The Aspen City Council and Pitkin Board of County Commissioners focused their quarterly meeting entirely on housing Thursday night.
The joint meeting consisted of updates to new housing developments by both government entities, previews of policy discussions that will be forthcoming on housing mitigation and a review of the recently constituted intergovernmental agreement between the two bodies that establishes the structure of the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority.
County Manager Jon Peacock briefed the nine elected officials in attendance on the reasoning behind this year’s amended IGA, the sixth update to the agreement since it was first signed in the 1980s. Peacock said the most significant change in the current IGA is that — with elected officials on the APCHA board of directors along with citizen appointees — policy changes to APCHA’s regulations are now made final through decisions made by the APCHA board, and don’t need additional approval from the two governing bodies.
“(We) really focused on, how do we fix that decision-making model so that it really is more efficient,” Peacock said.
He said the newest iteration of the agreement was to encourage collaboration, explaining that in the past, each board could effectively veto the other’s initiatives.
“This was our first effort to create a broad policy document,” Peacock said. “That first bridge to build the alignment between all three organizations that has not happened before.”
Both elected bodies approved the new agreement in May, with an agreement for further discussion and assessment later in the year. The city council makeup has changed since the adoption of the IGA, when two new members and a new mayor took office in June.
Peacock updated the group on the work the new APCHA board has done since its first meeting in August. He highlighted that work has not begun on a five-year strategic plan that is a new requirement of the IGA, and meant to provide direction for everything from budgets to project management moving forward.
Another change of the new agreement is a phrase that pertains to the supervision of the housing authority’s executive director.
“The Executive Director shall work under the supervision of the City Manager and shall receive work assignments from the City Manager, consistent with the Strategic Plan and Annual Work Plan/ Budget,” the IGA states.
Peacock pointed out that without a strategic plan from which to base work assignments off of, City Manager Sara Ott, does not yet have specific direction for managing those assignments.
“This is, I think, a key part about addressing any concerns about what should APCHA staff time be used on,” Ott told the joint meeting.
On Wednesday night, Peacock and Ott gave the same presentation to the APCHA Board of Directors, who took issue with the reporting structure of the executive director.
Board chair John Ward cited the agreement’s directive that while the board may suggest work assignments to Ott regarding the APCHA executive director, they are not able to directly assign the tasks themselves.
“We’ve given direction that has created issues in the past,” he said.
Ward is one of three voting members representing the public, as appointed by the elected officials. Carson Schmitz, another citizen representative, pointed out that the board itself is not involved in the agreement by which it is governed.
“I do think that the executive director reporting to the board is in the best interest of APCHA,” Schmitz said, “(But) to debate that here is an inefficient use of our time.”
Peacock did relay the APCHA board’s preference to add a clause to the IGA that would include the board chair in discussions regarding personnel matters.
The agreement currently states, “The City Manager shall have the authority to terminate the employment of the Executive Director in accordance with City Personnel Policies and Procedures, but shall exercise this authority only after reasonable consultation with the County Manager.”
The APCHA board voted unanimously Wednesday night to support adding, “...and the APCHA Board Chair,” to the end of that sentence.
Ott explained at Thursday’s joint elected officials meeting that she has reached out to Ward and requested regular meetings. The two have met one time since August.
On Wednesday night, APCHA Executive Director Mike Kosdrosky revealed that the language isn’t just a philosophical matter, but that he is currently being disciplined by Ott for actions he took last month with the understanding that he was under the advisement of his board.
Ott declined to discuss personnel matters in either public meeting, but said that she was obligated in her role as city manager to hold all staff equally accountable under the city’s code of conduct. She said there may be legal roadblocks to including members of the public, such as the APCHA board chair, in personnel discussions, and that she ultimately needed to be the decision-maker in disciplinary and termination operations.
“I do not want to see the chair serving in a thumbs-up thumbs-down role regarding my decisions on personnel actions,” Ott said Thursday.
Both Ott and Peacock recommended to the elected officials that the IGA remain unchanged, and the tasks outlined be carried through the strategic planning process and the annual work plan cycle.
“(That’s the) key piece to finalize alignment,” Peacock said. “Obviously without a plan we haven’t yet had an opportunity to see how that alignment works.”
The nine elected officials (Councilmember and APCHA representative Skippy Mesirow was absent) all supported the “stay the course” option for the IGA.
Councilmember Ward Hauenstein called the housing authority and its governance a muddy issue, and one that can’t be assessed without more time.
“I can’t encourage enough for them to come up with a strategic plan and work plan,” Hauenstein said. “How can we make changes here and there until the mud is settled?”
County Commissioner Steve Child agreed that the provisions of the IGA should get a chance to take shape, but also acknowledged Kosdrosky’s concerns with what he sees as a dual reporting role.
“Where does Mike stand? He would be guiding this and taking it to the board, and yet indicated he feels it’s untenable,” Child said.
“Fundamentally that’s Mike’s choice,” Ott replied. “It requires everyone wanting to make success happen.”
Ott reiterated her intent to solidify communication between the city and the APCHA board through regular meetings with the chair.
“I intend to support the chair, and encourage putting in writing what that interface looks like so we get clarity with whomever is serving in that role,” she said.
Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury serves as an alternate on the APCHA board. She said Thursday night that she believes the professionalism and decorum of the new board shows that ultimately, everyone does want to make success happen.
“I think we are going to really see some positive steps forward in the next year,” she said.