Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board members were criticized by a former director, a board member and citizens during a public comment period that took up more than half of their regular meeting Wednesday night.
The sentiment expressed by the majority of the speakers is that APCHA is treading dangerous and unjust territory in their negotiation tactics regarding the eviction case of Burlingame resident Lee Mulcahy.
Mulcahy was found to be out of compliance with work requirements for his deed restricted home in 2015, and has been fighting the case in Colorado courts since. A district court order is in effect requiring Mulcahy to sell his home, and in November a receiver was appointed to oversee the proceedings.
Both Mulcahy and his mother, Sandy Mulcahy, have said in previous APCHA board meetings and in local courtrooms that they will not comply with the court’s order that they list their Burlingame property for sale.
In a September hearing regarding the receivership, Sandy Mulcahy told Pitkin County District Judge Chris Seldin that a law-enforcement forced eviction would not go well.
“If a SWAT team is sent, Aspen will make national news… You, sir, will be responsible,” she said.
Sandy Mulcahy also told the Daily News that Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock had reached out directly to her and her son, giving her the impression that negotiations beyond the court rulings or an forcible eviction may be on the table.
“Jon Peacock has asked to meet, which he has never done before, with the idea that maybe there’s a third way,” Sandy Mulchahy said.
Emails obtained by the Aspen Times last week show that indeed, some private negotiations involving members of the ACPHA board were underway. Those included financial offerings in exchange for a peaceful transfer of the property.
Former APCHA Executive Director Tom McCabe used his allotted three minutes of public comment to remind the board that one role of the housing authority is to ensure all residents are compliant, and to enforce the regulations at all times.
“I would hope that for APCHA’s sake and in support of APCHA and its mission that you toe the line,” McCabe said.
He said threats by the Mulcahys referring to their Second Amendment rights should not create a situation in which standard eviction procedures are skirted.
“He acts a little unpredictable and you think maybe there is some credibility there with threats of violence, but you have an awful lot of tools at your disposal including (law enforcement). I have a feeling this could be planned and it could be managed in a safe way. It might not be any fun but then again we are not here for fun, we are here to do a job,” McCabe said.
Former APCHA board chair Ron Erickson also spoke during public comment. Erickson was forced to give up his position this summer when the makeup of the board transitioned from appointed citizens to a hybrid of volunteers and elected officials from Aspen and Pitkin County. He served during the majority of the legal battles with Mulcahy, which have now played out because the Supreme Court turned down the case and there are no further opportunities to appeal.
“We bent over backwards every chance we had to be fair and give everyone the benefit of the doubt,” Erickson said. “We lived up to our rules and regulations and we made sure the guidelines were being followed. I am asking you all to stand up for what you are supposed to believe in here.”
Erickson said following through on side negotiations with Mulcahy would weaken the authority’s ability to enforce compliance in all future cases, a sentiment shared by the members of the public that addressed the APCHA board.
Emma Hall told the board that she is fairly new to the valley, and learning about a case like Mulcahy’s and the potential buyout makes her question the entire housing system.
“Are the rules in place and concrete? Are they flexible? Do they apply to some but not to others? How do I get to be in the group where they don’t apply to me?” Hall said.
APCHA resident and former Historic Preservation Commission chair Jay Maytin said that the work requirements that Mulchahy was found to have violated are the touchstone of the housing program. He said all APCHA owners know they are making tradeoffs when they buy subsidized housing.
“These are sensible requirements to protect the worker from being run out of town. When you sign on the dotted line you agree to these terms and others,” Maytin said.
Recent school board candidate and city employee Jim Pomeroy said the style of negotiations made him reconsider the credibility of APCHA.
“As far as anyone can tell this this entire endeavor was done in secret,” Pomeroy said. “All of this leads one to believe the board knew they didn't have the authority to engage in these actions.”
He also cautioned the board of what precedent the Mulcahy case will create.
“This opens up the door to literally destroy the entire program… . Veiled threats of violence should not be an investment strategy,” Pomeroy said.
Recently evicted APCHA resident Amanda Tucker spoke in favor of Mulcahy, saying she had been treated unfairly in her legal proceedings and believed he had too. Lee Mulcahy also addressed the board, bringing up past court rulings that he said defends his right to stay in the deed-restricted home.
“Fundamental fairness was violated,” Mulchahy said. “This is not community, this is communism.”
APCHA board members thanked the public for the comments, and several expressed agreement with the precedent that financial negotiations could bring to a eviction hearing.
County representative George Newman said the public input on the matter has been a relief.
“It’s refreshing,” Newman said. “For the short time I’ve been on this board, we've really only heard Lee’s side, we haven’t heard the other.”
The board had a scheduled private executive session to discuss the Mulcahy case Wednesday night. Any decisions made regarding negotiations or further legal proceedings will have to be discussed again in an open public meeting.