Housing Authority chair wasn't reappointed when term ended

Housing Authority chair wasn't reappointed when term ended

CHAMPAIGN — County officials are working to solve a membership problem after questions have arisen around the Housing Authority of Champaign County chairwoman's appointment to the agency's board.

Margaret Neil has been a housing board member since 2009 and its chairwoman since last September. She initially assumed her position as the housing authority's resident representative upon the resignation of her predecessor.

Housing board appointments last five years, and the unexpired term Neil had assumed was set to end in 2010. At that point, she would need to have been reappointed by the Champaign County Board chairman or re-elected by a resident advisory board — and according to those who have investigated the situation, that never happened.

The housing board chair signs contracts and other official documents executed by the housing agency. Without a legal appointment, former housing board member Terry Townsend worries all the documents Neil signed are invalid.

"We immediately issued an investigation," upon hearing of the membership question, said Champaign County Board Chairman Al Kurtz. Officials are "going through past records and minutes" to determine how Neil has come to be the county's housing chair without an appointment.

County officials are also working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, under which the local housing authority ultimately functions, to see what remedies might be available.

Kurtz said he hopes he can offer Neil for reappointment to the board, retroactive to 2010.

"I would like to do it retroactive to 2010 because of everything she's signed," Kurtz said.

No one is debating Neil's effectiveness on the board, Townsend said.

"By all accounts, Ms. Neil is doing a good job and will be appointed to an as-yet-to-be-determined term," he said.

It does, however, indicate a "system breakdown, total and complete," Townsend said.

Neil has been sitting as a board member for three years and voting on housing authority business without any apparent authority to do so, he said.

Townsend hopes to encourage the three local government units which send members to the housing board — the Champaign and Urbana city councils and the Champaign County Board — will consider a government oversight committee to watch for just these kinds of mistakes.

"When local government units began appointing individuals to the HACC board of commissioners, they also assumed responsibility for public housing in this community, like it or not," Townsend said.

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