RFTA opts for diverse representation on board
It didn’t exactly have the drama of a tribal council on TV reality show “Survivor,” but a recent election for officers of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board of directors did expose lingering unease between the upper and lower valley.
RFTA’s board of directors in a show of hands unanimously selected Pitkin County Commissioner Michael Owsley as the new chairman. He takes the helm from Glenwood Springs Mayor Bruce Christensen.
But a contest for vice chair between New Castle Mayor Frank Breslin and Snowmass Village Councilman John Wilkinson spurred a lengthy debate over geographical representation in the board’s leadership positions. Breslin was ultimately selected over Wilkinson in a secret ballot. The board majority appeared more comfortable balancing the upper valley and lower valley in the officer positions.
A selection committee – comprising the RFTA representatives from Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County – recommended Owsley and Wilkinson for chair and vice chair, respectively.
But Basalt Councilwoman Jacque Whitsitt nominated Breslin during the election, held Jan. 13. She said RFTA’s board has done a good job in recent years of avoiding an “us versus them” style of representation. Nevertheless, she said, she favored balancing upper valley and lower valley representation among the officer slots to make sure it didn’t “look like the scales are tipping a little bit.”
RFTA is supported by sales tax revenues from its eight member governments. The upper valley governments collect a bigger share of the funds, but the eight member jurisdictions have equal representation and voting power. Middle valley and downvalley representatives have always been wary of upper valley officials controlling RFTA’s direction.
Wilkinson and Owsley said they weren’t on a power grab. They said they just saw advantages of two upper valley officials working well together to guide the RFTA board. Owsley, in particular, expressed concern that some members were leery of the upper valley gaining too much control of the board. No member of RFTA’s board has placed the interest of their county or municipality above the overall welfare of RFTA, he said.
“I think it’s a red herring issue,” Owsley said. “I’m disturbed that it’s an issue now in this election.”
Owsley espoused an all-for-one, one-for-all approach to overseeing RFTA. “I’m not an upper valley person,” he said. “I’m a valley person.”
Christensen concurred that parochialism has faded on the RFTA during his eight years as a member. “I guess if it ever does become a problem, we flog the person that’s doing it,” he said.
Christensen said he would vote for Wilkinson as vice chair, specifically to show lack of concern over the upper valley dominating the board.
But Carbondale Councilman Ed Cortez said he would support Breslin because there is concern on his council to make sure the lower valley is equally represented. Carbondale residents are concerned about the upper valley exerting too much influence over the entire valley in a number of ways, he suggested.
“It’s been a vocal point for a lot of years,” Cortez said.
Owsley said he didn’t want to be in the position of choosing between Wilkinson or Breslin because he considers everyone on the RFTA board a friend. “That’s why I feel a little bit awkward here,” he said.
Whitsitt made a motion to decide the election between Breslin and Wilkinson in a secret ballot because of the “discomfort around the table” discussing the issue. The eight members wrote their choice on a piece of paper and Eagle County Commissioner Sara Fisher, a former county clerk in charge of elections, tabulated the vote. Breslin was announced the winner, but the exact count wasn’t reported.
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