Authority’s legality still questioned
Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 11, 2000
FERRIDAY, La. – Director Charles Bell responded Thursday to charges that the Ferriday Housing Authority is not operating legally because Bell won’t recognize board members the mayor appointed.
&uot;It’s not my right to accept or refuse her appointments,&uot; Bell said. &uot;But as director, I’m responsible for making sure we’re in compliance (with) federal laws and regulations. … If we don’t, (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) could cut off our funding.&uot;
In Tuesday’s Ferriday Town Council meeting, Mayor Odeal Montgomery said she had appointed Angela Schneider, Cleveland Payne and Eddie Newman to the authority’s board last year.
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She cited a state law that states that the mayor has the sole authority to appoint board members. She also cited an attorney general’s opinion that said state law does not give tenants the authority to vote for board members.
According to Montgomery, Bell told Schneider she was not on the board and told Newman he could not not serve on the board because he is a city employee. Instead, authority tenants voted to appoint Antoinette Brown to the board to fill Irene Collins’ position on the board after Collins’ term expired.
Montgomery also said that member Adean Pipes’ term had expired after one year but that Pipes was continuing to serve without being reappointed, which she said is illegal.
The mayor said her comments were made so that Mayor-Elect Glen McGlothin would be updated on the situation before he takes office July 1. McGlothin was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.
But on Thursday Bell, who had been out of town at a conference Wednesday, responded to Montgomery’s statements — and the mayor also got a chance to respond.
In August 1994, then-Mayor Glen McGlothin appointed five members to staggered terms on the Housing Authority: Rochella Sheppard, for one year; Ruth Gray, two years; Sam Williams Jr., three years; Addie B. Phillips, four years; and Collins, five years.
As their terms expired, new members were appointed — Pipes; Sammy Davis Jr.; Bill Latham, who has resigned due to health problems; Marguerite Hayes; and Brown, respectively. Under state law, each was to serve five years.
Montgomery pointed out that Pipes’ certificate of appointment, issued on Nov. 14, 1995, said he was to serve for one year. But since state law said Pipes was to serve five years, HUD officials treated the number on Pipes’ certificate as a typo and simply said Pipes was to serve five years.
Bell also said Montgomery never followed through with the legal process needed to remove Pipes from the board.
Bell does have copies of a letter Montgomery sent asking for Pipes to be removed from the board. He also has a letter in which Pipes’ attorney asked Montgomery to state why she was removing Pipes from the board. According to Bell, the mayor never answered that letter.
Bell said Montgomery never forwarded to him the paperwork needed to appoint Newman to the board. Even if she had, Bell added, federal regulations prohibit town employees from serving on the authority’s board, and Newman is the town’s police chief.
In fact, when it sends a list of its board members to HUD, the authority must list each member’s occupation to make sure no town employees, authority employees or relatives of authority employees are on the board.
But Montgomery said that Newman was appointed and his oath of office signed in the pretense of Bell and the authority’s commissioners before the board’s September meeting.
She also said she sent a letter regarding Newman’s appointment to board Vice Chairman Sammy Davis Jr. &uot;I sent a letter to the Ferriday Housing Authority, but to (Davis), not Mr. Bell,&uot; Montgomery said.
Attorney general’s opinion
In March, Montgomery received a Louisiana attorney general’s opinion that said state law provides that the chief elected official of the city or parish in which a housing authority is located appoints the authority board’s five members.
&uot;Neither the director of the Ferriday Housing Authority nor the tenants of the complex have the authority to issue a certificate of appointment for a commissioner on the Housing Authority,&uot;&160;Assistant Attorney General Barbara Rutledge wrote in the opinion.
But according to the federal Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998, the board of a public housing agency must have at least one member elected by the residents, if provided for in the annual plan the agency sends to HUD.
And in the plan it submitted to HUD for fiscal 2000, the Housing Authority had to spell out how the residents elected their board member.
&uot;Maybe the attorney general doesn’t know the federal law,&uot;&160;Bell said.
&uot;If there was a federal law that says tenants can appoint members to the Housing Authority (board), they should have shown me that,&uot;&160;Montgomery said.
In addition, Bell said he has tried to contact Montgomery several times to talk about these matters, but no avail — which Montgomery denies.
&uot;He has never asked me to meet with him,&uot; Montgomery said.