STEUBENVILLE - Jefferson Metropolitan Housing Authority Commissioner Ruel Mitchell wanted to know why he wasn't invited to last week's private meeting with U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson.
The Marietta Republican congressman met for nearly 90 minutes with city officials, two JMHA board members, JMHA Executive Director Joe Costantini, four representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as a Franciscan University of Steubenville official and two business community representatives to discuss violent crime in public housing units.
"I found out about the meeting by reading a story in the newspaper. I called Joe and asked if I could attend the meeting and he said I wasn't invited. What type of board are we trying to have? Are we going to communicate through the news media?" questioned Mitchell on Wednesday.
"You have to contact the HUD office. I'll give you their number. You have to ask them why you weren't invited," replied JMHA Commissioner and 1st Ward Councilman Gerald DiLoreto.
According to Costantini, the meeting invitation list was put together by Johnson's office.
"I didn't think I had to call every board member because we were invited to a meeting. I planned to give a report at today's meeting," stated JMHA Board Chairman Les Zapor.
Johnson told reporters after the closed-door meeting that he believes everyone involved is moving forward.
"This issue has got to be addressed. We are seeing the impact on the business community and on enrollment at Franciscan University. There are very serious crimes, but I come away from today's meeting optimistic we can make a difference," Johnson said during a press conference following the meeting at City Hall.
"We had all of the stakeholders at the table here today and we came away with several things we need to collaborate on as we move forward. We agreed to hold monthly meetings of the local stakeholders and every three months I will return to hold a meeting with the stakeholders," Johnson announced.
He also said community meetings will be held with public housing tenants.
"There are also plans to put in more security services. What I heard today is we are going to move forward aggressively," said Johnson.
"Clearly there are problems, but we also think there are solutions and we look forward to working with local leaders to help affect those solutions," Acting Field Office Director Ray Keyser from the HUD Cleveland office said following the meeting last week.
The board members met in an extended executive session with private security consultant Jim Mavromatis following the public session to discuss personnel and security.
In other business Wednesday afternoon at the monthly JMHA meeting, Costantini announced the Ohio state auditor issued an acceptable audit for 2012.
"I have also sent a letter to the Jefferson County Common Pleas Court to clarify appointees to the board of commissioners. We are proposing Mr. Mitchell be appointed by the court so the city can appoint the resident member," reported Costantini.
"And I have sent a letter to Congressman Johnson's office regarding regulatory relief. We are under reduced funding and I believe some regulations can be waived until the funding is restored," noted Costantini.
Costantini also reported the John F. Kennedy apartment building rear canopy is nearly complete.
"We have also seen progress at the Michael Myers apartment parking lot and the mold remediation project there as well. The security camera upgrade at the Earl Rodgers complex is also nearly complete," Costantini told the board members.
"I recently met with our attorney, Bill Blake, to review the closing on the Washington Square apartment building," said Costantini, prompting a quick response from DiLoreto.
"That building should be the crown jewel in our system. I hope all goes well there and there is no crime in the building. But I am already hearing some reports. I have talked to the police chief and we will be monitoring any illegal activity at the building," said DiLoreto.
Costantini said the JMHA vacancy rate is at 4.9 percent, "which I consider doing pretty well. But HUD has determined the rooms on the first floor are vacancies and should be counted in the vacancy list. We will have to look at relocating our central offices into another space. If we don't, we cannot achieve the vacancy rate HUD wants."
The board approved sending $638,783 in Replacement Housing Factor funds for 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2012 back to HUD because the public housing agency did not use the money within the allotted time.
The JMHA is retaining $600,000 from 2009 and 2010 for proposed housing replacement projects.
The board also approved a resolution to amend financing for an energy improvement project because the All American Investment Group was unable to deliver financing in a timely manner. The board agreed to obtain the funding from Municipal Leasing Consultants.