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ISSUE # 90: Is the May Election RelevANT?

"People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election."

          -- Otto von Bismarck


Election season in Aspen is heating up, and as such, here are some vitals for your planning. If you live within the city limits, this is a municipal election so you can vote! PLEASE do! If you will be traveling, please make plans to vote early or by mail-in ballot. Here are the details:

  • Candidate petition deadline is April 5th, at which point the races are set
  • The regular election is May 7th, 7a - 7p, at the same polling places as November 2012
  • Registration deadline is April 8th for the May 7 election
  • The run-off election is June 4th, 7a -7p, at the same polling places as November 2012
  • Registration deadline is May 6th for the June 4 run-off election
  • Register at the city clerk's office, the county clerk's office or at
  • Mail-in ballots will be sent and in-office absentee voting will be available in the city clerk's office beginning April 23
  • Absentee ballot applications for both the regular election and run-off election are available HERE
  • Those who are registered as "permanent mail-in voters" will automatically be sent mail-in ballots
  • Further questions? Call the city clerk at 970-429-2687


If I am asked once a day, I am asked 50 times: who will be our next mayor? Of course I have some thoughts, but until the races are set (April 5 is the deadline), there's no use opining.  So far, nearly every day brings a new candidate to the race; we currently have all four sitting councilmen running for mayor, and just recently, retired CPA and attorney Maurice Emmer (who incidentally led the effort to shut down the hydro plant) joined the fray. Long-time planning and zoning commission member L.J. Erspamer has indicated he too is considering a run. Each and every candidate is a vast improvement over mayor Mick (who has yet to decide whether or not to run for a council post), with far better manners, more regular bathing schedules, and appropriate levels of respect for the office.

But this election is strictly about numbers. And grown-ups. Our town of 6000 people has an annual budget in the $100 million range. The time has come for proper leadership by qualified individuals who will make thoughtful, respectful and responsible decisions. What we ultimately need is to net out with a 3-2 majority of grown-ups at the table. It's that simple. I will of course send out my endorsement issue with detailed information and opinions in plenty of time for you early voters, but in the meantime, think of the races this way:

Councilmen Torre and Derek Johnson both have council terms that are up in May. They have both decided to run for mayor. The good news is that we are numerically certain to be rid of one of them, and possibly both. Councilmen Steve Skadron and Adam Frisch are both in the middle of their 4-year council terms. Regardless of what happens with their respective mayoral bids, we are certain to have them both back at the table. (Note: Aspen's mayor has no greater voting power than the other councilmen.) Therefore, the key to this election riddle is the council race for Torre's and Derek's open and available seats.

To date, just three folks have thrown their hats into the ring for the two open council seats: longtime local and attorney Art Daily, former city councilman and developer Dwayne Romero, and landscape architect and historic preservation commission chair Ann Mullins. Now, mayor Mick might just jump in with a bid for a council seat, but my bet is that he won't. He suffered a crushing defeat in November when his legacy, the hydro plant, was shut down by the voters. I'm thinking that Mick sees the competition as popular local leaders and strong contenders (which they are), so he won't risk another loss at the polls. It will be interesting to see who else jumps into that race, however.

Now, you ask, what if Skadron or Frisch become mayor? What happens to his existing council seat? It's simple, and a little scary. When that new council is sworn in, just 4 will take the oath. At that point, an early order of business will be the APPOINTMENT of a 5th councilman by those 4. There is an application process for consideration for this post, but there is no special election, nor is it incumbent upon the seated council to appoint someone who recently ran and lost. If we have 3 grown-ups at the table, we're in great shape to appoint another like-minded person. At 2-2, it will be a dog-fight, with HUGE and far-reaching ramifications. But it will ultimately be determined by the 4 council members alone.

So, again, the focus this season is on the election of grown-ups; leaders who can abide by our city charter and make fiscally responsible decisions in a transparent and accountable fashion. It's time to end the shenanigans!

More on the election in just a couple weeks!


Now here's a way to make an easy and meaningful donation to the candidate of your choice: Get your Food Tax Refund!

The Food Tax Refund was put into place years ago to partially reimburse locals for the approximate amount of sales tax that they pay annually on grocery purchases due to a 1% city sales tax. Anyone who can prove they were a resident of the city of Aspen for the entire previous year and is a registered Aspen voter qualifies. Plus, if you are 65 or older as of 12/31/12, you will receive an additional $50 AND an additional $50 senior citizen allowance! Bonus!

