Aspen Times Editorial: Rachel Richards, Linda Manning are best choices for City Council seats |

Aspen Times Editorial: Rachel Richards, Linda Manning are best choices for City Council seats

Aspen Times Editorial Board

Aspen voters might feel like they are in the midst of a crash course learning about the four candidates for the two open City Council seats because the election will be held March 5 — two months earlier than the traditional early May date.

Even so, this election has four candidates who are no strangers to political wonks or everyday residents because of their involvement in local politics.

City Clerk Linda Manning has been the most removed from Aspen politics because of a job that demands her neutrality, but she also has been closely connected because of her work duties that have ranged from preparing agendas for City Council meetings to being the gatekeeper of business licenses.

Skippy Mesirow has served three terms as chairman of the Aspen Planning and Zoning Commission and two terms as chair of NextGen, an organization comprised of 18- to 40-year-olds and serves as an advisory group to City Council about issues young residents face.

Bert Myrin is running for re-election to what would be his second and final four-year term on the council, having previously sat on P&Z and been an activist and organizer of referendums and petitions.

Rachel Richards is a former Aspen mayor and councilwoman and most recently a Pitkin County commissioner, a position she exited at the beginning of this year because of term limits.

Members of The Aspen Times editorial board met with all four candidates over the past month and attended other campaign events, including Squirm Night, which was sponsored by the local media.

We are asking voters to select Manning and Richards, two candidates who might not share the same ZIP code on the political spectrum, but also two candidates who can bring separate but clear mindsets to a council that, as a whole, has been fractured, ineffective and unclear about its objectives.

Richards, 58, will bring to council a record and blue-collar work ethic that have benefited the Aspen community and the Roaring Fork Valley for decades.

As a councilwoman, she was behind the city’s purchase of both the Yellow Brick and Red Brick schoolhouses, the former that serves as a daycare facility and the latter that functions as an arts and recreation building. She also played a key role in the city’s purchase of Aspen Country Inn for senior housing as well as its creation of seasonal housing at Burlingame by Highway 82 and the full-time housing at Burlingame Ranch. With an eye toward both the environment and tourism, Richards also championed the city’s lodging tax, the half-penny sales tax for open space and trails, and the one-tenth of a penny sales tax for the county’s Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund.

Richards also is studied in the water wars taking place and has shown she will fight for Aspen and the Western Slope. On the campaign trail she said the city needs to be proactive and involved in helping lower health insurance premiums for local residents, an initiative that might sound lofty for her position. Richards, however, understands that politics is local, and starting the conversation here is the first step to gain traction on a state and national level.

Richards’ critics, and she has a few, call her a career politician. We, however, consider her a devoted servant of the people who puts their best interests first.

We like Manning because she will bring a fresh if not unseen perspective at the council level.

This council needs balance and perspective, another reason we are endorsing Manning. As city clerk, Manning is on the front lines with Aspen businesses that have felt scorched by the city’s seemingly meddlesome approach to their affairs — whether it is trying to have outdoor dining or putting up a new sign.

Manning understands how crucial it is for businesses to gain any edge they can, and her platform — such as proposing fast-tracking building-permit applications by charging a fee — reflects that. At first blush that might seem like an elitist idea, but the same thing is done by the TSA or on express-lane highways, for example. If some business can get their work done in a quicker fashion because of this proposal, so long as the nonpayers don’t have to wait even longer, we are open to considering this idea.

As a city employee, Manning will bring a perspective to a City Council, which will give her a unique approach to decision-making.

We also are impressed by Manning’s strong organizational skills as demonstrated by her steady hand as city clerk, a role that includes overseeing municipal elections (but not this one), taking minutes at council meetings, or helping facilitate an open-records request.

While she has no political record to run on, we expect her learning curve on City Council — and it can be long — to be a short one because of the hundreds of council meetings and work sessions she already has attended. As well, we expect Manning to deliver on her pledge to have a role in making council meetings more focused and concise.

We like the idea of Rachel Richards and Linda Manning on the same board. Both of them are respectful and act professionally. Their temperaments make them approachable, and we can see them working toward common goals that will benefit Aspen, with a little dissension along the way. That would be a vast improvement over the current council whose communications have been stymied by infighting, with some of that credit going to Myrin.

With Manning and Richards on City Council, it would create a majority of women on the board, because mayoral candidate Ann Mullins — regardless of the election’s outcome — is in the middle of her second and final four-year term as councilwoman.

Our editorial board is convinced Aspen City Council needs a shake-up, and this is the first step. On March 5, vote Linda Manning and Rachel Richards for Aspen City Council.

The Aspen Times editorial board consists of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause and reporters Rick Carroll, Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason.