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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — The Little Rock Housing Authority office is shown in this 2019 file photo. - Photo by Gavin Lesnick

A significant portion of the staff at Little Rock's public housing authority expressed concerns about troubled relationships within the agency by not showing up for work Monday.

Anthony Snell, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Alliance, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that staff members who work on Section 8 vouchers -- at least 12 employees -- were out. The agency has about 30 employees.

Snell said it was his understanding the employees were expressing their sentiments about relationships within the agency and concerns about the agency's plan going forward.

"I think they want to express those feelings to the public and to the board," Snell said.

Snell said Monday the housing authority was trying to continue its functions to the fullest extent possible without the employees who didn't show.

Section 8 vouchers allow people with lower incomes to choose a place to live, and the agency pays for portions of their rents depending on income. The agency is the largest housing authority in the state and provides rent assistance for thousands of people in Little Rock.

Mayor Frank Scott Jr. said Thursday that he planned to initiate the process of dissolving the agency's board of commissioners because of "serious concerns" he had heard from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and from employees at the agency.

The Metropolitan Housing Alliance is federally funded and locally controlled by a five-member commission. Patricia Campbell, a HUD regional public affairs officer, said the department would not have any comment on the employee job action Monday.

"That's an internal issue," Campbell said.

The agency has experienced several changes in top leadership in the past couple of years. Snell is the latest executive director to leave, having submitted his letter of resignation to the board at the beginning of June. His last day will be Thursday.

Snell's letter, as well as complaints the mayor and other officials have said were expressed to them by employees, pointed to strained relationships between the board and staff and actions by the board that were seen as harmful.

Snell said he was not privy to conversations among his staff regarding Monday's job action or if there would be another, but he said he believed employees were concerned about his departure.

"I do think maybe the nature of what it is that staff is concerned about, they certainly felt it was of a nature that it needed to be elevated to this level, and I sincerely hope that all parties involved will take heed to the seriousness of their concerns and find the time and the commitment to resolve it so it'll be to the benefit of everyone," he said.

He added that the employees are committed professionals who provide "outstanding" service to the community and that "for whatever reason they are concerned about their ability to continue to perform at a high level with regard to the executive of their services, and they wanted to make sure all of the interested parties are aware of that."

Scott said Thursday that he had heard concerns from employees about the role and authority of the board, as well as about fiduciary responsibility with the agency's ongoing Rental Assistance Demonstration projects.

"I've been in office 18 months, and there's been a number of concerns with MHA," the mayor said.

Ward 2 City Director Ken Richardson, who serves as the board's liaison to the city Board of Directors, said he had heard some concerns about the board micromanaging staff.

Metropolitan Housing Alliance board chairman Kenyon Lowe said Monday's job action was hurtful to the housing authority's clients, and that the concerns officials have mentioned had not been brought to the board.

The decision on whether to dissolve the board will ultimately depend on a vote by the Little Rock Board of Directors. Once formal notice of the process being initiated is given, Metropolitan Housing Alliance officials will have the option to go before the city board.

Campbell confirmed Monday that HUD officials held a meeting with Scott on June 25 to convey concerns it had received from the agency's leadership and staff about the board.

At the meeting, HUD presented Scott with potential options to address those concerns that are within Arkansas law, which the mayor said included dissolving the board or removing its chair.

Campbell said the HUD options presented were not directives, and that HUD does not have the authority to make changes to the board.

Print Headline: Little Rock housing alliance staffers absent

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