Just print out THIS form and either take it to city hall (finance dept) by April 15, or mail it to: City Finance Department, Food Tax Refund, 130 South Galena Street, Aspen, CO 81611. Questions? Click HERE or call 970-920-5040. Remember, you MUST be a registered city of Aspen voter with an accurate address on file.


I hate to say that. But back in 2010 when I actively and vociferously opposed the $50 million bond measure to finance Phase 2 of the Aspen Valley Hospital expansion, I was not a fan of the mass and scale, cost, phasing, or financials of the 215,000 s.f. endeavor, and questioned how much we really needed it. I wrote EXTENSIVELY here in The Red Ant about numerous issues related to this expansion. Take a minute and go back to Issue #44 specifically, my June 2010 AVH expansion expose (that includes an interview with AVH CEO David Ressler) for all of the questions you are likely re-contemplating today. It will tell you just how we got here, and that where we are today is EXACTLY where they said we'd be. No surprises.

My reasons for opposing the expansion in 2010, among others, included:

  • Concern over priorities of the phasing (why ER in phase 3)
  • 27,000 s.f. of medical office space
  • Duplication of services / competition with other nearby medical facilities
  • How much hospital do we need in order to be a great COMMUNITY HOSPITAL
  • A "no turning back now" scenario to complete all 4 phases once started
  • High-density, bright-lights in a rural setting

But the ballot measure passed at the polls (52%-48%), bonds were issued, and now Phase 2 is almost complete. On target, AVH is back before council, seeking land use approval for Phases 3 and 4 (83,000 more s.f.) to complete the medical facility. The good news is that we will finally get the new Emergency Room and other facilities that we need. And additionally, AVH and its board assures us that the funding for these latter phases will come from their philanthropic efforts and cash-on-hand, not the public till. But locals are freaking out.   Phase 2 is nothing short of a monstrosity. Neighbors, commuters, and visitors alike are shocked to see the monolith (comprised of 11 additional patient rooms, 12,000 s.f. of office space, a 220-car parking garage and on-site employee housing) that has evolved over the past two years. There is no question that there are enormous physical and visual impacts of this second phase of the development. So now, people are scared.

None of this is because AVH misrepresented what they were building; rather, it's buyer's remorse. We knew the neighborhood impact would be horrific. And it is. I feel just AWFUL for the neighbors in Meadowwood. It's as bad or worse than what they lobbied against. And it's only halfway done. But when the ballot measure passed and Aspen voters gave a thumbs-up to funding Phase 2, the fate was sealed. With the proposed "phasing" of the development, there indeed WAS a "no turning back now" scenario if we are to ultimately get what we need. All of this has been known for a long, long time. This doesn't make it right, but for locals and others to be in shock today at what is there, I say to those who voted yes on Phase 2, blame yourselves. For those of us who took the time to study the issue (and even write about it), we knew just how enormous and impactful it would be. So here we are, with essentially no choice but to give the go-ahead to get what we really needed in the first place - a new and modern ER, a new imaging department, expanded surgical operations, an elevated helicopter pad above the ER, plus a new ambulance entrance and garage.

The Red Ant acknowledges the efforts of local citizens and neighbors to speak out against the land use approvals for Phases 3 and 4. But this train left the station long ago. This is a prime example of Aspen voters ignoring the law of unintended consequences. Pro-hospital voters gave little heed to what 215,000 s.f. would ultimately look like when they voted yes in 2010. Just like they rarely give heed to property tax increases to "get" something for themselves. As I wrote back in 2010, "Aspen is a community that loves its entitlements. And a modern, state-of-the-art hospital certainly fits that bill."

We can only hope that council's inevitable land use approvals for Phases 3 and 4 will come with some strict stipulations for the AVH board that include managed mitigation requirements to lessen the impact of the bright lights, landscaping that helps disguise the building(s), and some legally binding financial commitments to protect the community from having to "bail out" the hospital should the financial picture become less than rosy.


