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OPINION | NWA EDITORIAL: Fayetteville's elected officials go quiet on public housing tensions

Council mum on Housing Authority questions by NWA Democrat-Gazette | October 5, 2021 at 7:00 a.m.

Melissa Terry, chairperson of the Fayetteville Housing Authority, stood last week before the City Council, having been invited there by a council member, Sonia Gutierrez of Ward 1.

Gutierrez has taken it upon herself to start meeting monthly with Terry over the authority's recent rocky history, which includes a cavalcade of executive resignations and, as Terry explained, too many staff vacancies to keep the authority's day-to-day operations from being heavy strain on employees still doing the work.

Credit Terry for showing up to a City Council that handpicked her a few years back to join the Housing Authority's five-member, usually self-appointing board. The City Council doesn't control how this agency goes about its business of operating public housing subsidized by federal Housing and Urban Development funding, but it could have some influence.

The Housing Authority has become a big mess, with something we recently referred to as a "darkening cloud" hanging over its efforts. But you know how those editorial headlines can be dramatic, right?

For her part, Terry opened her visit to the lectern at City Hall by declaring the last eight 18 months as "stormy" -- po-tay-to/po-tah-to -- in general because of covid but also within the Housing Authority itself. She cited a 70 percent turnover rate in staff in the last year, but noted that the board only hires the executive director (despite complaints amid the resignations that board members have crossed that line from time to time).

Terry went on to offer her view that the Housing Authority is "getting into a more stable place," having hired consultants to achieve just such a state. The board, she said, wants "all our oars in the water" but also everyone pulling in the same direction. She asked the City Council to be "a steady hand" in "holding the line" while the authority's board gets the situation straightened out.

And then -- speaking of the dramatic -- it was time for the Fayetteville's elected City Council members to ask questions. Finally the public would hear a robust conversation about local concerns for the way things have been going at the Housing Authority. A deeper understanding of why resigned staff members cited a hostile work environment, in some cases blaming board members. And how is all the turmoil helping the people that agency is there to help?

Any questions, Mayor Lioneld Jordan asked.

And a City Council -- one that can debate for two hours about whether outdoor drinkers downtown should wear a bracelet or have a stamp on their hands -- had nothing. Nada. Zilch.

If the mics had been sensitive enough, they might have picked up the chirping of crickets.

Does a lack of questions reflect an indifference about the turmoil in the local public housing system? Is it that they believe everything's under control, despite suggestions to the contrary? Is a public discussion not worth the trouble?

Maybe we're just being dramatic.

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What’s the point?

When it came time to question a leader of the Fayetteville Housing Authority, the City Council went against type and stayed quiet.


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