Pitkin County committee sees no conflicts, hears no conflicts
Although Aspen resident Neil Siegel sits on the Pitkin County Conflicts of Interest Committee, in the November election he voted in favor of a ballot question that would have disbanded the group. Voters soundly defeated it, however, meaning he will retain his seat.
“I’m still a member, I guess,” Siegel said.
But Siegel, a retired patent attorney, doesn’t think the committee will be that time-consuming. After all, it hasn’t convened since it started in 1998 through an amendment to the Pitkin County Home Rule Charter.
Organizers of Ballot Question 1C, realizing the committee’s dormancy since its inception, hoped to do away with it. But 3,925 of the votes, or 66.4 percent, were in opposition.
“It was an issue that probably wasn’t that well understood,” County Manager Jon Peacock said. “We probably didn’t get out enough with it in terms of community dialogue. And I think when voters see a conflict of interest committee on the ballot, on its face that looks like a good thing.”
The committee’s function is to determine whether a conflict of interest exists among county employees, be they elected officials or bureaucrats, when decisions or deals are being made. Siegel said the committee hasn’t convened because the county’s attorneys would typically spot a conflict before it became an issue.
“Kudos have to go to the county attorney,” Siegel said. “They really have sensitized those elected officials and administrative officials on the conflict-of-interest issues. When they come up, these people really err on the side of caution.”
In an Aug. 13 memo asking county commissioners to approve the ballot question, Assistant County Manager Phylis Mattice wrote that the charter requires that the committee be composed of no fewer than nine members and no more than 15.
“This function is unusual for a citizens board, which typically is confined to determining policy decision and direction,” she wrote. “County staff is unaware of any other jurisdiction in the state that seeks to defer discussions on conflicts to a volunteer citizens board.”
Siegel said that just three people sit on the committee — him, Brooke Peterson and Michael Kinsley. He said he encouraged voters to vote to disband it.
“In talking to a bunch of good friends who decided to keep it, their analysis was ‘No harm, no foul,’” he said. “It’s a citizens’ committee that doesn’t cost any money, and you never know when something’s going to happen, when lighting strikes.”
City of Aspen Attorney Jim True, one of the committee’s original members, said he voted to dissolve the group.
“We never met, and I voted to get rid of it,” True said.
Now the challenge will be to get members to join the committee so it meets the county charter’s membership requirements.
“We’re supposed to have nine members available for the board,” Peacock said. “It’s difficult to keep interest and motivation there when there’s not much for the group to do.”
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A ski season surrounded with uncertainty kicks off on Wednesday. The six inches of new snowfall Tuesday will allow opening of an additional 62 acres on Aspen Mountain, bringing opening-day total to about 160 acres.