Lum: Achieving consensus in Aspen
On the cusp of this column’s early-Tuesday-morning deadline, I await the results of the election with my heart in my mouth and a reluctance to wager one thin dime on the outcome, especially in the race for mayor.
In the course of the campaign, mayoral candidate Maurice Emmer suggested that the City Council members should delegate (or enforce) more authority to staff, to the city’s boards (Planning and Zoning, Historic Preservation Commission, Board of Adjustment, et al.) and to the various task forces that have been drafted to advise the council on such matters as Obermeyer Place, the Lift 1A hotel and the historic preservation of post-Victorian buildings.
I would argue that, au contraire, the council should maintain as much power as possible in order to keep these disparate parties under control. The people do not elect members of advisory boards or hire the staff or pick the members of the task forces — the only people we elect are the council members, the ones we have chosen to represent us.
It’s too bad that part of the council’s job is to keep the staff, boards and task-force members from cutting one anothers’ throats, but that is the unfortunate but vital consequence of living in a Shangri-La that everyone loves but where you cannot get three people in a room and get them to agree on the alphabet.
If anything, we should have fewer boards and fewer task forces and, possibly, fewer city government departments.
This is not new. It is nothing short of amazing that the Aspen Community School managed to survive its formative years in the early ’70s (and by the way, hooray that it managed to raise all that money for a new building — that’s the other side of our community coin, the good side). Back in the days, it was practically open warfare among the founding parents, who each had different ideas about the way things should be done and who should do them.
Same thing with the community garden — how difficult should it be for us to all get along in a garden? We were lucky that no one was murdered by pitchfork.
If our own groups rallying around a central cause have trouble, it’s not hard to extrapolate that appointed boards and task forces might have some difficulty getting along together.
I served on the Historic Task Force, 18 months of my time down the toilet, but I could say it was “a learning experience” if I were forced to put a positive spin on it.
People volunteer for boards for a variety of reasons. Mine was to stop the desecration of Aspen due to the destruction of old landmarks to make way for new architectural atrocities. “I pray I will not be picked,” I wrote on my application.
Of the 22 or 23 other members, there were developers, attorneys, architects, people who were on “the list” for historic preservation and wanted off, real estate agents and others of my ilk who just wanted to stop the bulldozers. Even in contentious Aspen, it would be difficult to find a group of people more destined to hurtle to an impasse.
There was deja vu back to seventh grade. We had our bullies and our attention-getters — the ones who kept their hands up throughout, never putting them down, never listening but just wanting to talk, just as they did in junior high. We had our indecisive members who would propose a vote and then vote against it. We had the ramblers, the philosophers, the shouters and the compromisers — but what we really had was a roomful of people who did not agree and never would and never did.
Putting Aspen’s fate in a group of people such as this is, to me, worse folly than putting such decisions in the hands of the City Council members whom we actually voted for. You pick the candidates you want to represent you and let them do their job.
Su Lum is a longtime local who thinks that we deserve what we get if we’re not paying attention. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at email@example.com.