Housing board: Don’t drag feet on W/J investigation | AspenTimes.com

Housing board: Don’t drag feet on W/J investigation

The ongoing controversy surrounding the local housing authority and the sales of W/J Ranch housing – most specifically, allegations against enforcement officer Stefanie Levesque – seems to be dragging on longer than it should.

There apparently has been some justification for the slow pace of the investigation, given the veritable tsunami of issues and tasks that go hand in hand with the normal functioning of government.

Then there is the confusion surrounding the charges leveled by housing authority critic David Schoenberger. For instance, should the investigation be restricted to the accusations that Levesque broke the authority’s rules? Or should it be broadened to check into other potential violations, including the role of Schoenberger himself in the sales and how much he might have known about the alleged violations?

These are knotty issues, and officials can be excused for a certain hesitation in dealing with them.

But the time has come to settle the matter at hand.

This housing authority mess is of critical importance, given the vital role the agency plays, and must continue to play in the community’s future.

This week, after considerable delay, the housing board and the county attorney’s office arranged to have a private investigator look into the matter.

This could have been done some time ago, and perhaps some of the answers to the many questions arising out of this complicated set of circumstances might already be available. But what’s done (or not done) is done, and now the thing to do is get moving.

The investigator should be given all pertinent documents relating to the sales of the homes at W/J, access to whomever he needs to interview, whatever data he can use from government files, and be directed to study it all until some conclusions are reached.

The potential damage to the housing authority is, of course, troublesome. The idea that the authority’s own enforcement officer might have been guilty of violating the very rules she was hired to enforce doesn’t do a lot for the authority’s credibility. It is true that she was not working for the authority when the alleged violations occurred, but if it turns out that she broke the rules, and then got a job enforcing those rules, the distinction becomes somewhat academic.

There are, of course, other potentialities to be considered here.

For example, if the sale prices of the homes were “fictionalized,” as some have termed them, is this a case of fraud perpetrated on the housing authority and the banks involved with the financing? If it is, how many people were involved, and what should the remedies be?

Then there is the question of future sales of the W/J homes. If the initial sales price was a fiction, what should they be sold for in the future? Should future buyers be forced to pay inflated prices merely because they are second in line? Should the original buyers be forced to sell for less if they were accomplices in the fraud? Or can they successfully claim to have been innocently drawn into a shady deal by W/J’s former owner and developer, John Musick and his lieutenants?

These are serious questions, and the viability of the housing authority may be at stake here. For that reason, the investigator should be urged to move with all deliberate speed, while not sacrificing thoroughness in his probe.

We need to get some answers as soon as possible, so we can get on with the mission of building housing instead of wading through controversy.

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