HUD Takeover

HUD co-administrator Tawanda Macon holds up papers before a Feb. 23 meeting in Cairo.

CAIRO — The vote by the previous members of the Alexander County Housing Authority board to hire Sesser Mayor Jason Ashmore as its executive director on Jan. 19 was invalidated Wednesday at the agency's first board meeting since federal officials announced it had seized control of the local public housing entity. 

Though hired under questionable circumstances, Ashmore continued to report to work for about six weeks — until Feb. 29 — at which time officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development informed him that he was not the executive director of the agency.

HUD took over the agency on Feb. 22.

Ashmore has never been paid for the time he continued to report to work. He is seeking payment, but it is unclear if federal officials plan to issue him a check. 

Regarding the contentious meeting where he was hired, acknowledgement of that came briefly under the agenda item on Wednesday titled: “Reading and approval of the minutes of the previous meeting.”

“Since no original, signed meting minutes were presented from the meeting convened on Jan. 19, 2016, given that there are no official or original signed documents on record, the current board is unable to take action on approving the minutes,” Towanda Macon said at the meeting. Macon is a co-administrator of the HUD Recovery Team assigned to Cairo, and a member of its new two-person board. 

“If any actions were taken at the meeting, they have been invalidated because it (the meeting) was a violation of Illinois’ Open Meetings Act as attested by the housing authority’s counsel,” she continued.

After the Jan. 19 meeting, The Southern Illinoisan and a citizen who was at the meeting filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Public Access Bureau alleging the meeting violated the law when citizens in attendance were denied the right to address the board. The Open Meetings Act requires boards set aside time for public comment at all meetings. On behalf of the board, the ACHA’s attorney, Rick Abell, responded to the Attorney General's Office that the board was not aware the rule applied to special meetings, and called it a “simple mistake” that would be corrected moving forward.

But adding to the complications, the previous board had hired Ashmore without the approval of HUD’s Fair Housing director in Chicago, as was required by a compliance agreement. And no contract was ever approved for Ashmore, nor other terms of employment agreed upon, as the previous board never met again.

Macon said no decisions have been made as to what, if any, payment Ashmore will receive. In a text message, Ashmore said he was told upon his dismissal that he would be paid $1,200. Ashmore said he countered with a request for $7,500. Ashmore said he “was hired and I worked therefore I am entitled to some compensation.” 

"The last thing the ACHA needs is an unfair labor practice claim filed against them," he added. "I have moved on and they need to also and start working for the tenants like they promised." 

Ashmore further criticized HUD officials, saying he felt it was “unfortunate” that “so much time is being spent on me by HUD officials instead of the tenants.” The portion of Wednesday’s meeting that addressed the previous meetings minutes in question lasted about 30 seconds. The rest of the meeting was dedicated to approving a contract for an emergency repair, and discussing other ongoing efforts to improve public housing conditions in Alexander County. 

But Ashmore said that from what he’s read in the media and in statements from public officials, “it saddens me that little work has been done.” Ashmore said that under his direction, many projects were close to being executed.

molly.parker@theouthern.com

618-351-5079

On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​

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Molly Parker is general assignment and investigative projects reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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