Meredith C. Carroll: A canary on the Aspen City Council
Once upon a time there was a princess who required a pea to prove the depth of her sensitivity and, by extension, her royal heritage. Also a long time ago, coal miners relied on canaries to alert them of impending doom. Modern-day Aspen has neither actual royalty nor coal miners, yet it does have City Councilman Bert Myrin, who’s got his finger on the pulse of the community’s most sensitive and alarming issues, or at least one of them that’s roughly the size of a pea and about as loud as a canary.
“Happily home today and walked across Main Street to discover the new, VERY LOUD, non-stop, chirping crosswalk speakers at every stop light along Main Street,” Myrin wrote on Facebook over the weekend. “Thankful to catch up on email and discover the city has already contacted (Colorado Department of Transportation) to decrease the volume. I’m astonished anyone let this happen in the first place at the current volume.”
Ward Hauenstein and Torre will face off in a runoff election for the last open City Council seat June 6. Despite Myrin’s “top priority” being the “over-the-top obnoxious” chirps, recent conversations with Hauenstein and Torre indicate that should they get to join Myrin at the table, their top priorities will be more substantial than Crosswalkgate.
Both Hauenstein and Torre acknowledge employee housing is at or near the top of the list of Aspen’s most urgent issues, both for workers in need of a place to live and businesses in need of workers. Hauenstein’s tenure in Aspen predates workforce housing and he lives in a free-market home, yet he still recognizes the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority as a “great community asset,” albeit one in need of additional safeguards, maintenance and increased enforcement.
“The system is not optimized,” Hauenstein said. “There are people in three-bedroom units who only use one of them. It’s not that they’re necessarily cheating; maybe they’re just retired in some cases. If we had a more modern system and all the information in one place, we could start soliciting a wide range of perspectives and work on more solutions where the outcome results in more workers with a place to live locally.”
Another priority for him is to see to it — personally — that businesses that fail to pay local vendors get their business licenses suspended.
“I want things to come from council, not just staff,” Hauenstein said.
Furthermore, he cites Farhad Manjoo’s 2008 book, “True Enough,” as an example of why he plans to advocate for city staff making a case in favor of proposals to also present their strongest arguments against them.
“If you keep saying one thing over and over, especially if there’s already some consensus, people will just start believing it,” he said. “They don’t want to hear beliefs against what they’re for.”
Torre calls his opponent an undeniably “nice guy. However, I’ve had dealings with Ward when he’s lacked a more solution-driven approach,” he said. Likewise, Hauenstein calls Torre “a good-hearted person who has the better of the community in his heart,” although at the same time he faults Torre for being ill-prepared during his most recent council term that ended in 2012.
Torre’s the first to admit he made some mistakes the last time around. On the other hand, he’s spent the past several years “on the other side of the table” and learned that “the city’s current policies are missing the voice of the citizens.”
He agrees with Hauenstein that it’s time to perform some cleanup at APCHA and “delve into the housing program.” Additionally, Torre wants to see the city create a business liaison position to help “positively assist” brick-and-mortar retail stores and restaurants undergoing a metamorphosis since consumer shopping and dining patterns are evolving. Of paramount importance to Torre, too, are environmental issues, and health, mental and child care — all causes he wants to actively advocate for and protect.
“Holding to your convictions is paramount,” Torre said. “Compromise is often the name of the game but keeping in mind your fundamental principles. I followed the leadership of the mayors I served under previously with a great amount of respect. Council is a full body that needs to make decisions together.”
Despite this being his eighth campaign, Torre says he isn’t a fan of elections.
“I do it because I don’t like it. I do it to make it a better system,” which he said includes bettering the other members of council, including Myrin and his chirping intersections.
“Bert’s intention is good. He feels like he’s a lone voice on council and is made to feel defensive sometimes,” Torre said. “I’ll bring more of a balance to City Council, though. The tone I bring to the table and the way I conduct myself would make it better.”
More at MeredithCarroll.com.