Voters facing slew of transit issues
Aspen voters will face five different ballot questions on transportation-related issues on Nov. 2, although three of the “questions” actually will contain separate sections that will require up to eight possible responses.
In what is becoming an almost predictable split among the members, the Aspen City Council voted on Friday, by a margin of 3-2, to go ahead with a set of controversial advisory questions on the November municipal ballot.
The meeting was marked by a number of competing motions as the council members jockeyed to make their feelings understood.
The advisory questions are in a “Yes” and “No” format now, instead of the multiple-choice questions that were originally proposed.
The council’s rail critics, Tony Hershey and Tom McCabe, voted against putting the advisory questions on the ballot, but were outnumbered by rail supporters Jim Markalunas, Terry Paulson and Mayor Rachel Richards.
The advisory questions, according to Richards, their author and main sponsor, are intended to gauge the public’s sentiments concerning a variety of transportation-related issues.
Advisory question “A” asks voters to identify their preferences concerning traffic growth across the Castle Creek Bridge into town; question “B” asks how voters feel about the need for parking garages or other increases in parking spaces in town if traffic levels climb too high; and question “C” asks voters if they are concerned about traffic growth and its impacts, whether they want the City Council to continue to work on mass transit, and whether they would like to see a ballot question comparing bus and trail transit options in November 2000.
Hershey and McCabe, however, maintained that the questions are biased, not fairly worded and are designed to elicit a particular response from voters.
Richards called a special meeting of the council on Friday morning to work out some technical problems with the ballot questions.
In response to a query from City Attorney John Worcester, the Colorado Secretary of State’s office is researching whether Aspen can ask multiple-choice advisory questions even though it goes against the state’s election codes. Aspen is a home rule city, which according to Worcester, gives the city greater leeway than non-home rule charter communities.
By changing to the “Yes” and “No” format, the council avoided the need for a ruling from the secretary of state.
At Friday’s meeting, it was once again evident that, at least where transportation issues are concerned, members of the City Council find it difficult to agree on much.
For instance, there was dispute about the language of the question regarding parking garages.
“The question doesn’t give the voters a chance to tell you what they think,” said McCabe, arguing that it only gives voters the option of responding to a narrow set of options laid out by Richards.
But council member Terry Paulson countered that “we’ve never really asked these questions” of the voters, and that now is a good time to do so.
At one point during the meeting, Councilman Jim Markalunas wavered in his support for the new format of the questions, voicing concern that voters might end up, in effect, canceling out their votes, depending on how the vote for each option within the individual questions.
After defeat of a motion by Hershey to drop two of the questions, leaving only the “all-encompassing” question C, which Hershey said was in response to Markalunas’ concerns, Richards made a motion to withdraw all the advisory questions.
“Jim, if you want to join Tony and Tom in defining how this election is described,” she began in frustrated tones before several council members began trying to make themselves heard at once.
“All I’m trying to do is come up with something that’s meaningful,” Markalunas said, explaining that he wanted to be sure that the final tally of the ballots would reflect the numbers of votes cast for each specific aspect of the advisory questions.
In the end, Markalunas agreed with Richards and Paulson that it would be beneficial to know the voters’ feelings on all the advisory questions, calling it the “lesser of evils” to leave all the questions on the ballot.
In addition to the advisory questions, voters will be asked to authorize the use of $20 million to build a light-rail system from the Pitkin County Airport into town, and up to the same amount to build a “dedicated, exclusive busway” along the same route if the rail proposal is turned down.
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Mario Ruiz came to Aspen Highlands from Bariloche through the ski patrol exchange as part of the Sister Cities program last winter. He quickly ingrained himself with the Highlands patrol. Ruiz was killed July 27 in an avalanche while working at his home ski area. The Highlands patrol is raising funds for his family.