A prescient warning from former APCHA board
Almost two years ago, the former all-citizen Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) board of directors unanimously urged City Council and the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners to reconsider their approach to overhauling the APCHA board. Unfortunately, their concerns fell on deaf ears. Shortly thereafter, the eight-member, all-citizen APCHA board was replaced by a hybrid structure of four citizens and four elected officials from the city and county.
In their guest commentary published in both The Aspen Times and Aspen Daily News in April 2019, the former citizen-led APCHA board warned: “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.”
They also wrote that the proposed amended intergovernmental agreement (IGA) would likely overpower the “voices of everyday residents and businesses,” adding that placing elected officials on the APCHA board might have a chilling effect on achieving reform-minded policy making.
In fact, the experiment of putting elected officials from the city and county on the APCHA board had failed many years earlier, with APCHA board members recalling that “this period was riddled with ineffective governance and compromised by the outsized political influence wielded by elected officials on the board.”
Adding to their list of concerns, the former APCHA board raised the inherent conflict of interest red flag within the IGA requiring the APCHA executive director to report and answer directly to the Aspen city manager, and not directly to the APCHA board of directors: “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.”
Although the all-citizen APCHA board structure may not have been perfect, it was certainly better than the current hybrid structure of citizens and elected officials.
Given the systemic and structural issues facing APCHA, like deferred maintenance, HOA capital reserve under-funding, the imminent “retirement time bomb” and the most recent publicized failures of APCHA to hold deed-restricted homeowners accountable when receiving “maximum resale price,” it is time for the community to demand the removal of the political yoke from around APCHA’s neck.
I am often asked, “What can be done to reform APCHA?” My answer is this: You must create an independent APCHA board with direct authority and accountability over its policies, operations and staff. With too many cooks in the kitchen, APCHA will likely never achieve the most needed reforms.
As the now-disbanded citizen-led APCHA board wrote two years ago, “Like it or not, governance impacts operations.” As I look back, that was an understatement.
Former executive director, APCHA, 2015 to 2020
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