Radical idea: Tell the truth
Phil Overeynder has my sympathy. Michael Lipkin does not. They’re both pretty nice guys – smart, personable, capable. They have something else in common: They’ve both victims of an attempt to play a little fast and loose with the truth.Having said that, I have to immediately point out that Phil Overeynder is an innocent victim of someone else’s arrogant attempt to skirt the rules and conceal the truth.Michael Lipkin, on the other hand – victim? Yes. Innocent? Not so much.Of course, there are other significant differences that go along with what I’ve just said. One of the two men is trying to add a few million dollars to his personal net worth. The other is simply trying to find a place where he and his wife can live.Lipkin, as I’m sure everyone knows, is the developer of the midvalley Willits project. He recently got to bask in glory as a local hero when he announced that Whole Foods was coming to his project. Then he blew it by telling the Basalt town government that Whole Foods was demanding that he add a big chunk of new residential development to his project.Whole Foods (showing an impressive grasp of the apparently tricky concept known as “honesty”) immediately said that wasn’t true.Now Lipkin is explaining that he made “an honest mistake” and that he should have said that he needed the extra development to pay for the Whole Foods building and underground parking.Not to run this one into the ground, but – as others have pointed out – the midvalley real estate market has exploded, and apartments in Willits are now selling for much, much more than anyone might have imagined when the project began. So you have to figure Lipkin is already getting the extra money he claims he needs.So … no sympathy for Michael Lipkin. He said something that was specifically, blazingly untrue, and when caught, tried to replace the original untruth with what seems like a pretty shaky half-truth. Ah, Michael, you coulda been a hero.And here’s a curious final point: I’m not sure if anyone really cares all that much whether he gets to add to his project. I know I don’t. Extra apartments in what is already a pretty big, pretty dense “urban” development doesn’t seem like a bad idea.Fudging the truth – that’s a bad idea.Phil Overyender, on the other hand, does not, for one minute, deserve anything but a fair shake and a lot of sympathy.Overeynder is a certifiably nice guy and a highly valued city of Aspen employee. He and his wife decided to leave the valley because they couldn’t afford to buy a place to live. (Hey, condos in Willits are selling for a million bucks.) They’ve been living in city-owned affordable housing and, if Overeynder retired, city policy said he would have to move out. So he found a job someplace more affordable.That’s when Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick jumped in. He offered Overeynder a lifetime lease on his apartment, regardless of whether he worked for the city. Barwick then got the City Council to agree to that change in city policy during a secret, closed-door meeting.Now everybody’s angry. Other city staffers wonder why they can’t get that same deal. And the fact that Barwick tried his damnedest to keep the deal secret just made things worse.And there’s the minor matter that Barwick’s secret meeting was very probably illegal. Under state law, City Council decisions can not be made in secret meetings. Barwick’s claiming that the council didn’t make a decision – he just told them what he was doing. And what he was doing was changing an established city policy.Bear in mind: City Council makes policy; city manager executes policy. That makes Barwick’s explanation just about as shaky as Lipkin’s. And the sad part is, now that the whole deal has been dragged out into the light, Overeynder might lose his lifetime lease. And he’s already turned down the out-of-state job offer.So here’s what we’ve got:A developer so firmly focused on an ever-increasing payoff that he lost sight of the truth.A city manager so focused on getting his way that he arrogantly assumed he could get away with whatever he wanted.And a hardworking nice guy whose future well-being is suddenly up in the air.Lipkin and Barwick both deserve a good swift kick.Overeynder deserves sympathy and a happy ending.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
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