THE HUNTER REPORT
ATTORNEYS TALK TO HUD OFFICIALS - STALEMATE
MAYOR TONY AIKENS (BLUE VEST), (clockwise) DEBBIE COOK, ROB QUILLEN, DALE HURST (CENTER), AMBER SCOTT, JIM WILBURN, LINDA GARNER (R)
LCHA BOARD APPOINTMENTS
BY: PAT HUNTER
A meeting took place between Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens, and attorneys Rob Quillin (Lenoir City Housing Authority LCHA) and James Scott (Lenoir City Attorney), Lenoir City Housing Executive Director Debbie Cook and HUD officials to discuss the appointment of board members. Also in attendance were Ed Ellis (HUD Knoxville Field Office), Lenoir City Housing Authority board members Mary Brown and Linda Garner, housing resident Lucy Shepard, Lenoir City Judge Terry Vann (former LC Housing Board member), Dale Hurst (City administrator), Amber Scott (Risk Manager) and Jim Wilburn (Recorder-Treasurer); Knoxville News Sentinel and News Herald reporters. The purpose of the meeting was to hold a tele-conference call with Charlie Barnett (public housing director) at his Nashville office; Barnett has jurisdiction and oversees all the housing authorities.
Mayor Aikens called the 9:00 a.m. Monday meeting (Dec. 17) to order and requested brief introductions from everyone present. Ed Ellis began the discussion concerning numerous correspondences from Mayor Aikens and his concerns about the terms and legality of some board members, and HUD responses to his correspondences. Ellis also had questions and concerns about the mayorís authority to replace board members and the policies and procedures that are supposed to take place. He was referring to the recent actions by Mayor Aikens. According to a Dec. 5 Knoxville News Sentinel article, ďCook said she was recently presented with certificates executed by Aikens that appoint Larry Hardison, Frank Hahn and Cheri Brown to fill the seats of McGill, Garner and Brown. McGill and Garner were notified by Aikens of their removal, she said.Ē None of the new appointees were present.
Mayor Aikens shared his concerns. Since taking office in 2010, ďWeíre really talking about two appointmentsĒ and that being Ms. Garner and Mr. Gillís replacements.
The LCHA attorney Rob Quillen also shared his concerns. Since my original letter, an article in the News Herald mentioned three board member names that were in question which included Ms. Garner, Mr. McGill and Mr. Ward. We hadnít heard about the validity of Mr. Wardís appointment prior to that news article. Our position under state law is that a board appointment will be expiring this year which the mayor may make. The board positions were originally created in 1959 with staggered terms.
Iím only doing what the Executive Director (Cook) and HUD has asked me to do on several different said Aikens. He referenced three correspondences from LCHA Executive Director Debbie Cook regarding board appointment dates and expiration dates; an email from Debbie Cook dated July 31, 2012, and letters dated Oct. 11, 2012, and April 20, 2012. My request is to reappoint all the board commissioners. A hand written letter from Victoria Brown (Nashville HUD) said in part that a remedy is to appoint a whole new board. Deloris McAmis appointment is illegal because her sister serves as office manager at the Lenoir City Housing Authority Aikens said.
ďI didnít kick anybody off the board; I just didnít appoint the people she wantedĒ ďÖ I appointed different peopleĒ that she (Debbie Cook) felt were illegal and she crossed through the dates explained Mayor Aikens. Thatís my position. Iím only doing what the Executive Director and HUD has asked me on different occasions Aikens added.
HUD field office Ed Ellis asked for Charlie Barnettís input; what is our interpretation of the status of the existing board. According to Barnett in 2010 an inside review took place and one of the findings concluded the membership of the board of commissioners was deficient. We asked the Housing Authority to appoint the sufficient amount and the only concern from HUD was that the board have a legally constituted board to conduct the business and duties of the Housing Authority. We received paperwork and certificates for the following board of commissioners which included Delores McGinnis (Sept. 2013), Jeff Ward (Sept. 21, 2015), Mary Brown (May 2015) and Linda Garner who was fulfilling an expired term of a term expiring Sept 21, 2010. Whether that was renewed I do not know said Barnett. And Otis McGillís term expiring on Sept. 1, 2011. I have a certificate of office and oath of office for those people which was received on July 23, 2010. The board corrections were made in 2010.
