Hud Oh

Lenoir City officials, feds to meet to iron out housing authority shuffle

Legality of appointments questioned

 Hugh G.

LENOIR CITY óRepresentatives of the Lenoir City Housing Authority and federal officials will meet with Mayor Tony Aikens today to discuss the appointment of new commissioners to the housing authority.

The meeting at City Hall was scheduled after LCHA Executive Director Debbie Cook requested that legal counsel review the dismissal of several housing authority commissioners and the appointments of their replacements.

Representatives from the Knoxville offices of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will attend the meeting, and a member of HUD's office in Nashville will participate by phone.

"I'm hoping we can get this all straightened out," Cook said.

By state law, five commissioners are appointed to staggered five-year terms with one commissioner's term expiring each year. The mayor is authorized to replace one commissioner each year.

Last month, Cook said she was provided with certificates signed by Aikens appointing three new commissioners to the housing board. One commissioner's term was set to expire this year; two other commissioners were informed by Aikens that they were being dismissed.

A legal opinion requested by Cook has challenged Aikens' authority to appoint new commissioners or to dismiss other commissioners without a hearing to show cause.

Lenoir City attorney James Scott has disputed the opinion.

Cook said she canceled several meetings earlier this month that were requested by the newly appointed commissioners.

"How can we have a board meeting if we don't know who the legal board members are?" Cook asked.

Aikens insists that he has the authority to remove commissioners and to appoint their replacements. The current commissioners whom Aikens had ordered dismissed were never legally appointed because of delays by former Lenoir City Mayor Matt Brookshire, he said.

"I have three letters from Debbie Cook in which she says that the current commissioners were never legally appointed," Aikens said.

He also points to evidence that he believes indicates the housing authority has not been properly managed under the current board. The authority has not been keeping regular hours and is closed on Wednesdays, he said.

Cook said that for the past three or four years the office has been closed to the public on Wednesdays to allow staff to catch up on paperwork.

"We're still in the office Wednesday. We're working. It just gets hectic sometimes when people are waiting in the hall," she said.

Cook has acknowledged the problems with the timing of the appointments but insists that the current board members are highly experienced and state certified.

"They took the oath of office. The big thing is the dates," she said.

Ultimately, LCHA might have to file suit to uphold the current board. Cook said such a decision would be up to HUD.