Stone: Should we elect a wolf to the Rabbit Town Council?
First things first: which reminds me — and, trust me, this has nothing whatsoever to do with the column that follows — how curious it is that we Americans call the main course of a dinner the entrée (with or without that clever little accent mark), even though “entrée” means “entrance” and therefore ought to refer to the appetizer, not the main course.
That ends the educational portion of this column — and ensures that, yet again, first things will not come first this week.
What I was going to say is that much of what follows may seem to refer to the recent brouhaha over the Hotel Aspen renovation/expansion. But I have written about that subject to some extent — a large extent — for the past two weeks, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m obsessed. I’m not.
In fact, I really don’t think that project was that big a deal — by which I mean that, although I believe the council gave away too much, this particular project will not be (cue eerie, gloomy fanfare) the end of Aspen. It’s just, as the song goes, another brick in the wall.
What I’m concerned with this week is not the result. It’s the process.
I am thinking about the idea that Aspen’s developers deserve a representative on the City Council — that there should be a de facto “developers’ seat” on the council.
Sometimes that seems perfectly reasonable — roughly equivalent to declaring that there ought to be a “ski-bum seat” — a council position reserved for someone who skis at least 100 days a season, every season, hikes the pass spring and fall, and has spent at least one “summer” in the Southern Hemisphere to get in a second full ski season.
We tend to stock the council with business owners, lawyers, architects — and developers, of course. But a ski bum on council? A true ski bum? I don’t remember one.
On the other hand, we certainly have had — and certainly do have — developers on the council.
Hang on! This is not going to be a column attacking Dwayne Romero.
I was told I was “mean” when I did exactly that a few months ago, and I am not going to repeat that today. This is not personal. Romero is simply the guy sitting in the developers’ seat right now.
I may not like what he does, but he is doing his job as developers’ representative: voting for development.
I have, in the past, actually argued that developers should have someone to speak for them on the council. Yes I have. I have even, back when I was editor of this newspaper, endorsed a developer in a council election for exactly that reason.
But then, having spoken in favor of developers’ representatives, I always wind up hating what they do once they’re actually elected.
I guess that’s about right: They do their job (pushing hard for development), and I do mine (petulantly screeching “No! Stop!” as the tide rises ever higher).
It might not be so bad, except that so many people in this town are dependent on development. Yes, I know, that’s the whole point of the argument why we need a developers’ representative — but it’s also the reason why we shouldn’t think in those terms: We already have more than enough developers’ representatives on council, even if they’re architects, lawyers or real estate salesmen (or saleswomen — wish we could still use the gender-nonspecific term “dirt pimp,” but I’ve been told that is just not acceptable anymore).
The problem is that, unless we are careful (and being a democracy, we are, by definition, never careful), we can wind up with two automatic pro-development votes.
And once we hit that point, we are faced with classic “swing vote” syndrome.
On a five-member council, when you have two votes on one side, then any one of the three remaining votes can carry the day.
In essence, whoever is most sincerely moderate — or most easily persuaded — makes all the decisions.
The Bible says, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth,” but I think we need to be careful, lest “meek” shade over into “wishy-washy” — and we don’t want the wishy-washy inheriting the swing vote.
(I always was fond of the bumper sticker that said, “The meek shall inherit the earth … the rest of us are going to the stars!”)
Of course, some people will (eagerly and fiercely!) argue that developers should have a vote — maybe all the votes — because development is the heart of Aspen’s economy.
The problem with that argument is that 1. it isn’t, and 2. even if it were, you would run the danger of destroying the goose. (You know the goose I’m talking about: golden eggs and all that.)
Let me take those two points in reverse order:
2. I don’t need to call developers nasty names (I’d like to, but I don’t need to) in order to argue that they cannot be trusted to preserve the town. Put simply, a predator doesn’t worry about the long-term health of his prey. Try telling a wolf to worry about rabbits. The only rabbit he cares about is the one he’s chasing. (Or the one he’s eating.) And when prey runs short, predators simply fight harder to get the last one. Left uncontrolled, developers will overdevelop. Just like cows will overgraze. Neither wolves nor cows are evil. That’s just the way it works.
1. Development is not, cannot and will not be the heart of Aspen. The heart of Aspen is, you know how this goes: history, community, creativity, mountains, skiing, hiking, music — in short, the heart of Aspen is everything except development.
And once you eat anyone’s beating heart — well, long-term survival becomes questionable.
And that is why you do not give the wolves a reserved seat — hell, any seat — on the Rabbit Town City Council.
But let’s talk about that ski-bum seat.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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