Forum on mayor, council races heats up in Snowmass | AspenTimes.com

Forum on mayor, council races heats up in Snowmass

Lauren Glendenning
The Aspen Times

Snowmass mayoral candidate Markey Butler, center, explains during Thursday night's candidate forum in Snowmass Village why her conversations with a Skico executive didn't constitute ex parte communications relating to the Base Village application. Councilman Jason Haber, left, who is also running for mayor, and newcomer council candidate Bob Sirkus listen in.

Councilwoman Markey Butler had to play defense at the Snowmass Village candidate forum Thursday night when the first question of the night singled her out for perceived ex parte communications over the Base Village application.

Roughly 50 people showed up to listen to the six candidates running for council and mayor at Snowmass Village Town Hall and what they heard was a lot of talk about Base Village and plenty of hostility.

Butler, who is running for mayor but would remain on the council should she lose the election, took several minutes to explain the conversation in question — that she merely asked Skico's Don Schuster some "clarification" questions outside of the official talks, and that because Related Colorado is the applicant, not Skico, the conversation was fair game.

The next candidate who had to play defense was Mayor Bill Boineau, who is running for a four-year council seat because his mayor seat is term-limited. He was put on the spot for "tampering" with a council packet before a recent meeting due to the ex parte communications.

He said the issue about the council packet had been blown out of proportion.

Ex parte communications and Base Village, as well as other topics surrounding an overall distrust among the three incumbents running this election — the other is councilman Jason Haber, who is running for mayor — became the theme of the forum. Most of the tense discussions were between Haber and Butler, with consistent rebuttals by Boineau, who is also clearly at odds with Haber on a regular basis.

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Haber accused both Boineau and Butler of deflecting the ex parte issue, accusing the two of "latching onto" technical aspects of the law as a way to avoid guilt. There were substantial discussions outside of the official room, clearly violating the town code, Haber said.

Asked if Boineau would be endorsing Haber after one of the many tense discussions of the evening, he quivered and shook his head with a definitive "no."

Haber stalled when asked the same of Boineau, then smiled and also replied, "no."

The interaction echoed some of the very questions these candidates faced about a council dynamic that all agreed needs to change. Some of the fresh faces expressed their intent and ability to bring about such change.

Bill Madsen, an Aspen native, has never served on a public board or as an elected official — something he views as an asset. He spoke of his experience as director of operations for Nastar as one of the many experiences he could apply to public office.

Arnold Mordkin, who served on the council back when Base Village was first approved in 2004, stood by his decision then and said he's "delighted" to see the project come to fruition, noting there's work to be done as the project moves through the town's process.

"We've got buildings sitting there with rebar sticking out of them. That's not Snowmass Village, we're not a third world country," Mordkin said. "It's a matter of taking what we have and moving with it — and I think we all want to do that."

It's a point noted by moderator Brent Gardner-Smith, executive director of Aspen Journalism — all six candidates this election season are, for once, all generally in favor of Base Village rather than running on some slow-growth or no-growth platform.

But the similarities seem to stop there and new blood won't necessarily equate to new council dynamics. Council candidate Bob Sirkus was asked if he's be able to work with Councilman Chris Jacobson, relating back to last week's meeting when Sirkus accused Haber and Jacobson of playing dirty politics in their ex parte accusations against the rest of the council.

Sirkus said he's ready to bring skill to the council, though, and said he'd work through whatever differences he may have with other members.

But who trusts who is up for debate, both among the council members and candidates, as well as of others such as Base Village developer Related Colorado.

When asked if Related could be trusted, Boineau said sure, "for today."

"We have to take certain things they say with a lot of thought," he said.

For Butler, she goes back to what build the town in the first place — handshakes, not dense deals penned on thousands of pages of paper.

"It's better to know the devil in the room than the devil you don't know," she said, adding that Snowmass was built because of trust.

lglendenning@aspentimes.com

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