Thanks for your years of service, Mick |

Thanks for your years of service, Mick

It is with a sense of regret – and a dose of relief, as well – that we opine about Mayor Mick Ireland’s decision last week to take a break from elected office.

For much of the past two decades, Ireland, 63, has been a polarizing figure but a force to be reckoned with during his time as a Pitkin County commissioner and Aspen mayor. Many would say that despite his flaws, real or perceived, he’s been an excellent public servant and that city and county government were fortunate to count someone of his intellect and drive. Quite a few others, especially conservatives and the pro-development crowd, would vehemently disagree; they would have you believe that Ireland’s proper place lies somewhere among Dante’s lower circles of hell.

We lean toward the former, not the latter.

Ireland has fought hard to preserve Aspen’s small-town character, recently pushing a majority of council members and city staff on the key issue of reversing the “infill” regulations that allowed development to run amok in the middle of the 2000s. He believes that small businesses, not expensive penthouses, are the key to downtown vitality. He has been a strong supporter of the city’s various environmental initiatives. He is not without economic-development tendencies, having advocated to bring the USA Pro Challenge, a professional cycling race, to Aspen for the past three years and showing support for the continued hosting of the Winter X Games.

He is a big believer in recreational amenities, such as bike trails and open space, that improve the overall quality of life of Aspen residents. He thinks outside the box, such as when he proposed an unusual 18-mph speed limit for most city streets. His heart was in the right place when he fought for a hydroelectric plant on Castle Creek that would replace nonrenewable resources (such as coal) in the city’s electricity portfolio, even if his accounting skills weren’t. He attends the ceremonial events as required and basically has acted as a full-time mayor – mostly setting aside his career as a tax attorney – despite drawing a part-time salary from City Hall.

On the less-than-positive side, he is an extremely political being. He is often too quick to dismiss his critics and has fought them tooth and nail; one wonders if his (and the city’s) battle with 2009 mayoral opponent Marilyn Marks over ballot transparency was worth all the time, money and news ink. He claims to have held out the olive branch to his most vocal detractors, but one wonders whether the leaves on the branch were artificial or if he rescinded his offers of peace at the first sign that he would not get his way. He has shown anger in public over petty matters. He has valuable insight into many different areas of government, business and society but often takes too much time expressing them.

There are more than a few reasons why some people in the community, friends and foes, have referred to him as the “Mick-tator.”

However, we come not to bury Ireland but to praise him. By deciding not to seek a City Council seat this year – he is term-limited from running for mayor again – Ireland proved that he can step outside the governmental arena he loves so dearly and allow others to take the reins. This gives the community a much-needed pause from the certainty of another divisive election season, regardless of who was to blame for the ones we’ve suffered in the recent past. By not running for council, Ireland allows us all, friends and enemies, to breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Time will tell if this break from public service is temporary or permanent. Ireland says he’s not interested in a run for the Colorado General Assembly or another term on the Board of County Commissioners. In his announcement last week that he won’t seek office, though, he endorsed candidates for mayor and council and said he might take on more political-consulting jobs over the next few years.

We doubt that Ireland will stay out of the fray for very long. We can picture him trying to influence city and county decisions in the near future because being active in a variety of public affairs is what he does best, for better or for worse.

He stands for progressive ideals. He’s got a knack for winning elections. His quirky nature often makes things interesting. In this age of relative apathy toward civic involvement, these are not necessarily bad things.

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