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Short-term rental permit moratorium, council votes cause friction at Aspen's 'Squirm Night'

Aspen City Council candidates Sam Rose, far left, Skippy Mesirow, and Bill Guth sit in Grassroots TV’s studio before Squirm Night questioning begins on Feb. 8, 2023.
Caroline Llanes
Aspen Public Radio News
Aspen City Council candidates Sam Rose, left, Skippy Mesirow, and Bill Guth chat in Grassroots TV’s studio before Squirm Night questioning begins on Feb. 8, 2023. Grassroots' John Masters preps audio in the background.

Candidates running to serve as Aspen’s mayor and on the City Council answered questions from local media in last night’s Squirm Night on Grassroots TV.

Hosted by The Aspen Times, the Aspen Daily News, and Aspen Public Radio, the event gives voters a chance to get to know where the candidates stand.

(You can watch the stream in full on Grassroots’ website).

Council candidates discuss disagreements in government

Bill Guth, Sam Rose, and incumbent Skippy Mesirow weighed in on a variety of issues, including the city’s permitting process, short-term rentals, and the Entrance to Aspen.

One issue that sparked some debate between the candidates was the current city council’s frequent unanimous votes.

Bill Guth called it “antithetical to democracy” that there were so many five-to-zero votes on city council—71 out of 72, according to Guth’s campaign.

“That’s not healthy,” he said. “That means that significant portions of our community are not being represented at the table. It’s impossible for me to fathom the fact that five people who are supposed to represent the full spectrum of Aspen voters are thinking the same way all the time.”

In response, Skippy Mesirow said that just because the council reached consensus, doesn’t mean they were always in agreement.

“But if you’re not in the meetings and you’re not watching what’s going on and you haven’t seen the work sessions or the process to get there, then simply taking the one data point of the 72 votes [in 2022] and having that mean that or imply that there was no disagreement along the way is crazy!” Mesirow said, adding that the council often focused on issues where they could find consensus in order to get more done for the city.

Sam Rose countered that even if that was the case, the public’s perception of the unanimous votes was also crucial—that city council doesn’t always do a good job explaining its decisions.

“5-0 votes aren’t bad alone,” he said. “But if you have a city council chamber filled with people who are angry about something that are constituents, and you’re like ‘we’re listening to you, we’re listening to you,’ and then you all vote 5-0, it doesn’t really feel like you were listened to. ”

When asked who they would vote for other than himself, and who’d get their vote for mayor, each candidate gave different answers.

Incumbent Mesirow said he’d be voting for incumbent Torre in the mayor’s race, as they had been able to get a lot done over the past several years. He said he hadn’t decided who’d get his second vote on city council, but he saw pros and cons for each choice.

Bill Guth said that while he respected Mesirow and Torre, he’d be voting for Rose for the second council seat and Sutton for Mayor, saying he’d like to see new faces on the council.

Sam Rose said that he had not yet decided who he’d be voting for in either race, but that he has great relationships with everyone running, and would be happy to work with anyone, should he be elected to council.

Guth and Mesirow both said that with his answer, Rose had a future in national politics.

Mayoral candidates debate short-term rentals and other issues

Mayor Torre and Tracy Sutton prepare in Grassroots TV’s studios before answering Squirm Night questions.
Caroline Llanes
Aspen Public Radio
Aspen Mayor Torre, left and Tracy Sutton prepare in Grassroots TV’s studios before answering Squirm Night questions on Feb. 3, 2023.

The candidates to be Aspen’s mayor — Tracy Sutton and incumbent Torre — also answered questions from local media in last night’s Squirm Night.

A sharp divide between the two candidates was the city’s new regulations on short-term rentals—enacted after an eight-month moratorium on new rental permits last year.

Sutton is a real estate broker for Berkshire Hathaway Signature Properties. She also manages vacation rentals through the company she started, Aspen Signature Vacation Rentals.

Sutton said she felt the moratorium was short-sighted, handled poorly, and ignored the concerns of many with skin in the game.

“You put a lot of people, a lot of industries in a position where they had to make decisions, no matter who it was, whether it was homeowners or second homeowners,” she said. “And nobody listened to people from the lodging community, hotels, or anything about how these things are operated and our recommendations. So the fact that we weren’t listened to, makes me feel like many weren’t listened to.”

Sutton also served on a stakeholders committee to provide the city feedback as it drafted new regulations for short-term rentals and residential development.

Torre responded that the short-term rental issue was a part of a larger question of balancing resort and community.

“To me, this comes down to a question of profit over people, and I’m sorry, I’m people over profit!” he said. “Tracy alludes to out-of-town interests dictating our community policies, I don’t think that’s the right way to go. I think we do need to maintain control in our community.”

Other topics that came up were the city’s production and management of affordable housing, the Aspen Pitkin-County Airport, and community outreach.

The mayoral candidates were also asked who’d they be voting for in the city council race.

Torre said he’d be voting for Mesirow, as Mesirow shares a lot of his values, and he’s a candidate Torre feels he can trust.

He saidhe heard some contradictory things from Guth and Rose during their Squirm Night questions, and said he’d have to follow up with both of them to get clarity.

Sutton said she’d “definitely” be voting for Guth and Rose, saying even though she respects Mesirow, it’s time for “a fresh start.”

Election information

a ballot dropbox outside of Aspen's city hall
Caroline Llanes
Aspen Public Radio
This ballot dropbox is located outside of Aspen's City Hall on Rio Grande Place.

Registered voters will get their ballots in the mail the week of February 13.

Voters can mail that in or drop their ballots off at the dropbox at city hall on Rio Grande Place.

In-person early voting starts on February 21 in the clerk’s office, also at city hall.

Election Day is March 7, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Voters can check their registration with Colorado’s Secretary of State.

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering everything from local governments to public lands. Her work has been featured on NPR. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.
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