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Little Rock’s public housing agency fills two remaining board seats, pending city approval

After months of conflict at the agency, the public housing board appoit
Tess Virbin
Arkansas Advocate
After months of conflict at the agency, the public housing board appoints two more positions.

Little Rock’s embattled public housing agency is expected to have a full governing board next week with the approval of the city board of directors.

The board of the Housing Authority of the City of Little Rock, known as the Metropolitan Housing Alliance, chose attorney and engineer Monty Baugh to fill one seat at a special-call meeting Wednesday. The board held a different special-call meeting Feb. 21 to recommend the appointment of Stacie Brown, a resident of the Sunset Terrace housing complex, to the remaining slot.

MHA has been operating with two of the five seats vacant on its board of commissioners since September, when six of the city’s 10 directors voted to remove Leta Anthony and Lee Lindsey from the board.

Chairman Kerry Wright said Baugh’s experience as an attorney should benefit the board.

“Even though we have the city attorney [Tom Carpenter] representing us, we need somebody on the board with legal experience and leadership,” Wright said after Wednesday’s meeting.
Upon confirmation Tuesday from the city board, MHA will have a completely different set of board members than it did a year ago. Anthony and Lindsey’s seats remained vacant for months under a temporary restraining order from Pulaski County Circuit Court after they sued to seek reinstatement, but a judge lifted the restraining order in January and ruled against the plaintiffs again earlier this month.

The removal of Anthony and Lindsey came after years of raised alarms. Former MHA employees accused the board of commissioners of misconduct in 2020 and 2021, and several reports from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the past few years have pointed out red flags in MHA’s financial and management practices.

After two of these HUD reports became public in August and September 2023, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. asked the entire housing board to resign. Commissioner Branndii Peterson resigned upon request, and Commissioner Louis Jackson had already said he planned to resign; Lindsey, Anthony and Wright all refused.

The city directors voted to keep Wright on the board at September’s removal hearing. They had confirmed him in March after declining to give former board chairman Kenyon Lowe a third five-year term.

Wright became board chairman while he was briefly the board’s only member. In October, the city directors picked Bruce James and Karen Buchanan from a pool of 12 applicants to fill the MHA board seats vacated by Jackson and Peterson.

Moving forward

Anthony and Lindsey claimed in their lawsuit against the city and Scott that the directors had breached their due process rights. Anthony called the removal hearing “a present-day lynching” at a circuit court hearing Oct. 31.

On Feb. 5, Circuit Judge Cara Connors denied the plaintiffs’ motion to block the city from appointing new commissioners. Connors wrote in her ruling that the city had supported its case while the plaintiffs’ attorney, Sylvester Smith, failed to meet multiple response deadlines and did not prove the merit of their case.

Public housing authority boards are required by federal law to have one member who lives in subsidized housing. Jackson fulfilled this requirement until he announced in August that he would step down because he no longer received housing aid, though he participated in a September board meeting.

Brown, the Sunset Terrace resident, will now fulfill this requirement. She has advocated for public housing recipients before the MHA board in the past. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the MHA board chose Baugh from the remaining 10 candidates that applied for the open seats last fall.

Baugh wrote in his application that he has paid attention to reports of MHA’s administrative troubles and is “disappointed” by former commissioners’ “self-dealing.”

“I am also particularly concerned that the commissioners acted to terminate the employment of a recent director who, by outward indications, performed her job responsibly and refused to abide [by] the commissioners’ attempts to force cooperation with their self-interested conduct,” Baugh wrote.

He was referring to former MHA executive director Nadine Jarmon, whom the board suspended and later fired in 2021 after she sent a 161-page memo to HUD and Scott alleging widespread misconduct by the board.

Jarmon’s complaint created one of multiple delays to the completion of a 2019 financial audit of MHA. HUD requires multiple audits and has been several years behind, leading to some of the federal agency’s concerns about the previous board’s behavior.

Wright, James and Buchanan voted in October to dissolve the five-member board of MHA’s nonprofit arm, the Central Arkansas Housing Corporation (CAHC), in an attempt to secure some of the documents required for the audit. Anthony, Lindsey, Lowe and Peterson were all on the CAHC board.

FBI and other law enforcement agents searched CAHC’s offices in January, seeking documents to explain transfers of money between MHA and the nonprofit.

Tess Vrbin is a reporter with the nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization Arkansas Advocate. It is part of the States Newsroom which is supported by grants and a coalition of readers and donors.