Black Coalition Urges Housing Board Chief To Resign

May 01, 1991|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

Charging Anne Arundel's public housing authority is in shambles, a coalition of black leaders yesterday condemned the governing board's lack of leadership and called for its chairman to resign.

Members of the Black Political Forum urged board Chairman Charles St. Lawrenceto step down, citing longstanding problems with running the county'slow-income housing projects.

In a 13-page report critiquing County Executive Robert R. Neall'sresponse to minority concerns, the Black Political Forum called for "immediate changes" in the housing authority. The coalition urged Neall to "change the leadership of the board and appoint tenants, blacksand housing activists to it."

St. Lawrence, who was appointed to the seven-member volunteer board by former County Executive O. James Lighthizer, declined to comment without seeing the report.

A section devoted to the housing authority sharply criticized the lack of tenant representation and dubbed the board "Annpartheid."

The board lost its only minority voice in early April when Shirley Alexander, the only black member, resigned midway through her term. Her resignation came only a month after Neall upset some housing advocates by appointing James J. Riley, a former Republican candidate for House of Delegates, to fill a year-long vacancy.

"There are no African-Americans on the board of commissioners, although African-Americans are the majority population in both Freetown and Meade Village," the report stated, referring to the two family projects. "No tenants are represented on the board. It is an all-white board. 'Annpartheid.' "

Yesterday, Neall said he will probably replace Alexander by appointing a tenant from a list of candidates that he's compiled.

When questioned last week about the housing authority, the county executive said heunderstood most of the problems were "managerial in nature" and stemmed from frequent turnover of executive directors. The last, June C. Waller, was asked to resign in January.

Neall said he dispatched his assistant, Walter Chitwood, who served as the authority's acting director in early 1989, to chair the search committee that will screencandidates for the position.

The county executive said the governing board should not be held directly responsible "in the same way asthe people who work there day to day."

Annapolis Alderman Carl O.Snowden, a member of the coalition that wrote the report, disagreed.He said the board has "the ultimate responsibility as it relates to running the housing authority."

"The buck literally stops with them," he said.

Sandra Ervin, acting executive director of Anne Arundel's housing authority, said she considered the black coalition's assessment "unfair." She also said "it would be a gross injustice" if St. Lawrence resigned as board chairman.

"It's awful funny that they're starting to come out with this now," she said. "I think Mr. St. Lawrence has been a positive force for the authority. I think he understands our needs.

Associates who worked with St. Lawrence when he served as president of the Greater Severna Park Council differed in assessing his leadership and management.

Some Severna Park leaders,including former Councilwoman Carole B. Baker, praised St. Lawrence as "very civic-minded and community oriented."

But several community association leaders blamed St. Lawrence's "abrasive management style" and "inability to compromise" for much of the East-West Boulevardcontroversy.

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