Kimberly Pettway, on Wednesday morning, attended her last meeting as a member of the Mobile Housing Board of Commissioners.
Pettway, whose term expires next year, stepped aside after the passing of her father, Carlton Indo Williams.
“This was a very difficult decision for me,” she said. “I’ve never resigned from anything in my life, but I’ve got to handle some things and being on the board requires a lot of work.”
Pettway was appointed to the board at a time when the agency was dealing with fallout from a scathing report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General detailing conflicts of interest between the board and its non-profit arm. The board had a time of relative calm while she helmed it, but that changed with the hiring of a new executive director.
“We thought we were on the right track, but then everything started to spiral,” she said.
The board had to deal with a number of issues, including the theft of $475,000 due to a hacking incident and an ongoing problem with bed bugs in one of the complexes.
“We worked closely with HUD to keep the agency afloat,” she said. “I lost my dad and I’m now trying to figure my world out. I know what the agency needs, and I can’t continue to give them that.”
Despite the setbacks, Pettway is happy to have left keeping the two promises she made to residents and staff. One was to help find money in the budget for staff raises and another was to work toward the demolition of Josephine Allen Homes. While a search for the funding for raises is ongoing, the board did approve a resolution Wednesday that could kick start the demolition process for the long-abandoned housing complex.
“My biggest concern is the health of the board,” Pettway said. “I’m really concerned about that. My hope is the board can come together collectively and agree that the residents are our main concern.”
While Mayor Sandy Stimpson is still vetting potential replacements for Pettway, Commissioner Norman Hill will take on the gavel duties, as chairman, following an election Wednesday.
Commissioner Joyce Freeman nominated Hill, while Commissioner Brie Zarzour nominated herself. Commissioner Tyrone Fenderson Jr. abstained from the selection and after board attorney Michael Berson consulted the bylaws on whether it took three votes to proceed, it was determined Hill — with two votes — had enough to advance as chairman.
“I pledge to both residents and staff to do what’s right and work as hard as I can to put the board on stable ground,” Hill said.
Pettway is one of a number of recent, high-profile departures at the agency, which is still missing a significant chunk of its executive staff. There are currently job openings for executive director, deputy director, asset manager, chief financial officer and capital fund and development coordinator.
Using the personnel board to find permanent replacements for some of these positions has been difficult, Pettway said, but the board did approve a six-month contract with Nan McKay & Associates not to exceed $165,000 to bring in an interim deputy director.
This item garnered some back and forth from commissioners, as Hill mentioned he had concerns over the short-term nature of the deal. He said he would rather the board put resources toward hiring a permanent position and asked where the board was in that process.
Zarzour said the board had planned a retreat Monday to discuss some of these topics at length. She said the meeting was cancelled because of Hill’s schedule. When Hill said he didn’t get the agenda for that meeting until Sunday night, Zarzour and others corrected him and said it was sent out on Friday.
In other business, the board voted to table indefinitely a non-binding memorandum of understanding between it and the Fuse Factory for the possible future purchase of 80 undeveloped acres in the Orange Grove community.
Hill said he had concerns over the language in the agreement, framing MHB as sellers and Fuse as buyers. Freeman had concerns about moving forward with the MOU without a large portion of the agency’s executive staff. Freeman added that she had concerns over Zarzour’s involvement with Fuse and her role as vice chairwoman of the housing board. Zarzour, who is a board member for Fuse, recused herself from the discussion and told Lagniappe earlier this week that she had not even seen the MOU because of this recusal.
Freddie Stokes, Fuse’s chief strategy officer, asked board members to consider delaying a vote on the MOU, rather than to vote it down. The MOU is part of a larger plan to provide mixed-income housing, recreation and education options in the area through Atlanta-based Purpose Built Communities, Stokes said in a previous interview.
Stokes told commissioners there is an issue with affordable housing in Mobile and some residents displaced from recent plans to revitalize are still waiting on affordable housing options. Fuse, he said, with the help of philanthropy-backed Purpose Built Communities can help fill the gap.
In a phone interview following the meeting, Stokes said the board’s delay hurts these residents looking for an affordable place to live. He mentioned the agency has an extensive waiting list of “thousands” who currently seeking affordable housing options.
“It’s not a secret that we have a crisis in affordable housing,” Stokes said. “The agency has closed three large housing communities, displacing a lot of people. It has not gotten any better.”
Stokes also said he’d discussed the project at length with Hill, who, was on board with the plan at the time.
While a delay could hamper Fuse’s efforts to build affordable housing, Stokes said the charity and its partners would continue looking at rehabilitation projects.
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