Aspen City Council this week approved a restructuring of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority board of directors over the objection of a current board member, Chris Council, who said the change is “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” while asking that the matter be kicked to the next city council, which assumes power next month.
Four out of five city council members disagreed and approved the resolution, which has been in the works for over a year. If Pitkin County commissioners, who have already approved the change on first reading, give final approval later this month, then it will be a done deal — with the new APCHA board structure taking effect Aug. 1.
The APCHA board currently is made up of eight appointed citizens, one of whom is an alternate, and its decisions on housing authority guideline changes must be approved by both city council and county commissioners. This structure has been criticized for its inefficiency, since it can take years to get all three boards on the same page to approve policy changes.
Under the new structure, the board would be made up of three appointed citizens, one city council member and one county commissioner. Each elected board also would have an alternate available to participate in meetings, while there would be one alternate citizen member.
A quorum would not be possible without one elected official being present. The reconfigured APCHA board would have final authority on guideline changes.
Chris Council, who was appointed last year to the APCHA board, told the council during public comment at Monday’s meeting that he didn’t feel the board was adequately consulted throughout the process, which he called disappointing.
Council members countered that the APCHA board chair has been involved in numerous meetings on the topic and the council and county commission have never denied someone the opportunity to speak to them on the topic. Council replied that there has never been an engaged process where the opinions of the APCHA board have been sought out.
“I feel this is incredibly disrespectful to the concept of a citizen board,” Council said. While it’s clear the current structure is inefficient, the remedy on the table is akin to “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” he said.
He said Monday’s vote should be delayed until details of the new plan — such as how the citizen board members will be appointed, which is still to be determined — are finalized and there is direction on whether APCHA’s executive director should continue to report to Aspen’s city manager or to the APCHA board.
Council members Ward Hauenstein and Ann Mullins said the vote should go forward, since the current council has been working on the initiative. Mullins added that any changes to the executive director’s reporting structure can go forward later, independent of this change.
Councilman Adam Frisch said that APCHA board members upset about the decision may be taking their frustrations out on the process.
“This has to do with, ‘I don’t like the decision, ergo, the process must be bad,’” Frisch said.
The new structure, he said, is a “brilliant compromise” and a “huge upgrade” that will help fix common frustrations over the APCHA governance process. The board will be more nimble, accountable and powerful, Frisch said.
Hauenstein pointed out that the APCHA board, at a recent meeting, was unable to pass a resolution asking elected officials to slow down the restructuring process. He also submitted that the APCHA board’s role does not include an advise and consent function over housing authority governance.
Councilman Bert Myrin, a minority of one, agreed that the matter should be tabled and taken up by the next council. The fact that three sitting members, himself included, did not win offices they were campaigning for in the March election means that the next council should have accountability for the APCHA structure, Myrin said.
Besides Myrin’s losing bid for a second council term, Frisch and Mullins came up short in their mayoral campaigns, with former councilman Torre claiming the seat. New council members Rachel Richards and Skippy Mesirow will take office in June. Frisch will be term-limited off the board. Mullins still has two years left on her term, as does Hauenstein.
Myrin said it is difficult for the community to communicate with the council, and “perhaps that is why three of us received a vote of no confidence,” he said.