Aspen City Council chose its top picks of the 32 citizens who applied to serve on a new configuration of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board Monday night. Pitkin County commissioners will go through the same process today.
Going into Monday’s meeting, city council members were given the task of selecting their top five favorites from the list of 32 over the weekend. A memo to council asked them to choose five applicants who seemed “highly interested and highly qualified,” and then pick another five candidates for their “second-tier,” who seemed to be “moderately interested and/or moderately qualified.”
City Clerk Linda Manning then added up the scores from all five council members to come up with a top-10 list, which was unveiled Monday. The county commissioners underwent the same scoring exercise prior to their meeting today.
The two top-10 lists will next be compared by County Manager Jon Peacock and Interim City Manager Sara Ott, who will try to find six to 10 common applicants for in-person interviews July 9. Of those, three will be chosen to act as voting members of the APCHA board and one will be chosen as an alternate, to vote if any other members are absent.
The three citizens will join one Aspen City Council member and one Pitkin County commissioner to make up the new APCHA board, which will have final authority over guideline changes. Currently, the board is made up of seven citizen volunteers, whose decisions can be overruled by either the city council or the board of county commissioners.
Carson Schmitz, who sits on the current all-citizen APCHA board, which will be dissolved at the end of the month, was a favorite among all of the council members. The two other current members who threw their hat in the ring for the new board, Rick Head and John Ward, also ranked in the council’s top 10.
Other notables in the council’s cut include termed-out council member Adam Frisch, who lost a bid for the mayoral seat this spring. Prior to his time on council, Frisch was involved in housing issues through the Housing Frontiers Board that he helped create. In his application for the APCHA board, he expressed the desire to continue to serve the community.
“I remain of the belief that the community's affordable housing program is the factor that makes Aspen, Aspen [and] the valley, the valley,” Frisch wrote.
The field of 32 candidates was split almost 50-50 between genders, but only one woman made the council’s top-10 list. Aspen High School graduate Elizabeth Stewart is a resident of workforce housing currently.
“It is because of the APCHA program that I have been able to find affordable housing and can continue to thrive in my career at the Aspen Meadows and the Aspen Institute,” Stewart wrote in her application.
Stewart has also served as a volunteer for the Wheeler Opera House, Colorado Ballet Company, and the Aspen Historical Society.
Councilmember Rachel Richards noted the gender discrepancy as a concern, prompting Councilmember Ward Hauenstein to respond, “I didn’t look at if they are men or women, I just look at if they are qualified.”
At their meeting Monday night, the majority of the council members said they heavily weighted applicant’s responses to the question of previous board experience.
“The only thing I saw is the catch 22 — you have a lot of people with no board experience and how do you get board experience until you get onto a board,” said councilmember Rachel Richards, “but this might not be the best starter board.”
The new APCHA board will be unique among citizen boards in the city or the county under a recently approved intergovernmental agreement, because it will include elected officials and have the authority to create policy.
Councilmember Ann Mullins called the top-10 list a well qualified group.
“This board is going to be a tough one to be on. I think experience is needed,” Mullins said.
Rounding out the top-10 picks from the council are former county commissioner and restaurateur Rob Ittner; Peter Louras, who also formerly served on the Frontiers Group Housing Committee; Snowmass Village resident Scott Russell; event producer David Laughren, who wrote that he wants to focus on housing for young families and singles; and Michael Miracle, director of community engagement for the Aspen Skiing Co.
Frequent APCHA critic Lee Mulcahy, who has been in a years-long legal battle with the organization, did not make the cut, nor did Doris Faust, who listed her residence as “Snowmass Intercept lot-homeless” in her application.
“While this is not the ideal list from my point of view, I respect the process and the scoring of how we got to the top 10,” said Mayor Torre.
If Peacock and Ott cannot reconcile the two board’s top ten lists, Torre and his county counterpart — BOCC chairman Greg Poschman — will also help to narrow down the applicant field prior to next week’s in-person interviews.
Monday’s council work session meeting was not tapedand Ott does not anticipate the interviews on July 9 being broadcast either, citing that citizen appointment interviews to boards and commissions are not commonly recorded. She also pointed out that the candidates will already be sitting before all 10 elected officials from the two boards, which in and of itself will be intimidating.
“If you are trying to make it comfortable for your applicants, to add TV cameras to it too — I’m just trying to be sensitive,” Ott said.
Skippy Mesirow will serve on the APCHA board as the council’s voting member. Richards will attend the meetings as an alternate and vote on issues in Mesirow’s absence.
Today, the Pitkin County commissioners will choose their voting member and alternate. Ott told council Monday night that it is expected that George Newman will serve on the board and Kelly Mcnicholas Kury will serve as the alternate.
The commissioners will also see the results of their combined top picks of the 32 candidates today. They used the same tier-ranking system as the city council members.
“Typically we don't have to do something like this. We don’t have so many applicants for so few seats,” Peacock said.
The two bodies have not yet discussed any goals for the makeup of the citizen representatives. There are no criteria regarding a split of those living in APCHA housing or not, or if there should be a mix of those living within or outside Aspen city limits.
“It was more important to get the right people, but we will see how that plays out,” Peacock said. ”Maybe we can use that as a differentiator between similarly qualified folks — creating that diversity may be important but it’s not a stated goal.”
Interviews for the six to 10 top candidates will be held in the BOCC chambers July 9, with all 10 elected officials posing free-form questions. Richards said she does not feel like she understands where candidates fall on the issues and is looking forward to the interviews to learn more about their policy positions.
“I’d like a mix of perspectives. … I don’t want to inadvertently pick three people who believe this is workers only, this is not about community, and we are better off building everything in Carbondale,” Richards said.
The final assignment of the three citizen board members and one alternate needs to be formally voted on in a public meeting via a resolution. If the two bodies do not have enough similarity, staff and board leadership will come together to determine the selection.
“I think it really speaks to how important the issue is to the community, we have really great applicants,” said Peacock. “This is a great problem to have.”