NEW ORLEANS - The long-troubled Housing Authority of New Orleans is preparing to revert to local control 12 years after a federal take-over. But scrutiny and controversy over the city's public housing continues to heat up, the latest coming in the form of a lawsuit filed against Mayor Mitch Landrieu by citywide tenants' group.
The lawsuit was filed after Landrieu rescinded two of seven tenant appointees to a newly formed HANO Board of Commissioners. The two longtime tenants Donna Johnigan of the B.W. Cooper complex and Constance Hayes of the Fischer Community were withdrawn by the city after federal officials raised questions.
Assistant HUD Secretary Sandra Henriquez wrote to the city last November in which she expressed concerns about conflicts of interest with the appointees.
In her letter, Henriquez said Johnigan's conflict arises from her position as an officer on the management corporation that runs Cooper. Johnigan recently rose to become president of the Cooper council.
In the case Hayes, red flags were raised because she works as a HANO contractor in Fischer.
'Our Office of General Counsel has raised regulatory concerns that must be addressed,' Henriquez wrote.
The city addressed those concerns by rescinding the nomination of the two women. That was followed by a lawsuit filed by an organization called the Citywide Tenants Association.
In the suit, the group asks for an injunction against the city to allow the nominees to sit on the board.
Attorney Ike Spears, representing the association, said the two longtime public housing leaders were nominated overwhelmingly by their tenants.
'These are ladies who have the full trust and support of their tenants,' Spears said. 'I think the last thing we want to do is go against the will of our residents.'
Spears said that since filing the lawsuit, he has reached out to the city in an attempt to hammer out a compromise.
'We're negotiating to try and resolve these conflicts and get these ladies appointed,' Spears said.
The flare-up comes as the city prepares to take the final steps to regain control of its public housing authority after decades of corruption, dysfunction and, finally, federal takeover.
HANO, in receivership since 2002, began the transition to local control when the most recent appointed caretaker, David Gilmore, stepped down in April. A pair of temporary HUD appointees will run HANO until a board can be seated and a new permanent HANO is chief selected.
Recent scrutiny by authorities led to a shakeup of the NOPD security detail at the Guste High-Rise housing complex.
Last month, two NOPD officers who worked lucrative details at Guste were sentenced to 18-month federal month prison sentences.
Ex-NOPD officers Quincy Jones, 33, and Rafael Dobard, 39, pleaded guilty to payroll fraud for collecting money for working the off-duty details at the complex at the same time they were on the clock for the NOPD. The pair also admitted stealing money that was supposed to go to informants.
As the criminal case was winding down, the longtime NOPD liaison to Guste, Brian Pollard, was transferred out of that position. Despite multiple citizen complaints against Pollard by Guste residents over the years, he continued to as the Guste liaison as well as the off-duty security detail.