Political potboiler erupts in Basalt
October 10, 2006
A political potboiler erupted Tuesday in Basalt over a councilwoman’s e-mail to opponents of a private golf club’s expansion and the reaction by a consultant for the developer.Councilwoman Amy Capron e-mailed two Basalt residents, urging them to get involved in the public hearings on the Roaring Fork Club’s expansion. One of the recipients was Jen Seal Cramer, a planning commission member who recently voted against the project when it took an advisory vote for the council.After the two recipients forwarded the e-mail to others, it fell – apparently by accident – into the hands of Jim Kent, a Basalt resident who is involved in a variety of civic endeavors in town and also works as a consultant for the Roaring Fork Club. Kent’s duties have included organizing meetings with neighbors of the club to hear their concerns and try to reach solutions outside of the government review process.Kent responded to Capron’s e-mail by firing off a strongly worded e-mail of his own to Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux, labeling it “a sad day for Basalt.” He accused Capron of “inappropriate” behavior.His e-mail was copied to Basalt Town Manager Bill Efting. The Aspen Times obtained copies of both Capron’s and Kent’s e-mails from Town Hall.Capron’s e-mail, Kent’s responseCapron’s e-mail doesn’t disclose how she will vote on the project or if she has reached a conclusion. “Last time we met, the room was full of RFClub ‘people’ pumping the project,” Capron wrote in the e-mail. “If anyone has any thoughts/ideas otherwise, it would be great to hear that voice …”I would be psyched to see a little more action on this one,” Capron continued. “It’s always a tough call for sure, so [I] would welcome some more public input from those who haven’t always agreed with the application.”In his e-mail to the Basalt mayor, Kent interpreted Capron’s actions as an effort to “actively organize” opposition to the Roaring Fork Club proposal. “She is also in a conspiracy with a member of the P&Z,” Kent wrote.Kent continued that the exchange of e-mails between Capron and Cramer “could spell big trouble for the council.” He claimed Capron’s behavior was inappropriate because she is supposed to be unbiased.”She has sacrificed her ability to hear this proposal, since her mind is made up and she is pubicly [sic] organizing from her elected position in cahoots with a P&Z member to stop the proposal from being approved,” Kent wrote.Several lines into his e-mail, Kent gets to the punch line: “She surely must recuse herself if nothing else.”Only six of the seven Basalt Town Council members were prepared to vote on the club’s proposed expansion. Councilman Mark Kittle cannot vote because his family’s land is part of the expansion site, so the decision could lead to personal financial gain.Observers anticipate a close vote on the project among the six voting members. A tie vote would doom the project.Council closes doorsThe council started its meeting Tuesday night with an executive session behind closed doors to get advice from its attorney, Tom Smith. When the board emerged an hour later, Capron said she would continue to participate in the review.”I continue to feel I am unbiased on this application and can hear this application fairly,” she said.Smith’s advice to the board wasn’t disclosed.After the meeting, Capron told the Times she strongly disagrees with Kent’s observation and feels he misunderstood the intent of her letter. She said she invited people to express their views.Capron wouldn’t answer questioning whether the e-mail was appropriate. “I don’t want this process tainted for this application,” she said. “I think they deserve a fair hearing.”She said she didn’t think her actions precluded a fair hearing.Kent didn’t attend the hearing. Jim Light, the managing partner for the Roaring Fork Club, told The Aspen Times while the council was in executive session that Kent took initiative on the issue on his own when he received Capron’s e-mail. Light said he was out of town when Kent received the communication.Once Capron announced she would not recuse herself, Light asked for the hearing to be continued to its next scheduled date, Oct. 24, without further discussion.”Some things came up recently that were unsettling to us and perhaps unsettling to the council,” Light told the board. He said time was needed to “reflect” on what happened.The board granted his wish with a 6-0 vote to continue the hearing and asked roughly 30 people in the audience to return then. David Myler, an attorney representing the club, said after the meeting that the delay was sought to “take the tension out of it,” not necessarily because the club would object to Capron’s participation.”This came as a big surprise to all of us,” Myler said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.