Ski-company connections shaping Vail council election
While Ludwig Kurz’s decision Thursday, Sept. 4, to serve out his full term will no doubt raise some hackles, controversy over town government’s chummy relationship with Vail Resorts likely won’t die when the two-term Vail mayor steps down in February.Critics for months have been pressing Kurz to step down in time for the Nov. 4 general election to save the town the cost of a special election early next year. Those same critics have blasted Kurz for his ties to the ski company.Kurz is community relations director for Beaver Creek Resort Company, which has several Vail Resorts employees on its board, as well as merchant and homeowner representatives.Mark Gordon, who announced his candidacy for town council last week, runs the Vail Resorts Communications Center a much more direct connection to the county’s largest employer and one that will likely provide campaign fodder for Gordon’s opponents in November.Both men dismiss allegations of conflict of interest. Kurz has been doing that for years; Gordon just started.”Yes, I’m a Vail Resorts employee, but I’m not on the (organizational) chart. I’m not a manager; I’m below manager I’m a lead,” Gordon says, adding he can’t envision too many scenarios where he would have to recuse himself from voting on a council matter involving the ski company.Vail Mountain chief operating officer Bill Jensen told The Vail Trail last week that he had attended Coalition for Progress meetings where he was asked to run for council in November. Jensen said he declined because of potential conflicts among other reasons.”He’s setting policy (for the ski company),” Gordon says of the difference. “I’m not setting policy.” Gordon says that his supervisors have assured them that his running for council will not impact his job, and he adds that finding candidates in Vail without at least some peripheral connections to the ski company is almost impossible.”It’s a small town and it’s a company town, so there’s no way to do it,” Gordon saysWith 14,000 full- and part-time workers, Vail Resorts is the largest employer on the Western Slope of Colorado and the fifth largest in the state. And Vail is the company’s flagship resort, where they will pump nearly half a billion dollars worth of redevelopment capital over the next several years all projects requiring town approval.Two Coalition for Progress candidates, in what they hope will ultimately be a four-member voting bloc incumbent council member Bill Jewitt and retired investment banker Kent Logan are running on a pro-business platform that includes putting the business community and the town on a more level playing field with Vail Resorts. Logan and Jewitt are pushing for stronger government leadership so town officials can negotiate with Vail Resorts executives as peers.Jewitt calls for potential conflicts to be more openly acknowledged: “The appearance becomes worse the more they tap dance around it,” he says.But Kurz counters that he has always been open about his association with the ski company and has never been swayed to vote one way or another.”I know the criticism and the perception is out there,” Kurz says. “I think the record will show that I have not been influenced by Vail Resorts to vote in favor of their needs and desires.”Kurz says the reason he is serving out his full term, which is off the normal election cycle because he won a special election to replace Mayor Peggy Osterfoss, who stepped down mid-term in 1995, is because voters elected him to a four-year term and expect him to serve it out. He also says he can provide a valuable transition with a new town manager coming onboard.Trying to thwart the coalition and its stated goal of controlling four of the seven seats did not factor into his decision, Kurz says, nor did staying on for an additional three months to shepherd through redevelopment projects. “I don’t think that whatever is in the pipeline right now is going to be decided in that timeframe,” he says.Logan says “this whole idea of providing a transition is bogus,” and adds that he is a candidate who in no way is beholden to any special interest groups.Kurz echoes Gordon’s contention that there aren’t too many degrees of separation between most eligible candidates in Vail and the company that runs the ski hill.”There are very few people that aren’t to some degree involved or connected to Vail Resorts in this community,” Kurz says, “but I believe that most of them and I’m sure in my case have been above board in their thought processes and decision making.”And he argues that eliminating people as candidates because of those ties is a slippery slope: “I think we’re shorting ourselves to some degree simply because of real or perceived associations.”Council member Rod Slifer has also taken heat at various times because his real estate company, Slifer Smith & Frampton, is 50-percent owned by Vail Resorts. His seat is up in November, but he says he still has not decided whether to run again.The seats of Jewitt, Chuck Ogilby and Greg Moffet are also up for grabs. Ogilby has decided not to run, and Moffet did not return a call requesting comment. Kurz is term-limited after eight years in office; and a special election is estimated to cost around $9,000.Council candidates can begin picking up nominating petitions Sept. 15 and must return them with at least 10 signatures of registered Vail voters by Oct. 3.Gordon, 40, is running on a pro-community platform. His goal is to bring 1,500 new permanent residents to Vail to give the aging resort more of a ski-town vibe that will ultimately benefit the business community. He ran afoul of the second homeowners in town by stridently supporting the Middle Creek affordable housing project, but says his goal is to bring all the factions together. He says he attended some of the coalition meetings but opted not to join the bloc.”It was jut too one-sided,” Gordon says. “I’m all for helping the businesses, but I believe that the businesses are jut one component of the community, and we need to think of the community as a whole and not these individual special interests.”I want to see sustainable economic recovery, and to make the businesses truly sustainable and successful we need people living here again.”Vail currently has 4,500 permanent residents, and more than 75 percent of its properties are owned by second homeowners.
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