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Words worth their wait

Stephen Lloyd Wood
Eye on Pol. BH 9-25/Sat. Photos
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With events that will change the future at hand, sometimes it’s best to look at the past.On Nov. 4, less than six weeks from now, elections in Vail could literally change the face of the town’s leadership, with four of seven seats on the Town Council available. So it was opportune, indeed, to listen to three former members of that elected body – former mayor Kent Rose, outgoing councilman Chuck Ogilby and former councilman Merv Lapin – during an informal discussion Thursday meant to help prepare future leaders for the task at hand.”Today is an attempt to help people understand the public process and what their role may be,” Frank Johnson, president of the Vail Valley Chamber & Tourism Bureau, said to kick off “Eye on Politics: Candidate Orientation,” held at the Savory Inn in West Vail. “This is not about putting candidates in the hot seat – that comes later.”Learn the jobEarly discussion centered on the time and dedication required to be an effective leader.”There’s a big learning curve,” said Lapin, a councilman from 1988 to 1996, adding that early in one’s political career a lot of time is spent just learning how to do the job.Lapin, who spent time on planning and design commissions before running for council, said a public official should spend a minimum of 10 hours a week on town business. Doing a “good job” requires 25 to 30 hours a week, he said. A lot of it depends on how organized the mayor is, he said, crediting the two mayors with whom he served – Kent Rose and Peggy Osterfoss – with just that.Lapin also said in his eight years on the council – and years since spent observing others – not all members are productive. Typically, two members of any council don’t do their homework, he said, and another just doesn’t work well with others at all.”It’s been my experience that on any council of seven, there is always one who’s a complete fool,” he said.Rose appeared to relish talking of his years as a public servant, having served eight years from 1984 to 1991.”We had more fun back then; people didn’t take themselves so seriously,” he said. “Mainly, things weren’t so hostile.”Stay focusedOgilby, whose term on the council ends in November, has said he will not run again because the goals he had when he ran for office in 1999 all have been met.But in the late 1990s, he said, he felt like the main character in the movie “Network,” who opened a window and exclaimed: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!””At the time, there was the enormous burden of figuring out what to do with Lionshead,” Ogilby said. “I wanted to be part of that. That was my fire in the belly.”Ogilby also said any candidate for office needs a clear vision of what he or she wants to accomplish while they are in office – and tell the voters what it is.”Everybody here has a vision, a vision different than mine. But it’s important for a candidate to state his vision and get it out there in front of the public,” Ogilby said. “The Town Council starts out with seven visions, and they’ve got to sit down together and work things out.”Ogilby reminded other council members in the room – past, present and future – of the mission statement devised by the council after a trip to Carmel, Calif., the first year he was aboard. It hangs in the Town Council’s chambers at town hall and provides an easy reference during discussions, as well as a symbolic way to stay on track.”It helps to check in with where you are,” Ogilby said.Seek inputRose said sometimes it’s hard to stay on track when much of the contact the council has with the community comes during regular meetings at town hall. Typically, most of the people who attend those meetings have a problem, a gripe.”When your ox is being gored, you’ll be at the next meeting,” said Rose. “You never hear about what’s good.”Ogilby agreed. One common frustration he’s had as an elected official making decisions that affect the entire community is a lack of input from the public in general, he said. But that can be overcome if elected officials both stay in touch with their constituencies and seek advice from experts.”Basically, a councilman needs to fill in the gap and go get some answers,” Ogilby said.Learn from hard timesPerhaps the most interesting part of the conversation came when Vail’s former leaders were asked about their disappointments, their frustrations and what it’s like to be on the board during difficult times.Rose and Lapin agreed the darkest moments for them came between 1989 and 1991, when millionaire George Gillett – who owned the ski resort – was in bankruptcy. The Town Council at the time had frank discussions in which they even considered trying to save the ski company, then called Vail Associates, by condemning it and having the town of Vail take it over.”We could have had local control of the ski mountain,” said Rose, who was mayor at the time. “Maybe that’s something we should have done.”Instead, Gillett sold the company to Apollo Investors in 1992 for $130 million to pay off his debts. Four years later, the company became publicly traded, changing its name to Vail Resorts.”The Gillett bankruptcy was a very dangerous time for Vail. But we learned the town has the capability to make Vail Resorts a more compliant neighbor,” said Lapin. “We need to look at the pressures on Vail Resorts as a public company, how that affects the town and what’s going to happen with the next change in ownership.”Who knows?” added Lapin. “That opportunity may come around again.”


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