Sarpa touts broad political support in Aspen Valley Hospital board race |

Sarpa touts broad political support in Aspen Valley Hospital board race

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Ask John Sarpa why he should be elected to the Aspen Valley Hospital board of directors and he’ll tell you to look at the list of people who are supporting him.

They come from a broad political background – from the left of the political aisle such as former Aspen Mayor John Bennett, and to the right such as sitting Aspen City Councilman Tony Hershey.

“I’ve certainly never seen a lot of those names on the same list in a political campaign before,” Sarpa said. “But that is the way it should be for a public hospital board.”

Sarpa has been intimately involved in Aspen politics since the late 1980s, when he moved here to oversee development of the Ritz-Carlton Aspen hotel, now the St. Regis. As part of that project, he worked on the Aspen Meadows Consortium to help the Aspen Institute regain control of its campus in the West End after the nonprofit think tank’s executive director sold it to a developer.

“It was that event – creating stability for the Institute and finding a way to realize a profit – that really piqued my interest in getting involved with this community,” he said.

Sarpa, 50, currently chairs the Aspen Institute Community Forum and manages development for the Snowmass Land Co. And now he wants to bring that experience to the hospital board.

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Sarpa entered the race after a number of the people on his list of supporters urged him to enter what has turned into a hotly contested race with a large field of challengers and incumbents chasing three seats. He was also drawn in by his experience as vice president of the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation.

“I saw how they treat issues and handle business management at the hospital,” Sarpa said.

He believes the current board has not performed well in a number of very important areas, but especially with the budget and contact with the public.

“Meaningful financial information about this hospital is around,” Sarpa said. “It’s difficult to understand – the hospital business is a difficult business – so the board and management need to work harder at getting it into an understandable form.”

He also thinks the board needs to create a more open and inclusive atmosphere at the senior management level.

“A monthly board meeting isn’t enough, and there isn’t anything else in place right now to help the board learn what the public views as important issues,” he said.

As to charges that he would be micromanaging areas that would be better left to the professionals, he said, “There is clearly a lot that needs to be done before you get to that point.”

Sarpa believes his real estate and business experience will be useful on this board, particularly as the hospital negotiates the terms of its annexation into the city of Aspen, and, once that’s done, in navigating the city’s rigorous application process once it is ready to expand.

Sarpa is a lawyer by training and a developer by practice. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Indiana University, spent a year abroad in Australia on a Rotary Fellowship, and then studied law at George Washington University.

Following graduation, he was the director of Middle Eastern affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a job that placed him in the middle of the peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt in the late 1970s.

Sarpa lives in a townhome at the Aspen Meadows with his wife, Jan. Their daughter, Emily, is a freshman at the DePaul University School of Theater in Chicago.

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