HUD investigating Housing Authority

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 30, 1999

By ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / June 30, 1999

LAPLACE – After a long, heated debate Monday evening, the St. John theBaptist Parish Council asked for the resignations of each member of the parish’s Housing Authority Board. The resolution was prompted byallegations of neglect, mismanagement and fraud.

The parish recently received a letter from the U.S. Department Housing andUrban Development stating that HUD will conduct an inspection of the St.

John public housing units today. HUD said it has received complaints,photographs and a video tape from public housing residents showing what HUD Director of the Office of Public Housing Chester Drozdowski called “severe neglect and lack of maintenance of St. John the Baptist Parishpublic housing units.”Drozdowski also stated the self-certification provided by the St. JohnParish Public Housing Agency “appears to be grossly inaccurate relative the video tape and photographs that were provided by resident and interest groups. This fraudulent submission has seriously jeopardized thecredibility of both the executive director, who prepares the documentation, the board chairperson and the Board of Commissioners that certifies the validity of the information.”After Council President Duffy read the letter to the council, Councilman Clinton Perrilloux said he wanted to hold a special meeting in order to get rid of the Board of Commissioners.

However, Councilman Joel McTopy said he wished to wait until after the HUD inspection to see if the allegations are valid.

“We need to look at the whole picture,” he said. “We want to get rid of theentire cancer, not just a part of it.”Councilman Dale Wolfe sided with Perrilloux.

“My feeling is that the problem is with the Housing Authority Board,” he said. “HUD told me that we should dismantle the board. We shoulddismantle the board tonight and reinstate a new board. This is a seriousmatter. Some board members just don’t care about the people in publichousing. We must take action tonight.”McTopy said he agrees the letter has grave overtones.

“But I will not remove my appointee based on a letter, I will only remove him for just cause,” he said. “When the facts are in and HUD says there isnegligence, then I will move to remove the board. I will not do this withblinders on.”Charles Lorio, the council’s legal advisor, said the council could not fire the board without just cause and due process. He recommended the councilask for each board member’s resignation.

Sheila Morris, chairperson of the Housing Authority Board, told the council she’s only been able to communicate with two of the five members on the board.

“The rest of the board has no desire to see what is going on,” she said, adding that even though the HUD letter was addressed to her, “I have never seen the letter. All of this has been circumvented around me.”She said she would be willing to resign if asked by the Parish Council.

Councilmen Duaine Duffy and Kevin Duhon both said that there were problems with the board.

“I’ve seen the video and it is strong proof,” said Duffy.

“There are problems,” agreed Duhon. “I’ve been to authority meetings andseen the videos. There is a breakdown in the whole housing system.”However, both councilmen agreed they had no problem waiting for HUD’s assessment of the situation before making any decisions.

After more discussion, the council passed a resolution asking members of the Housing Authority Board to hand in their resignations. A secondresolution saying that if members of the board found to be negligent or guilty of wrong-doing by HUD did not resign, they would be terminated.

The council also reserved the right to reappoint members as well as appoint new members.

Voting for the resolutions were McTopy, Bailey, Duhon, Perrilloux and Nickie Monica. Wolfe voted against them because he said he wantedimmediate dismissal of the board. Councilman Rannie Wilson was absent,and Steve Thornton had left the meeting before the vote was taken.

The findings of the HUD inspection will be released on July 5, and the Parish Council plans to call a special meeting shortly thereafter to decide its next course of action.

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