Milias: A new year with hope on the horizon |

Milias: A new year with hope on the horizon

Elizabeth Milias
The Red Ant
Elizabeth Milias

Ahhh, the season of New Year’s resolutions. It was 4,000 years ago when the ancient Babylonians began the tradition of celebrating the new year by crowning a new king or re-affirming their loyalty to the existing one, while promising to repay debts and return borrowed objects.

Later, in ancient Rome, emperor Julius Caesar established Jan. 1 as the beginning of the new year. Significant for its namesake, Janus, the two-faced god who looked backward at the past and forward into the future, January was when the Romans made sacrifices and promises of good conduct.

Early Christians marked the occasion by examining one’s past deeds and committing to be better. Today, the focus is more on self-improvement, often marked by aspirational yet unrealistic goals. But hey, it’s Jan. 1. Hope springs eternal.

A local reason for hope is a municipal election on March 7, offering one open council seat and has mayor Torre and councilman Skippy Mesirow fighting for their electoral survivals. In the spirit of Janus, there’s no time like the present to take a look back and focus on some leadership basics that desperately need to be reintroduced into the local discourse.

It would be hard to do worse. Marked by a seemingly never-ending series of misguided foibles and decisions made in a congratulatory 5-0 echo chamber, Aspen’s incumbents’ records provide an illustrative roadmap for their challengers.

  • Talk less, listen more. Pulled off course by both a newsworthy global occupation and a high-profile local hotel development sale, our electeds became distracted far beyond their pay grades. For elected leaders who have never signed the front of a paycheck to rant about real estate pro formas and call for boycotts and media take-overs, it can’t but remind one of the metaphorical lesson from 1929 when stock tips given at the shoe-shine stand foretold the impending stock market crash.

Such diversions provided all the feel-good, warm fuzzies this council is known for, but they also fostered an environment where staff-driven regulatory overreach and punitive policies became the blueprint for a council that governs as though it knows better than anyone else about every issue.

  • Seek guidance. There is a wealth of knowledge and experience in this community. At the beginning of every council term, it is valuable to point out that council oversees two city employees: the city manager and the city attorney, and city staff reports to them. But, each cycle, staff inevitably runs roughshod over city council, burying it in countless pages of meeting materials and driving its own agenda.

Council does not work for staff. It’s time for our elected representatives to push back and question staff’s proposals, drawing from their own experiences, and seeking feedback from the community, especially subject matter experts.

  • Foster relationships with all constituents. Widely acknowledged bad decisions such as summer 2022’s “living lab” on Cooper Avenue and Galena that removed 44 parking spaces and tested a nonsensical auto-bike-pedestrian maze could easily have been prevented by first meeting with local downtown businesses and taking their feedback to heart. But, those relationships don’t exist. The same holds true for residents of Aspen’s West End who seek the city’s assistance in reducing dangerous traffic in their neighborhoods.

Just who are our local government’s key constituents? With a long list of issue groups they’ve ignored, over-regulated, and disenfranchised, it’s hard to know. There’s much fence-mending to be done. Consider our second-home owners. As convenient as it’s been to blame them for all of Aspen’s ills, our taxation-without-representation neighbors are savvy investors who might just be wisening up and, not unlike seasonal residents, registering to vote here to protect their interests. (Hint, hint.)

  • Build trust. The easiest way to gain trust is through transparency, but a long-ingrained culture of secrecy in city hall has lived up to its reputation with the surprise moratorium on short-term rental (STR) and residential development permits in 2022. In the absence of a meaningful public process, constituents were blindsided by the foregone conclusions and resulting regulations that decimated their private property rights.

Government regulations will never be popular, but a proper, transparent, and inclusive process that courts various viewpoints and weighs data instead of feelings is a far better way to determine new policies.

  • Be nice to tourists. It’s outrageous to even have to say it, but, when our own chamber of commerce, partially-funded by the city, surveys local residents to gauge the degree that tourists negatively impact our lives, we are long overdue for a course correction. The unwelcoming behavior, the spite, and the resentment are not a good look for Aspen, and much of it stems from the punitive attitudes emanating from city hall.

Aspen’s is a tourism-based economy, and yes, this has “impacts,” but don’t we all? Those in glass houses ought not throw stones.

No one loves campaign season as much as I do. The next nine weeks will provide illuminating contrasts between decisions of the recent past and future leadership potential. Here’s to much-needed change in the new year.

Check your registration or register to vote at  Ballots will be mailed around February 17. Contact