Pitkin County Commissioner candidates attack on Squirm Night in Aspen (video)
In contrast to a relatively congenial Squirm Night during the primary season, Wednesday's version lived up to its name.
The two candidates for the only contested seat on the Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners — Greg Poschman and Scott Writer — repeatedly attacked each other's positions on a variety of issues as they sought to convince voters watching the debate on Grassroots TV that each was the right man for the job.
Poschman, 57, frankly pointed out what he said was a major difference between himself and Writer.
"He's a developer," Poschman said. "Given free reign, developers would have made this place unlivable."
Poschman said he would follow a philosophy of slow, measured growth that would address affordable-housing needs through public-private partnerships, though he allowed that every child who grows up in Aspen probably won't be able to live here.
"Building more doesn't make it better," he said. "The danger of overcrowding exists."
Writer, 58, defended his profession — pointing out that he's helped create nearly 100 affordable-housing units — and bemoaned the political tendency to place labels on candidates.
"They try to label you and make that sound bad," he said. "I'm proud of the work I've done. It's an insult to suggest developers shouldn't be allowed (to serve on the board)."
Writer said he isn't for "overbuilding" or chasing money but wants the county to create more affordable housing opportunities and more ways to help young people create businesses. He also suggested the city of Aspen provide affordable commercial space in the downtown core to bring back "old, funky" local businesses.
"At no point do I say, 'More, more, more,'" Writer said. "(But) there's a whole world out there. I'm for creating as many programs and opportunities as we can possibly squeeze into the system."
Pitkin County's Open Space and Trails program, which is funded by a property tax voters will approve or not approve for another 20 years in November, has been an issue in the campaign and was the subject of several questions Wednesday.
Writer said the program "feels pretty good" and criticized Poschman's previous comments labeling the Open Space and Trails Board as "arrogant" and an "old boys club." Writer said Poschman has been critical of the program and the people who run it "at every turn" and that continuing to do so is "an unfortunate leadership position."
"I think he needs to back that up or apologize for it," Writer said.
Poschman said he's received many calls from residents all over the county complaining about "a sense of arrogance" on the part of the board. He also said people feel open space staff members think they have a "mandate" for building trails, installing bathrooms and creating parking lots on open space bought by the county.
"It's not something I was making up," he said. "It's an issue I heard."
Poschman said he supports reauthorizing the open space property tax, though he wants to see better oversight of the quarter of a billion dollars it will generate until the year 2040. He also questioned the 20-year length of the reauthorization.
"An entire generation will pass before this comes to the public again," he said.
Poschman also defended his previous calls to enact term limits for Open Space and Trails Board members, saying limits ensure a fresh flow of ideas. Writer said he believes the board could use some new blood, as well, but he doesn't support term limits because county commissioners have the control to change the board if necessary.
In addition to covering the issues, moderators Lauren Glendenning, editor of The Aspen Times, and Curtis Wackerle, editor of the Aspen Daily News, also kept the candidates on their toes.
"Have you ever been arrested," Glendenning asked at one point.
Poschman said he hadn't, though he added that, "When I was a kid, I probably should have (been)."
Writer had a harder time with the question.
"Yeah, well …" he began before detailing a time he "did something bad" as a sophomore at Aspen High School. He said his parents grounded him for four months, though a kindly school resource officer helped him through the period and made a positive impact on his life.
"What did you do?" Wackerle asked.
"I'm not going to tell you," Writer said. "I was a juvenile so I don't have to tell you. It wasn't violent. How about that?"
The moderators also asked the candidates to name a recent county decision they didn't agree with.
Writer cited a lack of leadership by the county in producing affordable housing. Poschman said he didn't agree with the county moving ahead with a renovation of its building on Main Street without allowing the city to fully vet the project.
Poschman and Writer are vying for the District 3 seat currently held by Commissioner Michael Owsley, who has served the maximum allowed three terms on the board. Commissioners Steve Child and George Newman are up for re-election to the board this November but are running unopposed.