Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens said he believes the authority and its new board is now on the right track, and an audit is the right option moving forward.
“I think the current board now is doing an outstanding job,” Aikens said after the council meeting. “... I think they are trying to run it the right way, the new board is, and trying to run it like a business. I think they’ll eventually get it straightened out.”
Aikens said he was displeased with the way the authority operated in the past. The housing authority office was closed on Wednesdays, and often shut down “at the drop of a snowflake.”
“Of course, you all know it’s been an ongoing issue up there,” Aikens said. “My personal opinion, I believe the place has been run like a dog and pony show for the last several years. They’ve purchased property for $1.8 million, which is the old Silver Hills (Apartments) several years ago. They still owe $1.5 million. According to (board chairman) Mr. (Frank) Hahn, they don’t know how they’re going to make their mortgage on it.”
Aikens said the previous board also allowed its staff, including Executive Director Debbie Cook, 24 days of bereavement pay every year on top of sick time and vacation pay.
“And they got it regardless if they had anybody — I mean, I’ve never heard of such a thing,” the mayor said.
“Who gave it to them?” Councilman Bobby Johnson Sr. said.
“The old board and executive director, I guess,” Aikens said.
The authority also spent $90,000 in attorney and legal fees suing this city after Aikens appointed new members to the board.
“It’s taxpayers’ money whether it is coming from HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) or whether it’s coming from the citizens up there,” he said. “And this not the first incident. ... They owed us thousands of dollars in garbage pickup that they hadn’t paid.
“I would whole lot rather that $90,000 be spent on giving the tenants a reduction in their rent than suing the city knowing that they were in the wrong to begin with,” Aikens added.
On top of falling behind on its Silver Hills property note, the local authority owes Lenoir City $16,425 for a retirement contribution plan. Aikens said the new board has cut out bereavement pay, and the authority is now open on Wednesdays.
Councilman Eddie Simpson made a motion to add an amendment that if auditors found any deficiencies with housing authority operations, HUD will repay the city to address any findings.