Another Joliet housing commissioner quits
By Bob Okon firstname.lastname@example.org August 14, 2013 9:16PM
Updated: September 17, 2013 8:05AM
There was more turnover at the Housing Authority of Joliet on Wednesday as a commissioner resigned at the urging of a federal agency, leaving the authority board with five members, which will be its new size.
Ralph Bias’ departure follows last week’s resignation of board chairwoman Susie Barber. The authority board also elected a new chairman, Roger Powell Sr.
And Mayor Thomas Giarrante indicated he will not replace Bias and Barber at the request of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The board is taking a closer look at its finances and plans to hire a firm to do a forensic audit after last week’s arrest of the authority’s chief financial officer for allegedly embezzling nearly $200,000 over three years from the Chicago Housing Authority while she worked for a CHA contractor.
“We’re going to move on,” Powell said when asked about the recent turmoil at the agency, which runs public housing in Joliet. “I think we have a lot of good people.”
Powell and Bias were named to the housing authority board in February by Giarrante. The mayor had asked for the resignations of all seven commissioners in the wake of a critical report from HUD, which regulates and funds the authority.
Bias joined the board with conditional approval from HUD, which wanted him to discontinue being a landlord for federally subsidized Section 8 housing.
The Joliet Housing Authority also oversees Section 8 rentals, but Bias dealt with the conflict of interest by not voting on Section 8 matters.
In resigning Wednesday, Bias said it did not make sense for him to comply with what he described as HUD now insisting that he give up his income from Section 8 housing to stay on the board.
“It is my decision to leave this board,” he said. “It is not a paid board, and I cannot see myself taking revenue out of my pocket just to sit here.”
But a letter distributed by Giarrante at the board meeting indicated that a HUD official had urged the mayor to remove Bias because he had violated the conditions on which his appointment was approved by HUD.
The letter to Giarrante from Steven Meiss, director of HUD’s Illinois State Office of Public Housing, says Bias had renewed eight rental contracts with the housing authority despite a condition of his appointment that he not do so.
The lease renewals are a “violation of the conditions of the waiver of conflict of interest for Mr. Bias. Based on this information, our office is asking for you to reconsider the appointment of Mr. Ralph Bias” to the authority board, the letter says.
Bias and Giarrante, however, said it was not their understanding at the time of his appointment that HUD wanted Bias to stop renewing leases with tenants. Giarrante said Bias was to make a “concerted effort” to sell the apartment buildings, but there was no time deadline.
“Mr. Bias did a great job,” he said. “He asked some tough questions. He was knowledgeable because he is a Section 8 landlord.”
Despite the housing agency’s troubles, the letter urging Bias’ removal from the board commends the housing authority for correcting problems that HUD reported last year and says Meiss’ office “believes the Housing Authority of Joliet to be moving in a positive direction.”
Meiss also suggests in the letter that the authority board be limited to five members because of the “difficulty of finding volunteers that are well versed in our programs.”
Giarrante said he will comply with that request. The mayor appoints commissioners to the board with the approval of the city council.
Commissioner Lorraine Guerrero, who was elected vice chair of the board on Wednesday, announced that the authority would hire an outside firm to perform a forensic audit.
Guerrero did not explain why, but commissioners acknowledged later that they believe it’s needed after the arrest of Chief Financial Officer Charlene Potts, who has been dismissed.
Authority officials have said there is no indication that Potts misused any money at the Housing Authority of Joliet.