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Housing Agency Needs Cleanup

Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority board of commissioners members ought to be aware of basic laws governing them, such as Ohio’s open meetings statute. If they are not, perhaps they should be replaced with men or women who do understand and have at least some regard for the law.

At some time during the past couple of weeks, JMHA board members agreed to hire a new executive director. Exactly how that happened is not known, except by board members.

That is because the hiring was handled in violation of the state’s “sunshine law.” It requires that any action by a public body such as the housing authority be taken during a meeting open to the public. Further, it requires the public be notified well in advance of the times, dates and places of public meetings.

None of that was done. The first anyone outside the board and the woman hired as executive director knew of the action was when someone informed the press, via email, on Tuesday.

This is far from the first controversy involving the authority, which oversees 768 public housing units in Steubenville, Toronto, Tiltonsville and Yorkville. There have been allegations of illegal meetings, improper spending, even harassment of employees, for years.

One board member’s comment a few days ago, that the authority has had six different executive directors during a span of about the same number of years, is telling.

Just last year, a major scandal was resolved by a settlement agreement involving state and federal authorities and former JMHA board member David Hindman. In that agreement, Hindman admitted to “using his position to secure contracts for his business associate …” He was not accused of profiting from the arrangement.

Just weeks after the settlement, JMHA Commissioner Gerald DiLoreto was critical of it, saying that as a result, “more than $750,000 has to be paid back to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development …”

One might have expected prior problems would have prompted authority board members to adhere to the letter of the law scrupulously. Apparently not, to judge by the illegal hiring of a new executive director.

This situation — fiasco might be a better word — needs to be cleaned up, and quickly. If that is not done by local officials, those at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides much of the authority’s funding, may have to get involved.

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