,” he said.
Blankenship called Paulson “one of the kindest, nicest, sweetest people I know.” But he acknowledged he’s also been the target of some Paulson “zingers.””He sometimes resorts to personal attacks rather than trying to carry the day with persuasive arguments,” Blankenship said.Fierce defender of railWhile no other RFTA directors agreed that Blankenship had a conflict, an audience member thanked Paulson for raising the issue. Jim Wright said Blankenship appeared biased against a proposal for a dinner train. Other rail supporters have made the same allegation.When contacted yesterday, Paulson didn’t back off his claims that Blankenship has a conflict of interest against rail. He said he will continue to try to “rein in” Blankenship. Blankenship wasn’t the only target of Paulson’s ire. He accused New Century Transportation of partaking in a bait-and-switch game. The nonprofit group was created last year to promote transit issues.Paulson claimed New Century requested funds from upper valley governments to work on transit and trail issues but has allegedly used them exclusively to promote a valleywide trail.He said he would ask a consortium of upper valley elected officials to stop funding the group.
Jacque Whitsitt, a member of New Century’s board of directors and a former colleague of Paulson’s on the RFTA board, said Paulson’s accusations were off base.”We’re working on trail issues right now but our main mission is much broader. It’s trails and transit,” Whitsitt said.She said she doesn’t think New Century will have to defend its work to other elected officials. Paulson said he thinks otherwise.”I think Terry was vindictive a lot, yesterday and in the past, with anyone who disagreed with him,” Whitsitt said. “Most people know Terry can be very mean-spirited when Terry’s not getting his way.”When Paulson threatened to publicly disgrace the other RFTA board members for voting to rip up the rail, some of them could only laugh. A visibly upset Paulson said it wasn’t funny. He accused them of selling out the valley.He remained upset with the board Friday but said his comments weren’t meant as an angry threat. “I’m coming from a sense of frustration,” he said.Paulson believes his position in support of rail will help him in the mayoral election. He said he received numerous telephone calls Friday from people expressing dismay with the RFTA board’s 6-2 decision to salvage the tracks.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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