So who’s running housing office? | AspenTimes.com

So who’s running housing office?

Sarah S. Chung

Who’s in charge of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority now that it’s a city department? That depends on whom you ask.

“The way it stands, I couldn’t explain to someone how this works – who’s in charge of what,” admitted City Councilman and housing board member Tom McCabe, who voted against the change at Wednesday’s housing board meeting. “I’m still uncomfortable with the document and feel some terms are really unclear.”

In general, the housing board would continue to direct Housing Authority policy, but the city manager’s office would “supervise” the authority’s finance, administration and personnel matters.

In discussions leading up to Wednesday’s 4-2 vote approving the move, housing board members described the new arrangement as one that would simply free up the board and housing office to focus more on policy and actually building housing.

But contract language stating the “Executive Director shall work under the supervision of the City Manager and take general policy direction from the Authority,” is far from clear.

“What does `supervise’ mean?,” asked McCabe.

According to City Manager Amy Margerum, “administrative supervision” entails a lot more than signing paychecks and dealing with housing staff grievances.

“The way the IGA (Intergovernmental Agreement) is written, it’s everything: budgets, staff, personnel, finance,” Margerum said.

Illustrating the new role and, perhaps unintended, power of the city over the housing authority is the appointment of Ed Sadler to a role with the housing office.

Sadler, the city’s asset manager, was a finalist in the recent search for a new housing director. He didn’t get the job but may, in the end, act as the boss of the person who did.

The housing board named Mary Roberts as director, but didn’t want to lose Sadler’s expertise in construction. So as an exalted consolation prize, the board agreed Sadler could oversee housing construction, in addition to his city post, while Roberts would be in charge of “everything else.”

On Wednesday, a majority of housing board members balked at parallel roles for Roberts and Sadler. They want one person to be responsible from a project’s beginning to its end, not Roberts heading up development and Sadler overseeing construction.

Sadler’s future with the housing authority became a subject to be settled at a later date – as far as the board was concerned.

But Margerum has other plans.

As city manager, Margerum is now one of Roberts’ supervisors. And as far as Margerum is concerned, Sadler is her man, or more specifically, her “delegate.”

“We didn’t renege [Sadler’s] offer, we just have to change it,” Margerum said.

In other words, Margerum can choose people with specific expertise to represent the city manager’s office on various matters. In the case of housing, Sadler and Assistant City Manager Steve Barwick will often represent the city manager’s office, Margerum said Thursday.

Whether or not that arrangement – with Sadler overseeing Roberts – is something the housing board wants may be irrelevant.

Margerum says she will “run this by the [City] Council,” but with approval of the IGA, she has the power to appoint Sadler to oversee the housing office in accordance with the provisions of the agreement.

On the day after the housing board voted to become a city department, there were mixed feelings about the possible changes to the housing authority’s chain of command.

“There has been some confusion and I think we need some more discussion,” said housing board member Cari Britton, who voted to approve the contract. “But I think Amy has the ability to have Ed watch the numbers and I’m fine with that.”

But other current and former board members expressed concern that the new structure, as approved, may be adding a layer of bureaucracy that could slow, rather than expedite, the goals of the housing authority.

“Overall, I think the IGA is a good idea, most of it isn’t problematic,” McCabe said. “I think it would benefit the community, however, if the housing office remains as autonomous as possible.”

But former Housing Director Dave Tolen doesn’t see the new arrangement as one that would inherently bog down decision making and block the housing office’s ability to act quickly when necessary.

“Does the water department wait for an `OK’ every time it needs to do something? Is the parks department not going to mow Iselin Park until it gets an approval from the city manager’s office? Of course not,” Tolen said. “A good city manager delegates responsibility and trusts people to do what they’re supposed to do.”


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