Housing authority board asks newest member not to vote

Housing authority board asks newest member not to vote

CHAMPAIGN — In a new twist Thursday, the Housing Authority of Champaign County's board requested that its newest member participate in meetings but not in votes.

That request was approved by Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin, who appointed Danielle Chynoweth to the board, before Chynoweth attended her first housing authority meeting as a board member Thursday.

Board Chairman Larry Lewis said the request is a cautious one, due to pending legal decisions regarding Chynoweth's seat. He noted that he doesn't want Chynoweth to participate in votes only to have a third party declare them null and void.

The housing authority's meeting room in downtown Champaign was filled to the brim for Chynoweth's first board appearance, with several attendees forced to stand.

The hourlong meeting ended with several Chynoweth supporters offering public comments of concern about the rocky start she has had with the board. Lewis maintained that the complications are legal, not personal.

"There was no character assassination and this isn't a political issue," Lewis said about Chynoweth.

Not everyone in the audience was convinced.

"I don't believe this isn't political because of the secret meeting," said University of Illinois graduate student Harry Mickalide, referring to a special board meeting in January that Chynoweth said she wasn't notified of and didn't attend.

Board representatives have said they've been making choices to comply with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the agency they report to and receive federal tax money from. They've said they fear that not complying with HUD could impact that funding.

Despite that, some are asking the housing authority to rethink its level of transparency and the way it interacts with the public.

"I'm the former recipient of a housing-choice voucher. ... I'm very grateful for it," Urbana resident Robin Arbiter told the board. "Being able to trust you is very important. ... I'm asking for openness and a little bit less defensiveness so there's a culture of approach."

The incident

Marlin's appointment of Chynoweth was approved by the Urbana City Council on Dec. 18. Chynoweth is the supervisor of Cunningham Township, which doesn't interfere with board eligibility.

On Jan. 31, Lewis sent a letter to Marlin on behalf of the board stating that Chynoweth shouldn't serve because of a property-tax dispute between the housing authority and the township she supervises.

The dispute stems from an August 2016 decision by the Cunningham Township board, which is composed of the same people who sit on the Urbana City Council. The board decided to formally intervene in a housing authority application for a property-tax exemption.

The application, sent to the Illinois Department of Revenue, is for the Hamilton on the Park low-income tax-credit housing project in Urbana. Chynoweth said she had no hand in the township board's decision.

Attached with Lewis' letter was a brief statement from Daniel Sherrod with HUD's Chicago office saying that the property-tax dispute qualifies as a conflict of interest for Chynoweth.

The letter's date of Jan. 31 was the day after the board's special meeting — held without Chynoweth's knowledge or attendance — where David Northern was appointed as the housing authority's new director. Shortly after that, Marlin publicly criticized the special meeting and called for the housing authority to be more transparent. She went on to reject Lewis' letter and say Chynoweth should remain on the board.

What's next

Cindi Herrera, the authority's interim director until Northern starts this spring, said HUD's office of general council in Washington, D.C., will provide the department's final opinion on whether Chynoweth should join the board as a full-fledged voting member. It's unknown when that decision will come, she said.

The property-tax application intervention is still pending before the Illinois Department of Revenue. Once that's decided, Marlin said, Chynoweth ought to be seated.

"If they decide yes or no, either way, the potential conflict of interest goes away, because there's no more intervention," she said.

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rsp wrote on February 23, 2018 at 9:02 am

Many people serve on boards with conflicts, it just means they cannot vote on those issues. It does not always mean those people can't serve. Otherwise you would end up with very few people who would be eligible.

Did they do proper notice of that meeting? If not any actions taken may not be valid.