Editorial: The Aspen Times’ picks for Tuesday’s special district elections | AspenTimes.com

Editorial: The Aspen Times’ picks for Tuesday’s special district elections

Aspen Times Editorial Board

Voters in the next few days have an opportunity to shape the future of the Aspen Fire Protection District, which is at a critical crossroads as it continues to move from an all-volunteer organization to a roster of paid, career firefighters.

Ballots are due Tuesday, May 3, and we suggest that the thousands of eligible voters vote in this special district election for candidates Emily Taylor, Ritchie Zah and David “Wabs” Walbert.

The three seats up for election are held by incumbents Steve Wertheimer, Denis Murray and Walbert.

With significant changes occurring within the organization, along with some growing pains as unpaid volunteers work next to paid firefighters and an impending change in leadership in the coming years, we believe a fresh set of eyes and way of thinking is needed on the board of directors.

That is why we endorse Taylor, Zah and Walbert, the latter of whom has been on the board since 2017 and has been a volunteer firefighter for 30 years.

Electing two new board members and one long-tenured firefighter, we believe, brings a good balance to the five-member board that includes John Ward and Michael Buglione, who are not up for re-election.

Not only would a female thinker be a good gender diversity addition to an all-male board, but Taylor’s background in environmental protection brings a perspective the fire protection district needs as climate change and the threat of wildfires becomes real here in the upper Roaring Fork Valley.

Taylor works at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, and her skills in environmental communication would be a great asset to the community in the education of wildfire prevention and preparedness.

Zah, an Aspen police officer and a volunteer firefighter for five years, would bring a real-world and on-the-ground perspective to the transition to a combination department of paid and unpaid firefighters.

We agree with him that the biggest issue facing the department is fine-tuning the combination approach, so every firefighter feels valued and safe doing their jobs.

Walbert is a solid board member, who in recent years listened and responded accordingly to those in the rank and file who were frustrated with leadership.

Last year, Walbert voted with his fellow board members to hold Fire Chief Rick Balentine accountable by creating specific employment milestones that he needed to meet that were partly based on feedback from firefighters and staff.

There are four other candidates vying for the three seats. While they have experience and skills to do the job, we think the trio of Taylor, Zah and Walbert is a well-rounded cadre of community members who will lead the Aspen Fire Protection District through some pivotal years for the organization and community, as well as responsibly manage the roughly $6 million in annual property taxes the special district collects.

On the undercard of the local election season is the contest for three seats on Aspen Valley Hospital’s board of directors as well as three seats on the Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District board.

For the hospital board, we’re endorsing incumbent board members Chuck Frias, B. Lee Schumancher and David Eisenstat; the fourth candidate is Michael J. Buysee.

The incumbents helped Aspen Valley Hospital weather the storm of the pandemic and have overseen a budget that remains in healthy shape. We support giving them each three more years on the AVH board of directors.

The Snowmass-Wildcat Fire Protection District board has its first contested election since 2006, with four candidates vying for three seats on the board.

We put our support to the incumbents Bill Boineau and Ellie Striegler, as well as election newcomer Scott Arthur.

The incumbents have been part of the board as the district has evolved with the merger of the Snowmass Village and Basalt, and they have an experienced perspective on the finances and direction of this district.

Now retired, Arthur brings to the table the insight of a 28-year veteran of the Snowmass fire department.

If you haven’t mailed your ballot yet, here’s how to vote:

For Aspen Fire board, it’s advised that you drop it off at the fire department’s downtown station on Hopkins Avenue. For the hospital board, ballots can be dropped inside the administration office at AVH.

For Snowmass fire, voters can cast their ballot in person on May 3 at the Snowmass VIllage fire station.

All ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Tuesday. For more information on the elections, go to aspentimes.com/election.