September 24, 2008
When J.E. DeVilbiss retired from the bench in 2002, he easily could have spent the twilight of his life out of the public sector.As a judge for some 30 years, DeVilbiss had seen and heard the best and worst of what the Roaring Fork Valley has to offer. He listened to liars, lawyers and defendants who had simply taken a wrong turn in life.There was no assembly-line justice in his courtroom. The judge measured each case on its own, and he knew a B.S. artist when he heard and saw one. He also recognized sincerity by issuing measured sentences that fit not only the crime, but the criminal.Yes, DeVilbiss could have walked away when he retired. Instead, the unassuming Texan ran for Aspen City Council in 2005 and won easily. At the time DeVilbiss, who himself lived in affordable housing, ran on a pro-housing platform. He also was worried about runaway development in Aspen. As a councilman, he would be a defender of those values. But he was not always popular with the people who went before him as a judge or as a council member.He would call a spade a spade, and those who lied to him or even offered the slightest of bluffs were reprimanded by DeVilbiss. He was not afraid to take the unpopular position, a trait all good leaders have. We were blessed to have him. DeVilbiss died Sept. 18 at the age of 73, and now Aspen City Council must find someone to replace him. This will be a difficult task, and the council has fewer than 30 days to decide.City residents would be best served if the council does not appoint a planning and zoning member, because that person would have to remove him or herself from council decisions on applications that already have gone before P&Z. We also hope that the process is a dignified and respectful one, especially in light of the citys adversarial political climate. We cannot, however, expect the council to select a DeVilbiss clone. First of all, that person does not exist, and secondly, that is an unrealistic and naive expectation. We do hope, though, that the council chooses someone with similar values and political philosophies as DeVilbiss.That would mean this person is not seeking a council seat to advance his or her personal ambitions. Instead, the replacement would be someone who cares about the greater good of Aspen, doesnt engage in petty politics and appreciates the value of democracy.