Voters overhaul hospital board | AspenTimes.com

Voters overhaul hospital board

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Bill Boehm registers to vote in the AVH Board Election at eh AVFD fire house Tuesday morning May 7, 2002. Paul Conrad photo.

In a landslide victory, challengers John Sarpa, Elaine Gerson and John Jellinek unseated three incumbents on the Aspen Valley Hospital board of directors Tuesday.

The election drew what was likely a record turnout despite an early snafu that forced poll workers to turn away the first voters of the morning.

The hospital inadvertently delivered the wrong punch-card-style voting machines, outfitted with a 1989 school district ballot, to all three polling places. The start of voting was delayed until the correct machines could be delivered.

Once voting actually commenced, hospital district residents flocked to the polls, especially in Aspen. Incumbents Meg Haynes, Chuck Torinus and Tom Griffiths were trounced. The winning candidates each garnered more votes than the combined total collected by the bloc of incumbents.

Sarpa led all candidates with 1,229 votes, followed by Gerson with 1,065 and Jellinek with 1,053. Dr. Ann Mass was fourth with 461 votes. Griffiths had 439, Haynes received 341, and Torinus had 255.

“Clearly, people were looking for new direction, new input, I would say,” Sarpa said.

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All three of the winners were astounded by the huge turnout. A total of 4,843 votes were cast on 1,710 ballots. Voters were allowed to vote for three of the seven contenders.

By comparison, the top vote-getter in the May 2000 hospital board election received 524 votes.

“I’m elated there was such a huge turnout,” Gerson said.

Sarpa voiced hopes that the community would find the new hospital board more accessible and promised a close look at the hospital’s operations.

AVH’s billing system and the contracts between the hospital and its staff are due for scrutiny, Jellinek added. “We’ll look at all this – that’s what we said we’d do.”

“I think [voters] feel they needed to have a voice on what goes on,” Gerson said.

Gerson is a registered nurse and manager of the cardiology clinic at Aspen Valley Hospital. Sarpa manages development for the Snowmass Land Co., and Jellinek is a private equity investor and president of Jelco Ventures.

Haynes, who had been president of the AVH board, was elected to her first four-year term in 1994, along with Griffiths and Torinus.

“We are proud of what we’ve done . we’ve had a phenomenal team,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of good things.

“I think there was a general theme of change for the sake of change.”

Yesterday’s election got off to an unusual start when poll workers discovered the ballots in the machines did not list the names of the seven board candidates, but rather posed a 1989 school district question and several other measures.

Hospital officials then scrambled to deliver the right voting machines to polling sites at the Aspen fire station, Snowmass Village Chapel and Basalt High School.

Aspen had the right machines in place by 7:30 a.m., but voting in Basalt couldn’t get under way until 8:20 a.m., said an election judge there.

“It was such an odd situation – we were kind of in shock,” said Barbara Buettner, who helped man the polls in Basalt.

Voting machines loaded with the proper ballot had been prepared in advance and were sitting in the lobby area of the Pitkin County clerk’s office. They were picked up Monday, but hospital officials grabbed the wrong set of machines, according to County Clerk Sylvia Davis. Other machines, returned by the school district, were also sitting out, she said.

“They just literally walked in and picked up the wrong ones – they didn’t check,” she said.

When packed, the machines look like large, metal briefcases.

By the time the error was discovered, it was too late to rectify before the first voters showed up at the polls. Eight individuals in Aspen were turned away but returned later to cast their votes, according to election judge Eve Homeyer.

In Basalt, several voters returned later, and others indicated they would vote in either Aspen or Snowmass Village instead. An emergency absentee ballot was to be delivered to one individual later in the day, according to Paul Taddune, attorney for the hospital.

Basalt election judges said one or possibly two voters were headed downvalley and did not expect to be able to cast votes later in the day. The polls closed at 7 p.m.

Snowmass election judges refused to discuss how many voters had been affected there, referring questions to hospital administrators.

The AVH board is scheduled to meet Thursday. The newly elected members will join incumbents Morris Cohen and Bob D’Alessio at the table.