Skico defends endorsements |

Skico defends endorsements

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The senior managers of the Aspen Skiing Co. say they were surprised when their endorsements of Aspen City Council candidates turned into a political snafu on Monday night.

“There was surprise,” said Skico spokesman Jeff Hanle.

The Skico’s endorsements of Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud, Councilmen Tom McCabe and Tony Hershey, and candidate Rachel Richards caused a stir when Councilman Terry Paulson said it presented a conflict of interest. The council was set to review a timeshare project at the base of Aspen Mountain called the Residences at Little Nell.

After Paulson raised the issue, Klanderud brushed it aside. However, McCabe stepped away from the council table to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest. Hershey had already recused himself because he is a part-time Skico employee.

The end result was that Klanderud, Paulson and councilman Tim Semrau were left to review the 24-unit timeshare project.

Hanle said the Skico did not endorse a slate of candidates in an effort to influence the outcome of the review process of the proposal, though he did acknowledge the Skico could potentially benefit if the project is approved.

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“The thought process was that ski season was ending and that our employees were leaving,” Hanle said. “We have a lot of employees that are leaving town shortly, so we thought it was well-timed in regard to the absentee ballot voting period, which starts April 21.”

But the letter was apparently not very well timed when it came to the Residences project, as Paulson was able to raise the potential of a conflict.

“I think the ski company flubbed up,” Paulson said, urging the council to wait until after the election to consider the project. “I do think it puts a weird light on this project.”

For its part, however, the Skico was careful to point out Wednesday that it is not a “co-applicant” in the process, as reported in a published story about Monday’s council meeting.

“We are not a co-applicant,” Hanle said. “All that we have done to date is consent to the application as a neighboring landowner. If the application is approved, there is a small sliver of land that they would like to buy from us. And we have spoken with them about managing the project and using the Little Nell name, but that has not been finalized.”

And if the Skico was hoping its endorsements would make it easier for the project to be approved, it didn’t turn out that way.

McCabe said that based on what he had seen so far of the project, he wasn’t ready to support it. And with Hershey recusing himself, that makes it more likely that the project could earn a 2-2 vote, which means the project wouldn’t pass.

“So Terry may have lost a vote on his side,” McCabe said.

The Skico’s April 4 letter to its employees said that three incumbents, as well as former Aspen mayor Richards, were “excellent candidates.”

And the letter said the company supports changing the city’s land-use code to allow for more lodges to be built, it backs the proposed infill project downtown, it supports valleywide transit, and it wants to see improvements made to the airport.

The letter said that Klanderud “has worked hard in her first term and is now well prepared to undertake an effective second term as Mayor.” Of Richards, McCabe and Hershey, the Skico said all three “understand the challenges confronting the community from an economic standpoint.”

The Skico did not talk with Klanderud or McCabe before they endorsed them, but both Hershey and Richards had talked with Bill Kane, the Skico’s vice president of planning and development, prior to the Skico’s letter being sent out. Both had some sense that the endorsements were coming.

While not a long-running practice, the Skico has endorsed political candidates in the past.

“We endorsed Patty Clapper [for county commissioner] and we endorsed candidates in the last town of Snowmass Village election,” Hanle said. “We also endorsed candidates in the 2000 Snowmass election.”

The Skico has also consistently endorsed local votes on transit issues and came out last November in favor of using the Marolt and Thomas properties for transit.

And it is not entirely clear if an endorsement by the Skico is helpful to a candidate or not.

“It is not necessarily the greatest thing to get endorsements from the Skico,” McCabe said. “But then, anybody that believes in me, I’ve got to like it.”

For her part, Klanderud said she was surprised by the endorsement, but ultimately pleased by it. She also said she is not in lock step, by any means, with the company.

“Quite frankly, I disagree with the Skico on the entrance,” she said. “But I do read the endorsement as being a recognition that I can work effectively with the community to face our challenges and solve our problems.”

And Hanle downplayed how much weight the Skico’s endorsements are likely to have.

“We were saying these four people are in line with the beliefs of our company,” Hanle said. “But I don’t think that anybody is going to base their decision on that letter. We just hoped to let our employees know that we are taking an active role and that these are the people who will help us develop a viable community and resort.”