With time on their hands since the hydro plant was shuttered, the city of Aspen's utility department is up to no good on another water issue that has long been under the radar amidst the more pressing Castle Creek Energy Center/hydro plant mess. It's a "grey water" project that proposes to pump 1.5 million gallons of treated wastewater (grey water) a day UPHILL to irrigate the Aspen Golf Course and potentially to sell to SkiCo for snowmaking at Buttermilk. E. Coli issues aside, just think about this one.   Hmmm. Could the "grey water" project that the city admits to "eyeing" for years be connected to the ill-fated hydro plant? Just picture pumping huge amounts of water uphill for about 3 miles. This is an EXTREMELY costly proposition in terms of energy -- water is heavy! No private entity, such as a rancher, would ever consider such a folly because of the inherent expense.  

It has long been believed that this nonsensical "grey water" project is distinctly linked to the hydro plant: the city would have an essentially free source of energy to provide the heavy lifting. And note, the city has recently connected transmission lines to the wastewater facility at the AABC and the golf course to newly laid transmission lines to the Castle Creek Energy Center. Perhaps the "grey water" project was the entire rationale for the CCEC/hydro plant! Could the Aspen utilities department have realized that they would never have gotten millions in bond money had they truthfully said they wanted to pump grey water uphill, so instead they "green" marketed the CCEC/hydro plant and avoided the topic of the "grey water" project even though they quietly continued to work on it?

This sneaky business has been in the works for a very long time. When the Maroon Creek bridge was rebuilt, the city laid piping for the "grey water" project over the bridge and connected it to the municipal golf course. The city is just waiting for Burlingame 2 to be built so they can connect the Maroon Creek bridge piping to the wastewater facility.

The good news in the short term is that there is no easy and ready power source, but utilities director Dave Hornbacher claims that he has $1.06 million remaining in the budget to get this idiocy online by 2014. Buyer beware. These guys are BAD.

And re the hydro plant, it's been pretty quiet since the project was halted by the voters last November. But, there remains an active lawsuit against the city. Five landowners and water rights holders on Castle and Maroon Creeks claim that the city of Aspen abandoned its water rights to produce hydro power on lower Castle Creek when it decommissioned a hydropower plant on Castle Creek in 1958. The plaintiffs are not challenging other aspects of the city's water rights, just the right to use creek water for hydro. And now the trial has been set. A 15-day trial will begin on October 28 in Glenwood Springs water court.


How much should the public spend to build an underpass, under Highway 82, that will connect the new Roaring Fork Transit Authority (RFTA) bus stops on either side of the highway between the Airport Business Center and the airport? Back in November, the Elected Officials Transportation Committee (EOTC), made up of representatives from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County, thought $3 million would be a-ok. But now, when the bids came in $2.4 million higher, what's the verdict? What do you think? It's public money! Build, baby, build! The now $5.4 million project, intended to protect pedestrians as they cross the highway, is admittedly "not a guaranteed solution" to dangerous jay-walking, according to Aspen city councilman and mayoral candidate Steve Skadron.  

On a random day last year, 250 people crossed at the intersection, including 79 (32%) who ran diagonally across the highway rather than using the current crosswalk. So, $5.4 million (and untold inconveniences for up- and downvalley highway traffic) to "protect" 79 boneheads who still may not use the designated crossing? Really!? And what do you want to bet that the project exceeds $5.4 million in the end? Can't make it up.  


Speaking of RFTA, it must be nice to have $46 million to squander on the bus-rapid-transit expansion up and down the valley. You've probably noticed the 13 fancy new bus stations along Hwy 82, designed to be "more inviting," replete with tall glass windows and faux chimneys that house electronic and technology components.   

The idea is to entice more people to ride the bus, and, since the old bus stops had a "prison look" according to RFTA project manager Mike Hermes, perhaps THAT is why ridership is not at its potential.  He went on to reassure RFTAboard members that the new bus stations "weren't expensive to build."  The standard variety cost JUST $230,000 - $275,000 each, and the two "double stations" in Glenwood and at the Brush Creek intercept lot ranged from $475,000 - $525,000.  No, not expensive at all.  

A recent letter to the editor from Bill Bernstein of Emma summed it up perfectly. "Roaring Fork Transit Authority board member and Aspen City Councilman Steve Skadron is proud that the new RFTA bus stations are so reasonably priced at a starting price range of $230,000 to $275,000. Skadron represents most that is wrong with this valley. Elected officials love to spend other people's tax dollars.   It is an outrage that simple bus stations cost as much as a move-in-ready house. It is an outrage that elected officials are not embarrassed by their wasteful extravagance." 

Keep in mind, it's election season. Send your message at the ballot box!

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