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ISSUE #147: Cautiously ExuberANT .. with an Election Looming  1/29/19

"Things won't change unless we have new types of candidates."

                               -- Elise Stefanik


In a long-overdue move heartily endorsed by The Red Ant, city council recently asked for and received the resignation of city manager Steve Barwick.  His actual departure cannot come soon enough, but the ninnies on council who narrowly voted 3-2 to remove him are now grappling with how and when to show him the door.  Ward, Bert and Adam voted to axe him, while Ann "needed more time" to consider it (despite him being in this role for 19 years). I wasn't there, but I assume Steve Skadron wept.  The dearth of real-world work experience by any single member of this board became immediately evident.  Upon accepting Barwick's resignation, they neglected to discuss or even contemplate appointing an interim successor, restricting his actions (hiring/firing/promoting/demoting) in city hall, and setting his last day.  So, in this leadership void, as he has always done when serving as overlord to our feckless elected bodies, Barwick took control and ran the table.
By the terms of his overly-generous 2010 employment contract, negotiated by his old pal Mick Ireland when he was mayor, Barwick exits with what will likely be a $500,000+ payout, payable within 20 days of his departure.  This includes a year's salary ($200K) + the buy-back of his city-owned house* ($210K) + and an equity buy-out on the appreciation of said house since its purchase in 1995 (~$100K).  Oh and don't forget all of those vacation and sick leave hours he has undoubtedly banked. My guess is this will be an additional five figures. Next (cue the harmonicas and windchimes), led by Bert Myrin, our ineffective leaders started singing kumbaya, and with your money have decided to REWARD Barwick for his service with a bonus of 6 additional months in the "city-owned" city manager's house, plus 6 additional months of city healthcare.  Why? Because Barwick had the audacity to ask for it.  And, as Ward told me, "It's just not right to kick a guy when he's down."  (Note to Ward: Complying with the terms of a mutually agreed upon contract is hardly kicking someone when he's down.  And why would he be down? He's a half million dollars richer and dancing all the way to the bank!) The next challenge is getting the man out of the building.  At press time, Barwick sits in his office, ostensibly looking for his next opportunity, but in the meantime, remaining on the payroll until he deems it time to leave, continuing his poisonous reign and fostering the toxic culture of hubris that has infected our local government for decades.  Rumor has it that the city will be hiring a search firm, and that citizens may have roles on a search committee, but for now, the more things change, the more they stay the same.  More on council's rationale for removing Barwick HERE.
One bright light is that Barwick's assistant and henchman, aptly-named Barry Crook, has officially left the building.  Gone.  He has 6 months to sell his city-owned condo back into inventory. *This concept of "selling" city-owned assets (that you and I paid for) to city employees is one that must stop.  Immediately.  That it started in the first place is a travesty. Each city-owned dwelling should be rented to key city employees and tied specifically to their employment by the city. No ifs, ands or buts. But no. The city of Aspen has numerous units that they do rent to employees, but even more that they have sold. The game is supposed to mirror APCHCA's policies, but in one quick glance, it became obvious that Barwick made some special deals for his special pals, specifically one aptly-named Barry Crook.  The Crook purchased a 3-bedroom condo at #7 Water Place in 2009.  At the time, he was making $110K/year.  He has zero dependents (so why a 3-bedroom??), which put him in Category 4, according to the APCHA guidelines which the city "must" follow. Or not. The Crook paid just $151,000 for this unit that dictated a Category 4 sales price range of $209,000 - $309,000, a discount of $58K - $158K -- from Steve Barwick. (This research was obtained through an open records act request of the city HR department.  But the information was "misrepresented." The Red Ant cannot confirm if this was intentional, but a quick look at the county assessor's records on the unit cleared up all discrepancies.)
Clearly, such favorable sales have been selectively doled out by Barwick over the years, at prices that are effectively raises (more like gifts). Why should city employees get privileged deals like these, outside of the governing rules of APCHA, when other members of the community cannot?  As these units turn over, it is imperative that we get ourselves out from under the vicious cycle of buying them back with appreciation.  These assets should be utilized as rentals to attract and retain key city employees, period.  If employees wish to own their homes, they are entitled to apply to APCHA, just like everyone else.  In the meantime, they can rent. 
So now, notoriously passive-aggressive Barwick clogs the drain, occupying his 3-BR duplex at 705 Cemetery Lane for another full year, and in so doing, prevents the city from attracting the very best replacement because we won't be providing housing.  And that's AFTER cashing his half-million dollar check.  (As I've often said, as long as we elect people without real-world work experience to govern, we will get outcomes that reflect their cluelessness.)
