Mobile Housing Board members kept their public comments positive Wednesday morning, two days after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General dropped a scathing report questioning the appearance of a conflict of interest in a multi-million-dollar contract award, and alleging financial mismanagement.
However, comments might’ve been private and less positive, if a motion to go into executive session had been granted.
Commissioner Norman Hill moved that the board hold an executive session to allow himself and other members to comment on “concerns” over the report. After being told by board attorney Raymond Bell that he would have to review the issue and deem it worthy of an executive session, Hill told his fellow commissioners it involved discussing good name and character. He then passed a note to Bell, who announced that the subject was worthy of an executive session. An executive session would have allowed the board to close its meeting to discuss the topic.
Although Hill and MHB Chairwoman Kimberly Pettway voted to go into executive session, Commissioner Joyce Freeman voted against it and Commissioner Melvin Clark abstained. The motion failed due to lack of a quorum.
The board has been at four members since former Chairman Don Langham resigned from the board effective June 1. Mayor Sandy Stimpson, who has sole appointing authority to the board by state law, recently named Reid Cummings to fill the seat. Cummings was officially sworn in later on Monday and was unavailable for the vote.
In the public meeting, members largely discussed moving forward after the report’s release.
“Any time an audit is done, you brace yourself for what comes next,” Pettway said. “We’ll take this as an opportunity to forward ….”
Pettway acknowledge the concerns in her comments, but being new to the board, she said she would refrain from making any more comments.
“I’m happy we’re in a position to move forward,” she said. “I think it’s irresponsible for me to comment on things that happened before I got here.”
In the report, OIG claims MHB did not put enough of its funds toward rehabilitating its housing stock, which led to an increased number of families on its waiting list. MHB Executive Director Dwayne Vaughn told commissioners they disagree with that assessment, saying that the authority believed it was inappropriate to use the funds fixing up units it felt should be demolished.
He added that 90 percent of MHB’s vacancies are in complexes it plans to redevelop, including Roger Williams Homes, Josephine Allen Homes and Thomas James Place. Commissioner Melvin Clark blamed the report on what he perceived as a misunderstanding.
“It seems as though someone is misunderstanding what we’re doing,” Clark said. Later on, he added “we’re going to move forward instead of getting distracted and threatened.”
The report also questioned MHB’s assertion that its nonprofit arm, Mobile Development Enterprises, was actually a separate entity, as the board has claimed in the past. MDE, the report states, shares a bank account and board members with MHB. The report also questions whether there was a conflict of interest present when the half-brother of State Rep. Adline Clarke was awarded work with MHB worth $1.2 million in federal funds. Clarke serves as a vice president with MDE. The report notes that the company, Superior Masonry, received more than $3.6 million in total payments from MHB in a four-year span between 2011 and 2015. Vaughn said that while Superior Masonry still has a contract with MHB, they haven’t been doing work recently because of the report.
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