Aspen housing authority officials surprised by negotiations in pending eviction
Officials representing the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board and county government have been in backchannel conversations with Lee Mulcahy, a Burlingame Ranch resident who is facing eviction. They have discussed giving him more money for the property if he will peacefully exit when he is forced to sell, according to emails obtained by The Aspen Times.
The negotiations were done without consulting APCHA’s highest two officials and the attorney who has represented the agency and won a four-year court battle with Mulcahy.
Found out of compliance in 2015 for not working the required 1,500 hours a year in Pitkin County, Mulcahy has levied veiled threats in front of elected officials during public meetings saying that violence could ensue when he and his mother, Sandy, are evicted.
They have repeatedly said they will not leave the home the family built themselves.
In a Jan. 21 email from APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky to his boss, City Manager Sara Ott, he expresses dismay that John Ward, the housing authority’s board chairman, was negotiating with Mulcahy on a higher sales price for the nearly million-dollar home.
“I’m genuinely concerned that any deal would send the wrong message to the community that compliance and enforcement are negotiable,” Kosdrosky wrote. “That if you threaten violence in response to a compliance and enforcement action, you will be financially rewarded even though you lose your case in a court of law.
“I worry that this will open up the door to more bad actors and will create unintended consequences for APCHA including eroding the public trust and confidence in the housing program. Also, any deal to appease Lee could arguably undermine the legitimate role of local law enforcement to enforce the law and secure the public peace.”
In his email, which The Aspen Times obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act request, Kosdrosky explains that Ward told the APCHA board in the Jan. 15 executive session that he had been speaking with Mulcahy since December and proposed settlement options.
The first option was to increase Mulcahy’s maximum sales price of $995,000 (as set in the deed restriction on the property) by as much as $300,000.
The second option was to consider allowing Mulcahy to recoup the appreciation on his home for the period of time he was out of compliance, which an APCHA official said is valued at $62,000.
That option goes against APCHA’s guidelines, which state individuals who fail to comply with the rules are prohibited from recouping the appreciation lost during the period of noncompliance.
The appreciation on Mulcahy’s home has been frozen since litigation began in 2015.
The third option was to have APCHA waive nearly $80,000 in legal fees that it is entitled to as the prevailing party.
Ward talked to Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock and Ott about his conversations with Mulcahy, but not Kosdrosky, or APCHA attorney Tom Smith.
“I also have serious concerns about the lack of communication and collaboration between the city, county and APCHA on this case,” Kosdrosky wrote in his Jan. 21 email. “Specifically, no one told me, Tom or the board that they were having conversations with Lee about a possible settlement to pay him to go away quietly.
“I also don’t understand how the city or county can push a settlement in a case they are not party to, especially if APCHA will be asked to pay for that settlement.”
Ott responded in an email the next day saying she is following Aspen City Council’s direction to consider all options that resolve the litigation, “knowing that it will take city money to make it happen.”
It was the end of December that APCHA staff starting getting wind that a potential deal was being crafted behind the scene, according to emails obtained by The Aspen Times.
An email exchange between the court-ordered appointed receiver, Cordes & Co., and APCHA staff sheds light on how they were being kept in the dark.
Suni Devitt from Cordes & Co. wrote to APCHA Deputy Director Cindy Christensen and Smith that Mulcahy asked the receiver to hold off on an inspection of the home until after Jan. 13.
“We are meeting with the county commissioner who serves as an APCHA board member (Kelly McNicholas Kury) who lives a block away here at the house tomorrow along with the APCHA board president to discuss this very political issue, as well as pricing,” according to a Dec. 17 email by Mulcahy provided by Devitt.
In ensuing emails, Kosdrosky, Christensen and Smith express shock that McNicholas Kury and Ward were conducting meetings with Mulcahy.
Smith, who has served as counsel to APCHA since 1983, characterized any site visit by APCHA board members to Mulcahy’s home as “out of the ordinary and we should know about it. … I do not understand why members of the APCHA board would be doing this since it is a matter in litigation, especially without letting staff know in advance. Anything said in such a meeting could affect the litigation.”
APCHA staff and Smith’s disbelief and concern became more apparent earlier this month when Devitt from the receiver’s office sent an email saying Mulcahy told her he was discussing a higher purchase price with Ward.
“He is sending some comp sales to me that support the pricing that he is suggesting,” Devitt wrote in a Jan. 10 email to Christensen and Smith. “Sounds like there is some willingness to move forward if there is some change in sale price. Are you both in the loop?”
Christensen responds to Kosdrosky and Smith, writing: “Really?? This is totally news to me. Why would we allow him to when we do not allow anyone else to?”
Kosdrosky writes back, “Absolutely not. This would send an awful precedent. I hope it’s not true.”
Smith responds in the email chain that “this sounds preposterous to me.”
CLARITY AT NEXT APCHA MEETING?
Mulcahy on Thursday declined to comment on the negotiations but has referenced numerous times that smaller homes in the Burlingame Ranch employee-housing subdivision have recently sold for $1.3 million.
McNicholas Kury said earlier this week that while she was limited on what she could say because of the litigation, she said she expects a settlement will come forward to be voted on in public sooner rather than later.
Mulcahy contends that there are three outstanding lawsuits that are working their way to the Supreme Court in various forms of appeals.
Ward and Peacock said negotiations have stalled, and Cordes & Co. has been directed to stand by on a home inspection and a listing agreement for Mulchay’s home.
Cordes & Co. will have to get direction from the APCHA board to proceed. The APCHA board is scheduled to meet Wednesday.
“I’ve been put on hold,” Christensen said Thursday regarding her work with Cordes & Co. “Hopefully on Wednesday we can come up with something.”
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