Guest commentary: Aspen-Pitkin County housing board asks to pump breaks on proposal
An issue as important, impactful and complicated as workforce housing requires a community-based, long-term approach. That is why last week, the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) board of directors unanimously voted in favor of a resolution calling on City Council and the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners to slow the pace of reforming housing governance.
Recently, the Aspen City Council and the Pitkin County commissioners have been working to change the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that outlines the roles and responsibilities of the city, county and APCHA organizations as well as their respective governing boards. While a restructuring of the governance model is clearly needed, the APCHA board believes that the community needs more time to allow for an open and public exchange of ideas between our board and both elected bodies.
First and foremost, it is a disservice to the voters of Aspen to vote upon significant changes to the housing program prior to the new council and mayor being seated in June. Affordable housing was one of the primary issues in the recent election and the newly elected mayor and council members should have the right to weigh in on this process as our future representatives.
Secondly, the new IGA under consideration does not address the key factors of reform needed to allow APHCA to more efficiently and effectively pursue our mission — to strengthen community through workforce housing. Initially, discussions of change came from the need to empower the APCHA board with final decision-making authority, improve responsiveness, and increase clearer lines of accountability between APCHA and the community.
However, we fear the proposal under consideration by council and the Board of County Commissioners minimizes the role of citizens, ignores critical governance changes, fails to substantively address the need for improved communication, and fails to acknowledge potential conflicts of interests. Specifically, the proposed IGA:
• Eliminates APCHA’s existing eight-member citizen volunteer board of directors and replaces it with a hybrid board structure made up of elected and appointed officials, creating a risk of overpowering the voices of everyday residents and businesses. APCHA once tried this arrangement, but as former APCHA Executive Director Tom McCabe publicly stated, this period was riddled with ineffective governance and compromised by the outsized political influence wielded by elected officials on the board.
• Presumes the addition of elected officials from Aspen and Pitkin County will improve communication between the city, county and APCHA. There is no doubt communication is a widespread problem, but it also is one we can overcome without resorting to the risks of wholesale board restructuring by requiring, for example, quarterly working group meetings or regular attendance by a representative from each elected body.
• Preserves the power of the APCHA board to develop a strategic plan as well as a work plan but maintains the current employment arrangement where the city manager has the authority to hire, control and fire the executive director. This arrangement fails to anticipate the inevitable situations when the will of the APCHA board is at odds with the will of the city manager. The executive director should report to the board of directors, not the city manager; otherwise we are not empowering the board.
APCHA is critical to ensuring that people from all walks of life have a place where they can live, work and build community. And like it or not, governance impacts operations. Let’s take the time necessary to ensure our governance, policies and operations support the long-term success of workforce housing.
We urge City Council and the Board of County Commissioners to reconsider their hasty positions and slow the pace of these changes to allow a more robust, open and public discussion of the issues at hand.
The APCHA Board of Directors: Ron Erickson, chair, city appointee; Rick Head, vice chair, city appointee; Valerie Forbes, city appointee; Dallas Blaney, county appointee; Chris Council, county appointee; Becky Gilbert, county appointee; John Ward, joint appointee; Carson Schmitz, joint alternate appointee
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