New year, new housing board
By Bob Okon email@example.com January 4, 2013 7:56PM
Mayor Thomas Giarrante
Updated: February 7, 2013 6:37AM
JOLIET — Mayor Thomas Giarrante plans to name a new board at the Housing Authority of Joliet by the end of January.
New board members should find the work interesting because HAJ is in the midst of trying to put itself back into good standing with federal regulators who have labeled the local agency “troubled.”
HAJ is trying to come back from a 2012 year that included the ouster of its chief executive officer after an investigation into allegations made by two female employees and the removal of a chief financial officer after an agency audit was sent to HUD several months past the deadline.
HUD also wants HAJ to improve occupancy rates in housing authority apartments and change policies, including a tighter review on the hiring of relatives.
The problems at HAJ led to Giarrante’s request in late December for resignations from the entire board.
The mayor then said he would have to review the board’s activities before deciding whether he would replace members. But Giarrante said Friday changes are likely.
At least two board commissioners are likely to be gone since the mayor said he’s leaning toward reducing the size of the board from seven members to five. Giarrante, who met with representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said the federal regulators suggested a smaller board would be more effective.
The smaller board is likely to include some new commissioners.
“That looks like its going to happen also,” Giarrante said when asked if he was likely to name new board members, although he did not say how extensive the changes would be.
The housing board has some longtime members, including Chairwoman Susie Barber. Barber, on the board for 17 years and chairwoman since 2009, also is a member of the city council.
Barber has said she’s willing to accept changes to the board, including the possibility of her removal, although she has defended the board’s oversight of the housing authority in spite of the problems identified by HUD and the mayor.
All but one of the other housing commissioners could not be reached or would not comment on the pending shake-up.
Mittchelena Meade, like Barber, said she accepted the possibility of changes on the board but said she was interested in staying.
“I respect the mayor and HUD’s decision to make some changes,” she said. “My main concern is the low-income families and their housing. If I can help, I’m willing.”
Meade and other current commissioners will be called upon to help make some changes before the board shake-up.
HAJ staff already has been revising policies and practices to satisfy HUD as the Joliet agency tries to lift itself out of the “troubled” status is was put under last year. Some of those new policies will be presented to the board at its next meeting on Jan. 16, said Interim Executive Director Michael Simelton.
Simelton said the pending board turnover “has not hindered myself or the staff from moving forward.”
One item that could be ready for the board this month is a new nepotism policy that, Simelton said, requires a more thorough review of new hires when they are related to a current employee. HAJ now has three pairs of employees who are related to each other among its workforce of roughly 50.
Simelton said HUD wanted the new policy after hearing comments from Joliet housing employees during a review of the agency.
“Going forward there has to be a thorough review before we hire individuals who are related to employees,” Simelton said.
HUD also was critical of the Joliet agency for missing deadlines for filing of financial statements, including last year’s audit that was several months late. Housing authority staff also is developing monthly cash flow statements to present to the board.
“In the past, that was not done,” Simelton said.