Aspen’s housing authority hires hearing officer for compliance cases
After two years in the making, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority has hired a hearing officer to handle compliance cases so the board no longer has to be put in the unenviable position of deciding a person’s living situation.
The APCHA board last month finalized an employment contract with Mick Ireland, an attorney and a former Aspen mayor and Pitkin County commissioner. He said Wednesday that it will be a satisfying job because it’s focused on the facts allowed under the law.
Ireland beat out local attorney Lauren Maytin, both of whom interviewed with the board in April.
Maytin had been asked to be the secondary hearing officer but she didn’t meet the city’s malpractice insurance requirement.
APCHA offered to pay half of the premium, or $300, of the annual insurance premium but Maytin declined, according to Bethany Spitz, APCHA’s compliance officer.
Ireland said it’s unfortunate that Maytin isn’t the backup but understands that the requirement of a $1 million malpractice policy, plus $1 million per client, is a lot.
“It’s too bad because I think she was qualified but $600 is a lot of money,” he said, noting that it’s unknown whether there will be any cases to hear and spending money without guaranteed income is a difficult choice.
A secondary hearing officer is necessary if Ireland recuses himself due to a conflict of interest or is unavailable.
The board during its Wednesday meeting agreed to have Spitz post the opening on the Colorado Bar Association website to see if more candidates will apply.
“I think this is the fairest for people who are in a compliance case if we have a backup,” said APCHA board member and county commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury.
If there is no alternative hearing officer, the case would be heard by the APCHA board.
Ireland, who commands $150 an hour, will consider APCHA compliance cases if an individual requests a hearing.
Prior to Ireland’s appointment, the once all-citizen board had to make decisions about forcing people out of their homes after listening to alleged violators plead their case, which was untenable and awkward for board members, according to their previous reports.
Now it will be up to Ireland, who will review and make a determination on a compliance case after listening to both sides.
Hearing officer decisions are deemed final after 15 days of the date of the decision unless appealed to the APCHA board. The appeal must be based solely on the record of the proceedings before the hearing officer, according to APCHA regulations.
The board would consider the arguments of the appellant, APCHA staff, and other interested parties based on the record.
The board can affirm, modify or reverse the decision of the hearing officer, or determine that additional evidence is necessary and remand the matter to back to the hearing officer.
As a county commissioner and member of the board of equalization, Ireland presided over hundreds of property tax appeals, and since 2010, thousands of hearings as a senior hearing officer for the county, according to his resume.
As mayor and commissioner, he helped revise APCHA’s guidelines and dealt with compliance issues.
“If anybody understands the underlying guidelines it’s me, because I helped write so many of them,” he said.
Ireland and Maytin were the only ones who responded to APCHA’s request for proposals earlier this year.
There are no currently scheduled compliance hearings as APCHA has only resumed enforcement of its rules since June 1. The agency gave tenants and homeowners reprieve across its 3,000-unit inventory during the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
APCHA Deputy Director Cindy Christensen said the agency received approval of its supplement budget earlier this year that includes roughly $30,000 allocated for the hearing officer position.
APCHA also has instituted a schedule of fines to act as a deterrent for people to not break or ignore the rules. But predicting that there will be scofflaws, the money generated from the fines is anticipated to offset the costs of the hearing officer.
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