The executive director of the Mobile Housing Board’s (MHB) Board of Commissioners is warning of a coming showdown with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) over the agency’s use of the Mobile County Personnel Board.
MHB’s Michael Pierce told Lagniappe a funding cut is one of the mechanisms the federal agency could use to punish the local housing authority if it doesn’t stop using the merit system by the middle of the summer. The agency could also put MHB under federal control, he said.
“There are a number of things they can do,” Pierce said. “Taking our funding or placing the agency in receivership is some of what they can do.”
At issue for HUD with the personnel board, Pierce said, is its difficulty to “recruit public housing professionals” through the merit system.
“It’s quite cumbersome and the agency doesn’t control its hiring,” he said. “We have to report to an uninterested third party for human resources. It’s difficult to recruit and they are aware of that.”
Pierce called the housing authority’s use of the personnel board an “anomaly,” as other agencies in the state aren’t required to use a third party for hiring.
The amendment that placed MHB into the merit system was a local legislative action and Pierce has called on the local legislative delegation to fix the problem by the end of June or the housing authority could face HUD punishment. However, with just a few voting days left in the 2021 session, even Pierce admits the housing authority is not in a favorable position.
“We’re not in a good spot,” he said. “We’re unable to even get a sponsor for a bill.”
It appears legislators are skeptical of some of Pierce’s claims. Rep. Sam Jones, D-Mobile, said Pierce has only shown lawmakers snippets of the letter sent to MHB from HUD, even though some have asked for the entire correspondence.
“I’m not even sure what HUD said,” Jones said. “He only gave us excerpts from the letter.”
Also, Pierce has not offered up any proposed legislation, Jones said, but has told lawmakers his feelings instead.
“There was no proposal,” Jones said. “He only gave us his desire.”
Also at issue for local lawmakers, Jones said, was Pierce’s unwillingness to share plans for the property where the R.V. Taylor and Thomas James Place housing communities are currently located. MHB has plans to move residents out of those units and demolish the structures. Pierce has repeatedly floated the idea of selling the land once it’s vacant. However, when lawmakers asked Pierce about the plans, Jones said, they were told it was “confidential.”
“How can it be confidential when it’s public land?” Jones asked. “I think you have a big problem when you tell another public official you can’t tell them what you’re going to do.”
Jones said he’s also a proponent of the merit system as it was put in place to prevent the “spoils system.”
“My question is, why can’t [the personnel board] deliver what they want?” Jones said. “We’ve gotten no answers.”
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