Housing commissioners discuss Bell issue

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 16, 2001

FERRIDAY, La. – Ferriday Housing Authority commissioners said they plan to ask federal and regional housing officials for advice on what action to take on the job status of the authority’s director.

A legislative auditor’s report released in June stated that Director Charles Bell allegedly misspent $218,169 in public funds. The New Orleans office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in late July banned Bell from taking part in HUD’s public housing programs for one year.

On Aug. 1, the authority’s Board of Commissioners voted 3-1 to place Bell on administrative leave with pay following allegations that he misspent $218,169 in public funds.

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But in a letter to board Vice Chairman Sammy Davis Jr., Chet Drozdowski, director of public housing for HUD’s New Orleans office, said that decision violates federal guidelines.

In their Wednesday meeting, commissioners said HUD officials have not responded to calls or letters asking that HUD representatives attend a meeting of the authority’s board to answer questions about what actions to take regarding Bell.

&uot;If they can’t come up here, I’ll be more than glad to go down to New Orleans to visit with them,&uot; said Commissioner Clarence Hymon. &uot;I’m ready to act. I’m ready to put this behind us.&uot;

Commissioner Marguerite Hayes said she would also be glad to visit the New Orleans office.

Commissioners also decided to ask officials of such housing agencies as the Louisiana Housing Council and the Monroe Housing Authority for advice.

&uot;I just want to make sure what we’re doing is legal,&uot; Hayes said.

Commissioner Richard Washington made a motion that the board ask Bell, who was not at Wednesday’s meeting, to attend a meeting of the board. But the motion died for lack of a second.

&uot;We need to see what (Bell) has to say … with regards to this situation,&uot; Washington said. &uot;The board is responsible for hiring and firing, but we can’t until we get his testimony.&uot;

In fact, that meeting should have been held when the board first received a copy of the legislative auditor’s report, Washington said.

But Hayes noted that Bell responded to the audit in writing. Hymon pointed out that Bell is expected to appeal, by an Aug. 25 deadline, HUD’s decision regarding Bell’s participation with the authority.

&uot;I doubt he would agree to (meet with us) anyway while that’s pending,&uot; Hymon said. Bell, Drozdowski and Marvel Robertson, public relations director for HUD’s New Orleans office, could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Davis did not attend the meeting and also could not be reached for comment. But in a Wednesday newspaper article, he said that he intends to resign from the board soon because he is frustrated with the situation surrounding Bell’s job status.

But Davis’ resignation had not been submitted to the board as of Wednesday. Davis’ term on the board expires Aug. 24.

The board will meet at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Items for discussion will include the election of officers, especially since former chairman Adean Pipes resigned last December.

The board also intends to discuss hiring a board attorney and asking Mayor Glen McGlothin to appoint at least one new board member.