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Little Rock public housing board preps for removal vote by acquiring legal counsel

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Little Rock public housing board preps for removal vote by acquiring legal counsel

Sep 21, 2023 | 6:13 pm ET
By Antoinette Grajeda
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Little Rock public housing board preps for removal vote by acquiring legal counsel
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Attorney Sylvester Smith addresses the Metropolitan Housing Alliance during a meeting on Sept. 21, 2023. (Screengrab from livestream)

Little Rock’s federally-funded public housing authority board voted Thursday to allow the agency’s lawyer to represent commissioners who want counsel ahead of a likely vote by city government to remove them next week. 

The attorney also hinted at potential litigation against the city if members of the housing authority board are removed from office.

Kerry Wright was the only member of Metropolitan Housing Alliance’s five-member board to vote against the motion. Commissioner Branndii Peterson was not present. 

MHA is under scrutiny after receiving a “troubled” designation from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in an August report. MHA is Arkansas’ largest federally-funded public housing agency and provides rental assistance to about 8,000 low-income people.

Last week, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. scheduled a public hearing for Sept. 26, when the city Board of Directors will vote on whether to remove board chair Lee Lindsey, Leta Anthony and Wright, who refused to resign at the mayor’s request, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Peterson will step down at the end of the month, while Commissioner Louis Jackson said in August that he would resign in the near future. 

The board voted Thursday to authorize attorney Sylvester Smith to represent them in next week’s proceedings as well as in subsequent filings that may result from Tuesday’s vote.

“There’s not a lot of legal guidance for us on this issue. This statute that the city’s employed to remove you is very rarely used,” Smith said. “There’s one case that really is the guiding light on that, and that case is about 40 years old. And so if things don’t go the way that you want on Tuesday, I’d like to be immediately authorized to start the petition for judicial review.”

The MHA board agreed on Sept. 6 to provide a wide range of documents to a local auditing firm to obtain a qualified audit in an effort to improve its standing with HUD.

“Troubled” Little Rock public housing agency plans to address local and federal officials’ concerns

The accounting firm FORVIS, formerly BKD, has been responsible since 2012 for conducting the annual audit of MHA that HUD requires of all public housing agencies. 

The firm still has not completed the fiscal year 2019 audit. Anthony said last month that FORVIS was responsible for an 18-month delay, but the firm sent a letter to the board claiming a HUD investigation into allegations of board misconduct put the audit on hold.

Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter made a verbal Arkansas Freedom of Information Act request at Thursday’s meeting for copies of financial records dating back to 2019 from MHA and the Central Arkansas Housing Corporation.

CAHC is a not-for-profit organization incorporated in 2006 that was created by the Housing Authority of the City of Little Rock to facilitate the development, financing and construction of residential housing in the area, according to MHA’s website.

Carpenter said CAHC is set up as a member of MHA in its bylaws and because he’s seen documentation that CAHC received MHA funds, that triggers the FOIA. 

Carpenter noted he did not expect to receive all the information within three working days as required by law, but his office would like a copy of the data because they’re working with it as well.