The Aspen Times Editorial: Basalt needs progress on Pan and Fork
January 25, 2016
Basalt is a mess right now, politically speaking.
The debate over the fate of 2.3 acres on the former Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park site has divided the town. Conspiracy theories and allegations of conflicts are thicker than the ice on the Roaring Fork River. Some members of the council disengage when people with different opinions speak.
It's going to be a lively three months in the old river town, starting with Tuesday's council meeting on a citizen petition seeking an election on the Pan and Fork and ending with the April 5 election for three council seats and the mayor's position.
Here's our take on some key issues.
Pan and Fork petitions: The citizens' committee has clearly demonstrated that voters want this issue to go to the ballot. The petitions may have legal flaws. Seasoned attorneys for both the town and residents disagree on some key points. However, the council can and should take the effort to heart and exercise its power to refer questions to the ballot.
More than 400 registered voters signed the petitions in a short time. That is an impressive amount considering that the 2012 election, which featured a hard-fought mayor's race, attracted about 760 voters.
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The paralysis and bickering on the Pan and Fork needs to end in April. The council should ask voters if they will approve a property tax to buy the disputed part of the property and how much should be carved for park versus how much should be opened for development. Only then can Basalt move ahead.
Conspiracy theories: The bickering factions have thrown allegations of conflicts of interest on two key issues in town. No-growthers accused Town Manager Mike Scanlon of a conflict of interest because his brother-in-law via marriage is chief financial officer with Mariner Real Estate Management, one of the biggest landowners in town and developer of Willits Town Center. Scanlon disclosed the situation to Basalt officials when the town's headhunter approached him on behalf of the town 3½ years ago. He has recused himself on debates about Willits and Mariner, neither engaging with the staff or council or Mariner.
We don't see a conflict for Scanlon, though he could have done better to distance himself from Mariner. He should have made sure council members elected after his initial discloser were aware of the situation and he should have exited the council meeting room on all Mariner discussions.
Conflicts of interest have been suggested from the other end of the political spectrum against the Pan and Fork citizens' committee because of its relations with members of the nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. and its affiliate, The Manaus Fund. The committee members make a convincing case that they have the community's interest at heart, not the nonprofit or its creditors.
Council decorum: We can only hope that Basalt's elected officials will consider all views and conduct themselves with civility toward residents and other council members in the future, regardless of who wins election.
The Aspen Times editorial board consists of Publisher Samantha Johnston, Editor Lauren Glendenning, Managing Editor Rick Carroll and community members Bob Braudis and Kathryn Koch.
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