Are you familiar with the handwritten letter written by Mrs. Brown written after Oct 31, 2011 asked Aikens? It came from the paperwork from Debbie Cook.
For the record, I requested copies of the letters on Friday said attorney Rob Quillin but he was not provided with the records. Mayor Aikens then asked Amber Scott for copies of the letters, which were provided to attorney Quillin.
Mayor Tony Aikens said that Debbie Cook had two sets of dates and using one, and HUD thought she had one but she had two. Iíll be glad to let you see the copies that Iíve highlighted he added.
Why would the Executive Director send me three different letters all dated in 2012 saying that they needed to be corrected asked Aikens? If everything was done correctly, why would she send me the letters saying that it needed to be done Aikens again asked. Iím only doing what the Executive Director and HUD has asked me on different occasions Aikens added.
Attorney Rob Quillin responded to Aikens comments. Well I think Mr. Mayor is that when HUD made this initial finding in 2010 audit referenced by Mr. Barnett apparently there was a question about the city, itís the cityís job to keep track of these appointments not necessarily the job of the executive director. Sheís impacted by that and she needs to try to keep track but itís the City Recorderís job to keep these documents and properly maintained but she was not able to get certificates from that point so HUD couldnít see documents in 2010 outlining who were the proper board members explained attorney Quillen. So in order to clear that finding the Authority worked with then Mayor Brookshire and he issued four certificates in 2010 and from Sept through May 2010 worked to fill the board so HUD cleared the finding. But what Ms. Cook tried to do since Mayor Brookshire had made the appointments, the certificates that he issued didnít specifically stagger the terms the way that they were supposed to be staggered. Now I donít know that has any bearing on the validity of the appointments. I donít think that the Mayor can set the term; could shorten or lengthen the term. The mayor is either filling a term or filling an expired term and whatever the term is. Ms. Cook realized that the terms didnít completely mesh with what these terms should be because on those certificates that Mayor Brookshire issued all expired in 2015 much like the certificates that you have issued which all expire in 2017.
Let me interrupt up you; after looking in the Lenoir City files and talking to Ms. Cook, I realized that and I made an amendment and mine are staggered to those responded Mayor Aikens. Thatís the first weíve heard of that replied Quillen and we asked for records from the city. A letter from HUD was to appoint a whole new board argued Mayor Aikens.
Attorney James Scott addressed Charlie Barnett, Iím wanting to hone everybody on the issues. Hopefully you can provide us with more clarity. My main concern with Ms. Cook and the board and tenants that reside in the housing units is to be good stewards of taxpayer money and secondly that the city and housing board is in compliance with the law because as I understand it if the appointments were not staggered then arguably the appointments may not comply with law and if they donít comply with law in turn I would interpret the would be invalid and this issue would be an issue of replacement of board members. It would be an issue of appointment of appropriate board members to comply with law. If Iím correct, I would greatly appreciate your assistance because youíre the overseers of how things should be done appropriately.
Why would the previous appointments be invalid; did I misunderstand asked Charlie Barnett.
Iím trying to get a proper understanding; if theyíre not staggered then they do not comply with law replied attorney James Scott.
Do the terms not being staggered properly invalidate their appointment to the board Ed Ellis (Knox HUD) asked Charlie Barnett (Nashville HUD)? Again, you and I are not attorneys but do you have an opinion on that he asked. So just because the terms are not staggered that is more of a technical issue that needs to be corrected verses the invalidation of them serving on the board.
Ms. Cookís letters is more about fixing the terms of board members and cleaning up the paperwork.
Iím going by HUD has asked me to do said Mayor Aikens.
The attorneys went round and round with a repetition of their respective arguments about the appointment of board members and the staggering of terms.
