Tell City Hall in an e-mail
ASPEN ” If Aspen residents have something to say to their elected officials via e-mail, there’s now an official procedure to make sure it doesn’t get lost in the virtual black hole of City Hall.
The new policy was created after several residents sent e-mail messages to council members shortly before the City Council was scheduled last month to vote on a controversial redevelopment proposal of the Mountain Plaza building, located at the corner of Cooper Avenue and Galena Street.
Council members delayed their vote because they had no way of entering the e-mails into the public record, and the applicant, Mark Bidwell, and his representatives hadn’t seen the comments ” which were mostly against the project.
“At the last council meeting it became evident that the city needs a procedure by which e-mails and other correspondence addressed to members of the council can find their proper place in the public record of quasi-judicial proceedings,” City Attorney John Worcester wrote in a memo to the City Council.
As a result, City Hall’s information technology department has established a mailbox, and elected officials have been instructed to forward any e-mails related to land-use applications to a specific e-mail address.
The city clerk and the community development department have access to the forwarded e-mails and are charged with making sure they are provided to all members of the council, the applicant and residents before the public hearing, according to Worcester.
He noted that electronic correspondence technically is not proper since it is considered ex parte communication made outside of the public hearing process. If elected officials decide to respond to a person who sends an e-mail or a letter, Worcester advises them to refrain from making a comment on the pending application and encourages residents to attend the public hearing.
“The public is discouraged to communicate with the council in this manner because like a jury, they shouldn’t be talking to them before a trial and in our case, a public hearing,” Worcester said. “If you were a criminal defendant you wouldn’t want someone talking to the jury.”
An essential part of the process is for residents to speak out for or against a project during the public hearing when the council is considering the application and is preparing to vote on it, Worcester said.
“We discourage e-mails to council, but we know they are going to do it so we have this [procedure],” he said, adding he’s not certain electronic messages carry that much weight anyway. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an e-mail that changes a person’s mind.”
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The city of Aspen and Pitkin County are partnering to buy a 274-acre tract of land off McLain Flats for $10 million on property owned by longtime residents Carolyn and Tom Moore.