Elizabeth Milias: The sheriff and four bureaucrats walk into a bar …
The Red Ant
Except it’s not a joke. When the bureaucrats are none other than the city manager, the county manager, a county commissioner and the director of the APCHA board, it sounds like a happy hour I could skip. But when subsidized housing scofflaw Lee Mulcahy could walk out with as much as $500,000 to leave town quietly, like Saturday night in a speakeasy, it’s time to eavesdrop on the nefarious dealings at the next table.
Recall that Mulcahy is the owner of a home he built in the deed-restricted Burlingame housing development, who, for the past four years, has been fighting the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority in court over its determination that he is out of compliance. APCHA has prevailed in its legal case against Mulcahy, including rulings and rejections from five separate state and federal courts, including the Colorado Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court. During this period, Mulcahy has made numerous belligerent comments and stated that he will never leave on his own accord, alluding to his and his mother’s deaths should an eviction take place. References to Ruby Ridge have peppered his rhetoric.
In this day and age, such threats must be taken seriously for the safety and welfare of the public. Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo has been following the case since the beginning, meeting with Mulcahy many times over the years while coordinating with the Aspen Police Department to avoid a worst-case scenario. Neither agency intends to escalate the situation, but when the eviction order comes down, it will fall to DiSalvo and his deputies to peacefully remove the Mulcahys.
Last summer, in spite of the legal victories, City Nanager Sara Ott indicated her willingness to additionally compensate Mulcahy in order to avoid violence, ridiculously suggesting that APCHA appease him by physically moving his house elsewhere. Then two weeks ago, Ott met with City Council to discuss settlement options, confirming that city money would be used to make a deal happen. Her involvement is especially curious because APCHA is not under the purview of the city manager. Under Colorado law, APCHA, a multi-jurisdictional housing authority, is a political subdivision and a public corporation, just like Pitkin County and the city of Aspen. APCHA is not a department of the city or county.
Additionally, beginning in December, county commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury, an alternate on the APCHA board and a neighbor of Mulcahy’s, met with him to discuss favorable terms for a peaceful departure. With the blessing of the county commissioners, presumably because county funds would be used in any settlement, county manager Jon Peacock also met with Mulcahy. Peacock, who rarely wades into political waters, neither informed the full APCHA board, nor did he consult the APCHA attorney (who had argued and won the cases against Mulcahy) about this ex-parte meeting.
This high-level collusion recently came to APCHA’s attention when Mulcahy’s court-appointed receiver relayed Mulcahy’s claims that a deal was in the works. Only then did APCHA board chair John Ward come clean. He too met with Mulcahy against the specific direction of the APCHA attorney and in violation of the organization’s code of ethics. Ward then shared with the bewildered APCHA board several options for Mulcahy’s quiet departure that the city and county have been discussing without the organization’s knowledge. Supported by McNicholas Kury, Ward promoted increasing Mulcahy’s maximum sales price significantly over the established $995,000, enabling Mulcahy to recoup the foregone appreciation for the four years of non-compliance, and having APCHA waive the $75,000 in legal fees to which it is entitled.
An affront to taxpayers, this shady plot undermines APCHA’s compliance and rules enforcement guidelines. The Mulcahy matter has already been resolved in the courts. Do these officials have so little faith in local law enforcement that they are willing to bow to extortion in order to avoid a court-ordered eviction? Or has law enforcement requested relief to protect itself from a potential public and political catastrophe?
Aspen’s nemesis, the law of unintended consequences, rears its ugly head yet again. These secret negotiations set a dangerous new precedent that APCHA’s rules and deed restrictions are now negotiable. And if you threaten violence, you will be richly rewarded.
Mulcahy, who has exhausted all court remedies, persists in his fight through extra-legal demands, enabled by bureaucrats and elected officials who are willing to defy the courts and the public’s trust. This crisis in governance reveals high-level government officials clandestinely negotiating with a defendant in a case they are not a party to, and offering up taxpayer dollars as a bribe to make an unpleasant situation go away.
As APCHA works to rebuild public trust through efforts to digitize its records and provide transparent and accessible information, multiple public officials work behind the scenes to undermine it. Meanwhile, the Burlingame neighborhood is abuzz with speculation about a Mulcahy deal, and it’s all the scuttlebutt at the Elks Club bar. Will a government-negotiated buy-out be announced at this week’s APCHA board meeting? I certainly hope not. Acting outside of their jurisdictions, these bureaucrats have placed the resolution of one case above the integrity of the entire housing program.
Narcissists can also be martyrs, but the Red Ant believes the real danger may be our local government officials. Contact TheRedAntEM@comcast.net.
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