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Questions about Quasi-governmental Transparency as it Announces Ashley Kappel as New ED

The Chaffee Housing Authority (CHA) met last week and again on May 2, and made what many might consider a less-than-transparent move regarding their selection of a new executive director. After coming out of an hour-long April 20 executive session, the CHA Board voted on an executive director, but without having told the only news media representative who had been at the meeting that that was their intent. They voted to select fellow board member Ashley Kappel as the new executive director.

Ashley Kappel, newly appointed Executive Director of the Chaffee Housing Authority. Courtesy photo

This morning in a draft announcement, Board Chair Craig Nielson, praised Kappel’s hire saying, “Kappel brings a unique and varied professional background to this position which we believe will be an excellent match for the challenges and complexity of the position. She has an extensive nonprofit background and a comprehensive skill set including real estate, legal and strategic planning.”

“We are excited to welcome [Kappel] to the organization and look forward to supporting and working with her closely as the organization transitions out of start-up mode to full operations, program expansion and affordable housing development,” he added.

Aside from the fact that this April 20 vote would appear to breach standard public meeting rules for a quasi-governmental authority, the CHA had provided no earlier updates to the public about the process for what is arguably one of the most important positions in the county.

This lack of transparency is not the normal process. That the CHA was down to a single candidate had not been announced. This makes the actual description of the executive session —  as written– nebulous: it could refer to Kappel, or some other candidate she was presenting.

Those who were present on the CHA Board (and they weren’t all there) came out and voted on a single candidate for the executive director position. No public or news media were present, nor was the actual intent of a final vote communicated.

Following the departure of Executive Director Becky Gray, the CHA board appointed Jeff Eaton as interim director while they continued what we were told was a national search for Gray’s replacement. Apparently, that search did not yield qualified candidates.

Now Kappel, who is from Buena Vista, might be well qualified, even spectacularly so. The draft release obtained by AVV notes that Kappel was a commercial real estate attorney for a decade, then a sole practitioner. She has worked with marginalized populations, as a teacher in New Jersey and Denver before directing an alternative teacher training program for Teach for America – Colorado. The release notes that she has served on several nonprofit boards, Homeowners Associations, and even on the board of a charter school.

But some might say that the lack of transparency for a role so vitally important to this county is worrisome. During the April 28 celebration for the Jane’s Place housing project CHA Board Chair Craig Nielson hinted that the board had made a hiring decision — but gave no further public information.

Ark Valley Voice learned that until we spoke with a Chaffee County Commissioner on April 26 asking if they had been informed of the CHA hiring vote, the Board of County Commissioners (a major funding source for the CHA operations)  was unaware of it and has not met Kappel.

If this is true — and no one has refuted it (yet) this could leave some members of the community asking questions like: What was the process? Why wasn’t the process communicated to the public? Is there an official signoff from the local governments funding the CHA — and if not, should there be?

The CHA is a quasi-governmental, but independent entity that receives local government funding from Chaffee County, and the municipalities of Salida and Buena Vista. The Executive Director of the Chaffee Housing Authority is a county employee.

Nielson confirmed that the vote occurred April 20. Then the CHA involved the county; Chaffee has no Human Resources Director, but that role is filled by Director of Finance Dan Short. “I got the ball rolling with the county, they don’t have a personnel department — it’s been a learning curve for sure. I roped in Short … got the next steps, which took about a week, then we got a signed hiring letter which was back-dated to April 24 [why was not explained]. The only piece left is scheduling the orientation the county does for all their employees,” said Nielson.

Asked about their communications process, Nielson said that the CHA has a communications committee that puts out all their messaging and hoped he would have a press release “something soon,” and agreed that it had been several days since AVV first learned of this vote. He added that this morning, “I’m doing an email message today (May 3) to the electeds [from Chaffee County, the Town of Buena Vista and the City of Salida] to inform them.”

It should be pointed out that these are the funding governments for the CHA and the elected officials represent the public. Perhaps Gray’s obvious credentials and the very public manner of her selection for the role meant that the process around her hiring was more public. But this current series of events is an obvious departure from hiring transparency.

Having just received a draft written confirmation of Kappel’s selection, we’re looking forward to hearing more about her background, education, and experience to share with the public. Perhaps a meet and greet such as was done when Gray became the final candidate for the Housing Director position might become a good next step.

Editor note: AVV followed up with CHA Chair, Craig Nielson today, and he confirmed that it has been time-consuming dealing with the county.