Pitkin County, Wexner engage in ‘frank’ talk
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Pitkin County representatives and landowner Abigail Wexner had a “frank” discussion about a proposed land swap when they met behind closed doors Tuesday, according to Commissioner George Newman, chairman of the board of county commissioners.
The parties came to no resolution, but agreed to meet again on May 17, at which time commissioners will convene a special meeting that allows them to meet in public and, if they choose, in executive session – outside of the public eye.
“I felt we had a good dialogue … it was open, it was frank,” Newman said.
Commissioners asked Wexner and her representatives to abide by the rules that govern county officials in executive session – that the matters discussed not be made public, said Wexner’s attorney, Gideon Kaufman. He declined to comment on whether the discussion was fruitful.
Newman called for the executive session, in order to have a “clear and honest exchange of ideas,” but the closed-door meeting may not have been legal, according to attorney Chris Beall, legal counsel for the Colorado Press Association.
The statute cited by County Attorney John Ely does not allow negotiation regarding the proposed swap, according to Beall.
Newman said Tuesday the county had a “shopping list” of ideas to present to Wexner. The sides have been trading proposals in an attempt to reach a deal that commissioners are willing to support, though the county is not actually a party to the trade.
Wexner and her husband, Leslie, want to acquire 1,268 acres of Bureau of Land Management property adjacent to their Two Shoes Ranch, south of Carbondale. In exchange, they offered to turn the 520-acre Sutey Ranch, located north of Carbondale, near Red Hill, over to the BLM.
The Wexners want the county’s support before seeking congressional approval of the swap and have twice sweetened the deal with other elements in an effort to win the commissioners’ endorsement. The county came forward with a counterproposal, which the Wexners rejected. The suggestions the county presented Tuesday in executive session have not been made public. They included, said Commissioner Rachel Richards, other potential property acquisitions.
A closed-door negotiation with Wexner and her representatives, however, would not be permitted under the statute cited by Ely, according to Beall.
“It’s improper to use it for an actual negotiation,” he said.
The statute permits an executive session for “determining positions relative to matters that may be subject to negotiations; developing strategy for negotiations; and instructing negotiators.”
Garfield County Commissioner Tresi Houpt, attending Tuesday’s session, quizzed Pitkin County commissioners on the justification for convening in executive session, and Martha Cochran, executive director of the Aspen Valley Land Trust, maintained the move was improper.
Ely was not available for comment Wednesday.
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