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The Devil’s Advocate

Allyn Harvey
Aspen Times Staff Writer

If nothing else, KNCB Moore is a man of letters.

For more than 40 years, he has written his opinions, in one form or another, in local newspapers, serving as a devil’s advocate to the liberal/progressive mind-set that dominates politics in the upper Roaring Fork Valley.

The tone of the letters, and the criticisms and perspectives they contain, haven’t changed in years. He is the valley’s most established gadfly, one of the most consistent and durable critics of local government.

“Be Brave Comrades,” the sign-off that he places at the bottom of each of the several dozen letters to the editor that he pens each year, is well-known to local readers, journalists and politicos.

KNCB Moore is also a man with many points of view, some seemingly contradictory.

He is a registered Republican who doesn’t have much time or patience for the Republican Party. “I don’t get on with groups because group-think isn’t any good,” he said.

He’s a former fellow at The Aspen Institute who is not afraid to say that Aspen patriarch Walter Paepcke’s pet project has squandered countless opportunities to cultivate both its mission and its relationship with the community. “Their values are too highfalutin’ for a democracy,” he said.

At the same time, however, he’s a Paepcke-ite to the core, a strong believer in the so-called Aspen Idea. “The responsible use of leisure time in noblesse oblige – you try to pass on your values and leave the community better off than you find it,” he said.

In Moore’s view you don’t have to be rich to partake in the Aspen Idea or the lifestyle it embodies. “You just have to accept the conditions here and enjoy it at your own level, and you don’t have to accept handouts like affordable housing,” he said.

But Moore recognizes that the values behind the Aspen Idea don’t necessarily comport with those of a small town. And in saying so, he can come off as an elitist. “Responsible use of leisure time is not for the masses, but for the few,” he said.

Moore’s critics would say his elitism extends to some of Aspen’s sacred cows, like transit (he thinks the Roaring Fork Transit Agency is a grand waste of money) and affordable housing. “You can’t qualify for affordable housing unless you submit a financial statement that proves you’re too poor to live here,” he has said in more than one way over the years.

Moore is one of the most consistent local supporters of the second-home owner. “It’s a huge reservoir of money coming from absentee owners, and all people do is bitch and moan about them,” he said, noting that taxes and donations paid by second-home owners have built Aspen’s top-notch schools, hospitals, recreational programs and intellectual opportunities.

But Moore isn’t in favor of taxing the rich any more than they already are taxed. Quite the opposite. He thinks the city and county governments, with budgets in the tens of millions of dollars, have grown far too big.

In the land-use parlance that fills both local government meetings and many of Moore’s missives, he might say government here has expanded with too little planning and too much zoning.

“The city and the county should be unified,” he said, recalling one of his longstanding suggestions for making government more efficient, “but they can hardly talk to each other.”

Whether Moore’s philosophy and criticisms of local government endure is a matter for history and future generations to decide.

Some doubt Moore’s opinions will have much lasting influence on the town. Some think he’s nothing more than a prolific attention-seeker.

On the other hand, Moore’s column, The Devil’s Advocate, which ran in The Aspen Times from the early 1960s until the mid-1970s, was one of the earliest and most constant voices for the kind of good planning (the definition of which is debatable) that would preserve Aspen as someplace special.

Perhaps he made his mark by helping to prepare locals for the great countywide downzoning of the mid-1970s (which he vehemently opposed) that has kept so much of Pitkin County from being developed. By writing consistently over decades about local government policies, Moore has certainly helped make land use a part of the local lexicon.

Following the appeal

However history judges Kenneth Neville Charles Blythe Moore, a native-born Englishman and naturalized American, nobody will ever be able to challenge his devotion to Aspen.

He and his wife, Betty, first visited in 1952 on a ski vacation from the East Coast. “It had such an appeal – you could just feel it,” Kenny recalled.

Betty said they immediately began looking for ways to move as close to Aspen as possible. Initially they settled for the Denver area, bought a country club lot and built a house. Kenny went to work managing the Western region of his father’s industrial dry-cleaning and laundry business. And they spent as many weekends skiing as possible.

The family business in America started in the 1920s after the family emigrated from England, and Kenny became closely involved after studying business at New York University in the 1940s. When his father decided to close the company in 1955, Kenny saw his opening.

“When he saw that business wasn’t what it used to be, he liquidated it,” Kenny recalls. “I was in Denver at the time and said, ‘Hell, I’m going to Aspen.'”

Kenny moved to Aspen, bought 7.5 acres at the base of Little Nell and began building what would become The Tipple Inn. During that first winter he lived in a pickup truck and slept in an old Army surplus sleeping bag, or traded work to stay with either Charlie Paterson or Claire and Sandy Sanderson.

