Editorial: Appointment process exposes system flaw
There are basically two ways in which the community is looking at Mayor Steve Skadron’s decision to change his vote on the appointment to the vacant council seat.
To some — including many who were present at the Aspen City Council’s meeting room Wednesday when he gave his support to Dwayne Romero after lobbying council members to vote for Howie Mallory — he showed superlative leadership qualities.
The three council members and Skadron had been deadlocked, 2-2, on the decision to appoint the two finalists to the council seat Skadron vacated when he recently was elected mayor. Both Mallory and Romero were strong finalists for the position; to schedule more interviews or meetings to discuss the attributes of the nine applicants who didn’t make the final cut, in order to find a “compromise candidate,” would have been a waste of time.
Since neither he nor Mallory supporter Ann Mullins could convince one of the two Romero supporters (Art Daily and Adam Frisch) to switch, Skadron acquiesced and went with Romero, avoiding what was to be the next step to break the tie: a roll of the die, with the finalist hitting the highest number serving in the seat for the next 23 months.
Skadron said he ended the standoff because he didn’t want the spectacle of a die roll to be the decider.
“I don’t believe abdicating responsibility for an important decision to a roll of the dice is appropriate. I think it’s wrong,” he said.
But there is another mode of thought, one that’s shared by those who believed the new mayor should hold his ground at all costs to keep Romero, president of the development company that runs Base Village in Snowmass, from returning to the council (he served from 2007 to 2011).
To them, Skadron lost a game of chicken. He ought to have let the die roll, given that he would have had a 50-50 shot of getting Mallory, a retired banker and the preferred choice of the community’s slow-growth advocates, into the seat.
One wonders: What would former Mayor Mick Ireland, Skadron’s predecessor and staunch supporter in the recent election, have done in the same dicey situation? We don’t know his opinion on the matter, but we have a hard time envisioning the longtime city (and Pitkin County) leader caving in and agreeing to support a developer for the part-time, but important nonetheless, council job. (Knowing Mick, he might have offered up a “compromise candidate” — someone to his liking — in lieu of the dice throw. We’ll ask him later.)
Many disagree, but we don’t necessarily see the die throw as a negative thing. It’s written into the city’s election code as the tie-breaker solution in the event that an equal number of voters support two different candidates. Why not use it during a council-appointment deadlock? It’s more interesting that drawing straws, fairer than letting the city manager make the decision and certain to draw national attention on a resort town that thrives upon publicity for its many oddities.
In fact, City Clerk Kathryn Koch deserves commendation for bringing it up as an option on Tuesday night after it was clear (following four “secret ballot” votes) that the council members and Skadron weren’t going to budge from their positions — at least not until the next day, when Skadron capitulated.
If nothing else, though, the deadlock and the “die-breaker” possibility serve to expose the flaws in the system. This year, the council should make it a priority to modify the rules that require a council appointment to a vacated seat. There should be a special election instead, giving the electorate the responsibility for the decision, for all cases in which at least nine months remain in the term. The city of Aspen can afford to birth a baby election.
And in other cases in which there are eight months or less left in the term, it’s OK if the council makes the selection. But in the event of another 2-2 tie, a roll of the dice will suffice.
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“When the Aspen School District Board of Education meeting ended four hours after it began on Sept. 21, it seems there was only one thing on which the more than 200 virtual attendees agreed: The meeting was emphatically difficult to watch,” writes Meredith Carroll.