Jack Johnson: Guest opinion
August 12, 2008
More than 12 months ago your City Council took “increased transparency” as one of our operating principles. To that end your mayor proposed a budget task force of local citizens knowledgeable about finance to review all the city’s practices and make recommendations about how we might make changes to better serve you. All methods and practices were examined. We threw open the books and made city staff completely available to the task force. Completely available.
The task force discovered the 2005 Burlingame brochure. Current council has already stated the brochure was a mistake (some members of the previous council authorizing it have gone on record to agree), and we are committed to ensuring the error isn’t repeated. There has been much criticism this summer, some of it rightly deserved, some of it deliberately destructive. We have and are taking steps to address the just criticism.
Three “investigations” were proposed regarding Burlingame: one by this council and city staff ” a “lessons learned” from Burlingame Phase I before commencing upon later phases, one by the task force to look into the total costs of Burlingame, and one proposed by a private citizen into allegedly criminal acts by previous council members.
Council chose to pursue the first two and denied the third because we should criticize political behavior not criminalize it. These audits are available online at http://www.aspenpitkin.org under “Burlingame Information.” You should read them; they are short and easy to understand. They reveal no corruption.
The audits do recommend changes in delivering employee housing. This isn’t shocking, as having completed Burlingame Phase I, it was clear some procedures were unwieldy to say the least and clearly needed review and improvement to more effectively account for and deliver employee housing. That’s why we proposed the audits ” to learn from our experience. I look forward to implementing these changes.
We should have a healthy skepticism when it comes to actions of our government, but that skepticism comes with responsibility too. We should all feel relieved these independent audits revealed no substance to the claims of corruption or fraud ” in fact, the exact opposite. But those claims have done damage to your government, the reputation of this council and to a very necessary employee-housing program. This didn’t have to be. Everyone should have waited until the audits were complete and the actual results known before passing such injurious judgment.
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I had hoped that we might rejoice, or should that be too strong a word, at least find satisfaction there was no corruption or fraud. Instead it seems the organized, sustained attack is to continue. Why? Are we really going to throw away years of hard work creating a housing program ” the envy of every resort ” one that ensures Aspen remains a community where we want to live because of a mistake in a brochure that should have never been written and one we repudiate? This is a controversy that doesn’t have to be.
Burlingame is a huge success and a political lightning rod. It provides homes for working families and has won national design and environmental awards. The time for second-guessing Burlingame is over. We can’t undo past decisions. I am committed to delivering quality housing in a fiscally responsible way ” as has always been the case. That’s my responsibility as you placed your trust in me. I won’t be deterred from that goal and nor should you.
I call on all of us to accept the findings of the audits and invite you all to join me in continuing to work for the long-established goal of creating employee housing. It is how we will maintain this community into the future.
I believe that but for the discovery of this brochure we would have easily passed a ballot measure this fall to ensure the future of the employee-housing program. Now it is in jeopardy.
Council will discuss bonding measures today at 5 p.m. in council chambers. If we are unable to pass a bond this fall it may not mean an end to the program, but it will cause unnecessary delay, increased costs and harm to those in need of housing. I encourage everyone interested in the future of the housing program to stop by and let us know what you think.
I speak only for myself and not on behalf of the city or the council.
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