Appointment Problems

Note: Debbie Cook mentioned in this article is not the former Lenoir City Treasurer/Recorder.

Lenoir City mayor, housing authority at odds over board appointments

By Hugh G. Willett

The Lenoir City Housing Authority is facing a showdown with the mayor's office over the appointment of three new members to the organization's board of commissioners.

LCHA Executive Director Debbie Cook last month requested a legal opinion on Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens' dismissal of several longtime members of the board and his appointment of three new board members.

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Aikens said he stands behind his appointments and the dismissal of two commissioners. He believes the current commissioners were not appointed properly.

"I was told by Debbie Cook that these commissioners had been appointed illegally," he said.

Cook, a 23-year veteran of the housing authority who has been executive director for five years, said she just wants to comply with the law.

"I'm just taking this one day at a time, letting the attorney advise me as to what is the proper procedure," she said.

The issues at stake are outlined in a Nov. 29 letter to Cook from Rob Quillen, LCHA legal counsel.

According to the letter, the five commissioners currently on the board are by state law appointed for staggered five-year terms, with the term of one commissioner expiring each year. The mayor is allowed to appoint a new commissioner each year.

According to Quillen, state law allows a mayor to remove a commissioner from a board for inefficiency, neglect of duty or misconduct, but only after the commissioner is given a copy of the charges 10 days before a hearing where the commissioner shall be heard or represented by counsel.

The current board consists of Mary Brown, Delores McAmis, Ott McGill, Jeff Ward and Linda Garner. Brown's term expired in September and she has continued to serve while waiting for the appointment of a new commissioner.

Cook 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.

Cook denies there is cause to remove McGill and Garner, describing them as highly experienced and state certified. None of the new appointees is certified, she said.

A recent Department of Housing and Urban Development audit questioned the legality of the current board members' appointments on technical reasons related to the timing of their appointment by former Mayor Matt Brookshire, Cook said.

Aikens said he wants to inject "new blood" into the panel. He also wants to make sure all commissioners are legally appointed and that the housing authority is being properly managed.

"There are two more on that board that if I find out are not properly appointed, I'm going to replace them, too," he said.