Revving up for a recreation election
While two incumbents fight for political survival and defend past decisions, a coalition of three newcomers is aggressively campaigning to take over the five-person board. Candidates are leveling accusations and posturing for the cameras while a cranky Vail Town Council refuses to help out with a $3.5 million debt and a perceived tight-rope competition for dollars between hockey and golf.
It’s a recipe for a political pile-up – as well as a crash course for district voters, who until now have not been unaccustomed to sound-bites and negative campaign rhetoric – at least at the district level.
In other words, it’s the season for mud-slinging.
“I’m not a trouble maker. I’m a realist and I’m honest,” says Anthony “Nino” Licciardi, a 46-year-old property manager and Vail resident who admits to having formed “a coalition, not an alliance,” with fellow newcomers Peter Cook and Julie Hansen to win three four-year terms on the district’s board and a majority voting block. With only the board’s chairman, Hermann Staufer, and a regular member, Tom Saalfeld, secure for another two years, the newcomers could run recreation in Vail for the next four years.
“Let the dice roll, I think we can get in,” says Licciardi, a second-generation Italian, who talks like a machine gun on caffeine and claims to “not love politics.”
“We are going to listen to people and we’re going to have committee meetings that people get involved in,” he adds. “Here we are, Vail is such a great town and we aren’t making good use of all the energy out there.”
Licciardi doesn’t lack energy, either, as he alternates between hurling allegations and apologies.
“I would have phased it,” he says of the $3.5 million remodel of Dobson Arena, on which he and his “coalition” colleagues are centering their criticism of the current board.
Instead of incurring a 20-year debt obligation, Licciardi says, the district should have just replaced the refrigeration system for $880,000 and waited on the other improvements until times are better.
The $270,000 a year in debt payments, he says, led to staff cuts and will delay golf course improvements.
“It’s like a well – you got to put on a cap or you lose all the oil,” he says, charging that despite a weak season at the Vail Golf Course and a dim financial outlook the board forged ahead and went into debt for “loading docks and green rooms and meeting rooms and things that … could have waited.”
A letter written by Licciardi and his “coalition” colleagues and sent to district voters accuses the current board and the two incumbent candidates – Ross Davis jr. and Nancy Stevens – of putting recreation into “a financial straightjacket” and promising to correct past financial mismanagement – even if that means “holding staff accountable” for past mistakes.
“I’m not saying we’ll fire anyone; I’m not about singling anyone out. But if you can’t get results, something is wrong and someone needs to be held accountable for that,” Licciardi says.
“The easiest thing to do is to be critical of what has been done; the hardest thing is to be positive and bring a solution,” counters Hermann Staufer, the district’s chairman of the board, who says he will “not support anyone who is on a witch hunt.”
Staufer says he’s “concerned about the negativity” of the election campaign.
“It’s not negative, it’s factual,” replies Licciardi, speaking of the 3,000 letters sent out.
“Did they seriously think the town was going to give them money, after they went ahead and financed Dobson?” Licciardi asks, not pausing for an answer. “I would give them a hug,” he says. “I love to give hugs, but that would be it.”
But that’s far from factual, say Davis and Stevens, who along with “non-coalition” newcomers Ed Morgan, Amy Domke and Kevin Deighan are trying to dodge the flying mud.
Davis, who has served on the district’s board for the last eight years, says the Dobson project became more expensive because the town tacked on some additional building fire-safety requirements.
Though he didn’t feign surprise that the town is less than agreeable to picking up a $2.6 reimbursement bill, Davis says the district had to act and the town should pay.
“Did I personally expect to see any money? Hell no,” he says, adding that five employees had to be let go in the fall because the town “backed out on their commitment to pay for half of the set-up and take-down cost of the bubble, sticking us with $75,000 in cash shortfall.”
If the town disappoints on Dobson, Davis says, the district still can get by – even with $270,000 in annual debt payments. After all, he says, it is for a worthy cause and represents a fair and equitable way of allocating funds to recreational programs in Vail.
“We subsidize adult local golf at least to the tune that we now pay on youth hockey,” he says, adding that the district has invested $4 million in the golf course in the last six years. “There are just people out there who want us to invest all our money in the golf course so they can continue to play for $7.50 a round,” Davis says.
Stevens, who was elected to the board in 1998 and faces her first challenge as a district candidate, says the district simply had no choice but going ahead with renovating Dobson.
Hindsight, she says, is always sharper.
“Politics can get ugly, and yes, they can accuse us of financial mismanagement,” Stevens says. “But what do you do? Let Dobson fall down from scratch or spend some money on it now. I feel comfortable with what we did.”
See for yourself
? Labelled Vail’s first-ever negative campaign issue, the financing of a $3.5 million upgrade to Dobson Arena was a heated topic at last week’s Vail Recreation District Board of Directors’ meeting.
? The meeting can be viewed in its entirety via local-access cable television on Vail Valley Community TV Channel 5.
? The hour-long meeting still can be seen on Wednesday and Friday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Geraldine Haldner covers Vail, Minturn and Red Cliff. She can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 602 or at email@example.com