Pitkin County commissioners will vote this week on a restructuring of the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority’s board of directors, which would give the housing authority’s governing body more power while reconfiguring its membership by adding elected officials to what is now a citizen-only board.
The Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) is the result of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between the county and the city of Aspen. It oversees qualifications, policies and enforcement for 3,000 or so units of deed-restricted affordable housing in the upper valley. The commissioners and city council are in the process of amending that IGA.
The final draft before the commissioners calls for a board that consists of five members. Three of those members would be appointed citizens. They would be joined by one representative from the commissioners and one from the Aspen city council. Under the new governance model, a quorum of the APCHA board would need an elected official from each body and at least one citizen present.
The board currently consists of seven members, plus an alternate, four of whom are appointed by the council, four by the commissioners and two who are jointly appointed.
The manner for choosing the public members of the board under the new framework has not been decided. In his memo to the commissioners, County Manager John Peacock suggests that the county act as the intake for applications. He then outlines two systems for vetting the applicants.
“One alternative is for a subcommittee composed of two elected [Board of County Commissioners members] and two elected council [members] review all applicants and make recommendations for appointments. The other alternative (is) for applicants (to) appear before all 10 elected officials at a joint meeting,” Peacock wrote.
In either case, the county and city would need to approve of the selected citizen board members during an official meeting. Peacock recommends that the IGA be effective Aug. 1 to allow for the time it will take to review applications and appoint the community representatives.
The new governing board would be required to meet at least monthly, and the meetings would remain subject to Colorado’s open meetings law. The board would have the final say on the program’s affordable housing guidelines. The IGA also gives the board enforcement responsibilities.
“This includes the authority to adopt a program of civil penalties to be imposed for violations of deed restrictions and APCHA’s guidelines or regulations,” the proposed IGA states.
Aspen City Council is expected to pass a resolution approving the amended IGA on May 13. The commissioners are scheduled to have a discussion about the IGA at a work session today, followed by a first reading on Wednesday. A second reading and final vote on the matter would take place on May 22, at which time the updates would become official. Of those meetings, only the commissioners’ May 22 meeting requires an opportunity for public comment. The IGA has been discussed in county and city work sessions since August 2018, but no formal public comment has been solicited.
The board changes are just the beginning of a conversation between the two governments about the management of the housing authority. Still remaining are conversations about the fiscal oversight for the authority, and who employs the APCHA executive director.
Currently the city of Aspen hires the executive director, who reports to the city manager. Administrative functions such as accounting and payroll are the responsibility of the city and all contracts are required to follow city protocols. The county does not have the ability to bring in funds for housing development using a real estate transfer tax the way the city does, and thus it does not have as much money to contribute to the area’s housing efforts.
APCHA board member Chris Council contends that this sets up an ineffective power dynamic that the new governance structure doesn't address.
“It’s putting a bandaid on a gaping wound,” Council said. “It’s not addressing the true governance problem, which is that [Executive director Mike Kosdrosly] and APCHA staff officially report to the city manager's office.”
The executive director would be caught in a tough place for all matters where the APCHA board directives are not supported by city staff, Council said. He would like to see an APHCA board that is voted in by the public and directly oversees the executive director, akin to a school board.
County Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury has attended the majority of APCHA’s board meetings since last fall. She said she understands why the board feels frustrated with the process, but doesn’t believe passing a new IGA inhibits the larger discussions.
“I don’t see these updates as taking anything off the table,” McNicholas Kury said.
She said the new agreement will fix some long-standing problems and that the commissioners can work with the new city council after they are seated in June to discuss who the executive director should report to.
“The IGA provides some immediate relief to some of the functional issues and it does allow for guidelines changes to move much more quickly than they have,” she said.
Council also said that while the proposed board structure is built to give power to citizens with its 3-2 makeup, he thinks it will play out to the point where the government representatives still outweigh the citizens. The citizens are appointed by the government officials so there could be a dynamic where they feel they need to maintain a good standing with the elected officials if they want to remain on the board, he said. And because each government representative gets an alternate, there would be four officials represented at each meeting, equalling the number of citizens.
“I believe it is a complete farce to call it a citizen board,” Council said.
He is worried that the elected officials, especially city council members who are not paid full time for their public service, will not be able to make the monthly meetings. And because a quorum requires a representative from each sector — county, city, and public — there could be four of the five board members present but no official work could get done.
McNicholas Kury said that the county commissioners already spend the majority of their time on other boards and commissions and are used to representing the county’s positions in the manner expected for the APCHA board. She said things like repeated absences and conflicts of interest can be worked out by creating an agreed-upon framework of the board’s policies.
While the new IGA gives the APCHA board final decision making power on policy issues and small changes, the agreement includes two provisions that still give both governments significant oversight. The APCHA board and executive director will be responsible for creating a strategic plan, outlining the direction for the authority with a five-year outlook. That plan is required to be ratified by the government bodies, which could take out parts of the vision that they don’t agree with. A shorter-term annual work plan is also created by the executive director and the board and involves budget requests that are then presented to the city and the county. Again, if the governing bodies are not comfortable with a part of the annual plan they could elect to withhold funding.