Former Aspen housing director wanted similar pay as Colorado peers

Mike Kosdrosky, executive director of the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Association, in his office.
Jeremy Wallace/The Aspen Times file photo

The former executive director of Aspen’s affordable housing program, who was asked to resign earlier this month, had been asking his boss for over a year to be paid on par with his counterparts around the state.

Mike Kosdrosky, who officially resigned Aug. 12 but had been given a release agreement July 30, received a $43,000 severance package on the condition that he refrain from contacting the media, city and county staff and Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board members.

In a March 4 email to all APCHA board members obtained by The Aspen Times, Kosdrosky had since April 2019 been asking his boss, City Manager Sara Ott, to be paid $51,000 more.

That figure is based on a city-hired outside consultant who conducted a salary survey market analysis. It found that the average salary of housing authority executive directors in Colorado was $159,300 and that the median was $141,000.

Kosdrosky, whose salary was $108,500, would not comment when reached Tuesday.

In his correspondence with Ott on March 4, Kosdrosky asked for “a fair and equitable reassessment of my pay range and compensation.”

“My salary is inexplicably low given my level of experience, education, performance, and job responsibilities,” he wrote. “I also do not receive a stipend or live in affordable housing like many other city administrators and department heads.

“By APCHA’s own standards, I am housing cost burdened because I pay well over 30% of my gross income to housing costs.”

APCHA board members said this past week that they have had conversations with Kosdrosky about his compensation.

“Mike has previously mentioned on multiple occasions that he felt he was underpaid according to the city’s own market salary analysis,” said APCHA board member Carson Schmitz, who added that he was contacted via phone by Ott on July 31 who told him that she asked for Kosdrosky’s resignation. “(Mike) indicated he had requested a review of his salary from the city manager and I supported an increase in his pay to avoid losing him. It will be costly and challenging to find a qualified replacement.”

Kosdrosky cited in an April 2019 request to Ott that Boulder’s executive director of housing’s salary was $175,000, Vail’s was at $145,000 and Longmont, $150,000.

Assistant City Manager Diane Foster, who is serving as APCHA’s interim executive director, did not return a message seeking comment on what the search will look like to replace Kosdrosky, or what the pay grade will be.

Kosdrosky also had for the past two years been vocal about his frustrations on APCHA’s governance structure, where he reports to the city manager but takes direction from the board, creating conflicts of interests.

This past November, he told the APCHA board that his job is “untenable” and said he wouldn’t be able to recommend the position to anyone because of the governance structure.

Kosdrosky’s predecessor, Tom McCabe, also had challenged the governance structure and the intergovernmental agreement between the city and county in 2015, shortly after he resigned.

He publicly argued that APCHA’s legal status is in question as a multi-jurisdictional entity.

He cited a review from an independent Denver attorney in 2012 that said APCHA has been stripped over time of its operating functions so that its board doesn’t have the power it’s supposed to have under state laws.

Instead, the city manager’s office controls the housing agency, which has a reported $3 billion worth of real estate holdings and 3,000 units, making it the second largest housing authority in the state.

Some APCHA board members said they are comfortable with the governance structure, particularly since the makeup of the board changed last year to have elected officials on it to make final decisions on policy matters, rather than before as a citizen board making recommendations.

“I think the governance structure can work well as it is, even as we continue to have long-term conversations with the community about possible different paths for the future,” said APCHA board member and Pitkin County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury.

The alternative would be that APCHA become an independent organization with its own funding source, which the public would not have an appetite for, said some board members.

Currently, the city and county split the administrative costs of APCHA, and the city collects sales tax and real estate transfer taxes for affordable housing development.

Schmitz said the current governance structure “will absolutely impact APCHA’s ability to obtain a competent replacement.”

“What qualified professional would risk their career by taking a job with numerous bosses with conflicting opinions?” he wrote in an email in response to The Times. “Frankly, I would be cautious of anyone qualified for the job that understands the reporting structure and still wants to apply.”

Board members who responded to The Times’ inquiry last week all said they respected Kosdrosky and appreciated his work.

“Mike accomplished much in his tenure as APCHA’s (executive director),” said APCHA board member and Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman via email. “Most notable is bringing in the new software program that will provide much needed information and data to the organization.”

Schmitz said he wants an explanation as to why Ott asked for Kosdrosky’s resignation.

“As an APCHA board member, resident of the system, and taxpayer, I believe an explanation is justified,” he said last week via email. “Mike did an incredible job as executive director and his professionalism, work ethic, and passion for housing will be sorely missed by APCHA and our community.”

Ott said last week that it is a personnel matter and therefore she cannot talk about the details of Kosdrosky’s departure.

The APCHA board is scheduled to meet virtually Wednesday at 5 p.m.

It will be the first meeting without Kosdrosky; the Aug. 5 meeting was canceled due to a “light agenda,” according to board members.