Aspen’s housing board spins wheels in governance talks

A rare appearance Wednesday from Aspen’s elected officials in front of the local housing authority board was apparently enough for the citizen volunteers to back off on their previous stance to have City Council and county commissioners slow down on changing how the program is governed.

The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board failed to pass a non-binding resolution that asked city and county officials to pause their plans on changing the makeup of the housing board until after a new City Council is installed June 10.

APCHA board member Chris Council initially brought the resolution forward last month, and it had the support of six other board members for a unanimous vote.

But with the absence of council and board members Dallas Blaney and Valerie Forbes on Wednesday, the formal adoption of the resolution failed.

That occurred after Aspen City Councilman Ward Hauenstein addressed the board.

“I do not feel at all that it would be, or is a disservice, for the seated council to take actions on issues that we have been debating and discussing in work sessions, in public meetings and joint meetings with the (Board of Pitkin County Commissioners) for many months,” he said. “I think it would be a disservice to wait to make a decision and place three members of council to make a decision that they were not involved in so I totally think it is appropriate for decisions to be made by the seated council.”

APCHA board member Rick Head said he was persuaded by Hauenstein’s comments.

With no discussion among the other four APCHA board members present, the resolution failed to pass Wednesday.

Both council and the Pitkin County commissioners are considering changes to the intergovernmental agreement between the governments that oversees the APCHA program.

The key piece in front of elected officials is changing the volunteer board so it has an elected official from both governments sitting on it, along with three citizens at large.

Currently, the board is made up of seven appointed citizens and one alternate, whose recommendations are subject to be called up and can be overturned by council and commissioners. The majority of them believe that with two elected officials on the housing board, decisions governing the program will be made quicker and there will be more accountability.

What still needs to be determined in the APCHA governance structure is who the executive director reports to. Currently, that position is an employee of the city of Aspen and reports to the city manager.

That setup has posed conflicts of interests when the executive director takes direction from the board and the city manager, despite whether there are different agendas at play.

The APCHA board’s resolution addressed that unresolved issue, and suggested that all governance changes happen at once when a new council is seated and a new city manager is hired.

Hauenstein said at first he thought all of the changes should be made at once, but he changed his mind because the larger issues of staff governance and the administrative reporting structure haven’t been discussed fully to make a decision.

He also addressed the recent strained relationship between APCHA board members and the city.

“It seems as though the APCHA board has taken a somewhat hostile and confrontational attitude towards this and I don’t feel that anyone on council has held any animosity toward members of the board,” he said. “I take some exception to the tone that has been presented in not only the resolution but some of the emails. I respect the work you are doing, the dedication and the results.”

APCHA board chairman Ron Erickson said the hostility has been a product of months of frustration by the citizen volunteers and a lack of communication by the city.

While Hauenstein, councilwoman Ann Mullins and Mayor Steve Skadron attended Wednesday’s meeting, they haven’t been there regularly participating and communicating their thoughts on changing the makeup of the board.

“I don’t have an agenda and I don’t think anyone on the board has an agenda,” Erickson told the elected officials on Wednesday. “All we want to do is advance housing in this community and do it as efficiently as we possibly can.

“This document, which is non-binding, is sort of like the Senate about (Donald) Trump not too long ago … it passed but what good did it do? But I think it expresses the frustration of the people on the board who work long and hard to make this program work.”

The commissioners and council are expected to review changes to the intergovernmental agreement next week with final approval expected later this month.

The change in the APCHA board makeup is proposed to happen Aug. 1.