Confidence by the billion |

Confidence by the billion

Don Rogers

Change for the sake of change? That’s pretty desperate for the No. 1 ski resort, a distinction that includes the perception of the community along with the mountain.

Economically, times have been challenging everywhere. Still, Vail is the envy of ski and other resort towns across North America. Why? Because Vail has weathered recession, Sept. 11 and two wars better than all of them.

So let us suggest that while the town’s leadership can always improve, and the mayor’s gavel can hammer through agendas more quickly, the town is hardly headed to hell in a handbasket. Quite the contrary.

But this is, after all, the silly season. Challengers for those four Town Council seats open Nov. 4 have to make things sound as dire as possible in their bid for seats this election. Also, the special interests don’t feel they get enough of their way with the current council. Maybe a new council would favor them more, which would be a mistake.

The loudest of those special interests is the Vail Chamber and Business Association leadership, which we must note understands that they’ve received their last handout from the current council. And properly so. It’s time for this most negative, dysfunctional and least representative organization in town to live or die through paid memberships. Thus far, they’ve attracted only a small fraction of the business community to invest in membership voluntarily. This group would do better to turn the bricks it is throwing at the council into deep introspection and revitalizing its own failing organization.

Our view is that while we don’t agree with all their decisions, the three incumbents offering their experience for one more term all do their homework, offer well-reasoned votes, and think creatively in the best interests of the constituents. None have performed at a level that cries for inexperienced newcomers to take their places. There is a learning curve in council service, and that should not be discounted.

For their part, four of the five challengers would do just fine on the council, once they learned a little more about the issues and how to work with the other individuals on the board. But none have shown themselves so obviously brilliant or otherwise so much more intrinsically skilled than the incumbents they aim to replace.

Town councils across the country, not just Vail, are by definition messy and clunky wheels of democracy. There’s criticism among the precious few who actually observe this council in action that there’s too much talk, talk, talk before decisions are reached. We share in that criticism, but also note that the bigger worry is the council that gavels through big decisions in lightning fashion. You can bet that such bodies are either making their decisions out of public view or giving too much of their responsibility over to the staff. At least that would be the criticism from the next set of challengers to come along.

This council could run its meetings with more discipline. But the crisis that the challengers and special interests would have you believe is in reality a small problem requiring an adjustment, hardly cause for sweeping change.

The crossroads some candidates speak of has actually passed. After a decade or more of long discussions among the public and the naturally halting steps forward and backward, in the past two years Vail has indeed settled on a course. Really, it will be the next council’s role to shepherd the town’s progress in a direction that’s already largely been set.

The current council – far from doing “nothing” as some critics claim – has rather ambitiously set up affordable housing, parks and a pavilion that in fact are very popular with “normal” citizens, finally set up the conference center, ended Vail’s run as mecca for underaged drunkenness, done more to better communicate with the public than frankly any body in Eagle County by far, pretty much settled on a long-term solution to parking (thank you for not panicking in the short term), and improved recreational opportunities in Vail without putting the town in anything resembling fiscal crisis.

In fact, this council has managed to inspire enough confidence that around $1 billion in investment in the town has been committed. That bears repeating: $1 billion in fresh investment. Failing town leadership just does not inspire that remarkable amount of private commitment. Make no mistake, just about every town in America wishes it could have Vail’s “problems.”

The government can do better, of course. Vail’s rules and regs are denser than they need to be. The council can be more disciplined in at least some of its discussions, and spending can be tightened. Also, the challenges of carrying through with the projects on tap are significant. The question becomes who will give Vail the best shot at meeting those challenges of execution while paying due attention to the businesses without losing sight of the community that exists in this most special of towns.

Our recommendation is that the three incumbents have earned an opportunity to continue. They have the sense of history, familiarity with the issues and each other, and strength to lend the special interests an ear but not undue influence to best guide the town. Bill Jewitt, Greg Moffet and Rod Slifer are honest, well-reasoned, earnest and experienced.

Among the challengers, the question is not merely who would serve well, but who is the very best fit for these times.

We believe Dave McDougall would benefit from more study of the issues facing Vail and serving on one of the many advisory boards helping the town. That would help bring him up to speed and provide more knowledge to go with his commitment to serve. Then we encourage him to run again. Paul Rondeau and Mark Gordon would not hurt the council. Both are knowledgeable and enthusiastic, and have the drive to give the town their best.

But we believe the very best candidates among the challengers at this time are Kent Logan and Kim Ruotolo.

We believe Logan can strengthen the council’s discipline during meetings, bring that corporate acumen to bear and reach out to second-home owners as none of the current council members quite can.

Ruotolo, who has cut her teeth on the Vail Housing Authority among her civic service over the years, has shown an uncommon common sense over the course of the campaign. She truly has been impressive, and she brings the perspective of the young family with a hands-on understanding of what it takes for a dwindling part of Vail’s populace to live there.

Yes, that’s five recommendations for four seats. We make them now in large part because Mayor Ludwig Kurz should have left office in November, rather than hanging on for two more months. Whoever does not get elected Nov. 4 should run again in January.

The choices for council this time are good; you almost can’t go wrong. But please don’t fall for the nonsense that Vail or its Town Council are in some terrible tailspin. That’s just not true.

Think about that commitment from the private sector of $1 billion into the now decade’s long talk of “renaissance.” That discussion did not evolve into hard commitment until recently. You can thank the Town Council for at least part of it.

‘Tis the season for the Chicken Littles, but we’ll urge you to at least look up at the sky to see nothing is really falling before casting your vote to help Vail carry through on a very promising path.

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