Aspen City Council to the people: Shut up

Here in Aspen, our city council has announced that the taxpayers who decided to elect them are too stupid and lazy to decide properly how to spend their own tax money. Here’s the story.

City bureaucrats for years have wanted to spend tens of millions of dollars on lavish new offices. The most recent price tag is over $23 million. This is for a city with a population of only 6,500 people.

Do the math: These nice new offices for the government bureaucracy would cost over $3,000 per resident — or over $12,000 per family of four residents. That’s on top of a city budget that exceeds $100 million a year, or about $15,000 per resident and $60,000 per family of four.

Part of the reason the building is so expensive is that they want to put it right in the middle of town, naturally, because that’s where the action is. Most of the rest of us can’t afford the middle of town because real estate there costs thousands of dollars per square foot. But it’s easier if someone else is paying for it.

Just to make sure this monument to themselves is sufficiently monumental, it will rise to 46 feet in an area where other development is capped at 28 feet in order to preserve the mountain views. Obscuring the view is evidently OK if the rule-makers do the obscuring.

There’s just one snag in this plan.

The snag is those people whose views would be obscured and whose money is being spent. You know, the people. Those pesky people would like to put the plan to a vote.

Bravo! Democracy lives in Aspen.

In a democracy, elected representatives occasionally do put controversial issues to a vote of the people who elected them. In that way, they make sure they are effectuating the will of the people.

They respect the judgment of the people. After all, the people and their judgment are what got them elected in the first place.

But alas. Democracy dies in Aspen.

The Aspen City Council decided not to put this plan to a vote of the people. That’s bad enough, but their stated reason for dodging a vote has left people incredulous.

Their stated reason is that the people might vote it down. Because people might not “comprehend” the issue. And because people opposed to the plan might spread “false information” about it. And because some people are just always opposed to taxing and spending. Darn those people!

One councilman stated at the outset of the meeting that he was “100 percent” in favor of putting the question to a vote of the people. But by the end of the meeting, his position for the people had declined by exactly 100 percent. He later lamented the lambasting he received from the people on social media for abandoning them.

But he said found a way to comfort himself, if not the people: He turned off social media.

Another councilman at the meeting scolded some people who were urging a vote. He said they “need to be more careful about the words you are using to challenge us.” It’s telling that he sees a request for a vote of the people as a “challenge.”

As for the words used by the people in issuing their “challenge,” it sounds like he’d be more comfortable if those words started with “Your Excellency.”

There’s some history here. A few years ago, City Council had a leaky idea to dam a tiny local stream near a wilderness area in order to generate a miniscule amount of hydroelectric power. The people voted it down.

Then City Council wanted to allow an oversized “affordable” hotel to be built on Main Street — as if people who need affordable lodging come to Aspen. The people voted it down.

Then there was the time the term-limited mayor wanted to end-run the term limit law by getting himself elected to City Council. Virtually the entire Aspen establishment endorsed his scheme. But the people overwhelmingly voted him down (in favor of the candidate who became the sole dissenter in City Council’s current decision to dodge a vote of the people, Bert Myrin).

Democracy is a bitch, huh? Sometimes the people say things that their elected representatives don’t agree with. Sometimes the people say it in a way the elected representatives don’t like. Sometimes the people don’t “comprehend” very well. Sometimes they make the “wrong” decision.

But City Council now has a creative solution to this problem of noisy and uncomprehending people making the “wrong” decision: City Council will prohibit them from making any at all.

There’s still one decision they can’t take away from us, however, at least not yet. That’s the decision whether to vote for them. Next time around, let’s throw the bums out.

(Published July 23, 2017 in the Aspen Times at

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