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Rick Carroll: Above the Fold

The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

A few years ago, when The Aspen Times website had a free-for-all forum for online comments, a local resident relentlessly pressed that we cease the practice or, at the very least, remove the remarks that troubled her. She contended, both through a round of emails and a meeting with me, that the forum allowed anonymous readers to make hurtful and unsubstantiated remarks about her – with no accountability.

And, in a Nov. 14, 2009, email to me, she wrote, “I won’t bore you again with my dismay that something so valuable as Aspen Times community space is being so abused and devalued by the base, juvenile and damaging temper tantrums of a handful of anonymous, unethical cowards. The hoodlums now control the neighborhood, and most of the rest of us no longer want to visit.”

The online vitriol became so bad that she, who was one of the few named posters, stopped making online comments. This was her stand, and her name was Marilyn Marks.

How times have changed.

The recent flap over Aspen’s campaign-finance rules has brought Marks back into the fold of election-season hysterics, pitting her against her arch-adversary, Mayor Mick Ireland. It also has revealed that Marks wants it both ways.

The outgoing mayor is pushing for a city ordinance that would require all campaign contributors of less than $20 to reveal their names. Ireland, who’s still pondering a run for a seat on the City Council, claims that donors should be accountable by providing their identities for all to see. He’s still stewing over the “Sick of Mick” campaign in 2011, launched by Elizabeth Milias, one of a handful of City Hall gadflies.

Against Ireland in this public squabble over donations are Marks, who calls herself an election-transparency activist, and Maurice Emmer, who is running for mayor. Both have contended, in opinions published in this newspaper, that an Aspen ordinance requiring names to be revealed would trample on their First Amendment rights.

Marks and Emmer both make compelling points, but this is an issue best left to the attorneys and courts to sort out, and don’t be surprised if that’s where it heads.

However, Ireland and Marks, and now Emmer, never seem to back down from a spicy rhetorical brawl with each other, especially during campaign season.

On Thursday, Marks, who had been laying low lately, at least in Aspen’s election-transparency circles, threw down the constitutional gauntlet in a letter to this newspaper, dropping such names as Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison – whose anonymous works appeared in the Federalist Papers – to make her case. “Would Ireland, (Councilmen Adam Frisch, Derek Johnson and Steve Skadron) demand ‘accountability of these Founding Fathers in their anonymous works’?” she asked.

The letter prompted Ireland to fire off an email to Marks, saying that “nobody is banned from speaking or criticizing – if you want to pay for personal attacks, put your name on the attack. Accountability is not censorship.”

In true Marks fashion, she made Ireland’s response part of an email thread that’s now making its rounds to members of the City Council, candidates for City Council, media members and others.

Marks and Emmer, the thread shows, argue that Aspen residents are intimidated by the forces of City Hall, which is why anonymous speech serves an important civic purpose. Ireland, meanwhile, told Emmer to “spare me the righteous claims about intimidation” and noted that Emmer’s and Marks’ contentions were “just more B.S. about the ‘right’ to smear people without stepping forward to take credit for nastiness.”

Emmer’s reply: “Confirmed. The Constitution is just more B.S.”

These passionately stubborn types like Emmer, Ireland and Marks make for a classic Aspen spitting bout, but one of these drivers of Aspen headlines needs to look in the mirror.

Marks’ argument about The Aspen Times’ allowing anonymous comments was no different from the one Ireland is currently making: Put your name on it, and be accountable for your words. Marks felt that she was unfairly attacked by anonymous bloggers on the website.

Other factors – not Marks’ insistence that we take down the forum, mind you – led us to use Facebook as a vehicle to post comments on the Times website.

But in a strange twist of philosophy or beliefs, or more likely another opportunity to attack Ireland, Marks now is waving the free-speech flag and insisting that if the incumbent mayor has his way of requiring donors of less than $20 to provide their names, Aspen residents’ constitutional rights will be violated.

Marks’ dueling beliefs are indicative that election season in Aspen often reveals one’s true motives. In the case of Marks, that means discredit your adversaries no matter what your beliefs, even if it validates your hypocrisy.

Rick Carroll is managing editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips – anonymous or identifiable – at rcarroll@aspentimes.com.


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