Jacobson: It seemed awfully cozy
The Aspen Times
Snowmass Mayor Markey Butler has declined to respond to a fellow councilman’s request that she recuse herself from the town’s review of a Base Village application in light of her role at a valley nonprofit that is supported by the applicant.
Councilman Chris Jacobson, whom Butler asked to consider resigning two weeks earlier in light of criminal charges he faces following a June 26 arrest on suspicion of drunken driving, responded Aug. 3 by saying he would not resign. He then requested that Butler consider recusing herself from the land-use review processes for Base Village and the town entryway project.
Butler is executive director of HomeCare & Hospice of the Valley, which Jacobson said at that meeting receives financial support from Related Colorado, the local branch of the company that owns Base Village through a subsidiary, and Aspen Skiing Co., which has agreed to build a hotel in Base Village when the application is approved, among other groups and individuals.
Butler did not respond to Jacobson at the meeting and has declined to respond to his comments in The Aspen Times. Town Attorney John Dresser, who when asked by council or board members has given his legal opinion on questions of conflict of interest in the past, also declined to comment.
However, Butler did point out that she has recused herself when the hospice group has appeared before the town to request grant money. She also said that approaching donors is primarily the responsibility of the charity’s development director and explained some of its funding structure.
“Funding comes from third party insurance companies, donations, grants and foundations to support the charitable mission of the agency,” said an overview written by Development Director John Quinn. “A patient facing end of life is never denied care regardless of their insurance or their financial ability to pay for care. It is not uncommon for families, companies and foundations to donate money to the organization in order to further the mission and care for those in need at the end of life. Since the inception of the agency, thousands of donors have contributed to the organization.”
HomeCare & Hospice’s 2014 annual report does list the groups and individuals Jacobson named as donors. Related, Skico and East West Partners, the founder of which recently led the council on a public tour of Beaver Creek, are all listed as major donors, meaning that they contributed $1,000 or more. Other major donors include the Eagle Valley Community Fund, the Vail Valley Medical Center, local businesses, individuals and the Snowmass Western Heritage Association, which annually raises funds for the organization at one of its weekly rodeos. This year’s occurred last week.
Municipal grantors include the city of Aspen, Eagle County, Garfield County, Pitkin County, the town of Basalt, the town of Snowmass Village and the Rotary Clubs of both Aspen and Snowmass.
Skico donates and collaborates with numerous other local nonprofits, as well, including the Aspen Art Museum, which it donated more than $50,000 to last year, according to that nonprofit’s annual report. Jacobson’s former spouse, Heidi Zuckerman — the couple recently divorced — is the museum’s executive director.
Jacobson, a stay-at-home dad during his marriage to Zuckerman, said he saw some differences between his and Butler’s situations during a phone interview Friday.
“For one, if someone brought it up, I’d certainly be free to speak about it and would do so, and Markey’s chosen not to,” he said. “Secondarily, as evidenced by a lot of my decisions or a lot of my comments, … I guess you’d have to wonder if I was being overly supportive of Skico in any of my decisions. I don’t think there’d be much evidence for that.”
He added that he was not a part of ex-parte communications that allegedly occurred between some council members and a Skico representative last year.
Butler received a total compensation package of $156,469 in 2013, according to the hospice organization’s IRS Form 990. Jacobson noted her salary when asking her to consider recusing herself.
“It’s not as much the amount of money or what she gets paid,” Jacobson said Friday. “It’s more who the money is coming from and her, A, failure to mention in any way the potential conflict of interest and, B, her seeming insistence on stating that she is attempting to complete the approval as opposed to complete the process (of the Base Village review).”
Some residents questioned the purpose of the Beaver Creek tour, said Jacobson, who added that East West Partners has been said to be interested in investing in Base Village in the past. Jacobson said that when he asked founder Harry Frampton if he had plans to invest in the stalled development, Frampton replied with, “Not at this time.”
“It seemed awfully cozy,” Jacobson said. “All of a sudden, Markey was promoting this trip to Beaver Creek. All of a sudden we were going with Harry Frampton and one of his partners to listen to how the community, the government and the developer all needed to work together to produce a happy ending.”
Jacobson said he also mentioned the Snowmass Western Heritage Association as a hospice donor because the nonprofit is a player in talks about the future of the town’s entryway parcel.
Related Colorado also has supported other area charities, many of them in Snowmass Village. In 2013, the company awarded grants or sponsorships to the Aspen Education Foundation, the USA Pro Challenge, HomeCare & Hospice of the Valley, the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Challenge Aspen, Aspen Rotary, Snowmass Village Rotary, the Snowmass Village summer concert series, Aspen Film, Jazz Aspen Snowmass, the Aspen Historical Society, the Aspen Music Festival, the Roaring Fork Conservancy, the American Cancer Society, the Little Red School House, Roaring Fork Leadership, Basalt Band Booster, the Snowmass Village Rodeo, Wildwood School, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Kids First, Youth Zone, the Aspen Youth Center, the Snowmass Community Foundation, the town of Snowmass Village’s Ice Age Discovery Center and the Snowmass Village Heritage Celebration, according to a report published in The Aspen Times.
Judge rules on lawsuit
A Pitkin County judge made a ruling last week in a lawsuit filed against the town and Town Council.
In the suit, Snowmass Village resident Richard Goodwin sought to nullify a decision by the council last fall to extend Base Village vesting. Goodwin’s suit alleged that the vesting was forfeited prior to the council decision because the developer didn’t meet certain obligations. It also alleged ex parte communications on the part of some council members that Goodwin says corrupted any vote that took place.
While Judge Gail Nichols did not make a ruling on the second claim, she did address the legality of the transfer of the Base Village vesting rights in her ruling Aug. 10. Nichols wrote that the assignments made as the development changed hands were valid and that “there is no case or controversy.”
Jacobson alleged ex-parte communications on the part of Butler, former Councilman Fred Kucker and former Mayor Bill Boineau during a public hearing on the vesting application in October. He brought up the lawsuit during his request for Butler to consider recusing herself, saying that the lawsuit has cost the town $34,000 to date.
The Base Village public hearing continues today. Jacobson faces potential recall, a petition for which was verified by the town earlier this month.
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The town of Snowmass Village has its eyes on some safety improvements on Highline Road and a section of Brush Creek Road that will give pedestrians and cyclists a little more room to breathe on the side of the road.