Aspen city manager apologizes for not telling staff about housing hook-up
pitkin county correspondent
ASPEN ” City Manager Steve Barwick issued an apology to his 280-plus staff Tuesday for not informing them earlier that he had given a department head lifetime housing.
The memo, to all city staff, explains the reasoning behind allowing Public Works director Phil Overeynder and his wife, Deborah, to live in a city-owned house on the Marolt Open Space for the rest of their lives.
Overeynder must work full time for the city for the next five years and then part time for five years, according to an agreement signed May 8. After that, he can enjoy retiring in the house where he’s lived since 1995.
His deal is unlike any other city employee’s. The current policy stipulates that if a city employee who lives in city-owned housing resigns, that employee has six months to vacate. There is no retirement housing benefit attached to any employee except Overeynder.
The deal came after Overeynder attempted to resign last month to take a similar position in Ukiah, Calif., that paid more and had a better retirement plan. But because Barwick values Overeynder as an employee and didn’t want to lose him, he went to the City Council in a closed-door meeting on May 4 and advised the board that he was going to change the housing policy.
Phil and Deborah Overeynder pay $1,540 a month to live at 40176 Highway 82, the only house on the Marolt Open Space. Phil Overeynder is one of the highest-paid employees in City Hall, making about $110,000 a year. He has worked for the city for 15 years.
Barwick has defended the unprecedented move, saying it was a simple business decision, and that Overeynder would not be easily replaceable.
“The upside of having Phil for 10 years far outweighs the cost of dedicating housing to him,” Barwick told the Times on June 15.
But Barwick encountered criticism when the news reached city staff through an article in The Aspen Times instead of from him. City Hall’s human resources director, Rebecca Doane, wasn’t aware of the policy change until after two anonymous tips came to her regarding the decision. Barwick also told Overeynder not to say anything to his colleagues about the deal.
In his memo, Barwick wrote: “I regret that my concern about Phil’s privacy and my treatment of this matter as a personnel issue meant that many of you heard about this from the newspapers rather than directly from me. That was a mistake on my part. Please accept my apology.”
Barwick and City Attorney John Worcester have said they were justified meeting in a closed-door session with the City Council because it was a personnel matter. Additionally, Barwick has the authority to make a policy change when it’s warranted, city officials said.
The memo to city staff came one day after The Aspen Times requested through attorney Steve Zansberg that the public record from the May 4 executive session be released under the state’s Open Records Act.
Barwick’s memo to city staff in its entirety is printed below.
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