Housing deal broke state law
Vail CO, Colorado
ASPEN ” The City Council broke state law when it decided in secret session to grant an Aspen employee a lifetime housing deal to keep him from quitting, said an attorney specializing in open-meetings legislation.
The council agreed last month to allow Phil Overeynder and his wife, Deborah, to live for the rest of their lives in a city-owned home on the Holden-Marolt Open Space property just west of town.
City Manager Steve Barwick cooked up the deal after Overeynder, who earns $110,000 annually and has worked for the city for 15 years, had recently announced his decision to resign his post in order to take a better-paying job in Ukiah, Calif.
The Overeynders pay $1,540 per month in rent to live in the only house on the property, one of 45 city-owned units. Overeynder told The Aspen Times he’d decided to relocate because the Ukiah job paid more and had better retirement provisions, and because he was becoming increasingly concerned about his retirement prospects in Aspen.
Attorney Steve Zansberg, a consultant for the Colorado Press Association and for newspapers around the state on open records and open meetings matters, said Friday that the city council had violated state law.
“The decision made by the City Council is a violation of the state’s open meetings law, which prohibits any local public body from adopting ‘any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule [or] regulation’ in an executive session,” Zansberg wrote in an e-mail. “Certainly a vote by city council members to provide public housing to a city employee (for any period of time) constitutes adoption of a position (and probably was also the subject of an informal ‘resolution’ that the board adopted).”
The council’s decision also appears to represent a marked change in policy regarding subsidized housing for city employees. The city’s policy holds that if a city employee living in city-owned housing resigns, that employee has six months to vacate the premises. Barwick confirmed that there is no retirement housing benefit attached to any employee’s job other than Overeynder’s.
Barwick defended the council’s action, maintaining that Overeynder is a very valuable employee, given his knowledge of water law, local electric policies and technology, and his participation in such city projects as the Canary Initiative and stormwater plans.
New Mayor Mick Ireland, who had not yet been elected at the time of the decision, said he felt a decision of this magnitude should be subject to public review, although he agreed that the city’s housing policies need some tweaking when dealing with situations like the Overeynders’.
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