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Little Rock housing agency's board chief seeks federal review of claims

by Tess Vrbin | June 29, 2021 at 7:06 a.m.
FILE - Kenyon Lowe, right, Metropolitan Housing Authority Commission chairman, calls for a vote, Thursday July 2, 2020, during a commission meeting in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

The head of the governing board for Little Rock's public housing authority requested a federal investigation Monday, a week after the board was accused of "gross misconduct."

Metropolitan Housing Alliance board of commissioners Chairman Kenyon Lowe's letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was a response to alliance Executive Director Nadine Jarmon's 161-page memo to the federal agency and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. on Wednesday.

Jarmon requested the removal of the entire board and alleged a wide range of misconduct, including financial mismanagement and excessive involvement in day-to-day agency operations.

Lowe asked to join area Housing and Urban Development officials in a "request for an OIG investigation," referring to the federal department's office of inspector general.

He said last week that Jarmon's allegations against him and the board were "noise" and "conjecture," but he said in an interview Monday that the board would welcome an investigation "just to set the record straight."

"Right now you just have accusations, and anybody can accuse anybody of anything," Lowe said.

The allegations include unnecessary spending, the sidestepping of necessary federal approvals, and conflicts of interest for commissioners and parties involved in transactions with the housing authority. Jarmon submitted a collection of emails, bank statements, board minutes, board resolutions and other documents as evidence.

The five-member board of commissioners is self-appointing, subject to approval by the Little Rock Board of Directors and mayor, but the governing authority over the housing agency is the federal department, not the city, Scott said last week.

A regional spokesperson said last week that the department is examining Jarmon's complaint and supporting documents. The agency will try to substantiate the claims before initiating an investigation, which could include the inspector general's office, the spokesperson said.

This made Lowe's request moot, Jarmon said Monday. She called it a possible "diversionary tactic."

"I don't understand what his request is, because [I] already filed a complaint, so now it looks like it's after the fact," Jarmon said. "I don't understand what he's trying to accomplish."

Jarmon said Lowe has contacted several members of her staff since she filed her complaint, but they have not responded because "it's not protocol." Lowe has not reached out to her directly, she said.

Jarmon's letter last week marked the latest episode of strife between the Metropolitan Housing Alliance's chief executive and its board. The agency has seen four directors in the past three years. Anthony Snell, the executive director before Jarmon, left the post in July, writing in his resignation letter that the board had harmed and micromanaged the agency.

Lowe said in his Monday email to the regional Housing and Urban Development office that the board tried to request an inspector general's investigation sooner but had trouble contacting the right people because of the regional headquarters changing locations after the federal department changed its regional boundaries.

He told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the board sought an investigation into "some operational things" before Jarmon filed her complaint. He declined to elaborate, saying those issues would be part of the investigation.

"In view of the Arkansas Democrat Newspaper article of June 25, 2021, pertaining to accusation of misconduct and mismanagement on the part of the present Board of Commissioners, on behalf of the Board of Commissioners, I am requesting to join you in a request for an OIG investigation," Lowe wrote Monday.

The timeline for a potential investigation would depend on both the case and the complexity, said Chuck Jones, a senior adviser for operations and external affairs at the federal department's Office of Inspector General. If any findings resulted in a court case, then U.S. attorneys would be the prosecutors.

If the inspector general's office looks into the Metropolitan Housing Alliance, it will be the second time in less than three years. An April 2019 audit found that the housing authority did not follow the rules in its efforts to convert nine public housing properties to a voucher program.

A group of anonymous Metropolitan Housing Alliance employees sent a letter to the mayor's office in June 2020 with the same request to remove the board of commissioners.

That letter was not sent to federal housing authorities, and Scott said last week that it lacked supporting documentation, making it difficult to investigate.

After receiving the letter last year, Scott said he would move to dissolve the board of commissioners, but it remains in place.

Scott's office did not respond to questions Monday.

Print Headline: Little Rock housing agency's board chief seeks federal review of claims

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