Basalt’s next municipal election is not until April 2020, but one member of the town council is already leaning toward not seeking reelection.
Auden Schendler is three-quarters of the way through his first term as a member of the seven-person Basalt Town Council.
He cites an overly dense personal and professional schedule as the main reason he is considering vacating his town council seat next spring.
Schendler is vice-president of sustainability for the Aspen Skiing Co., a gig that has him often on the road for events either directly or peripherally associated with his upper-management-level job.
As well, Schendler is a board member of the non-profit organization Protect Our Winters and author of the book, “Getting Green Done.”
Schendler was the top vote-getter in the April 2016 Basalt municipal election, garnering 615 votes. Katie Schwoerer, who received 607 votes, and Jennifer Riffle, who received 566 voters, were also elected to the Basalt Town Council in that election.
The RFWJ caught up with Schendler last week to get a feel for his thinking as he considers retiring from public office.
RFWJ: How long have you lived in Basalt?
Schendler: Since 2001, I was in Carbondale or El Jebel previously starting in 1992.
RFWJ: At this point, would you prefer to say you are considering not running for re-election or that you are not running for re-election?
Schendler: I won’t say it’s decided, but I am overbooked as it is and others have good things to offer the town.
RFWJ: Why did you decide to run for town council in the first place?
Schendler: I felt that the same people had been running over and over again and we needed new blood.
RFWJ: What is your overall opinion about having served on town council?
Schendler: It’s fascinating, brutally difficult, frustrating and sometimes gratifying. I’ve learned a huge amount, but you might say, “He who learns must suffer … Wisdom comes to us by the awful grace of God.”
RFWJ: Have you enjoyed it?
Schendler: In the end, yes. It’s been a tremendous education in civics, governance, my own extreme fallibility, how to treat people, how to move issues forward appropriately, how to acknowledge other people’s positions without staking out emotional turf. I’d say I’m only now understanding how to do this job well and properly at the end of my term. My problem has been being overbooked as a parent, worker and member of several other boards, including one in Denver that requires a bunch of travel.
RFWJ: What accomplishments are you most proud of during your tenure?
Schendler: Some of it has been continuing other people’s work. The Real America housing project, which was all but done by the previous council, is textbook dense rental housing next to transit, just what we needed, and happened on the free market. The underpass, same story, we just finished the work done by others, but that’s part of the job. The Basalt Vista project is another case study of housing and climate action, and it was other people’s good work.
Upgrading the town building energy codes was hugely important, and pushing the town further on climate will be an important legacy. Public works, you may have noticed, is doing continuous improvement on the roads. It’s very well thought out and the results are clear.
And one often overlooked aspect of Basalt I’m very proud of, and had nothing to do with but support however I can, is our police force. In a country where we’re at war in many cases with the police, we have a national model of community policing, essentially asking the question: “How can I help you?” not “how can I enforce the law blindly?” I really think this is an under-recognized aspect of our community that is worthy of national recognition.
A couple of smaller things: We put in at least one little free library, which fosters community and thought, and others have done their own. We supported infill housing in neighborhoods. And I’m hell bent on opening the alley behind Tempranillo before I leave, to better connect the community. These small things matter a lot, they are metaphors.
One more thing that we should be proud of: We nailed the town manager hire, and as a result, set the town up for the future. Ryan in turn hired a great finance person and we as a group also brought in a great new lawyer. So we have the infrastructure for success.
RFWJ: What have been your biggest concerns — issues and process?
Schendler: My biggest concern is a general lack of strategic vision here around urban planning at the macro town level, and I take full responsibility for failing to inject that, though the master plan process will get at some of it. That vision ought to include questions like: Why do we have an empty supermarket in the dead center of town. We need to work with the owner of that parcel to fix it, and collaborate on parking or whatever is needed. We can’t just let it sit there. What’s our thinking about better connectivity? A bridge across the river to the library from the Pan and Fork parcel would make our town a world-class walking community and open up the under-used parks behind the library that are just gold. I’m going to push to get that in our capital plan before I leave. (BTW, that’s another great idea that’s not mine. It’s Larry Yaw’s.)
RFWJ: Why are you having second thoughts about running for re-election?
Schendler: I was never planning on two terms, honestly. I have a lot on my plate. I’m doing Colorado air and climate policy through the Air Quality Control Commission. I love that work and that commission, but it’s very time consuming. And I have a job, lots of travel and an aggressive family and recreational agenda.
RFWJ: A lot of people in Basalt consider the town government to be dysfunctional on some level. What is your response to that? Do you feel the town government is dysfunctional or borderline dysfunctional and if so, why and how, and if not, why do you think so many people are of that opinion?
Schendler: I think it’s fair to say that we were dysfunctional when we came into office. Look at what was going on: We had a split council that made it impossible to solve Pan and Fork. We had the town manager leaving. We had inadequate budgetary reserves and had to build those up with a year of budget austerity. We had several lawsuits and vicious uncivil public attacks, Which overshadowed the question of whether there was merit to those concerns. Look where we are now: We have a new town manager and new lawyer, a new finance person. All are competent and all continue to clean up the house of government. We have a solid budget with reserves. We have approved or seen developed multiple projects. We are united on the need for aggressive climate action. We have still got a split council, but one that can work through disagreements and compromise, and the Pan and Fork is an example of that. I would argue that when we leave office, the government will be quite functional. And we can’t confuse a generally anti-development majority vote with dysfunction, which I think some people tend to do.
RFWJ: Anything else?
Schendler: I really encourage people to run for council. People say, “Oh, I don’t know how to do it.” But that’s the point of American governance — that it’s by the people. People shouldn’t be scared off, and we need new ideas, new thinking, new perspectives. We need the Latino and Latina community to help us govern, as they are such an important part of this place. We need more young people. And the way to take on the job is to understand that the people in the room who disagree with you, they have good reason to think as they do, and they are well intentioned too. As long as we acknowledge that and then explain our own position, we can be comfortable in disagreement. You may have noticed this explicitly happening during council discussion. We’ll get mad and screw up, too, say dumb things, be too aggressive or too righteous, sure, because we’re human. But you grant others that leeway and hope they give it to you.