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Two Little Rock Housing Authority board members terminated

The Little Rock Board of Directors on Tuesday voted to delay deciding how to spend most of the federal money the city received as part of the American Rescue Plan.
Brian Chilson
Arkansas Times
By a vote of 6-2, two members of the Metropolitan Housing Alliance were terminated Tuesday.

Two board members of the Little Rock Housing Authority, also known as the Metropolitan Housing Alliance (MHA), have been fired.

The state-funded group works to provide housing assistance to low-income people. Earlier this month, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. asked all five board members to step down. In letters, Scott echoed complaints against the MHA that have gone back years. He said the MHA failed to meet their “statutory, regulatory and fiduciary obligations.” Among the allegations, is hundreds of thousands of MHA dollars being missing or unaccounted for.

The vote was held at a board meeting Tuesday. Lee Lindsey, whose term expires at the end of the month, was removed from the board along with Leta Anthony. The city Board of Directors voted 6-2 in favor of removing both members.

Meanwhile, board member Kerry Wright maintained his position by a unanimous vote.

History of issues at the MHA

The MHA was the subject of a scathing report on Sept. 6, 2023 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The report said the MHA lacks a “reliable audit trail.”

“There is insufficient documentation to demonstrate compliance with the applicable regulatory and policy requirements,” the report said.

HUD also alleged hundreds of thousands of dollars in missing or misappropriated funds. The report was “unable to determine” with “100% accuracy” what happened to the missing money.

These complaints echo claims made by Nadine Jarmon. She was hired in 2020 and worked as an interim executive director of the Housing Alliance, and served in the position for 2 years.

In June 2021, Jarmon sent 161-page whistleblower report to the mayor detailing several allegations against the MHA. These include nepotism in hiring, reams of unaccounted-for dollars, lack of audits and inappropriate behavior among board members. She described allegations of board members viewing pornography at work, spending several thousands of city dollars on expensive laptops and holding groundbreaking events for development projects that were in debt.

Jarmon said the MHA was in constant violation of its mission to “provide safe, quality, affordable housing.” And that the actions of the MHA will “increase the likelihood of low-income families living in substandard housing at rents beyond their ability to pay.”

After the report was sent to the mayor, she was fired by a unanimous vote by the board members of the MHA, who she is now suing. The MHA previously settled a lawsuit from Dana Arnette who worked as the deputy executive director of the MHA, after she filed a whistleblower complaint.

Vote to terminate members of the MHA

At the Tuesday City Board meeting, the terminated members of the housing board were represented by attorney Sylvester Smith. He claimed his clients are being subjected to an “inquisition.” The hearing was in no way a criminal matter, but Smith felt the city Board of Directors should be required to present evidence of the MHA board members' guilt, in a way similar to a criminal trial.

“We are still in the window of time where we can refute and disprove those allegations,” he said.

He acknowledged that the MHA had some problems. For example, he said the MHA did not have correct audited financial statements, but said this was due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and whistleblower complaints like the ones made by Jarmon. He claims her report stymied the MHA’s ability to make audited reports.

He said the HUD report alleging hundreds of thousands of missing dollars used the word “potential” too much, and that board members were being blamed for mistakes made by lower-level employees.

He wanted terminated board members to be able to retain their positions until new board members replaced them.

After City Attorney Tom Carpenter read off the problems HUD listed about the MHA, Smith responded. He said the MHA was working to address problems by sending one board member to training and buying new software.

Before he was fired, Lee Lindsey stood before the city Board of Directors and began to speak.

“I want our story to be heard,” he said, before Mayor Frank Scott Jr. cut him off.

City Directors Ken Richardson and Andrea Lewis voted against terminating Wright, Lindsey, and Anthony. Six city directors voted to remove Lindsey and Anthony— the exact amount needed for a dismissal.

“I haven't heard enough specifics,” Lewis said. She asked City Attorney Tom Carpenter why Lindsey and Anthony were being removed and Wright wasn't.

Carpenter explained that Wright was not employed long enough for him to be responsible for the financial problems, even though the Mayor had asked Wright to resign earlier in the month.

Richardson felt the terminations were racially motivated, saying there was a “complexion for the connection.” City Director Virgil Miller disagreed.

“I don't want this to be a race thing,” he said. “This should not be couched in that.” The conversation was cut of by other board members motioning to adjourn the meeting.

Lindsey and Anthony's terminations are immediate. Remaining board members Branndii Peterson and Louis Jackson have either announced their resignation or have said they will not seek another term.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.