“When Kenny decided to move to Aspen, I was somewhat taken aback,” Betty said.

She remained behind with the kids, Linda and Pam. They joined him the next year and began life as the owners and operators of the newest local lodge, which was featured in a photo on the cover of The Aspen Times as the town’s newest “skyscraper.”

“It was a mom-and-pop operation,” Kenny said last week. “It’s amazing the people who still come out of the woodwork and say they used to stay with us in the old days.”

Kenny became a ski instructor for the Aspen Ski Corp., which owned and operated just one mountain at the time – Ajax – in order to secure a ski pass for himself and his family.

The Moores also owned a number of apartments in the immediate area around The Tipple, which they rented out for extra income. “Betty and I have been renting employee housing from 1955 to this day,” he said.

In 1961, Moore was elected to the Aspen City Council as the “planning candidate.” He entered politics hopeful that his ideas about good planning would be adopted. Instead, he found an institutional momentum for controlling growth that had been set into motion by Paepcke and his supporters.

“They wanted to save the town from the honky-tonks,” Ken recalled, referring to the kind of strip development that characterizes Denver’s Colfax Avenue. “The idea behind it is OK, but it’s upper-class. The idea of a small town isn’t upper-class – it’s egalitarian.”

What his fellow elected officials didn’t want to do was adopt Alderman Moore’s more libertarian planning ideals, which, according to his weekly column in the Times, centered less on government regulation and more on the good intentions of the individuals who braved the economic and social obstacles presented by what in the 1960s was a truly rural, isolated community.

He became frustrated with both the pace and politics of Aspen government. He was especially critical of the decision to hire a full-time city manager to assist the City Council with its weekly business.”We’d sit until 1 o’clock in the morning trying to figure out how to spend less than $200,000,” he recalls.

So to get government off his back, Moore moved from his place in town to a bedroom in the Tipple Inn that was far enough up Little Nell to be outside the city limits. Then he resigned his seat.

“I moved to the Tipple because I was so mad about what I was putting up with,” he said.

In the Aug. 16, 1963, edition of The Devil’s Advocate, ex-Alderman Moore wrote: “My experience on the council convinced me that the aldermen use common sense only if there is friendship in it, and that the gavel could rule out logic in favor of loyalty.” (That didn’t seem to stop him from running for elected office three more times, beginning with a run for sheriff in 1974 and followed by two runs for county commissioner in later years. All three attempts were unsuccessful.)

Betty says her husband came away similarly frustrated by the seminars facilitated by the Institute’s intellectual guru Mortimer Adler. “Kenny had a saying about Mortimer Adler – ‘He had a mind like a steel trap, which he liked to keep closed,'” she said.

By the mid-1960s, the Moores moved out of town to their current home on McLain Flats. Then in 1968, Valerie was born and Betty won a lot at the newly created Snowmass-at-Aspen resort (now Snowmass Village) for winning a trail-naming contest for the new ski area.

The name Betty came up with, Velvet Falls, was eventually given to a run near the Burlingame lift. She and Kenny built a house on their new lot and rented it out for the next 18 years.

Up on McClain Flats, they continued working on their house and spent the rest of their time socializing with friends, hunting mushrooms and river running (e.g. rafting) in the summer, and skiing in the winter.

“Mushroom hunting – it’s really a wonderful way to get out into the woods, discover things, learn about the forest and spend time with friends picnicking and drinking wine,” Kenny said.

Kenny was also an avid jogger/runner before the sport took off in the 1970s. In the summers, he recalls, he would ride up on a Skico maintenance truck and run down the mountain.

“I introduced sneakers and shorts to Aspen,” he said, recounting the times he ran up against the rural fashion sensitivities of midcentury Aspen. “The boys would whistle at me when I was downtown.”

Meanwhile, he kept on writing opinions as The Devil’s Advocate in The Aspen Times and in letters to the editor in other local publications, including Aspen Illustrated News, Aspen Today, The Aspen Daily News, Roaring Fork Sunday and all of the other papers published over the years in the valley.

He picked up his signature sign-off phrase “Be Brave Comrades” in the 1970s or early 1980s, while visiting a prep school in California with Valerie. While she was being interviewed by the admissions officer, he began reading a bulletin board in the hallway and noticed the phrase at the end of a letter from the headmaster. He liked it enough to make it his own.

KNCB’s column ran until 1974. His letters to the editor continue to be published to this day.

“I think if there is something I’ve tried to share, it’s common sense,” he said.

Allyn Harvey’s e-mail address is aharvey@aspentimes.com


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