Was Basalt Councilwoman’s e-mail biased?
October 23, 2006
The owners of the Roaring Fork Club are suggesting a Basalt Town Councilwoman be disqualified from voting on the controversial project before its review starts tonight.In a letter hand-delivered to Basalt Town Hall on Friday, Roaring Fork Club managing partner Jim Light wrote that Councilwoman Amy Capron displayed a “disqualifying bias” against the application by communicating with foes of the project outside of the public review process.Light stopped short of asking Capron to recuse herself from the review. However, his letter suggested the town could suffer legal consequences if Capron participates in a vote.”As we are sure you have been advised by your [legal] counsel, the participation in the review process by a Council member with a disqualifying bias could expose the Town to an action for damages, not to mention potential reversal of its action,” Light’s letter said.Capron said any comment from her needed to be part of the public process at today’s hearing, so she declined comment for an article. Basalt Town Manager Bill Efting said the town didn’t respond to Light’s letter. No executive session, where the council meets in private, is scheduled before the Roaring Fork Club review begins tonight at 7:20 p.m.The vote on the club’s expansion could be close. Foes contend the application doesn’t comply with the town’s master plan – a requirement whenever a project is annexed into the town. Capron is among three council members who were elected earlier this year at least partially on a platform of adhering to the master plan.E-mail sparked debateThe dispute arose when Capron sent an e-mail on Oct. 2 urging people to express their opposition to the Roaring Fork Club by attending public meetings, writing the council or writing a letter to local newspapers.One of the recipients was Jen Seal Cramer, the only member of the Basalt Planning Commission who opposed the project in that board’s advisory vote. Cramer and others forwarded the e-mail to friends. Eventually it made its way, apparently by mistake, into the hands of Jim Kent, a consultant working for the Roaring Fork Club on public relations-type issues.Kent wrote a letter to Basalt Mayor Leroy Duroux objecting to Capron’s e-mail. He said it showed she is in “cahoots” with Cramer and other foes of the club and that it was inappropriate behavior by an elected official.The council discussed the topic for nearly an hour in a private session Oct. 10. When it emerged, Capron announced she had been asked to recuse herself, but that she didn’t believe she had a bias against the application and could review it impartially.Light asked that night for the review of his project to be delayed until Oct. 24 and the council complied. In his letter delivered Friday, Light said Kent acted on his own. “The Roaring Fork Club did not request or authorize Jim’s e-mail to the mayor,” Light said.Nevertheless, Light’s letter shared the concerns expressed by Kent. “It appears to us, and perhaps to many in the community, that Amy’s e-mail soliciting negative comments regarding Roaring Fork Club’s pending application is at least evidence of a disqualifying bias,” Light’s letter said. Despite Capron’s assurances that she is impartial, Light said he and his partners “remain concerned that her judgment in this case has been and will continue to be unduly and improperly influenced.”Club ‘won’t play the heavy’In an interview Monday, Light said he and his partners didn’t ask outright for Capron’s recusal because they aren’t in a position to tell a council member what to do. That’s up to the council and its attorney. Light said it is impossible for him to know Capron’s intent and motivation even though it “appears” that somebody did something wrong.The focus should be on what Capron did, not what the club does on this matter, Light continued, and asking her to recuse herself would add fuel to the dispute.”We’re not the heavy and we’re never going to play the heavy,” said Light.But, Light said he believes there would be “outrage” if the scenario was reversed: If a council member wrote letters to supporters of the club’s expansion urging them to go public with their views, opponents would use that as a sign of bias, Light said.His letter to the town ended on a conciliatory note, saying they wanted to move forward with a review process that is transparent and fair to all. Light wrote that the club partners “want to believe that Amy will fairly judge our application based upon the evidence submitted in the public review process.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org