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ISSUE # 101: Barwick -- Oooh That TyrANT

"Withholding information is the essence of tyranny.  Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship." -- Bruce Coville 


Despite the laws of the land, city council refuses to acknowledge that lazy and incompetent city manager Steve Barwick works for them.  Instead, they listen to well-scripted and rehearsed presentations by city staffers (Barwick's employees) that make various cases for new projects, severe restrictions and especially more spending.  When council receives only one side of each issue, and only as much information as staff deems necessary to provide them, they are proving to be a body that rubberstamps most, if not all, "staff recommendations."  Sadly, this group is not one to ask the hard questions; and in many cases, they ask no questions at all!  

In the recent history of Aspen governance, Mick not-withstanding, the mayor (with the collaboration of council) set policy for the city.  Imagine a city manager bossing the likes of Bill Stirling, John Bennett, Rachel Richards or Helen Klanderud around!?  Not a chance.  But in the Mick era, things changed.  Mick's lack of managerial acumen and his deplorable social skills created the need for a city manager who, in desperate search for an employment contract, would skirt the law and enact any and all capers designed by the malevolent Mick to achieve his socialist goals.  Payback is hell, and that payback was a 10-year, $170K/year contract for the lazy and incompetent, Mick-lackey, city manager Steve Barwick.  It was astonishing to watch council rubber stamp Mick's desire to saddle our community with this buffoon in 2010, despite a LONG list of Barwick's poor decisions and inept management decisions. (See Issue #41.)


Empowered now with a lengthy contract and gifted with a neophyte council, Barwick is solely steering the ship.  The fact that council put forth a list of its priorities for the year means absolutely nothing to the man in charge.  He is far more focused on keeping his 300 employees employed and spending as much as he can from the public coffers so as to justify even more next year.

Never mind that our city charter (see Section 6) specifically states, "The (city) manager shall be responsible to council for the proper administration of all affairs of the city."  The charter goes on to specify staff hiring, training, supervision and firing roles, preparation of budget and fiscal reports, attendance at council meetings, contracts with public utilities, etc - all very administrative tasks!  The city manager is encouraged to participate in council discussions in an ADVISORY capacity.  NO WHERE does it state that the city manager creates or drives policy for the city.  THAT is council's job!

Message to council:  Get a grip!  You are off to a good start together, the five of you.  You seem to work well together.  Steve, you've changed the tenor in council chambers and the community thanks you for respecting everyone's time with the new, efficient meetings.  But review the city charter.  It's only 32 pages long!  Learn the laws!  Steve Barwick and everyone on his staff work for US, and you have been elected by US to manage these guys.  Their policies are NOT our policies.  They don't get to HAVE policies.  YOU set the policies; THEY execute what YOU tell them to.  Period.  Not the other way around.

Here's what I'm talking about:


In the dark days of the November off-season, Barwick's water weasels were trying to finagle more money out of council to move the hydro plant forward.  The request was for $40K for studies and permitting to go to bids on finishing the hydro plant's penstock, tailrace, dissipation structure and energy transmission lines, likely a $1M project that they intended to begin in early 2014.  In other words, defying the will of the voters.  Thankfully, astute citizens caught on and were able to notify council about the shenanigans and effectively shut it down, for now.  (No, council had not been informed, nor were they aware that city staff was still working diligently toward completion of the project.) 

For one, the city continues to spend thousands of dollars (estimated today at nearly $1M) on outside legal assistance to protect water rights that can ONLY be used for a hydro plant or similar project.  In addition, city staff is pushing public works projects under the guise of public safety that are for one purpose only - to complete the hydro plant.

Regarding the litigation, city uses such as potable water, water for fighting fires, general municipal water and micro hydro in the stream flow are not in question, nor are these uses affected by the litigation.  Continued litigation means only one thing - a desire to complete the hydro plant.  Oh yeah, and increased expenses.  How could I forget?

Now, if the city has a good reason to continue its pursuit of hydro water rights in Castle Creek, it should be easy to articulate this to the public.  For the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on water counsel, council should ASK and be explicitly informed why these expenditures must continue before approving them, and specifically why Steve Barwick is pushing his staff to continue spending without council direction or public oversight.

