Aspen man’s personal financial info mistakenly posted on APCHA website
His mother later told to sell her deed-restricted home
Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority officials apologized Wednesday for allowing a local man’s personal and financial information to be posted on the internet.
Three years’ worth of tax returns, a form listing assets and liabilities, a bank balance, paystubs, W-2s, and an identifiable social security number belonging to Joey Vernier, 26, was included in the APCHA board agenda packet for Wednesday’s compliance hearing regarding his mother, Julie Vernier.
It was posted on APCHA’s website Monday and taken down Wednesday afternoon after Julie’s attorney, Ken Citron, objected.
“That shouldn’t have happened,” said Tom Smith, APCHA’s attorney. “I made a mistake and I’m sorry.”
Smith OK’d the information being part of the packet, thinking it was relevant to Joey’s application to purchase his mother’s home in the Williams Woods subdivision at the base of Smuggler Mountain as part of an intra-family transfer.
But it was determined by APCHA staff that Joey did not work the required hours in Pitkin County to qualify to buy the home.
Smith explained prior to the APCHA meeting that he wanted Joey’s income information available to the board to prove that he didn’t qualify, but inaccurately conflated the two compliance issues.
“The son’s qualifications were not at issue so it should not have been in there,” Smith said.
Most of the references to Joey’s social security number were redacted in the posted documents, but there were a few that the numbers could be seen.
The Aspen Times reviewed the files before they were removed from the website.
“It’s imperative that we do better,” said APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky on Wednesday before the meeting. “We are not perfect and we were not perfect in this instance. … We won’t make the same mistake twice.”
Smith publicly apologized to the Verniers on Wednesday just before the compliance hearing.
He explained that typically a person’s financial information, which is required to qualify for a unit, remains confidential with APCHA.
However, if a person finds himself or herself in violation of working the required 1,500 hours in Pitkin County and is appealing a decision, income information like tax returns can enter the public realm.
“It is the most direct way to determine someone’s income,” Smith said, adding that it was not necessary for the APCHA board to see Joey’s information. “I wasn’t as rigorous as I should have been.”
Citron said he appreciated Smith’s apology but it doesn’t change the fact that the dissemination of personal financial information is illegal and will be an ongoing issue for the APCHA board.
“It’s protected and confidential,” he told the board.
The intra-family transfer of ownership was part of a settlement offer from Julie, who was found in violation of her deed restriction because her husband owns a multi-million dollar townhome in Aspen.
The APCHA board on Wednesday voted to deny her appeal of that violation, and she will be forced to move out of her home of 27 years and sell it. The maximum value is $274,997, according to APCHA.
Julie could appeal the board’s decision by suing APCHA in Pitkin County District Court.
The board agreed there was enough evidence to support that Julie violated the deed restriction on her home because her household, which by APCHA’s definition includes being married, owns other property in what’s called the “Ownership Exclusion Zone”.
That zone includes Eagle, Garfield, Gunnison or Pitkin counties, within the Roaring Fork drainage system.
Julie’s husband, James Berger, bought a three-bedroom, three-bathroom unit in the Villas of Aspen Townhomes in September 2018 for $2.4 million.
That was three months after he and Julie got married.
But they live apart — Berger in Greenwood Village on the Front Range with his kids and she in the 501 Williams Way home.
Julie told the board she works full time in Aspen as a bookkeeper for a local business.
She also said she and Berger will eventually retire and live together.
Citron told the board that Berger does not live in the townhome, and uses it a vacation and rental property.
Further, Julie is not on the deed and has no ownership in the townhome per a prenuptial agreement.
That doesn’t matter, APCHA board members and staff said.
“If you have other housing options, you don’t belong in the program, period,” Smith said.
APCHA board member Rachel Richards pointed out that prenuptials can be changed, and getting married creates a bond that has many implications.
“If marriage doesn’t define a family then I don’t know what does,” she said, adding she hasn’t married her boyfriend of 16 years because of the implications of her owning her deed-restricted condo and him living there because he doesn’t work full time in the county.
“We all live with the rules we bought into … (James Berger) married into APCHA when he married you,” Richards told Julie.
Board member Rick Head said approving the appeal would go against what the program is about and would undermine its effectiveness.
David Laughren, another board member, said it was a difficult decision to deny the appeal, having known Julie and her sons for decades, but the definition of a household is clear in APCHA’s guidelines.
APCHA board member Skippy Mesirow congratulated Julie for being able to move up in her economic status, but her ability to be with someone with substantial means should allow a young family to have the same chance to live in the Williams Way home as she did almost three decades ago.
“The rock and a hard place is the 30-year-old with a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old looking for a place to live,” he said.
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