Political party forming for council run
A political group whose organizers say they want to shake up town government is recruiting a slate of candidates to make a run this fall for the four to five empty seats on the Vail Town Council.The group currently consists of incumbent Town Councilman Bill Jewitt and retired businessman and art collector Kent Logan, along with the pair’s pro-business, tourism-friendly platform.”If four people agree on a philosophy, they can move forward and get things done,” says Jewitt, 55, the co-owner of Bart & Yeti’s bar in Lionshead. Jewitt was elected to a two-year term in 2001 and is running for reelection this fall.There will be at least four seats up for grabs when Vail voters go to the polls in November. A fifth seat may open up if Mayor Ludwig Kurz, whose term isn’t up until February, steps down before the election. If he does, voters would not have to return to the polls in February to replace him.Jewitt and Logan say either a four- or five-person coalition on the council would achieve more than seven council members with diverse agendas. The coalition would almost certainly elect one of its members to become the next mayor.”There’s a real opportunity to change how the town-government process works,” says Logan, 60, who also owns a private contemporary art museum at his home in Vail’s exclusive Potato Patch neighborhood.Jewitt says the past council has not had strong direction – nor has it tried aggressively to reduce town spending – during a time when its revenues are sagging, he says.”All we have done is cut a little bit here and a little bit there,” Jewitt says. “We have not said, “How can help the business community collect more sales tax?'”Key tenets of the party’s platform are making it easier for merchants to do business in Vail and ratcheting up promotion of the town and the resort, Logan says.”The council is criticized for trying to please everyone, rather than focusing on the important issues,” Logan says. “It takes a party that’s going to focus on five things and not spend time on 25 things.”Missing markets?Top among the platform’s business initiatives is more aggressive marketing campaigns to promote Vail. The town’s business marketing district now spends about $2 million on promotion campaigns, but that may not be enough, Logan says.”I don’t think you can spend too much money, or have too many bright people focused on what’s the right advertising campaign for Vail,” Logan says.Vail Resorts has done a terrific job luring Front Range skiers to town with its buddy pass, but the town and the ski company also have to focus on the town’s second-home owners and entice them to spend more time in Vail, Jewitt says.”They need to be fully-informed about everything that’s going on in Vail, from the big things like the New York Philharmonic to small things like Oktoberfest,” he says. “It’s a huge market that’s already shown a predilection for coming to Vail. They’ve already said they like Vail.”Merchants would benefit if the town formed a business improvement district, that collected fees to promote Vail, Logan adds. The district also could hire a “business czar” versed in all segments of the town’s economy to be an intermediary between the government and merchants, Logan says.”You have to have a town that’s working with business, whether it’s Vail Resorts or Bart & Yeti’s,” Logan says. “Right now, there’s a psychology (among the business community) that the town’s against us. You don’t want total laissez-faire, but you want to get rid of some of the out-dated regulations.”The town this spring discussed forming a business improvement district, but the proposal appears to have fizzled under a legal squabble over whether the town or business owners would have final say over the organization’s finances.”It’s dormant at best,” Jewitt says.It’s also critical the town government is not subservient to Vail Resorts, says Jewitt.”We need to work with Vail Resorts as peers,” he says. “We need to have a council that has vision and goes into negotiations with an idea. Vail Resorts is very focused right now and I would contend the town is not as focused and the town may very well have come up short in negotiations because of this lack of focus.”Jewitt says the ski company, over the last several years, has done a better job reinvigorating itself than the town, Jewitt adds, and while Vail Resorts installed high-speed lifts and made other improvements on the slopes, the government has let parts of the town fall into disrepair.Fresh politics?Logan and Jewitt say they also are interested in changing the way the mayor is elected. Currently, council members choose the mayor after the election. They say a mayor elected directly by voters would likely be a stronger leader with clearer priorities.”The voters ought to have a direct say,” Logan says.On the other hand, a mayor elected by a party or coalition also would have a clearer “vision,” Jewitt says, and with several major reconstruction projects planned in Vail Village and Lionshead, the next council may play a major role in shaping what the town looks like in the coming decades.”The next five years are going to set the stage for the next 25 years,” Logan says. “There is a major renaissance opportunity that shouldn’t be mishandled.””But,” he adds, “are we going to have a business community that complains about the government and a government that complains about the business community, or are we going to go out and try new things?”Therefore, Logan and Jewitt say, they hope to find qualified candidates to join their platform.”We’re looking for like-minded people to embrace our vision,” Jewitt says. “We want to get some people coming out of the woodwork. There are so many qualified people who don’t feel comfortable raising their hands. People feel there’s not enough psychic reward for the work involved.”Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at email@example.com.