It's definitely not over, however.  Barwick managed to finagle $25K from council to pursue approval of a CDOT easement near the hydro plant.  It's a right-of-way issue that needs to be resolved before the hydro plant can operate.  These guys are going to push and push, likely with the idea of waiting out the sitting council and gaining approval to complete the hydro plant with the next group.  Besides, Barwick has vowed to bring the penstock issue back in the near future.  And the city still touts the CCEC on its website as a foregone conclusion.


The water weasels in city hall also asked council for an $800K budget supplemental for power already paid to MEAN (the Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska - the city's energy vendor) last year.  The $800K supplemental request was needed simply because the city's energy mix is too hydro heavy today!  (Note: there was no supporting documentation for this amount presented to council, nor did they ask for it.)

Here's what happened. The existing Reudi  Reservoir hydro plant and the Maroon Creek hydro plant had significantly lower power production than originally projected due to drought conditions in 2012 and 2013.  Therefore, the $800K request reflects the increase in power purchases from MEAN at higher rates due to low output of city-owned hydropower.  That's a pretty big miss! Now consider -- building yet another hydro plant would not be wise because we are already top-heavy in hydroelectric power.  Obviously, drought conditions drastically affect hydropower production!  The city's exaggerated expectations for the CCEC hydro plant could cause a similar and ongoing scenario.  With its inability to plan properly for lost hydropower production during low flow years, the city would face not only budget deficits but the need to purchase greater amounts of coal-fired energy from MEAN at premium prices.  The answer?  A more balanced renewable energy mix!


The city is currently undertaking a planning effort for city employee "housing" on Parks & Open Space property on Cemetery Lane.  Now let's get one thing straight, the Cemetery Lane neighborhood study from 2000 (adopted by council) repeatedly asked about the possibility of multi-family housing in the neighborhood.  For those in the know, this was the city's way of asking if city-owned property could be converted for subsidized housing in this area.  The inquiry received a resounding thumbs down.  Furthermore, it is the law (City Charter, section 13.4) that the conversion of Open Space to alternative uses requires a vote of the people.

The Open Space land in question is currently used by the city as an industrial yard and warehouse for equipment and materials for the city's parks -- obviously an inappropriate use for public parks in Aspen!  Imagine if they tried to pull this stunt at Paepcke Park on Main Street!  Furthermore, if the site in question (for multi-family housing) were privately owned, there is no way, no how the city would consider such a conversion. Clearly, the city does not apply the same standards to itself that it demands of its citizens and property owners!

Again, this is but another example of Barwick's staff hatching a nefarious plot that can't pass legal muster, but with a clueless council these things stand a chance because staff can sway them!  Again, astute citizens noticed the shenanigans and brought these to council's attention. 

On a related note, why should city employees be qualified for separate housing from APCHA subsidized housing? 


You've seen it - snow guns making snow in Wagner Park this past week.  Why, you ask, amidst the heaviest early season snowfall in recent memory?  What is going on?   



Well, apparently, "someone" city hall is a proponent of Snow Polo in Wagner Park, or has been "convinced" to be.  You see, this was NEVER supposed to occur in Aspen's crown jewel park following the debacle in 2011 (when a mare was grievously injured and had to be put down on-site, and the cherished park's turf was ripped to shreds).  At the time, council discussions yielded permissions for the event to be held in Rio Grande Park and on the Marolt Open Space, but "never again" at Wagner Park.  It's now 2013 and the rules have mysteriously and abruptly been changed.  A vague and arbitrary agreement (with no pubic process) has been struck between the city parks department and event promoters that effectively allows the event back in the middle of town, despite 21 stringent "conditions," written in 2012 to specifically preclude this from ever happening again at Wagner Park. 

Originally, it was specifically mandated that the unlikely early season quantity of "18 inches of unpacked and unconsolidated natural snow exists on the proposed polo arena zone," however, this was recently changed to allow "a combination of natural snow and man-made snow that provides 'appropriate protection and depth' determined by the Parks Department staff in the field that will provide the same protection level and snow density as 18 inches of unpacked and unconsolidated snow on the proposed polo arena zone."  Just a little vague and subjective, huh?!  I have nothing against snow polo.  That's not my point; my concern has to do with the vague agreement.  And the secret rule-changing.  And at whose direction this occurred.  My investigations have yielded only the fact that many parks department employees are vehemently opposed to having this event at Wagner Park, but are doing so at the direction of parks director Jeff Woods and our pal, lazy and incompetent city manager Steve Barwick!

