Rappaport, Whitsitt on plastic bags, in their own words | AspenTimes.com

Rappaport, Whitsitt on plastic bags, in their own words

Glenn Rappaport / Jacque Whitsitt

BASALT – Basalt voters will choose a mayor and three Town Council members in the April 3 election. This week, The Aspen Times is asking a series of questions to mayoral candidates Glenn Rappaport and Jacque Whitsitt.Profiles of the six council candidates and their answers to questions will run March 26-30.Today’s question to the mayoral contenders is: As members of the Basalt Town Council, you both voted to support a fee on plastic and paper grocery bags although you both expressed reservations. What does that say about your leadership skills?

With wedge issues like this in such a small community, there is bound to be some backlash. My largest concern is making sure the cause is worth the controversy that it creates. When we penalize grocery bag users, do we get enough environmental bang for our buck to risk alienating part of our small community? This is something I continue to think about. Certainly, the waste created by plastic bags is a serious environmental issue, one that I learned about as we on the council deliberated on the matter. But I am always a bit uneasy legislating morality, and that was at the root of my reservations in this case. During my time on the council, I’ve learned that a vital part of leadership is bringing people together and creating consensus whenever possible, rather than pushing wedge issues that divide people and often distract us from larger, more important matters. That would be a central principal of my governing style as mayor. I also strongly believe it’s important to nurture people’s ideas and aspirations, rather than taking a punitive approach to a small part of their everyday lives. Since learning about the issue, I have tried to change my own behavior, bringing my own bags to market and avoiding plastic whenever I can. Our family has embraced the bag idea to the point that my wife, Kelly, is now designing some very cool “shopping totes.” I am a firm believer in the need to protect our local environment (see Glennformayor.net for more), but as mayor I would focus on issues, like local agriculture, that have a greater potential upside – issues that bring us together, rather than dividing us.

Leadership is demonstrated in many ways. It is having the courage to take risks and also the flexibility to change course as the times dictate. When the council was first approached by the Green Team (a volunteer citizen committee working for a greener Basalt), I was somewhat ambivalent about the concept of charging for or banning plastic bags. It seemed there might be environmental projects that would produce a bigger bang for the valley or the world. There were also daunting economic issues facing our residents that made this issue seem secondary. I put my trust in our citizen committee. They had invested untold volunteer hours researching the plastic bag issue and I felt they deserved our trust. Unknown to the council, some in the community were withholding their support of the ordinance. And then a great thing happened. A gentleman disagreed so much with the new ordinance that he took it upon himself to attempt to overturn it through the petition process. Whenever I would run into Roy in the grocery store during his signature gathering, I would ask about his progress. He was hell-bent to make a change. He earned my respect because of his passion. The whole process has been a lesson in the public process. It was exciting to witness what I have always believed to be true: One person can change history. I also believe that we have now chosen the right path to address the bag issue. The Basalt Town Council referred the bag ban question to the April 3 ballot – where it belongs.Although it looks like there may not be campaigning on either side of the issue, Basalt and midvalley residents are smart. I believe they will do their own research rather than jumping on any bandwagon. We will reach an answer to the bag question through a democratic process that we are fortunate to own.

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