Aspen’s housing board to elected officials: Pump brakes on potential changes to system
The all-volunteer citizen board that oversees the upper valley’s affordable-housing program had some choice words for elected officials during its meeting Wednesday, and it resulted in a unanimous vote on a non-binding resolution asking them to slow their roll on changing how the system is governed without understanding the full effects of their decisions.
“I think the elected officials are tone deaf,” said Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board member Chris Council. “I feel like we have been dragged under the bus.”
Council introduced the motion approving the resolution that asks Pitkin County commissioners and Aspen City Council to pause their plans on changing the makeup of the housing board until they have a conversation in public with that board and after a new City Council is seated June 10.
Both council and the commissioners are in the midst of rewriting the intergovernmental agreement between the governments that oversees the APCHA program.
The key piece that City Council wants done before three new members are sworn in is changing the volunteer board so it has an elected official from both governments sitting on it, along with three citizens at large.
“I think it’s so frickin’ bogus,” APCHA board member Becky Gilbert said.
Currently, the board is made up of seven appointed citizens and one alternate, whose decisions are subject to be called up and can be overturned by City Council and commissioners. Other votes are recommendations only.
The majority of council and commissioners believe that with two elected officials on the housing board, decisions governing the program will be made quicker and there will be more accountability.
It’s not a new idea; the APCHA board has had county commissioners and council members on it in the past but the makeup reverted back to all citizens because of conflicts of interests emerging and attendance problems among elected officials.
Tom McCabe, the former executive director of APCHA and a former member of City Council, reminded the current board Wednesday of past problems with elected officials serving.
“This was never our idea,” Gilbert said.
“Everyone wants to gloss over it,” Council said.
APCHA board members lamented the fact that council members and commissioners have not engaged with them in a public setting, or asked their opinions on the proposed changes.
Board member Dallas Blaney said it was telling that at last week’s City Council meeting when the IGA changes were being reviewed, elected officials did not ask for his or his colleagues’ opinions even though they were in the room.
“That was really disappointing,” he said.
Even more disappointing is that electeds from both governments have rarely, if at all, attended APCHA board meetings in recent years despite that they are trying to change the governance structure.
“There is an incredible amount of institutional knowledge on this board that’s being ignored,” Council said. “I feel like this has been rammed through without any thought.”
Board member Valerie Forbes said it feels a bit sneaky to change the makeup of the board without elected officials talking to them first.
“I feel like a puppet in the whole thing,” she said, concurring with her colleagues that they volunteer their time because they believe in the program, not because they want to be caught in the middle of a political power play. “I’m very disappointed that they are moving forward without a new City Council (in place).”
Board member Carson Schmitz said based on comments made by elected officials about the APCHA board, he thinks they lack basic knowledge of what they do.
“It feels a lot like putting the cart before the horse,” he said.
Board member John Ward said his preference is that the APCHA board makeup remains all citizens and that the executive director report to the board, not the city manager, as it stands today.
Having the executive director be beholden to a board, particularly if there are elected officials on it, but then report to a city administrator who may have a different agenda, has played out negatively and will continue to be nothing but trouble, APCHA board members agreed.
“It’s an untenable, unacceptable situation,” Blaney said, adding that he understands that the system needs fixing. “I think the intention is good but I think the execution is poor.”
Whether APCHA should be its own governing body and whom the executive director should report to are bigger issues that are on hold until a new council is seated.
But the board makeup change is set to be reviewed by council on first reading in May, with a possible final approval later that month. The commissioners also are on the same trajectory for review.
Interim City Manager Sara Ott and Assistant County Manager Phyllis Mattice, as well as Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury, attended Wednesday’s APCHA board meeting.
They said they will be sharing the board’s thoughts with their respective elected officials, as well as the unanimous position to push the pause button.
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Many members of the community wrote to laud the former Skico executive and city councilman for his friendship, dedication to family and community-minded spirit over more than two decades in Aspen.