The "best" (and most horrifically hypocritical) part of the irresponsible agreement was the idea that if there is a snow-depth shortfall, event promoters would contract with SkiCo to make snow that would be TRUCKED to Wagner Park.  Somehow, this hair-brained idea passed muster by council - again, nodding their foolish heads without asking questions.  This, in our tree-hugging, carbon-emission fearing town, no less!  Estimates were 150 truckloads.  Really.  (Steve Skadron DID however question the irresponsible use of municipal water for this silly endeavor....)  Later, this ridiculousness morphed into the already-in-motion make-snow-at-the-park-for-9-days program.  Attached is a photo of this nonsense in action.  And, hired SkiCo snowcats belch their diesel exhaust while grooming the park early in the mornings, packing the man-made stuff.

Concerned neighbors challenged city staff that Wagner Park is already closed 120 days a year.  This was quickly disputed, but promises by parks director Jeff Woods to provide "an accurate number" have not been fulfilled.

Even the Aspen Times agrees.  A recent editorial (read it HERE) blasts council for its "improper vetting" of this event.  The Times went on to comment, "Six months into the new council's term, it seems scrutiny doesn't appear to be part of the entity's basic make-up... Discussions are warranted when it comes to decisions that could be detrimental to community property."  Bravo.

Furthermore, when council decisions are made to ensure maximum public access to our public assets, should city staff bureaucrats be able to change these decisions on a whim?


City staff recently presented council with "encouraging" numbers that allegedly show strong demand for the next phase of Burlingame.  Assistant to Barwick, aptly-named Barry Crook, reported that buildings 1-4 of Phase 2 have a 97% reservation rate.  Obviously, "reservations" are one thing; closings are another! This is where the real answers lie.  Crook is already chomping at the bit for another $15M from council to get started on buildings 5-7.  Sadly, mayor Skadron read the reservation numbers as an indication of "pent up demand."  How about "desire."  Good luck with getting those mortgages. 

Thankfully, Dwayne Romero chided Crook, stating, "Reservations are a far cry from closings." He and Adam Frisch would like to see a 100% closing rate before moving forward.  Ya think?!


Temporarily tabled in 2013, drastically increased fees for subsidized housing mitigation are on the near-term docket at city hall.  No, these are not council priorities either - they are coming straight from Barwick.

The most recent city study states 1000 (yes, ONE THOUSAND) new subsidized housing units are "needed" over the next 10 years to compensate primarily for retirees staying in their units.  At the current housing office estimate of $850/sf to build, and assuming an average of 1000sf/unit, that comes to (conservatively) $850 MILLION DOLLARS of new construction in the next decade - in the subsidized housing sector alone!

This appears to be priority #1 at city hall.  I will be following it closely, but fasten your seatbelts.  This one is coming fast!

To brush up, I suggest re-reading Issue #88 and Issue #89 on the subsidized housing jihad in Aspen.


The Red Ant was recently attacked.  Thankfully, it was only verbally, but it was quite a scary encounter none-the-less.  A woman named Shirley Tipton (a.k.a. Mrs. Steve Barwick) went nuts on me at the Elks Club on a Sunday evening during the recent Broncos-Patriots game.  I was enjoying the game with friends (until the Pats rallied for the win) when a wild-eyed and clearly unhinged lunatic approached our table and unleashed a loud tirade directed my way.  Provoked and egged on by self-proclaimed "Barwick's best friend" Rick Head (ersatz realtor and subsidized housing board member), most of what she rambled was simply unintelligible, but she kept repeating, "He's a good man. He's a good man."  Directed by several Elks to please return to her seat, Mrs. Barwick did eventually go away and calm down.

Many thanks to the many kind Elks who contacted me that evening and the day following to apologize for Mrs. Barwick's "unstable" behavior.  It was a sight to behold, that's for sure!  (I've heard the Elks have a video of her whole performance, including the pre-attack scheming between this loon and Rick Head.)  Apparently Mrs. Barwick is terribly threatened by my first amendment right to investigate and write commentary about her husband, a public figure and chief administrator of the city.  How dare The Red Ant do this and challenge HER entitlement to a nice city-owned home on the golf course in America's most expensive town?! 

If there is anything worse than being lazy and incompetent, it's being married to it!

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