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Stop passing the buck

Dear Editor:

As you know, Ward Hauenstein and I are sponsoring a petition to overturn 2011 Ordinance 30 so it would have to be approved on a ballot if the city of Aspen wished to revive it. The ordinance rezones land for use by the proposed Castle Creek hydro plant.

Our petition signing is coming along nicely. We do want all proponents of democracy who are Aspen registered voters to sign, as this would send a strong signal to city government that the peeps want more direct involvement in expensive, major decisions. We have encountered a couple of Aspen citizens who do not support the hydro project, but who nonetheless are reluctant to sign the petition. Their stated reason is that they believe in representative government, not direct democracy; that we should elect officials and then hold them accountable at the ballot box. I agree we should hold them accountable, but not only at the ballot box. Since some citizens may be of the view that a referendum to repeal an ordinance is somehow at odds with our democratic system; I share my thoughts about that in this letter.

The right of referendum is part of our system of representative government. It is in the law. The current petition is being circulated pursuant to a local law that permits the citizens to overturn a nonemergency ordinance by getting enough signatures within 30 days. It is part of how we hold elected officials accountable, in addition to not re-electing someone. The system is not designed to rely solely on elections. After all, how do the citizens hold accountable officials who are term-limited or do not stand for re-election for whatever reason?

One of the chronic problems we have is that long-term projects like this hydro thing become no one’s responsibility. Each successive group of council members can kick the can by taking a position: First, when a project begins, that the numbers look good so why not start the project. Then, when the project is in midstream and over budget, the next group can say, “Well, those before us decided it was a good idea, so who are we to derail it?” Then the next group says the budget overruns happened under someone else’s watch before us. Those are sunk costs so we might as well finish the thing. This is how we get runaway projects. In effect, we have government by hired professional staff, not by those whom we elected.

That’s why Ward and I sponsored this petition. We hope you will sign it.

Maurice Emmer

Aspen


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