It's time.  With the passage of Aspen 2A in November, Aspen's municipal election is now scheduled for March 5.  And as much as I am loathe to tell you, campaign season is in full swing and voting will commence in three short weeks. Key dates to put on your calendar:
  • February 6 & 13:  Aspen Business Luncheon - meet the candidates
  • February 7:  Squirm Night - sponsored by the Aspen Times & Aspen Daily News
  • February 11:  Ballots mailed out / Ballots available for early voting
  • February 11:  The Red Ant endorsement issue out this week
  • March 5:  Election Day
DO NOT VOTE until you have received The Red Ant's endorsement issue, which will include candidate questionnaire responses and my thoughts!  Again, this is a municipal election, so only Aspen residents may vote. Verify your voter registration and mailing address HERE
We will be electing a new mayor (Steve Skadron thankfully cannot run again because of term limits), and two council seats are up, those held by Adam Frisch and Bert Myrin.  
Adam is running for mayor, as is sitting councilmember Ann Mullins.  The mayoral contest looks like this:
  • Adam Frisch
  • Ann Mullins
  • Cale Mitchell
  • Torre
On the council side, Bert is running for re-election and there is one open seat (Adam's, since he is running for mayor).  Here's the docket:
  • Linda Manning
  • Skippy Mesirow
  • Bert Myrin
  • Rachel Richards
We will also have one ballot question enabling us to finally approve the Lift One Corridor -- the revitalization and redevelopment of the western public portal to Aspen Mountain, including the replacement and realignment of Lift 1A that will bring the lift down to Dean Street. More on this in the upcoming endorsement issue, but in the meantime, don't fall victim to the "fake news" circulating out there:
Fake News #1: The proposed land for the Gorsuch Haus project is "conservation land," designated to be protected forever not unlike a land trust or animal refuge.  WRONG. Aspen's land use code specifies permitted uses for "conservation" zoning (C) as residential dwellings, stables, cemeteries, railroad and temporary special events, plus conditional uses such as sewage disposal, ski lifts and other ski facilities. This land is currently NOT "protected" despite the word "conservation" confusing some folks.  The ballot question proposes re-zoning this (C) land to "Ski Area Base" (SKI), a category designed specifically for property at the base of ski areas with the intent to provide a mixture of uses related to ski area uses and operation, including lodges and hotels. BINGO.
Fake News #2: The city is giving the developers a $4.36 million subsidy. Nope. Not a subsidy. The city IS kicking in $4.36 million to the overall project, but these funds are specifically going to the public access and amenities along the proposed Lift 1A corridor.  And not until the replacement lift is running. These include long-overdue and necessary improvements to infrastructure that the city SHOULD ABSOLUTELY pay for, such as South Aspen Street itself and the Dolinsek property (a public park affected by the new lift alignment). Furthermore, in case you were wondering, the creation of a ski museum at the old Skier's Chalet is being funded by the developers - not taxpayers - and will be administered by the Historical Society. 
It's a short ballot, but a critical one.  
As you recall, much was made of the opportunity for "seasonal resident" participation in our elections by those who pushed for a March vs May contest.  Never mind the ease of having a ballot sent to registered voters 
anywhere on earth, the March date prevailed, which ostensibly means that our seasonal folk are now signing up.  But just who is "seasonal"?  According to Colorado's Secretary of State, you can register to vote here, with or without a Colorado driver's license, if you have been here for 22 days before an election.  Hmmmm, my second-homeowner readers... Is what's good for the goose good for the gander?? Aren't you too a "seasonal resident"? I dare say yes.  Remember, this IS America, where one can only be registered to vote in one place at one time, but if one deems oneself a seasonal resident and can testify to the 22 day "residency," well then, like seasonal workers, one can be an Aspen voter now!  HERE is the form.  (Fax it to 970-445-3007.)  No Colorado driver's license?  In #3, use the last 4 of your social.  Where you live, #4?  Your physical city of Aspen address, of course!  #5 and #6, where your receive mail and where you want your ballot sent? You pick.  They will mail your ballot wherever you specify.  Don't forget #8, you ARE updating a current record. Sorry, Peoria, you are changing your voter registration to Aspen.  People move all the time.  (When you move back in Peoria, change it back.)  


I admit, at first blush, this is a slippery slope.  But if seasonal workers qualify by claiming Aspen as their "sole legal place of residence" for voter registration purposes when it technically is not (since they don't live here full time either), should they - and not you too - be making critical decisions for this community? Just sayin'...
The Red Ant will help you with your March 5 election decisions! Look for the endorsement issue during the week of February 11.

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