If good guys get greedy
A wise Aspen woman told me the other day that the real threat to Aspen is not the classic villain: the hit-and-run, land-raping out-of-town developer.The real danger, she explained, comes from the local developers. They’re the ones we have to keep an eye on.She was right.There’s always been a clear (and perhaps not unreasonable) prejudice against people who live somewhere else and want to build major projects in the valley. I remember more than one public hearing at which someone sneeringly pointed out that the would-be developers were “the only ones in the room wearing neckties.”But I also remember a meeting, decades ago, when a county commissioner said (more or less): “If we’re going to be serious about controlling growth, it’s going to mean turning down projects by people we know and like. A bad project’s a bad project, even if the people doing it are ‘good guys.'”He was right.Many of the biggest projects in the valley these days are coming from our own “local” developers. They’re part of the community. You see them at dinner parties and fundraisers. You see them skiing in the winter and biking in the summer. Their kids are best friends with your kids. They’re your friends – or, at least, a reasonable facsimile thereof.So what do you do when they propose a project that’s too big, too ugly, too destructive? What do you do when the good guys get greedy?And what do you do about the fact that, to some extent, they’re almost all fronting for out-of-town partners? (Partners who are undoubtedly wearing neckties but know better than to show up at our public hearings.)How do you vote against a friend? How do you look a friend in the eye and tell him he’s being greedy? How do you tell him to stop, damn it, just plain stop?How do you tell the good guys that the rules apply to them, too?It’s not easy. We don’t want to hurt our friends, our neighbors, our kids’ best friends.Which brings us to Mick Ireland.As mayor, one of Mick’s greatest liabilities may also be one of his greatest assets.Mick is smart, honest, hardworking and dedicated to fighting for Aspen. He’s open and generous, and his heart’s virtually always in the right place. No question there.But sometimes he loses control and he thoughtlessly blurts out something that may be true but didn’t need to be said – something that hurts someone who didn’t need to be hurt.I understand he might have already done that at his first council meeting. And if he didn’t, he will. Sooner, not later.That’s the liability that’s also an asset.Because that same corner of his personality that makes him blurt out a hurtful truth that doesn’t need to be said also leads him to tell the painful truth even to an angry friend.And when you’re mayor of Aspen, suddenly you have a lot of friends.I’ve known a lot of Aspen mayors, and I’ve watched them accumulate a lot of new “friends.” It can be tough to sort through those new friends and their motives.And sometimes even the most innocently sincere new friend – or a genuine old friend – can turn up on the wrong side of an ugly development plan.And then what does the mayor do?If you’re just an ordinary citizen, it’s easy to keep your mouth shut when a friend is doing something you don’t quite approve of. The cost of your silence is low. And the cost of honesty can be the end of a friendship – or the end of a pleasant dinner party, at the least.But when you’re the mayor, the cost of friendship can be very high – to the city.And while we may have cause to wish that Mick could be a little more diplomatic, I think we can count on him to say what needs to be said.Even to friends. Even to the good guys. Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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