Officials debate: Is Lenoir City Housing Authority legally appointed?

By Hugh G. Willett

LENOIR CITY The Lenoir City Housing Authority could lose federal funding if it can't straighten out the issue over whether or not the organization's board of commissioners was legally appointed.

Representatives of the authority and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development met with Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens on Monday to discuss the recent appointment and dismissal of authority commissioners.

In November, Aikens appointed three new commissioners to the five-person board and dismissed two others. The terms of the two dismissed board members were not due to expire for at least another year.

LCHA Executive Director Debbie Cook asked for a legal opinion as to whether Aikens had the authority to make the changes on the board. Aikens has insisted that he is only trying to make the board legal.

"I'm only doing what HUD said," he told those at the meeting.

Aikens presented copies of three letters in which Cook requested his help resolving the correct appointment dates for the commissioners. He also presented a letter from HUD expressing concern about the legality of the previously-appointed commissioners.

"HUD said the remedy is to appoint a whole new board," Aikens said.

Charles Barnett, director of housing at the Nashville HUD office, participated in the meeting by phone. He acknowledged that the appointments might not be valid and expressed concern about the board's authority to conduct business.

The lack of a legally constituted board could have major repercussions. All the business conducted by the board over the past several years could be invalidated. Moreover, future funding from HUD could be withheld, Barnett said.

Rob Quillen, attorney for the LCHA, argued that the board was legally appointed, with the exception of their terms of office. Each board member currently holds a valid certificate of appointment. The only issue is the correct dates of appointment, he said.

"The dates do not invalidate the appointments," he said.

But Lenoir City attorney Jim Scott argued that if the dates of appointment are not correct, the appointments cannot be legal.

Aikens said he is most concerned about making sure that, going forward, the board is legally constituted.

"We're going to do things the legal way," he said.