CHAMPAIGN — Housing Authority of Champaign County Chairwoman Margaret Neil is no longer considered a board member after questions arose last month about how she came to be on the board.
Neil maintains she took her seat legally in 2009 after being properly elected by a resident advisory board, but Champaign County Board Chairman Al Kurtz said a review revealed that there was never an election or announcement of her appointment “that we know of.”
“There was no authority for her to do that because she was never appointed or elected,” Kurtz said.
Neil disputes that finding, saying that no record exists of her election because Housing Authority Executive Director Ed Bland failed to create one. She claims Bland was present at the resident advisory board meeting when she was elected — and even spoke to her at that meeting about the election.
“I was astonished to find out that I’ve been sitting there and there’s no paperwork, and Mr. Bland is the secretary and treasurer of the board,” Neil said. “He should have sent that letter to whoever was the county board chair at that time.”
Bland maintained on Friday afternoon that Neil was not elected.
“There was never an election that took place,” Bland said.
And even if she were elected, Bland said citing an email he received from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Champaign County Board chairman never made the appointment. Whether or not there was an election is irrelevant to her status on the board, he said.
Bland declined to comment when asked how she came to sit on the board without an election or a county board-approved appointment.
“I would rather wait until after our board meeting Thursday (Aug. 22) to answer that question,” Bland said. “I don’t want to put words in anybody’s mouth.”
Neil said the thought seems ridiculous.
“It’s ludicrous to think that I just walked into the board room and sat at the table,” Neil said. “Not only did I sit there for four years, but I became the chair. I do not have that kind of power.”
Neil said she plans to confront Bland about what she believes is his error during the housing board’s next public meeting on Aug. 22.
In the meantime, Neil’s seat on the board is vacant, and the chairmanship duties have fallen to Vice Chairman Grant Henry. Kurtz wrote in a letter to Bland and Neil that he will be accepting applications for the position in accordance with the standard appointment process during the next several weeks.
He said on Friday that it is still unknown what will become of the contracts and agreements Neil signed in her role as the housing board chair. Kurtz said the county is awaiting a legal opinion from the state’s attorney’s office.
“We’re waiting to hear some direction from them,” Kurtz said.
Bland said the amount of documents bearing Neil’s signature is limited. He said the board will discuss how to ratify those documents when they meet next week.
The issue arose last month when former housing board member and activist Terry Townsend said he could find no record of Neil’s appointment.
Townsend has called it a “system breakdown,” and he hopes that local government agencies will consider creating an oversight committee to avoid these kind of mistakes in the future.
Housing board appointments last five years — Neil took her seat in 2009 and has been the housing board chairwoman since September 2012. She said she expected her term to end at the end of this calendar year.
Kurtz said the appointment he makes to fill the vacancy will be effective until July 31, 2015.
Neil believes Bland has wanted to remove her from the board for some time and thinks the executive director “created this whole thing.”
“The negligence is on the housing authority, the housing authority director,” Neil said.