Public criticizes Aspen housing board for negotiating with Burlingame resident facing eviction
Members of the public railed on the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority Board on Wednesday for negotiating behind the scenes with Lee Mulcahy on the sale of his deed-restricted home in an effort to have him go peacefully once he is evicted.
More than a half-dozen people spoke during public comment at the well-attended APCHA board meeting.
Those who spoke warned of the precedent it would set if officials negotiate with someone who threatens violence.
“This opens up the door to literally destroy the entire program,” said Jim Pomeroy, who lives in a deed-restricted unit regulated by APCHA. “Everyone will negotiate deals. … Veiled threats of violence should not be an investment strategy.
“This is not right and shouldn’t be the way it’s done.”
He added that he believes board members who engaged in ex-parte conversations with Mulcahy overstepped their authority.
Found out of compliance in 2015 for not working the required 1,500 hours a year in Pitkin County, Mulcahy has levied veiled threats in front of elected officials during public meetings saying that violence could ensue when he and his mother, Sandy, are evicted.
Worried that could be carried out in the dense, family-oriented neighborhood of Burlingame Ranch located across from Buttermilk Mountain, officials representing the APCHA board and county government have been in backchannel conversations with Mulcahy to reach a possible settlement.
APCHA board chair John Ward, County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury and County Manager Jon Peacock said they have been in separate discussions with Mulcahy in recent months.
McNicholas Kury said Wednesday that she has not discussed specifics surrounding a settlement, but rather as a neighbor and an elected official showing compassion for the situation Mulcahy faces.
Some options that have been floated include a higher sales price on the property’s capped amount of $995,000 by as much as $300,000, as well as allowing Mulcahy to recoup the appreciation on the property for the period of time he was out of compliance — valued at $62,000 — and waiving legal fees of nearly $80,000 that have been incurred by APCHA since the legal battle began in 2015.
It’s unclear who’s been behind the specific negotiations that were discussed in an APCHA board executive session Jan. 15.
What is clear is that negotiations were done without the knowledge of APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky, APCHA Deputy Director Cindy Christensen and APCHA attorney Tom Smith.
In a January email chain obtained by The Aspen Times, Kosdrosky, Christensen and Smith were shocked to learn individual board members were negotiating with Mulcahy.
In a Jan. 21 email to his boss, City Manager Sara Ott, Kosdrosky expressed his concerns.
“I’m genuinely concerned that any deal would send the wrong message to the community that compliance and enforcement are negotiable,” Kosdrosky wrote. “That if you threaten violence in response to a compliance and enforcement action, you will be financially rewarded even though you lose your case in a court of law.”
Members of the public who spoke at Wednesday’s board meeting agreed with Kosdrosky’s position.
Tom McCabe, a former executive director of APCHA, said the board should not cave to a person who is using bullying tactics.
“He runs around and acts unpredictable,” McCabe said, pointing out to the board that it has tools it can use, specifically law enforcement. “Mr. Mulcahy made his own bed.”
After listening to the public’s opinions, some board members thanked their constituents and said their comments were being taken seriously.
APCHA board member and County Commissioner George Newman said it was refreshing to hear community members share their understanding of the program and their desire to protect it.
“We’ve only been hearing from Lee’s side,” he said.
Mulcahy, who sat in the back of the room during public comment, addressed the board and read court documents as part of his litigation with APCHA.
The board closed the public meeting at 6 p.m. and went into executive session for an hour to discuss the legal case that the agency has won against Mulcahy and his appeal to the 10th Circuit of Appeals.
Prior to the closed-door meeting, Aspen resident Jay Maytin told the board that the appeal is a weak case and to follow the final court ruling, which appointed a receiver to sell the property at 53 Forge Road.
“Lee himself represented in open court that he did not meet the requirement of employee hours and the court agreed and ordered eviction,” Maytin said. “There is another family that will follow the rules that needs that house.
“The resolution of this case will have long-lasting effects if this board allows Lee to remain in his home or agrees to settle a legal precedent that after the court rules that you are in violation you can keep your home,” he continued. “If the court doesn’t uphold the court’s decision in this legal battle then you can get ready for a bunch more.”
Also in on the meeting was Smith, Ott, City Attorney Jim True and Assistant County Manager Phyllis Mattice.
After the executive session, Smith said no decisions have been made.
If there is a settlement, it could become public if the city uses taxpayer dollars to purchase the home on behalf of APCHA before selling to a qualified owner.
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