Rally’s relocation refracts race’s central issue
The rhetorical and physical centers of the Basalt campaign for mayor met in a neat confluence Saturday after a nonprofit abruptly canceled a political rally at the Pan and Fork site scheduled for Saturday night.
“I think we need to purge the evil out of that site,” Basalt Town Manager Mike Scanlon joked while trying to explain the circumstances behind the relocation of the Tres Amigas Community Bonfire. “And you can quote me on that.”
The event, scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at “our new Pan and Fork riverpark,” was billed as a chili and s’mores affair for incumbent Basalt Mayor Jacque Whitsitt and Basalt Town Council candidates Katie Schwoerer and Jenn Riffle, according to an advertisement.
The event was to take place on riverside land owned by the Roaring Fork Community Development Corp., and had been scheduled for about a month, Whitsitt said Saturday. But Saturday morning, she found out the whole thing was off.
“Well, I was confused,” Whitsitt said.
The Pan and Fork site, some of which will likely become a park, is a central issue in Basalt’s mayoral campaign and, broadly, has pitted the two sides of the growth debate. According to recently released campaign finance reports, donors who have lobbied for development of the site with a limited park have aligned with Rick Stevens, while those who have advocated a larger park dominated Whitsitt’s donors.
This latest twist in the Pan-Fork drama surfaced after Whitsitt’s “opposition” complained about Saturday’s rally to the Community Development Corp., which “decided to revoke permission for the Tres Amigas bonfire tonight,” according to an email sent at about 11:30 a.m. Saturday from Jon Fox-Rubin, executive director, to Whitsitt, Scanlon and others.
“This is due to opposition and legal threats by other candidates, their supporters and lawyers,” Fox-Rubin wrote in the email. “The CDC has endeavored to remain neutral throughout the public process by supporting all requests to use its property by both the town and the public. The CDC in no way supports or lobbies for individual candidates.”
A phone message left Saturday for Fox-Rubin seeking further comment was not returned.
Scanlon, however, said the impetus behind the cancellation were complaints he and other town officials also received concerning the Community Development Corp.’s status as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit. Federal tax laws prohibit non-profits with that designation from supporting political candidates, he said.
Still, Scanlon said he and other town officials viewed the complaints as a federal issue, not a town issue and took no action. He said he didn’t even know if the Community Development Corp. is a 501 (c)(3).
For the record, it is, according to online minutes from the April 24, 2012, meeting of the Basalt Town Council, which quote its then-CDC director. Further, 501 (c)(3)s “are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in … any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office,” according to IRS rules.
Whitsitt said Saturday she suspected chicanery was behind the cancellation.
“Now, it sounds like something strange is going on in the opposition camp,” she said. “I’m not sure exactly what the threats are … or who’s bringing them forward.”
She said she wasn’t aware of IRS tax laws governing nonprofits, that they have nothing to do with her or the town and that her aim with the rally was “to go out and celebrate the riverpark.”
Rick Stevens, Whitsitt’s opponent for mayor, said Saturday he neither complained about the rally nor made legal threats against it.
“I don’t even have a lawyer,” he said. “Sue for what?”
Others in the community pushed the issue “on their own,” Stevens said.
Still, he said he was concerned when he saw political signs last week on Community Development Corp. property. Fox-Rubin called him Monday and said he was welcome to place signs on the property as well, but Stevens said he declined.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” he said.
Then, when he first heard about Saturday’s rally through a newspaper advertisement Friday, he said he had the same thought.
“They’re trying to partner with the town on this property,” Stevens said. “Why would they put themselves in that position?”
All was smoothed over long before the rally was set to begin Saturday night, however. Town officials reissued the rally’s bonfire burn permit for a public property area 100 feet away from the Community Development Corp. property, and the event was back on schedule.
“It could have been worse,” Whitsitt said. “We made lemonade out of it.”
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