Basalt election season underway for three council seats
The Aspen Times
Town elections coming up
Jan. 22 is also the deadline for candidate petitions in four Garfield County municipalities – Carbondale, New Castle, Silt and Parachute. The Post Independent will be covering the candidates and contested races in those towns in the coming weeks.
Ready or not, election season is back in Basalt.
Tuesday was the first day candidates could take out nomination petitions for the April 3 town council election. Three seats are up for grabs and the terms are for four years.
Incumbent Mark Kittle said he would definitely not seek re-election. Incumbent Bernie Grauer said he is “inclined to run” but hasn’t made a decision. Incumbent Gary Tennenbaum hasn’t signaled his intentions yet.
Basalt resident Carol Hawk picked up a candidate petition at Town Hall on Tuesday, according to Town Clerk Pam Schilling. Candidates have until Jan. 22 to return petitions, which must be signed by 25 registered electors.
Kittle has made it clear for months that he wouldn’t seek re-election. He said Tuesday he is “absolutely positive” he is finished with elected office in Basalt. He served in 2004-08 then was appointed in 2013 to fill the last year of a term when Councilwoman Anne Freedman moved out of town. Kittle was easily elected to a four-year term in the April 2014 election.
As a lifelong Basalt resident, he provided a voice for midvalley natives at town hall. Kittle said he felt good about the direction of town government in 2014-15, but characterized conditions as “brutal” more recently.
“The election [in April 2016] changed the dynamic completely,” he said.
There has been a lot of “consternation” and actions that have “divided the community,” he said.
Kittle has openly feuded with Councilwoman Jennifer Riffle, who was elected in 2016. He also refused to participate in most executive sessions, where the council closes its deliberations to the public. The sessions are supposed to be limited to personnel issues, contract negotiations and consultations with the town attorney on legal matters. Kittle said in summer 2016 that he felt Town Attorney Tom Smith was encouraging executive sessions that weren’t warranted.
He voiced similar concerns on Tuesday.
“There’s too much behind-the-scenes activity,” Kittle said. “It happens all the time.”
He alleged Mayor Jacque Whitsitt works too often with Riffle and possibly other council members behind the scenes.
The use of 2.3 acres of land owned by the nonprofit Roaring Fork Community Development Corp. has been an issue that tore apart the council and the community for most of Kittle’s most recent term. The issue is complex, he said, because the $3 million asking price for the property requires a developer to seek more square footage than most of the town is willing to swallow.
He said the council decided at one point that about 55,000 square feet of development would be acceptable. The latest informal proposal by Lowe Enterprises would have exceeded that limit, he said.
Lowe allowed its option to acquire the property to expire this fall. Kittle said he thought another developer might emerge, but none have so far.
“It’s such a political hot potato nobody wants to touch it,” he said.
Kittle said the Community Development Corp. needs to reduce its asking price to help move the issue toward resolution.
“It’s going to take collaboration between private and public to make it work right,” he said.
Grauer said he has a desire to help find a solution to the complex land issue, so that could motivate him to seek re-election. The council needs to determine if it should buy the property and what are the best economic and societal uses for the site, he said.
On the other hand, he needs to decide if he can continue to devote the time necessary to do the job.
“There’s a commitment there, a substantial commitment of time over four years,” Grauer said.
Grauer is known for doing his homework and coming to meetings well-versed on the issues.
“I’ve enjoyed my four years. The councils I served on were quite functional,” he said. He noted there were some “tensions” on the council and in the community over issues.
“I would say at this point I’m inclined to run,” Grauer said.
Tennenbaum is out of town and couldn’t be reached Tuesday. Both Tennenbaum and Grauer can serve another four-year term before limits would force them out.
To run, a candidate must be a qualified elector of Basalt, a citizen of the United States, at least 18 years of age and a resident of Basalt for at least 12 consecutive months immediately preceding the date of the election.
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According to the New Castle Police Department’s official Facebook page, a “string of arson-related fires” have occurred in the town recently. Law enforcement believes “the fires to all be related.”