Mayor Akins referenced a letter from Debbie Cook dated Oct 31, 2011 outlining dates and a chronology and spreadsheets of board appointments.
Can I say something since it's me asked Ms. Garner. I was duly appointed by Mr. Johnson on Sept 1 2010. Mr. Johnson said Aikens in a surprised tone. Rob Quillen clarified that Mayor Brookshire appointed Ms. Garner. Since Mayor Brookshire couldn't be there he sent Mr. Johnson explained Garner. The City Recorder Treasurer said Aikens. With all do and respect the City Treasurer can't do the appointments added Aikens. The City Recorder swears them in explained Debbie Cook. The copies of the certificates that she had provided to you in one of those letters, she had marked the dates that she thought the terms should be corrected to but one of those is for Ms. Garner and its signed by Mayor Brookshire and attested to by Bobby Johnson Jr. City Recorder Clerk through September 2015. Ms Garner is a fine lady she's a pillar in the community and so is Mrs. Brown and Mr. McGill said Mayor Aikens.
I have one concern that I'd like to put on the table said Charlie Barnett. If we are talking about the validity of the appointments and one term should expired last year, my concern about that appointment then the validity of anything the board has done e.g. budget approval, financial statement, capital projects; did they have the authority to do this. If there are certificates issued by the mayor... the easiest way to correct this in September of next year is to appoint someone next year; perhaps this is the easiest way but not the most legal way is to next year technically correct the term without calling into consideration the legality of the appointments which could invalidate everything that the board has done.
With all do respect, weíre going to do things the legal way and its unfortunate the new board has to do this. If they are invalid because of HUD's statement in the audit. I understand what the attorney of HUD and letters. I am going by the written letter dated after Oct 31, 2011 so I am concerned of what you just said. And we have to go back, the new board and correct things for the last 24 months so be it replied Mayor Aikens. We're going to do it the legal way.
Is the board legal or illegal? If its legal getting the terms staggered to meet the requirements and the bottom line we have to make a determination of whether this board is legal or illegal commented Ed Ellis. I think HUD attorneys need to talk to the attorneys (Lenoir City Housing Authority and Lenoir City) and render an opinion so we can move forward; we donít have the authority to make a determination without our legal counsel.
Attorneys Scott and Quillin were to schedule a tele-conference call with HUD attorneys and lay out the issues and based on those conversations a determination would be made. We have to make sure we have a legal board said Barnett.
As the meeting came to an end Mayor Aikens gave some parting comments, I would ask Mr. Quillin and Debbie Cook not to go out, over spending and no trips. Debbie Cook replied that contracts were signed to address roofs, replace windows, etc. I donít think that you need to be spending money on trips shot back Aikens. I am looking at the money situation she replied. I have five board members that are certified. When is this trip scheduled; early January replied Cook. I just donít think that we should be spending taxpayer money on trips said Aikens. The money is funded by HUD for training Ellis said. Weíre the only one in the state that all five board members are state certified added Cook. Cook tried to explain her position that board members attended meetings one scheduled in January in California to maximize the amount of training at one event. Again I ask that you not take any trips Aikens said. Iím just curious about the cost of the trip. Cook responded with a breakdown of airline ticket costs and other related expenses. Hopefully this will be resolved soon Aikens said.
(THE HUNTER REPORT - EDITOR'S NOTES:
Mayor Aikens and Lenoir City attorney James Scott allowed the public and press to be present at Monday's hour long tele-conference call meeting, which took place in the Lenoir City Hall small meeting room. Attorney Scott said from the onset of the meeting that he thought the meeting should be open to the public.
Debbie Cook mentioned in this article is not former Lenoir City Recorder Treasurer Debbie (Williams) Cook; two different individuals. Debbie Cook is in the top picture sitting next to attorney Rob Quillin with the Knoxville law firm of Kennerly Mongomery & Finley.)
LINDA GARNER (R), MARY BROWN, ED ELLIS, AMBER SCOTT, DALE HURST (CENTER), ROB QUILLIN (FILING CABINET)
ATTORNEY JIM SCOTT (NEAR DOORWAY)