Housing Authority Considers Next Steps
By Sean Powers
The Housing Authority of Champaign County is figuring out its next steps after it was revealed this summer that one of its former members was not actually serving on the board.
Margaret Neil was supposedly appointed to the board in 2009, but there is no record of that happening. Neil blames Housing Authority Executive Director Ed Bland for failing to send the proper documentation of her appointment to the Champaign County Board. She later went on to become board chair, casting votes, signing resolutions, and even signing one contract.
“Whether I was appointed or elected is irrelevant,” Neil told commissioners. “But what is relevant today is that Mr. Bland didn’t send the paperwork.”
“This whole situation has caused a lot of turmoil,” said Grant Henry, the vice chairman of the housing authority board. “It’s caused a lot of unrest. Somebody has to take the helm at a certain point when you reach critical crisis. I think this is a critical crisis.”
Bland declined to answer questions after the meeting, but during public comment Charles Morton, who is director of housing operations, defended Bland’s performance.
“Mr. Bland is not perfect, no one is,” Morton stated. “He is knowledgeable, ethical, hard worker, focused, and committed to leading the housing authority a great deal better than it was when he came.”
“Staff has always been transparent in that we report our activities to the board,” Morton later noted. “When board members attack the executive director for lack of transparency, it is an attack on the character and integrity of the staff. This needs to stop.”
Champaign-Urbana Tenant Union Director Esther Patt, who previously served on the Urbana City Council, said she wants to hear someone take accountability for any slipup in Neil’s appointment.
“I do hope you’ll fix the error,” Patt said. “I assume the intention is to fix the error or there would have been some kind of proper and appropriate kind of sendoff to her if in fact she were leaving the board forever.”
“Whatever you decide,” Patt added. “I may agree with it or disagree with it, but do not be embarrassed to do your job.”
After public comment, board members went into closed session, but did not indicate what they will do in resolving the situation or filling the open board seat left vacant by Neil’s recent departure. Neil has said she may apply to be a commissioner again.
Meanwhile, a request for comment from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development about whether the agency will conduct an inquiry was not immediately returned.