Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

TOP STORY >> Housing board resigns

IN SHORT: A review leaves most positions vacant on the Jacksonville authority.

By PEG KENYON
Leader staff writer

Most members of the Jacksonville Housing Authority Board have resigned as a review by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development continues into possible wrongdoing at the authority.

The three men who quit are Ferrell Gray, Robert Colford and Robert Whatley.

A fourth member, Johnny Morry, previously resigned due to a family illness, leaving only Fred West at the helm of the Jacksonville Housing Authority’s five-member board of commissioners, according to one of the commissioners who resigned Tuesday.

“We just felt like we needed to under the circumstances…to get some new blood involved,” What-ley told The Leader.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim accepted the three one-sentence letters of resignation from those commissioners Tues-day morning.
“The consensus of the people today is that the program is a great service to the community and they offered their services if they could be of any help,” Swaim said. “The people who turned in their resignations had served in good faith.”

The identical letters except the names read, “I, ______, resign my position as Housing Authority Board member effective immediately.” The letters were dated Aug. 8.

The beleaguered agency oversees local property management, in which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has a vested interest.

As of Tuesday afternoon, no decisions about recreating the JHA Board of Commissioners had been made. According to Swaim, the board is responsible for recommending commissioners to Jack-sonville City Council.

The city can confirm these appointees but cannot substitute them with others since the JHA Board of Commissioners’ inception in the late 1970s.

“Consideration will be given to an interim board,” Swaim said. “I’m confident that there is a way the city council can fill them….I have talked with someone familiar with this type of program to assist.”

Swaim would not reveal this individual’s identity.

The JHA last week lost its director of about 14 years, Virginia Simmons, before the board’s three commissioners stepped down. According to Whatley, Simmons had worked in various capacities at the JHA for approximately 31 years.

Whatley said, “As far as we know, it had nothing to do with money being stolen. No theft was involved.”

According to Whatley, Mary Boyd has a contract to serve as interim director until Aug. 31. In the meantime, a review is underway into the JHA’s operations and management, according to Bessie Jackson, field office director for HUD in Little Rock.
Jackson previously explained that the Little Rock agency does not have the authority to hire or fire personnel at the JHA.

After HUD’s request, Simmons was placed on administrative leave with pay for two to three weeks, according to Whatley.

Jackson also revealed that the review is still incomplete. “So far, we’ve found some things we have questions about,” she previously told The Leader.

As an original commissioner since the board’s inception in the late 1970s, Whatley indicated that the housing authority had never had serious problems.

On July 31, the board went into a private executive session during its meeting. Whatley explained that he cannot comment on what transpired during this session but he did comment on Simmons’ resignation.

Whatley also said Simmons had indicated she had enjoyed working with the board.

Whatley also revealed that one of Simmons’ close relatives who lives out of state is currently ill and she needs to be there for him.

Jackson explained that she had previously met with Mayor Swaim to apprise him of the review of the local housing authority.
“We don’t have any further details right now,” Jackson said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Swaim still didn’t know the details about the inquiry.

“I’m not involved in its day-to-day operation, but HUD told me they were looking into some circumstances and that I would be informed,” Swaim said.

“Until HUD turns in their inquiry, I have no understanding about the details,” the mayor added.

Messages left for Jackson to call were unreturned at press time.