Housing Authority board members question transfer of $550k

By JAMIE PATTERSON,

Two members of the Yazoo City Housing Authority Board said they were unaware that over $550,000 was transferred to a non-profit organization, and that the board’s official minutes were altered to make it appear as if they approved that transfer.

“I don’t have a problem with the money being transferred,” said Danny Neely, one of the concerned HA commissioners. “I do have a problem that the board did not approve it. If it is not approved by the board, then it cannot be transferred.”

The Yazoo City Housing Authority was awarded $551,125 in damages, following a lawsuit. It was recommended that the funds not be mixed with federal funds and should be deposited in a separate bank account. The funds must also be spent on creating and providing affordable housing.

Neely and fellow commissioner Mamie Williams do not refute those conditions. But they said the transfer was not done correctly with the proper board approval.

“There was no vote,” Neely said.

The funds were transferred to the Gateway Community Development Corporation, a not-for-profit affiliate of the Housing Authority, following the Dec. 19, 2017 board meeting.

Neely and Williams said the transferring of those funds was merely a discussion brought forward by former Housing Authority Director Betty Reed with no action. Commissioners John Meeks, Dawn Gainwell-Dodd and Richard Griffin were in support of transferring the funds into the Gateway.

Since that December meeting, Reed has also resigned as HA director and has been reappointed as the director of the Gateway Corporation.

“The three of us said we were good with (the transfer),” said Gainwell-Dodd, to Neely and Williams. “I am not sure about you two, but we said we were good with that. I don’t understand because it was three versus two.”

“Whether you voted or not, there was a motion that carried,” added John Meeks, commission chairman. “Those minutes say you voted.”

In fact, the official minutes even record Neely and Williams as voting “yea.”

But Neely and Williams said the official minutes are not correct. They also said the minutes are different from what was sent to their government-issued iPads, and that the vote to transfer the money never happened, regardless of what the official minutes imply. 

“Those minutes are insinuating that the $500,000 was taken as a vote,” Williams said. “It was not taken as a vote. It was mentioned, but nobody voted on it. It was mentioned but never voted; case closed.”

“At the December meeting, it was discussed,” Reed replied. “It was actually a resolution, and I stated that the board has to make a resolution before this can be transferred for Gateway to do this. There was a resolution actually made at that meeting. It would not have been put in the minutes if a resolution hadn’t been made. The board did approve it.”

The Yazoo Herald was provided the minutes emailed to the Housing Authority Board. After investigating the official minutes, held in a bound volume of the HA office, the minutes do not match.

“What bothers me is that we have two sets of minutes,” Neely said. “It was not handled the proper way. When I reviewed the (bound volume), there were original signatures for each one except that one,” Neely said, referring to the Dec. 19 minutes. Where are the original minutes? Why are the page numbers missing?”

The Yazoo Herald also confirmed that dating from as early as 2009, the official minutes are numbered consecutively by page. The Dec. 19, 2017 meeting is not numbered in order, and the signatures of approval by Reed and Meek are not original. In fact, the entire Dec. 19 minutes are photocopies.

When The Herald asked why the December meeting minutes were not numbered and were a photocopy, Reed said she didn’t know. She also said the minutes had been approved by the state auditor’s office with no issues.

However, state auditor’s office said that comment was not true.

“We do not approve or disapprove minutes,” said Kelly Ryan, public relations with the state auditor’s office. “Minutes are not something we even look at.”

Barry Bridgforth, board attorney for the Housing Authority, said he was unaware of the lawsuit until last week when Meeks told him. He said he also understands Neely and Williams’ concerns over the minutes.

“I don’t have an explanation,” Bridgforth said. “I don’t know why you would have a copy. We don’t know what happened to the original. But this does not need to happen again.”

Bridgforth suggesting that the board reconsider bringing the transfer vote back to the table since there was some confusion.

Neely suggested the board wait before approving the transfer to see if there was a conflict of interest since Meeks and Gainwell-Dodd also serve on the Gateway Board.

However, on a 3-2 vote, with Neely and Williams in opposition, the transfer was approved last Tuesday. 

“I don’t want to be involved in anything if the auditor comes in,” Neely said.